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? 


Narrative Theology in blog format

I was inspired by a post that J.R. Daniel Kirk did over at Storied Theology on Narrative. I went to my nightstand for my trusty Global Dictionary of Theology – from which I do most of my morning reading. I looked up Narrative Theology and thought it would be cool to see this same content as a blog entry instead of an encyclopedia format. What follows is the edited content completely derived from Thomas Harvey’s article (p. 598-601). All the words are Harvey’s – I just typed and formatted. 

Narrative theology examines the fecund relationship between story, Biblical interpretation and the ongoing life of the church. It examines the relationship between narrative as a literary form and theological reflection.

It is in the reading, telling and interpretation of narratives that humans derive their communal and personal identity as well as provide a basis for meaningful activity of the world.

Accordingly, biblical scholars and theologians have considered how narrative functions

  • biblically
  • doctrinally
  • historically
  • liturgically
  • morally
  • missiologically

and what implications this might have in terms of a Christian understanding of the nature of God.

Narrative draws deeply from philosophical insight into the relation between narrative and rationality. Knowledge is thus not derived from random collection of “facts” but only in light of the inherited narrative frameworks passed down through meaningful stories.

In Christianity, the primary narrative framework is supplied by Scripture. For Karl Barth the critical matter was not whether the narratives could be proved historically inerrant or scientifically verified, but rather how the stories functions themselves to span the gap between the believer and Scripture’s ultimate Author who lives and moves through these narratives.

Because the truth of Scripture is ordered to its narrative, Hans Frei argued that modern emphasis on pure reason or universal religious experience has led to a damaging eclipse of the biblical narrative and thus the theology that rests upon.

 The significance of the biblical story to self, church and society lies in the heart of H. Richard Niebuhr’s  The Meaning of Revelation.Whereas Barth sought to vindicate Scripture as the story of God rather than the spiritual yearning of humankind writ large, Niebuhr focused on the impact of biblical narrative on the basic convictions of Christians.The grammar and the logic of narrative has been an important aspect of George Lindbeck’s analysis of the nature of doctrine. Rather than approaching doctrine as a set of propositional truths that refer directly to objective transcendent realities, Lindbeck views doctrine primarily as the cultural and linguistic grammar and logic distinguishing Christian communities from each other as well as adherence to other religions. For Lindbeck the problem with viewing doctrine as cognitive propositions is that arguments degenerate into irreducible disagreements about referents not amenable to adjudication. In contrast, when viewed as cultural and linguistic rules of faith, doctrinal difference refers to the ways diverse communities configure the narrative of salvation differently.According to Paul Ricoeur, “symbol precedes thought”.

When viewed in this way, theology is not merely reflective and retrospective, but creative and engaging.

It takes the stories, symbols, analogies and metaphors of Word and sacrament as means to grapple with and better understand the nature of existence and knowledge.

The critics of narrative theology point out that it is systematically unsystematic, making it difficult for its proponents to point to any sustained or coherent theological method or progress. It represents a variety methodological and theological concerns,  appraisals and projects that seek to recover the relevance of the narrative accounts of Scripture as well as narrative accounts of the church both individually and communally.

HBC Top 11 Blogs of 2011

Here are the top 11 blogs of Homebrewed Christianity in 2011  :

1. Theology Nerd Book Survey 

2. That’s “Too Gay” – Brian Ammons’ Banned Chapter from Baptimergent

3. Your First Steps into Biblical Universalism

4. 31 Reasons I Left Evangelicalism and Became a Progressive But Not a Liberal by Michael Camp

5. God Takes Sides….or When Karl Barth Was Right

6. Defining the Secular: Charles Taylor (pt. 3) by Deacon Hall

7. Rob Bell Wins 

8. The classic ‘Footprints in the Sand’ poem revisited

9. Are you a Bellian or Piperian?

10. a big difference between Christianity and Islam 

11. Goosing Emergents into the Mainline


Thank you all for your amazing participation and feedback – that was a wonderful year of conversation and theological brewing!

Let us know if you had a favorite that didn’t make the list.


From Chad, Tripp, and Bo – thanks for a great year, Brew On!  and don’t forget to share the brew.



Poll: 20th Century Theologian who made greatest impact

The 21st Century will probably look little like the 20th. Globalization, race, gender, and creed will have a nearly incalculable impact on the church and the world – many of us think for the good.

In the Clayton Crockett podcast (Radical Theology), many names come to the surface. Who do you think had the greatest impact of the 20th Century theologians that were named (or another who was not)

you can pick 2 if you must .  Feel free to  leave a comment and let me know of any oversights!

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