Did you ever wonder what is at stake in beliefs about heaven and hell? For Rev. Chad Holtz is was his job preaching at a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina. Rev. Holtz was fired for a facebook post agreeing with some of the arguments made by Rob Bell in his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven and Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. It should be noted Bell is not one of us “lefty” preachers but rather an Evangelical like those in Holtz’ congregation who shunned their young pastor for daring to believe that a loving God would not relegate “sinners” to eternal fire.
Bell’s book is the starting place for a new Bible study for open minded folks. Called “Bibles and Beers” we will meet each Monday beginning today, May 16th for Happy Hour in the loft at Uncle Charlie’s (from 5:30-6:30). If RSVP’s mean anything, there is a great deal of interest from people of a wide range in ages and beliefs. Bell’s book is the launching pad for this experiment.
Curious thing a book entitled “Love Wins” can become a flashpoint dividing Christians. It says something about the tone of the times and the way in which the cultural wars are being fought by those who claim the Bible as their life’s guide. Bell’s argument is reasoned and thoughtful. His ministry discloses a pattern of well considered, scripturally sound views. I have not stopped at reading his book but have gone on to essays and sermons written by those who reject Bell’s premise. The common thread among those who disagree is their certainty which contrasts irreconcilably with Bell’s embrace of the ambiguity of it all.
Rev. Bell starts with one certainty. He is uncertain! In the final analysis that exposes what is at stake in this and other contemporary debates among Christians and others. On one side of the church are those who are certain…certain about their understanding of God, the meaning of scripture, the path to salvation and the images of Heaven and Hell left behind by Dante and other artists. On the other said are those of us who are not so certain.
We tend to believe that a Creative God is beyond our ability to understand, to grasp. The diversity of cultures and faiths, of beliefs and non-beliefs are a part of God’s design. There is intent in a creation so vast with so many ambiguities. A faith in an enigmatic God demands a high level of comfort with uncertainty. Indeed faith is as antithetic to certainty as chalk is to cheese.
That’s why Rev. Holtz lost his job. That much is at stake. Many Christians are threatened by a belief requiring them to forgo the certainty of literalism. A vast range of revelations in Biblical scholarship as well as science and philosophy seem to them to be a personal attack on the God to whom they cling. Once the certainty vanishes, all that remains is a vague, ill-defined promise.
While I understand the dilemma, I cannot claim I understand God enough to be as certain as some of my fellow Christians. Hence, I must struggle with the ambiguities of it all. Please join us for the discussion at Happy Hour this evening at Uncle Charlie’s!