Mount Arbel(Normally, I don’t critique/summarize sermons, but this week’s Mars Hill sermon caught my attention, and in the end, convicted me and how I often place my priorities.)

This past weekend (September 24), Rob Bell taught a lesson, the Third (technically, Fourth) in a series entitled “Jesus Wants to Save Christians”, on the topic of Hell (this link will work for 12 weeks). Actually, it was a study of each of the instances where the word ‘hell’ is found in Scripture. It does not appear in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament only a few times.

He starts off saying:

We’re just dealing with the word ‘hell’ – we’re not dealing with all sorts of other things – we’re just dealing with the word ‘hell’.

In one case, it is translated from Tartarus2 Peter 2:4.

In the second, it is translated from Hades the equivalent of Sheol, its Hebrew equivalent, . These are Matthew 16:18 (In this case referring to a literal place in Caesarea Philippi), Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13; 20:14. This is also translated as “death”, “the grave”, and “the pit”.

The third one is Gehenna (literally ‘the Valley of Hinnom’ – Jerusalem’s city dump, where children were sacrificed to Molech). It is used eight times by Jesus (twelve, if you count synoptic repitition). Matthew 5:22, 5:29; 5:30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; and Luke 16:23 (this reference, the story of the Rich man and Lazarus, will be addressed in a couple of weeks). It is also used once by James (James 3:6).

Bell coveres all of these except for the Luke passage (it will be addressed in a couple of weeks).

A few parts of this sermon jumped out at me:

When discussing Matthew 23, where Jesus is addressing religious leaders

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)

He says ‘you’re supposed to be the spiritual leaders, and you actually get in the way of people who are honestly seeking God. You’re supposed to be the ones helping people find God, but because the way that they are finding God doesn’t fit with your system and rules, you actually are preventing people from coming to know God.’

Once again, there’s no relevance there for us, today. We’ll keep going.

Verse 15: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel” – and the pharisees were the one group who were really into proselytizing, trying to win over converts – ” You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”

Wow. If you heard this guy, you’d think ‘he’s gonna get killed!’ And these are actually the people that do end up killing him, so…

Later, when he’s summarizing these passages:

And then, the fourth one is causing other people to stumble. So, it’s dealing with what happens when somebody gets in the way of the journey of another. It’s when somebody crushes the joy out of somebody. It’s when somebody hinders the beautiful thing that God is doing with all sorts of badgering and questions or some things that don’t help…

[...]

The ’sons of hell’ passage is converting people to a religion that isn’t what God had in mind. So it’s converting people to something that isn’t good and true and beautiful.

At the end of his sermon, he addresses some of the unanswered questions he has anticipated (which will be addressed later).

Q: When Jesus talks about hell, is it a future destination or a present destiny?

A: When Jesus uses the word ‘hell’, he is calling these people into their present destiny. he is calling them to confront their own sin and their own shortcomings. he is calling them into the destiny God has for them here and now. Now, there are texts that deal with final destinations, and we’ll get to those, but we just want to look right now at exactly what Jesus said.

A question I would simply ask – Is your understanding of ‘hell’ cultural or Biblical? When you think about ‘hell’, is it based on the actual things Jesus said, or or is it cultural ideas and concepts that you have accumulated along the way that actually are nowhere in the teachings of Jesus?

Now, the word ‘hell’ isn’t in – other than what you see listed here – in other passages in the Scripture. There ARE other things in other passages which we will look at

[...]

One final thought, to me, Jesus wants to save Christians from making hell all about ‘them’, ‘then’, instead of ‘us’ and ‘now’. Jesus wants to save us from missing the point – and this was fascinating to me after the 9 a.m. service. We talke about anger, lust, and hypocrisy and -

“Yeah, yeah, yeah – but when are you going to say that all those other people are going to hell?”

Hmmm. I mean -

“Yeah, yeah, yeah – how do I live now? Big deal. What about them, then?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah – OK, I guess my heart is kind of important, but I just want to know that all those other people I’m not going to have to spend eternity with.”

Are these values that ANYWHERE Jesus affirms?

He then finishes by stating that we need to start taking hell literally starting now – not just in the future after death.

While I’m sure this message (which didn’t include the five points of salvation, the four spiritual laws, the trinity, two turtle doves or a partridge in a pear tree – that wasn’t the point this week…) won’t quiet any critics, one cannot listen to his sermons and come away believing that he does not take scripture seriously or God’s Word as the ultimate authority. He definitely isn’t into “telling people what they want to hear” – what far too many mainline churches deal with. Bell also isn’t into “preaching to the choir” – which too many fundamentalist churches are into. What he IS into is challenging people to live NOW in the way that Jesus taught us we were to live and not be so overly obsessed with death and the hereafter that we forget that we are to be salt and light.

Keep preaching the Word, Rob!

Grace & Peace,

Chris




Comments

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 26th, 2006 at 7:55 pm and is filed under Hebrew Context, Religion/Philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Comments so far

  1. TheBigFish on September 26, 2006 10:13 pm

    Wow. Just, wow.

    Are the text of his sermons available online? Or maybe audio files of them? I’d love to read/hear them.

  2. Chris L. on September 27, 2006 12:13 am

    I don’t know of any site that has text of Mars Hill sermons. You can get audio of sermons for the most recent 12 weeks at http://www.mhbcmi.org/listen/index.php

  3. Henry Frueh on September 28, 2006 2:40 pm
  4. Chris L. on September 28, 2006 2:48 pm

    Henry,

    I agree with your use of the “lake of fire”. Notice, though, that it was not translated into English as “hell”. The point of Rob’s sermon (did you listen to it?) was to look JUST at where we find “hell” translated in the Bible, and to deal with our obsession with who’s going and who’s not going there in the future, rather than where we’re going today. As he noted, he’ll be dealing with the subject of final destinations in future weeks…

  5. Henry Frueh on September 28, 2006 3:49 pm

    I listened to it. His point was to undermine and draw attention away from eternity and place it on the temporal. To compare overcoming anger, lust, etc. as important as eternal damnation removes the glory and meaning of the cross itself. As is his and other’s custom to also represent orthodox Christianity as obsessed with eternity and dwelling on people going to hell he is far from the truth. We are not even concerned about eternity much less obsessed.

    His cynical aside about us joking that some would be extra crispy is way off base. I have not met one committed Christian who ever joked or was happy about anyone going to hell. The word itself is now a colloquialism that is understood by most as representing the eternal place of damnation for all who die outside Christ, so what did he prove by showing that some translations of the word are incongruous with the lake of fire?

    If that place does exist, regardless of the misuse of the English “hell”, why smugly appeal to peoples linguistic skills and completely miss the point? I guarantee that people did not leave that service with a sense of urgency but quite the contrary, they felt that an overemphasis on “hell” is unseemly (as Bell puts it in his video about street preachers) and intellectually subordinate.

    I will tell you this, Chris, to speak of hell as though you were teaching algebra devalues the meaning and plays right into the hands of the keeper of hell’s gates himself. I know you were looking for another response, but if we could bring someone from “hell” this Sunday and let him share from the Mars Hill pulpit I believe the emphasis and passion would be strikingly different. And one day as we watch as lost souls are cast into the lake of fire forever we will on that day feel as though the most abrasive and vitriolic street preacher was tepid.

    Sorry.

  6. Chris L. on September 28, 2006 4:55 pm

    Henry,

    Are we SO focused on the eternal, though, that we forget about the temporal. It seems to me that Jesus’ (and Paul’s) emphasis was not on avoiding hell, but in bringing about the Kingdom. Right now, we have an opportunity to bring about the kingdom on earth or hell on earth.

    Yes, I fully agree that any vision of hell on earth (in the temporal) is but little when compared to that in the eternal. Where do we exist, though? Today. As I read Jesus’ teaching (and Paul’s teaching), “the point” isn’t avoiding hell or making it to heaven in the afterlife. “The point” is acting out our faith in God because we love Him, not because of what He will/won’t do for us when we leave this world.

    When we decide to be a people following God and acting out our faith together, we are entering the Kingdom of Heaven – which will go on into eternity. When we decide to act in a manner that goes against God, we bring about hell on earth – which will go on into eternity. When we only focus on eternity, we lose compassion and cease to be salt and light. When we only focus on the temporal, we miss the gift we have been given in our Messiah and we simply become humanists.

    The term “hell” carries a lot of baggage, not all of it accurate or Biblical (I know people who think Dante’s Inferno is accurate…). How else do you teach on the subject if you do not start with what the Scriptures say on the subject?

    To emphasize eternal damnation above overcoming lust, anger, hypocrisy and those things which Jesus equated with hell is to devalue why Jesus wants us to accept his grace in the first place.

    When I was a freshman in college, I dated a girl who “loved” me because my father was a doctor and I was going to be able to care for her financially if we ever got married. The fact that we didn’t have the same goals in life didn’t really matter to her, because the end (security) was more important that the journey there. (Needless to say, once I figured this out, it was over – and it really hurt.) When our love of Jesus is based on the avoidance of hell/hope of heaven and not on the journey there with Him, we are no different than that girl 20 years ago.

    Grace & peace,

    Chris

    P.S. I agree that his comment about “extra crispy” (done for humor) was over the top. However, just a couple of weeks ago, I remember someone in one of these forums who said he would stop talking with us because we were “apostates” if we wouldn’t first agree that Catholics are going to hell…

  7. Henry Frueh on September 28, 2006 5:35 pm

    “As I read Jesus’ teaching (and Paul’s teaching), “the point” isn’t avoiding hell or making it to heaven in the afterlife.”

    What should it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul.
    Behold I give unto you power(on earth)…Notwithstanding in this rejoice not…but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.
    For gos so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosever believeth in Him SHOULD NOT PERISH BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.
    …it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.

    To live a Christ exposing life is the conduit by which God can use us to publish His Word, but it is the means not the end. I have met Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and even atheists who were more kind and compassionate than some Christians, but unless they repent and believe the gospel they will all perish eternally. The cross was for sin bearing not for earthly life enhancement. These are serious issues but I believe that the Scripture clearly warns us of teachers that will scratch the ears of people and turn away from the truth and be turned unto “stories”.

    You are intelligent and well studied, but this rapidly “emerging” strain of Christianity is a dramatic departure from the New Testament. These aren’t games and exercises in Spiritual academia, and each verse can be looked at a thousand different ways with each claiming inside knowledge. A study of the American revivals will expose the kind of preaching God uses!

  8. Chris L. on September 28, 2006 5:58 pm

    Henry -

    When does everlasting life begin?

  9. Henry Frueh on September 28, 2006 6:12 pm

    Actually everyone will “live” forever, but having eternal life begins when a person becomes a believing follower of Jesus Christ. But there will only be a fulfillment of the earnest of our salvation at the coming of Jesus Himself.

    …hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

    …receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

    We are recepients of eternal life now, but we groan and wait for the Blessed Hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. We cannot dismiss the life Christ gives us now, but the life to come is “far better”.

  10. TheBigFish on September 28, 2006 10:40 pm

    Henry said: “As is his and other’s custom to also represent orthodox Christianity as obsessed with eternity and dwelling on people going to hell he is far from the truth. We are not even concerned about eternity much less obsessed.”

    If you aren’t concerned about eternity, what’s the point? Not to mention this simply isn’t true. If it were, you wouldn’t have written the post on your own blog about hell. Ingrid at Slice of Laodicea wouldn’t have a reason for more than half of the material on her blog. If we’re not concerned about eternity our preaching has no power and no point.

  11. Chris L. on September 29, 2006 3:40 am

    Henry,

    Yes, I agree that eternal life begins when a person makes Jesus the authority of their life.

    For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but so that the world might through him be saved.

    And so, it seems that our mission in Him is a temporal one. Should we focus so much on the Great Commission that we forget the greatest two commandments on which all the others hang? I am not arguing that we should only focus on the temporal – I am arguing that the mission we have been given in Him is to save the world through Him (a temporal one) while holding our hope of the eternal. It seems odd that we too often see “saving the world” as standing idly by with a focus on eternity, waiting for the world to end.

  12. Chris L. on September 29, 2006 3:43 am

    Just an administrative note – I’ve unlocked the comments section for folks once they’ve had at least one comment approved. John and Scott have data to show this approach will work much better than close moderation. As long as it’s not abused, I’ll keep it this way…

  13. John on September 29, 2006 2:50 pm

    The issue of focusing on hell came up back on June 20th. I wrote this post in response to Jim Bublitz’ (formerly of Slice) claim that Jesus talked about hell more than he did about heaven.

    In response, Jim posted a section of verses from a Bible dictionary. I responded specifically to most of them in this comment. My main thrust was that Jesus rarely confronted anyone with hell unless they had already rejected him. On the contrary, Jesus usually spoke of hell with his disciples in private or semi-private circumstances.

  14. Henry Frueh on September 29, 2006 3:18 pm

    Big Fish – I was speaking generally. The American church is pervasively and comparatively uninterested in eternity except for a doctrinal debate. The average Christian never weeps over the lost, never fasts, never carves out a couple of hours for deep Bible reading and memorization, and he spends precious little time in searching, intercessory prayer.

    Without revival we will continue to compare ourselves with ourselves.

  15. Chris L. on September 29, 2006 3:34 pm

    Henry,

    I would agree with you on the ‘average’ Christian.

    But of course, I would also suggest that the ‘average’ Christian in America does little to feed the hungry, provide medical care for the sick, care for the homeless. For most ‘average’ Christians, outreach and service – if they are addressed at all – are exercises of the pocketbook and not their time.

    However, I know a good number of not-so-average Christians who engage in personal devotional activities, but who also are passionately involved in living a life that impacts the world they live in.

    A friend of mine worked on Indian reservations until the time of his death, and he taught music to the children there. His Christ-centered philosophy was “I want to teach you something beautiful in your world that is often not beautiful. While I teach you how to play the guitar, I am going to tell you about why it is I have hope. Whether or not you choose to accept the message I’m giving you, I am still going to teach you how to play the guitar.”

    I know MANY not-so-average Christians, and they are the ones I see BEING salt and light to the world, not just talking about it.

    I, myself, used to be just an ‘average’ Christian, but having been faced with what the Lord desires of me, I have been trying to be that. That desire did not come from the selfish fear of hell – it came from accepting that I can’t earn eternal life, but that I have to just accept it freely. That desire came from the appreciation for Jesus’ sacrifice – not out of fear – an appreciation that has shown me that he has given me certain gifts and a mission field on which they can be used. Fear may have been an initial motivation, but it just left me empty. It is by our love that we will show who Christ is, not our fear.

  16. Henry Frueh on September 29, 2006 5:13 pm

    Except for legalist denominations, I haven’t seen many people who were afraid. If you went to an average Southern Baptist church about the same size as Mars Hill and milled around before the service you would see and hear striking similarities. The fear of God? You’ve got to be kidding. Everyone speaks of cars, jobs, health, money, sports, children, and so on. I do not know but I often wonder how many rose early and spent some real worship time with Christ before joining with other believers.

    Maybe Jesus doesn’t care about those things. Maybe He does.

  17. Chris L. on September 29, 2006 5:56 pm

    That would seem to be a problem with the Southern Baptists, then, and not necessarily Mars Hill…

  18. Nicholas on January 10, 2007 7:46 pm

    Quote:
    “As I read Jesus’ teaching (and Paul’s teaching), “the point” isn’t avoiding hell or making it to heaven in the afterlife. “The point” is acting out our faith in God because we love Him, not because of what He will/won’t do for us when we leave this world.”

    Yet this is PRECISELY what Jesus was talking about in the very first Scripture that is mentioned. He is accusing the religious leaders of that day of keeping people from Heaven. Not keeping them from experiencing the Kingdom of God on Earth.

    Much of the rest is putting words in people’s mouths and then discrediting them for inane beliefs when he or anyone else would be hard pressed to find even a handful of Christians who would ever say such things.

    Nicholas
    http://theblackhorseinn.blogspot.com

  19. Chris L. on January 10, 2007 10:15 pm

    Nicholas,

    The ‘Kingdom of God’ (also euphamiszed as the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’) in the Hebrew mind begins on earth (in imperfection) and continues on past death, then in perfection. Jesus’ teaching requires action NOW and has consequences NOW, while the ultimate consequence is always imminent. When we focus ONLY on the eternal, we miss the point.

    On a separate topic, are you familiar with St. Gabriel’s camp on the Standing Rock res just south of Mandan? I’ve been involved with some music/art camps there the past several summers.

    Grace & peace,

    Chris

  20. Patrick on September 26, 2007 4:40 pm

    Let’s get one thing straight. Hell involves eternal conscious torment for all sinners who do not repent.

  21. Chris L. on September 27, 2007 12:41 pm

    Actually, Patrick, that would be the lake of fire in Revelation, into which hell and death are thrown.

    “Eternal” is definitely supported by scripture.

    “Conscious torment”, while I agree with that interpretation, can legitimately be debated, as the ’second death’ in the lake of fire does not necessarily indicate “conscious torment” – some argue that it could be permanent erasure of the soul, which would be another vaild interpretation from the Revelation passage.

    Before you point to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, please note that it occurs in ‘Hades’ – which is most likely translated from Sheol (not gahenna), or death. In either case, both Sheol and Gahenna are cast into the lake of fire which is the second death.

  22. steveo on January 25, 2009 5:49 pm

    If heaven and hell are real which I believe to be so according to the book of Isaiah and Revelations among others, I’d rather serve in heaven then reign in hell. But how to get there is the question. I think God has the answer. Here are some thoughts. God is One in the Old (Deut 6:4 , Isaiah chapters 40-50, and Zech 14:9)and New (Rev 4:2,Math 28:18, and 1 Tim 3:16)Testaments. The trinity was developed at first by the Babalonians, Egyptians, and Hindus among others. The trinity derived by the Catholic church was derived from Plato’s ideas and as a compromise to the Pagans. All history of the early church teaches that all the disciples both believed and taught of one God;Who can show himself in many forms: a burning bush to Moses, a pillar of fire and a cloud to the Hebrews, and the seven spirits of the church in Revelations. and Baptized in the family name of God which is Jesus -Col 3:17 , Acts 2:38, and Phil 3:10-15 among others explain this out. Until 325 a.d. the doctrine of the trinity was’nt even developed. Muslims believe in One God as well as the Jews and so did the early Christians. In fact all cultures have a creation story in which either a spirit or force of one created them or saved them from a flood-their founding fathers whether they were 1,3, or 8. Jude said not to depart from the early faith. And Paul said not to be taken in by the foolishness of man. Peter said it is better to obey God than men. Look at it this way George Washington was the father of the U.S. whether as a general or president he was first in the hearts of his fellow Americans-and history proves this to be true. As it will of what I wrote because history shows that to be true also. God give you peace and joy among many blessings.

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