hell

Into the Shadows: The Origins of Hell and Satan (Part 2 of 2)

Nickolay Stanev / Shutterstock.com

Scene from Hell painted on the walls of Rila Monastery church, Nickolay Stanev / Shutterstock.com

Yesterday, I discussed some of the historical bases for our contemporary understanding of Satan. Today, I’ll consider how hell evolved as part of the Christian faith.

In Old Testament scripture, the resting place for the dead is called Sheol. While some believe this is the same as hell, there are indications to the contrary. In the ancient Jewish tradition, Sheol is a place of rest for both righteous and wicked, with no distinction.

Not everyone is happy about it either.

In the third chapter of Malachi, the prophet recognizes the consternation of faithful Jews who are frustrated that the wicked share the same fate. In Ecclesiastes, the priest Koheleth claims that serving God is vanity. For him, the fact that the righteous are treated the same as the wicked and vice-versa should be a call to eat, drink and be merry.

With respect to any relationship between Satan in the Old Testament and Sheol, there is none.

Satan and Hell: A Brief History (Part 1 of 2)

Garden of Eden depiction, Robynrg / Shutterstock.com

Garden of Eden depiction, Robynrg / Shutterstock.com

(I was invited to take part in a debate about hell at a university recently, but unfortunately, the dates don’t work with my schedule this time. But since it’s an interesting topic, and one about which many folks have questions, I thought I’d share a couple of short essays I’ve written on the subject.) 

While Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the first to preach about hell and condemnation, his ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ sermon in 1741 crystallizes the beginning of a modern movement in the church. Edwards employed fear of punishment as a primary means for conversion and doctrinal adherence. Meanwhile, his congregants fainted in the aisles and clung to the pews to avoid being dragged down into the abyss.

We can argue day and night about whether fear-based theology is effective, biblically accurate, or even necessary. But it’s worthwhile to consider where our contemporary ideas about hell and Satan even come from.

Today, we’ll begin with Satan; we’ll save hell for tomorrow.

New “Hellbound?” Movie Explores, Challenges Christian Doctrine of Hell

I first heard about the movie “Hellbound?” (coming out this fall) at Wild Goose Festival. They were offering an advance screening of the movie, and although I was just passing by the tent at the time, the subject matter stopped me where I was. A thoughtful, well-researched, accessible discussion about the history, purpose, and prospects of hell in Christian theology?

I’m in!

The film opens with reflections on September 11th, including a 10-year anniversary memorial event at the site. And as would be expected, the infamous picketers from Westboro Baptist Church were there, complete with signs bearing slogans like “Thank God for 9/11 and, of course, “God Hates Fags.” The movie progresses to, let’s say, more educated points of view, focusing more on the front end on those who advocate for a real hell that is populated with innumerable souls experiencing eternal conscious torment.

But then the movie breaks off from the oft-quoted pro-hell camp and considers the social and historical backdrop for hell, as well as extensive screen time for the doubters and skeptics about the reality of such a place. Folks offering counters to the “traditional” evangelical view of hell include Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and an Eastern Orthodox priest, all offering fascinating tidbits meant to expand our understanding of where this modern-day understanding of hell even came from, let alone whether we claim a God who would send people there.

Hellbound? New Film Explores Ideas, Doctrine of Hell

One of the highlights of the Wildgoose Festival for me was a sneak preview of the feature length documentary Hellbound?,which will be released in select theaters nationwide this fall.

The film picks up on the recent media buzz generated by Rob Bell's controversial bestselling-book Love Wins, taking that debate into new levels of intelligence and depth.

Like any good documentary, we have the entertaining attention grabbing parts, which aren't hard to find when your topic is Hell and damnation:

We meet people at a death metal concert, take a tour through "Hell House" where actors attempt to traumatize teens into the kingdom by reenacting scenes from Columbine. Then there are the street interviews with the rather obviously mentally unstable and angry folks from Fred Phelps' church, holding their "God Hates Fags" signs and screaming at anyone who passes by.

The movie quickly moves beyond this however, delving into the deeper issues at hand. Unlike so many other Christian films, Hellbound? is neither sentimental nor sensationalist. The word that comes to mind instead is depth.

 

 

Ten More Cliches Christians Should Avoid

What Would Jesus Do? Post-its. Keith Bell / Shutterstock.com

What Would Jesus Do? Post-its. Keith Bell / Shutterstock.com

After writing up my first list of Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use, some folks wrote me with other suggestions. After simmering on it for a while, I came up with a second list of ten to supplement the first.

And as there was some confusions from a handful of fellow Christians about the intent of the articles: these are not intended to tell you to believe or not believe a certain set of things. Christians have a Public Relations problem; that much is self-evident. So in as much as I can respond to that, I want to offer these as advice on how to change the way we approach people about our faith.

On to the next ten cliches for Christians to avoid …

Hell and Mr. Fudge

Promotional poster for "Hell and Mr. Fudge."

Promotional poster for "Hell and Mr. Fudge."

ATHENS, Ala. — Black and white. Heaven and hell. Right and wrong.

Blur or question those lines, and, well, all hell can break out.

 

 

At least it did for Edward Fudge in the early 1980s in in this small northern Alabama hamlet.

Fudge was a young preacher who also worked in his father's publishing company. When he began to teach a doctrine of hell that contradicted the traditional view of a place of eternal fiery torment for the damned, a quick succession of events cost him his job and his pulpit.

A new film, Hell and Mr. Fudge, compresses the events of the years when Fudge, now a Houston-based lawyer and internationally known Bible teacher and author, began an intensive study of the Bible and the doctrine of hell. What he found made him question one of the bedrock doctrines of Christianity.

Mom, Mick Jagger and Me

Tripp Hudgins and his mom, Debby, laughing. Photo courtesy of the author.

Tripp Hudgins and his mom, Debby Hudgins, laughing. Photo courtesy of the author.

“Talk to me about your mother.”

Such ominous words.

But talk to you about her, I will. And it's not gonna be pretty.

You see, my mother isn't perfect. Her love may be perfect, but she's not and like everyone else on the planet she has hurt the ones she loves the most in the very act of trying to love them.

It's Mother's Day this Sunday and we'll honor our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, spouses, grandmothers and, and, and...We'll honor women and men who have mothered us. And we should.

It's not easy work and Lord knows that Freud has helped us pathologize motherhood. In turn we have idolized motherhood and mothers. Neither approach works. Not really. So I would like to propose a via media for Mother's Day.

Every Sunday as I'm driving to the church I serve I call my mother to check in. She lives by herself and I worry. I'm her son. I can't help myself.

Driving Home

Image by Eugene Ivanov /Shutterstock.

This past spring break, I took my 14-year old daughter to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

My daughter has had a difficult middle school experience, especially these last two years. This last year, we have both, in describing it, used the word “hell.”

We have been frequently at odds in these months, my daughter and me. I often feel that I have failed her, that I have failed myself.

One point of connection has been her explorations around World War II and the Holocaust. She has read books about it — novels, mostly. We have watched movies that, in my naiveté, I didn’t imagine she would watch for a while. There have been questions, discussions, recollections of stories her grandfather, a WWII vet who is now deceased, once shared with her, with me. There have been nightmares, too, where I wonder if we are, yet again, making the best choices in our twisting, turning journey through this year, this path.

Is Osama Bin Laden in Hell? (and Other Stupid Things Christians Argue About)

Bin Laden image/meme that's making the rounds in the blogosphere today.

Bin Laden image/meme by Jim LePage that's making the rounds in the blogosphere today.

I’m sipping on a root beer at Barnes & Noble as I work on my revisions for Forest Life. In the meantime I’ve noticed a handfull of debates raging over this photo that has been spreading around the Internet today. This makes sense given that today is the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Of course thinking people know that his death did not bring about any worthwhile social change.

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