Hellbound? A review and some thoughts

I finally had the chance to sit down and watch Hellbound? Today. I’ve been waiting about 2 years to see this film which began filming in the aftermath of Rob Bell‘s Love Wins book. It’s a movie that delves into some deep theological areas all surrounding around ideas about where we will go after we die. There is a lot to unpack about this film but first things first, if the subject matter is interesting to you you should go and watch it.

The thing that I love best about this movie is it gets rid of the notion that there are black and white answers to any of these questions. There just aren’t. There are answers that are more widely accepted than other ones but those answers suffer the same handicaps as the othger questions. They require a certainty that no on on  earth has. There are scriptures that seem to point to the fact that there is an eternal hell awaiting some of us when we die but there are also scriptures that seem to speak of the salvation of everyone. I think Kevin Miller did a good job of handling the subject matter pretty evenly, there is a slight advantage to the universalist viewpoint but Jerry Walls, Mark Driscoll and Greg Boyd all got quite a bit of screen time and none of them are universalists.

I would have liked to have seen someone like NT Wright interviewed for this thought I am sure he;d be reluctant to participate. He offers a strikingly different viewpoint on this whole matter that I think adds to the complexity of the debate.

Entirely too much screen time was dedicated to Westboro Baptist, I think at this point of time everyone knows what they believe and everyone agrees they are as far from Christianity as one can get. To keep going back to them again and again  really didn’t push the conversation forward.

I also think continuing to include Chad Holtz without any kind of edit or allowing him the opportunity to express his new views on the subject was a bit sloppy. For those that don’t know Chad is a pastor who lost his job after defending Love Wins in a letter to his congregation, he has since changed his view on Hell and has expressed this change publicly. I don’t agree with many of Chad’s current conclusions but his interview should have been removed or he should have had a chance to share his new thoughts.

Overall I am happy with the questions that the film was asking, I am very happy with the sense of uncertainty that the film leaves, these are important questions, not ones to be taken lightly but ultimately they aren’t questions that any one of us can ever know for sure. Perhaps the uncertainty about what happens after we die should lead us to another set of what I think are more important and more pressing questions. What are we going to do with the gospel today? What else might have Jesus been saving us from if not just from hell?

Very little time is spent on the life to come in the bible, most of what we find there has to do with this life, the here and now.  I think it is safe to assume that most of our focus should also be on how we are living this life, not so much where we will spend eternity, but more about how we can serve God and others here.

That is not to say that healthy debate and speculation isn’t good for us but we need to be careful as to how we frame that debate. Humility and respect is of the utmost importance. I’d personally like to see more of that in many of the areas that we discuss. Creation vs evolution, whether or not gifts of the spirit still exist, even the very nature and existence of God. If both sides of any topic would learn to respect the other side I think our conversations could become a lot deeper than they are currently.

I am not at all certain about what happens when we die. I tend to lean towards something that I guess could be called universalism but there is a hefty amount of “I don’t know” in almost all of my theological ideas. This allows me to explore things and keep an open mind about what God is doing and where he is leading me. The Bible is not a black and white book so it does not allow me to have a black and white theology. I am certainly never going to assume that I know for sure the final destination of any individual or even any one group. I think our lives DO matter here as do our choices. I am not one to believe in some get out of jail free card for anyone, including Christians, we will ALL give an account of what we have done here and we will all need to work out our OWN salvation with fear and trembling.

Jesus doesn’t want to get you out of hell, he wants you to pick up your cross and follow him into death. Death to ego, death to self, death to making this life about how much you can get out of it, death to idols of money and toys and sex and power. Those are the things I believe will be burned up in hell and that process will be painful. Many of us are already going through that process right now while we are still living. I have seen things that I thought were important getting burned up right before my very eyes.

I am very glad that Hellbound is around for people to watch and to spark conversations like this. Maybe we’ll find that when we are talking about final destinations we’re missing the whole point of who Jesus was and what he did on the cross. Maybe we’ll understand what it means to follow him. Watch this movie alone and in groups of people and have conversations about it. You’ll be glad you did.

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To love and to cherish

Last night I went on a walk and I decided to listen to a sermon by Mark Driscoll, it is the latest in the series about identity that I have been following since my solitude experience. This particular sermon was about our identity of being loved and in it he was speaking about marriage roles. During the sermon he spoke about how he loves officiating weddings and while he does he likes to look at the bride as she comes down the aisle, how she looks at her groom. Then he likes to look at the groom, the look  on his face as he see’s his approaching bride.

I’ve been married to Corrie for approaching 5 years, we wed before I came back to faith in a hotel chapel in Vegas. There was very little tradition in our wedding, we didn’t even dress up. We all wore T-shirts and shorts and baseball caps. But there was one bit of tradition we didn’t break with, her walking down the aisle to me. We have a great picture in our wedding book of the look on my face as she approached. I don’t know how exactly to describe it other than a look of awe and adoration. The kind of look a guy has when he see’s the most beautiful  thing that life has to offer. I felt that way then and I still feel that way about my Corrie. I am blessed to have her in my life and I still get swept away when she smiles at me.

That’s when it hit me

See in scripture time and again the idea of a wedding and marriage is used to illustrate the relationship that Jesus has with the church. Jesus is the groom and we are his bride.

Ephesians 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior 

Ephesians 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Much is said in Christians circles about our role in this marriage, our submission to Christ and our adoration and enjoyment of him as well as it should be. These are important lessons that we all should learn. But as I was listening to this sermon and reflecting back on the way I looked at my blushing bride as she walked down the aisle to me I realize that far too many words are said about the way in which Christ loves and adores his bride, us. I think that many Christians, myself included, could benefit from a reminder that Christ looks at his church, at you, the same way that I looked at my wife when I was getting married to her, the same way I look at her now. Jesus adores you, he loves you, and he takes great pleasure in you. Not because you’re perfect, because as I’ve said before we aren’t, none of us are. But because we are redeemed in his saving work on the cross. He loves us simply because he desires to love us. He thus invites us into a much more intimate relationship with him, he invites us to desire him in the same way he desires us.

Hosea 2 19 I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in[e] righteousness and justice,
    in[f] love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in[g] faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the Lord.

21 “In that day I will respond,”
    declares the Lord
“I will respond to the skies,
    and they will respond to the earth;
22 and the earth will respond to the grain,
    the new wine and the olive oil,
    and they will respond to Jezreel.[h]
23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
    I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.[i]
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,[j]’ ‘You are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

 

My season of solitude

I just want to warn you up front, this blog post might be long. I feel like I have a lot of ground to cover and I want to make sure I cover all of my bases. I would encourage you to read the whole thing though.

I last updated this blog at the end of January, just over 2 months ago. The last time I wrote it was only the 4th entry I’ve shared on this new blog after deleting the old one while in the midst of the worst emotional crash I had experienced in years. On January 31st when I last wrote I was hurting, I was broken, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with life and I wasn’t sure who I was as a Christian, I was not entirely sure I knew how to hear God’s voice and I seriously considered stepping down from the leadership team at my church.

The last time I wrote on this blog I spoke about idols that I was creating in my life. I admitted that I had many, I wrote that after watching a sermon by Tim Keller called Counterfeit Gods. Listening to that sermon stirred something in me, something important, something life giving. It was time to make some much needed changes in my life but instead of setting out to do a bunch of work what I really felt was a call to come into a place of rest. More importantly a place of solitude.

In Hosea 2, God, through the prophet Hosea speaks of leading Israel(using the image of a woman) into the desert.

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond[c] as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

16 “In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.

So as we approached Lent, I felt a need to come away. To step away from some of the things of this world that were trapping my attention and to create some space in my life where I could hear God. To not suppose beforehand what he may or may not say but to wait expectantly for his words and to have faith that they would come. At first I wasn’t entirely sure as to what this would look like but I knew that social media(Facebook, twitter, blogging etc) was one of the things that really held a grip on me so it was only natural that that was the first branch to throw in the fire. Listening to music during my commutes to and from work was also a natural place to create space. I wasn’t sure what this would look like but I started on Ash Wednesday and I can say without reservation that God indeed showed up.

What also showed up though was a metric ton of anxiety, which I didn’t really expect but more about that in a bit.

I spent a lot of my time in reflection, prayer, reading and listening to sermons. I started with Brennon Manning and I read Abba Father all the way through. It was in those pages that I heard God speaking. He told me that not only did he love me, not only did he care for me but he also liked me. He was fond of me. He enjoyed me and loved seeing me joyous. This was a major breakthrough for me I’ve never felt I had a deep relationship with The Father, I never felt like I was good enough. For someone who speaks an awful lot about grace I began to see exactly what that rich grace was and how it plays out in my own life.

I also(and this will surprise some) have been following the latest sermon series at Mars Hill which is all about our identity in Christ. I began to understand that God is not only the God I read about in the bible, nor is he only the God that I will meet someday in heaven but he is the God of my present circumstance. In the book Practicing the Presence of God Brother Lawrence talks about knowing God in ALL things, not only the times of prayer and worship but in the mundane tasks of life. That at all times he was in the presence of God and he could rest in that presence. I too have been seeing this in my own life more and more.

I was given a book by my therapist called Celebration off Discipline by Richard Foster. There was a lot to unpack from this book but the things that really spoke to me were the discipline of simplicity, to not be so occupied with stuff and prestige and also the discipline off celebration which spoke to great length about joy which I have come to learn is not the same thing as happiness.  I, like I am sure many others, have thought that you can know that Christ loves you by how well your life is going. That’s not where peace and joy come from, what I have learned is that when focusing on Jesus and drawing near to him that peace he gives you can help you through anything,

The best teacher for that type of peace, at least for me was anxiety.  Through this fast I’ve fought on and off with some pretty debilitating anxiety. It;s interesting how it comes up when you are working on spiritual disciplines but I believe it bubbled to the surface because it was something that Jesus wanted to address. I have come to recognize that my anxiety, even the most debilitating forms of it, isn’t the enemy I’ve once believed it to be but it is rather a signpost, a red flag simply letting me know that my focus is in the wrong place. Once I remember that the anxious thoughts and panic subside.

Through this fast I have grown in spiritual maturity, I have also found a deep rooted peace that I have never understood before. It’s something that I have looked for all of my life and I have never found it until now. I’ve traveled many roads and tasted many flavors of philosophy and religion,  I have drank deeply from the cup of hedonism and nothing has ever given the peace that I sought.

I learned about Buddhism and it gave me no peace.

I studied science and it provided no peace

I studied near death experiences and new though philosophy.

I’ve read Jung and Campbell and neither could provide a rest from my anxiety

Self help books were no good, Zen Meditation did nothing

Even studying Christianity gave me no peace. The only thing that has provided me relief from my deepest darkest anxieties about my own broken life and this messed up sin filled world was Jesus. Drawing near him, sitting in his presence, admitting my fears and hearing his still small voice declare to me

“I love you, but not only do I love you but I LIKE you, I am FOND of you.”

And if you’re not yet a Christian, or if you are but you have never rested in the presence of Jesus and heard him declare this to you than all I can tell you is you’re missing out. There is NOTHING LIKE the peace of God in this world. Nothing that this life can offer you can sustain you or fill you like that. Not fame, fortune, not a good job or great music or good food or strong drink. Not video games or sex or a spouse or even having your own kids. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, there is nothing wrong with enjoying those things, but they will not provide lasting peace. Only Jesus can do that.