You have to believe in Hell, Predestination, Election and the Book of Revelation

On last week’s TNT I said something that I have heard a lot of positive – and some negative – feedback on. I thought it would be good to continue the conversation here on the blog.

 My assertion was that: If you are a Christian, you have to believe something about hell. It is just not an option to say “I don’t believe in hell”.  The word ‘hell’ is in the English version of the Bible and you can’t just say, as a Christian, that you don’t believe it. You can hold that it was a burning garbage dump in a valley outside Jerusalem that Jesus makes a poetic illusion to … but you have to believe something about hell. 

I would go on to broaden that assertion. I would say that you must believe in predestination, election, and the Book of Revelation.

All 4 of these are topics that l have personally heard people say “I don’t believe in __”

  • You have to believe something about hell.
  • You have to believe something about predestination.
  • You have to believe something about election.
  • You have to believe something about the Book of Revelation.

It is is just not an option to say “I don’t believe in hell”.  Jesus did.  If you are a Christian, you have to hold some belief about it.

Paul spoke of predestination. Election is a theme in scripture. You can’t just say ‘I don’t believe in Revelation’.  You can object to how some people interpret and preach the Book of Revelation … but you can’t ‘not believe’ it.

 Why It Matters: 

I come from an Evangelical-Charismatic background and am now employed at a Mainline church and attend a Mainline school.  I am passionate that thoughtful progressive Christians can not make the same mistake that Liberals made in the past century. By ‘de-mythologizing’ the Bible they undercut the very foundation that the tradition is built on.

It is like sawing the very branch that your a sitting on … on the tree side of the branch! What do you think is going to happen? You are left no place to perch.

I love Biblical Scholarship. I delight in post-modern and progressive theology. I take seriously the post-colonial critique and the perspective of feminists and queer theory. But it does us no good if we know what we don’t believe about something but do not have the ability to present in a constructive way what we do believe about those very subjects.

There is so little value in participating in a community based on a tradition where one does not believe in the very words of that faith’s sacred text.

Why even do it?  I think that is why so many ‘nones’ have just opted out. I actually greatly respect those who participate in the emergent conversation and who are valiantly attempting to update their denomination from within. It is far easier to just walk away from the entire project all together … and many have.

So How Do I Do It? 

Predestination:  Forget about the historical hyper-Calvinist understanding that you ‘don’t believe in”. Romans 8:29 says “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Who did God foreknow? Everyone.  What are they predestined to? To be conformed to the image of the Son.  Does everyone arrive at their destination? No.

Predestination might be, what some Process thinkers would be called, an ‘initial aim’. It is God’s desire for all. God doesn’t always get what God wants ( see 1Timothy 2:4).

 Election: Karl Barth said it clearly. God elected Jesus. All humanity is involved in that election. All who are ‘in Christ’ are elect.

 The Book of Revelation: You may not like the ‘Left Behind’ / Hal Lidsey / Jack Van Impe interpretation of the Book of Revelation … but you can’t, as a Christian, say that you don’t believe in it.  It’s in the Bible. You have to believe something about it.

The Book of Revelation was a political critique of the Roman Empire of the first two centuries written in the genre of the ‘apocalyptic’. It is not predictive of the 21st century. But we don’t want to throw it away!  What we need, more than ever, is to imitate it and write an apocalyptic critique of our as-it structures, systems and institutions of injustice and our empire. We need a prophetic imagination.

You can’t say, as a Christian, that you don’t believe in this stuff. You have to believe something about this stuff. My suggestion is that we just believe more informed better stuff about these topics. The simple fact is that we are community of people centered about a sacred text and it is simply not acceptable to say ‘I don’t believe in something’. We are free to not believe in some people’s interpretation – but we have to believe something about it. 

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? 

 

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61 comments
KennethRedmon
KennethRedmon

i believe no doctrines of christainity, because i have CHRIST IN YOU A HOPE OF GLORY, and my HEART has been CIRCUMCISED, i have read the Bible since i could read, and do not want to be called, what pagans called the first Believers in CHRIST. What we have for the WORD OF GOD, is DECEPTION, by the god of this world, christainity has not the SPIRIT OF TRUTH, That Word is so twisted, its a great mystery all right.  You can tell them by their FRUITS of wars for 2000 years, and 40000 denominations of confusion. Go to the source of the WORD OF GOD, which is PALEO HEBREW, Lord God is YAHWAH ELOHEEM and His Son is CHRIST YAHWASUA ELOHEEM and their SPIRIT is very very HOLY, but not the lie of the THREE-HEADED-SNAKE called the Trinity. i have had many Revelations of the TRUTH.  Would not worry about the 144,000, you should be concerned, about the 153 Big Fish, the book in the last chapter of Daniel has been OPENED, and the Army of Dry Bones is here. The Three-Headed-Snake and the House of ESAU=EDOM=EDOMITES and their followers of DARKNESS will be DESTROYED FROM THIS WORLD, VERY SOON. Seek TRUTH, With all your being. Ask that SPIRIT OF TRUTH, (Knowing that Satan can and has since the Apostles, duplicates every Gift of the Spirit), and it will lead you to ALL TRUTH.

tom c
tom c

I see I'm late to the party... I just listened to the podcast in question, and this exact portion of it raised my hackles quite a bit.

 

It's not a good argument if it has the form "The Bible refers to X; therefore, a Christian must have an opinion about X." Why should anyone think that all Christians have an epistemic responsibility concerning everything that is in the Bible? It seems to me that suspending judgement is a reasonable position to have on a question, to suspend the having of an opinion when it is not obvious what to think or when the evidence available does not support one view over another. Furthermore, since the Bible as we know it didn't exist yet for the first several generations of Christians, they could not have held opinions about all of its contents. So, is this just a responsibility for contemporary Christians? Lastly, whose Bible are we talking about (i.e., which Biblical canon are we talking about - Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox)? Given these concerns, I don't agree with Bo's Biblical requirement for Christians. I would not even say that a Biblical theologian has to have an opinion about each and every X if X is in the Bible.

 

I take it that Bo is concerned that contemporary liberal-progressive leaning Christians might have a tendency to overlook or downplay the importance of the Bible (this seems to be a reasonable concern). This tendency might be, in part, the residue of the de-mythologizing of the Bible that took place in previous generations. The solution to this problem is not to demand that Christians engage all parts of the Bible. What is needed are good arguments for, or useful demonstrations of, the promise of Biblical engagement for contemporary Christians. In general, this podcast is really great at doing these things...

 

 

 

 

jamesdutton25
jamesdutton25

I really enjoyed this post, Bo! One thing that I have been reflecting on a lot lately is avoiding generalizations when talking about what we "do believe in" and "don't believe in." The particular phrase that is like nails on a chalkboard whenever I hear it is, "The Bible says...". My typical response is to shrug and simply say, "Well, the Bible says a lot."

That's my passive-agressive/non-productive way of saying that the Bible is more of a library than a book, consisting of "books" that have been added to/deleted from and changed by scores of writers, scribes, editors, communities, translators...basically, anyone who has gotten there hands on it. All of this change (as you, with your comprehensive George Fox Evangelical Seminary education should know *wink*) happened over more than a thousand years....A THOUSAND YEARS! So whenever someone say, "The Bible says..." they're implying that all of these authors, storytellers, scribes, editors, priests, translators over a thousand years were all on the same page theologically about whatever it is you are touting by saying, "The Bible says...". It'd be like saying, "Well, movies say that it's important to not lie to your wife." ...But, what movie? Surely not every movie "says" that. We have to be more specific when talking about the Bible. We need to say things like, "Paul says in Romans..." or "we read in Job that..." (and then hopefully some good exegesis follows).

Why am I saying this? Well, because even the most stringent atheist can probably find SOMETHING in the Bible that they agree with, and on the other side the most passionate inerrantist (if they're being honest) can probably find something in the Bible that they DON'T agree with.

The Bible is too complicated to begin any sentence with "the Bible is...". Whoever does begin sentences this way probably thinks they are smarter than they actually are.

theBoSanders
theBoSanders

@AndAFool well if people would stop being reactive and saying stupid crap then I wouldn't have to ;)

MarshallPease
MarshallPease

"if it occurs in the English version of the bible then we should account for it at some level and not dismiss it outright" 

There you go. "Bible as Scripture", Bebbington.

Yes we should think about stuff, and if we don't have a shared vocabulary we can't talk. But it sounds as though you want us to have our minds made up about things ... "Well, do you believe??" Whereas we should be better off if there were a broad category, "I don't know how that works out. Don't understand it, personally." Actually the best response might be "Let's sit down andunpack terms for a while." 

 

ChrisWick
ChrisWick

Spent a night thinking about this, since I almost always regret firing off any kind of comment on anything without sitting on it for a bit. I think the problem I'm having with your post is that, sure, as a Christian I believe something about these particular subjects but I also believe something about Paul calling people dogs. I also believe something about talking donkeys. I wouldn't say, "I don't believe in . . . " when referring to them but I don't have a problem saying I don't care about them.

 

As you point out, it's in our sacred scriptural tradition so I "believe" something about it but I don't think this is the actual conversation you want us to have.  I think what you're trying to get us to admit is that these topics, predestination, hell, election, have some position of particular importance in our tradition and as Christians we need to have considered, specifically, these particular ideas which have been brought forward out of our communal religious narrative. I believe something about hell, but I reject the idea that the topic of hell has any relevance to my personal faith or the path I walk down with my family. I have thoughts about the Revelation, but they're not any more important to me than my thoughts about Micah or 1 Thessalonians. I don't think I would categorize my thoughts on any particular text as a "belief," but I understand that's a quibble that doesn't address your central premise. I can't speak for others, but I'm simply not going to let Barth, Grenz, Tilich, (or Clayton or Schleiermacher) or anyone else determine what "must" be of core importance and addressed directly in my theology. 

Kurt_S
Kurt_S

Thanks Bo! It has being quite a long time since I have even read these words aloud! I use to follow a theologian by the name of Baxter Kruger who's whole work was orientated towards a new understanding of these historical words.  I know in my own youth I found it extremely difficult to approach these topics just because of there history and the intimidation I felt from the people having these conversations that included these words. I really appreciate when you say that there is little value in participating in a community where one does not believe in the words of that faiths sacred text. As much as I struggle with my readings of scripture, I do believe what you say to be true. To engage significantly with the text is to do so on a holistic level, recognizing the significance of all its parts, not just the ones that affirm my intellectual beliefs.  I am still attempting to voice out my opinions on subjects such as these but am I on the same page?  

 

If so, I wonder how I or we might be better able to approach these words/topics in a communal setting that doesn't start in a place of anger or dis-belief?

 

Always appreciate what you have to say Bo, even when it hurts haha! 

Josephanfuso
Josephanfuso

Is there a reason you didn't add homosexuality to your list of things you "have to believe something about?" It's "in the Bible," too.

kenzlo
kenzlo

Great post. It is something that I haven't thought through that much. Some of these things I don't like about our faith are there no matter my opinion. What matters is how I believe in them. I think you gave very good examples. Particularly with predestination and election. I hadn't thought of them that way.

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

Great thoughts Bo. I'm with you that progressives can't slip too far into liberalism of the past. The creative spirit of the Bible is something we should attempt to engage and emulate, not throw away.

ngilmour
ngilmour

When you said this on the podcast, @Bo Sanders , I immediately thought, "Yes, I think that Lindbeck is rubbing off on him."  His distinction between doctrine (the system of vocabularies and symbols and narratives that constitute a faith tradition) and theology (the ongoing practice of interpreting doctrine for the sake of the faith community) is definitely at play here, and I agree with you that being part of the constellation of Christian traditions means dealing with the "raw materials" in some way.

 

I'll also say that the book of Revelation continues to be a locus for interesting discussion in my own forays into theology.  (I spend most of my time as a mild-mannered English professor, of course.)  What bugs me most is not the "I don't believe in Revelation" riff (which I've not actually encountered, which might be why it doesn't bother me) but the declarations "It's allegorical" and "I'm not a literalist," which seem to be shibboleths for a certain caste of liberal Christians who needn't be bothered with providing actual readings of the book.  I appreciate that this post at least points in the direction of a reading, one that I'd tweak to emphasize divine agency more than a process dude might but nonetheless one that I can recognize as a reading rather than a dodge. 

 

Or, since brevity is the soul of wit, I'll be brief and say, "Good show!"

joelkuhlin
joelkuhlin

When reading your text I am reminded of an interview with John Milbank where he claims that an Anglican priest have to believe in angels and demons, i.e. the whole shabang, but not all Christians! 

Would you go so far as to include the virgin birth, miracles etc in your thesis of what a Christian must believe?

Milbank

DouglasHagler
DouglasHagler

I notice you left off a scriptural reference for election (the specific term). For me and maybe for others, Barth doesn't cut it as a reference for something you're saying we all 'need' to believe something about. (Barth is replete with things I don't think I need to believe anything about one way or another). I'm curious where you go for election.

 

I also quibble - I mean, come on,  your post title invites it. There is a problem with saying: 'The Bible in English translation uses the word "predestination", so you have to believe something about predestination.' That is such a tremendously loaded word, and is not of course a Greek word (proorizo, right?), and 99% of Christians who actually have a Greek lexicon to refer to will have one written by people from a Christian point of view. But Paul regularly uses Greek words in ways that we can't find a lot of examples of outside the NT. To me there are important differences between "You need to deal with Romans 8:29 somehow, you can't just ignore it" and "You must believe something about predestination and election". Now, I'm not a Greek scholar - not even close - but simply in referencing "predestination" you are already, in my view, in danger of talking far more about Calvin than  you are about Paul. The door there is definitely open. Maybe 'proorizo' is really clear and I'm just spinning my wheels, but say "predestination" and we'll think of Calvin, and Paul certainly did not when he wrote it. That's a big issue.

 

Lastly (for now)...so I have to believe something about predestination. Am I allowed to believe: "Paul probably believed in some form of predestination, and he speculated that God predestined some to be Jesus-like and some not, and Paul was very likely incorrect." (Spoiler: that is what I believe, as of right now, about predestination) Do I have to first believe that Paul was channeling metaphysical truth, and then decide what to believe about predestination? Can we put predestination on the same shelf as some stuff Paul says about women, or his apparent understanding of slavery? Or his belief that there are three layers of heavens up above his head somewhere?

 

(I also note that your explanation of predestination makes predestination no longer meaningfully predestination. Predestination implies that one has the power to 'destin', to make something inevitably occur. Now that's a bit of a wiggle from a man claiming we all must believe something about predestination :)

 

Lastly-lastly, just to round things out - clearly ignoring Revelation is just being lazy :)

BoEberle
BoEberle

Like Zizek points out that most congregants just outsource their belief to the pastor who believes in all the orthodox teachings on their behalf because no one truly understands them in their own right, I'll just defer to the "pastoral" authority of the ultra liberal scholars like Borg and Crossan. I believe what they believe. Good enough? I'm no biblical scholar or confessional theologian!  ; ) 

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