25 March 2011

Another (failed) attempt to rescue God from the Bible

The Rev. Albert Mohler (Southern Baptist theologian) reviews the controversial new book, Love Wins:  a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived by Rob Bell.  Mohler correctly points out that Bell's book is nothing new; it's rehashed universalist heresy dressed up in hipper duds: 

The liberals did not set out to destroy Christianity. To the contrary, they were certain that they were rescuing Christianity from itself. Their rescue effort required the surrender of the doctrines that the modern age found most difficult to accept, and the doctrine of hell was front and center on their list of doctrines that must go.

As historian Gary Dorrien of Union Theological Seminary — the citadel of Protestant Liberalism — has observed, it was the doctrine of hell that marked the first major departures from theological orthodoxy in the United States. The early liberals just could not and would not accept a doctrine of hell that included conscious eternal punishment and the pouring out of God’s wrath upon sin.

Thus, they rejected it. They argued that the doctrine of hell, though clearly revealed in the Bible, slandered God’s character. They offered proposed evasions of the Bible’s teachings, revisions of the doctrine, and the rejection of what the church had affirmed throughout its long history. By the time the 20th century came to a close, liberal theology had largely emptied the mainline Protestant churches and denominations. As it turns out, theological liberalism is not only a rejection of biblical Christianity — it is a failed attempt to rescue the church from its doctrines. At the end of the day, a secular society feels no need to attend or support secularized churches with a secularized theology. The denial of hell did not win relevance for the liberal churches. It simply misled millions about their eternal destiny.

All Bell and his theological minions need to do is become Catholic and their concerns about hell are instantly relieved.  According to the Catechism, hell is the "definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed" (n. 1033).  Bell's unnecessary anxieties about hell and God's wrath result from the Protestant rejection of the magisterial authority of the Church.  He has rightly rejected a false notion of hell and replaced it with another.  

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  1. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Here's what's been bugging me: Heaven is the result of a conscious choice. Hell is the result of a conscious choice. Do I have this right?

    So what is our "default" destination? It can't be heaven, or why would God have sent a Savior? If it's hell, how does this square with the notion that the damned must be guilty of a conscious choice to turn away from God?

    What am I missing here? Can you unpack this for me?


  2. Joe Magee3:03 PM

    I think universalism is one pole to which the protestant doctrine of Sola Fide (Faith Alone) leads -- the other being Calvinist predestination. If salvation ultimately only depends on God's gratuitous gift (apart from man's free cooperation) then either (1) God arbitrarily saves some (and damns others) regardless of their actions (= Calvinist predestination), or (2) God arbitrarily saves everyone (and damns no one) regardless of their actions (= universalism). Both are based on a fundamental rejection of human freedom, or at least the efficacy of the (graced) free choice to love God to bring about sanctification. (There is some nominalism in there for good measure.) Yes, protestants should become Catholic to avoid where the rejection of the Church in their theology inevitably leads them.

  3. Romulus, our "default destination" is purgatory. Great idea, purgatory.

    Since it is God's will that we all return to Him and do so freely in love, then the choice to join Him must be conscious. The choice to reject Him must also be conscious.

    Purgatory is where we have the chance after death to get it right. Keep in mind though that mortal sin counts as a "conscious choice to reject God."

  4. Romulus, our "default destination" is purgatory.

    Then our default destination is heaven, since purgatory is not a destination but a "purification of the elect." (CCC 1031)

    As the previous paragraph says, "All who die in God's grace and friendship... are indeed assured of their eternal salvation." If the "default" is heaven with a stop first at purgatory, then all live in God's grace and friendship absent mortal sin, which as far as I can tell means the less said about original sin the better.

  5. Tom, you are correct. . .my answer assumes that there is a "default destination" There may not be.