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THE LAST WORD AND THE WORD AFTER THAT: tale of faith, love and doubt, and a new kind of Christianity – BRIAN D. McLAREN

October 13, 2017

This the final part of Brian McLaren’s ‘New Kind of Christian’ trilogy, told through the story of conversations between a pastor and his daughter’s high school science teacher,

The quotations from Dente weren’t really necessary.

He seems to think that gays and trans. are part of the same issue.

His derivation of ‘pharisee’ is very dodgy.


“Is there a better alternative to either of these polarities: a just God without mercy for all or a merciful God without justice for all? Could our views of hell (whichever extreme you choose) be the symptoms of a deeper set of problems -misunderstanding about what God’s justice is, misunderstandings about God’s purpose in creating the world, deep misunderstandings about what kind of person God is?”

“… like the millions of others, young and old, who have given up on Christianity because our way of talking about hell sounds absolutely wacky. `God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,’ we say, `and he’ll fry your butt in hell forever unless you do or believe the right thing.’ `God is a loving father,’ we say, `but he’ll treat you with a cruelty that no human father has ever been guilty of-eternal conscious torture.’ No wonder Christianity-or at least that version of it-is a dying religion in so many places in the world.”

The word destructive is often associated with the word de-constructive, but the association is erroneous. Deconstruction is not destruction; it is hope. It arises from the belief that sometimes, our constructed laws get in the way of unseen justice, our undeconstructed words get in the way of communication, our institutions get in the way of the purposes for which they were constructed, our formulations get in the way of meaning, our curricula get in the way of learning. In those cases, one must deconstruct laws, words, institutions, formulations, or curricula in the hope that something better will appear once the construc­tions-become-obstructions have been taken apart.

And of course, there are plenty of sex-obsessed gay folk just as there are heterosexual folk, which is understandable because the loneliness and isolation for gays can be crushing. Rejection causes people to act out, you know?

I will die one day and from

My life, God will harvest some

Good fruit. Much God will discard

Husks, leaves, stems, purpose

All be torn away and burned

Or left to rot and nourish

Seeds unborn. All judged good will

 Flourish; to God be returned,

All that ripened sweet and strong.

Good fruit saved, forgotten wrong.

 Daniel, do you really think God is like a petty human being, full of anger and revenge? Do you think God wants to inflict torture on people to retaliate for their wrongs? Do you think God would require us to forgive and then be unwilling to do the same?”

I’d heard this sort of argument before. “Of course not, Neil. I’m sure if God sends people to hell, it’s not because he gets any pleasure in it.”

“Ah, you’ve learned the ‘hell’s door is locked from the inside’ argument. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but poor God. Isn’t he in a tough situation?” Then Neil paused, baiting me, I knew, with his irony, but just before I was going to respond, he added, “You don’t think he’s stuck in some higher mechanism, do you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“A lot of modern people forget that our talk of God as judge is metaphorical. In other words, to call God a judge is to make use of a figure of speech, a metaphor, which requires that there be a physical thing to which God is being com­pared. I think we talked about this before, years ago. Modern Christians assume that the kinds of judges back in biblical times are equivalent to the kinds of judges there are in today’s world, but that’s a terribly mistaken assumption.” I looked at him and lifted my head slightly, signaling him to keep talking. “In early biblical times, there was no such thing as a complex court system or jury or constitution or annotated legal code or judicial precedent or nation-state. The judge was—one hoped—la wise, honest, and brave person who helped people resolve disputes and seek justice. It’s true, certain kings like Hammurabi tried to raise the standard of `judgemanship’ by promoting standardized codes with standardized punishments, and in a way, the Jewish Torah is a further elaboration on this theme. But modern judges are so different. They’re really court. mid­level bureaucrats, accountable to mechanisms of the  This is the only way modern conservative Christans can keep believing in both a loving God and horrific hell.i God is a de­cent judge stuck in a rigid, heartless system.”

“Anyway, Scripture can’t self-interpret, so that brings rea­son in. You have to try to make sense of the texts with intellec­tual integrity. And your reason has to deal fairly with tradition and experience too. Chesterton used to say- that tradition is the democracy of the dead. It reminds us not to be prejudiced against voices just because they’re not here anymore.”

I’d heard that before and nodded, then added something I’d heard Neil say before—what I guessed he was about to say next: “But I know that the voice of tradition has usually been a baritone voice, as you say, white European male. That’s why tra­dition has to extend to hear minority reports—what do you always call them?”

“Voices from the margins,” Neil said, “the voices of the other. Voices from the poor and weak and oppressed and for­’ gotten. And all of this has to be integrated with our own expe­rience, with how our beliefs work out in our daily lives, with what kind of fruit they bear.”

 the Hebrew word Sheol was translated as hell in the King James Version. But that was a mistake. Sheol simply meant the place of the dead, the grave. There was no idea of an immortal soul involved and certainly no idea of dif­ferent destinations for the good and the evil.”

 “Nearly all the cultures of the Euphrates valley had stories of the underworld, or the place the dead, which was a kind of shadowy place, dry, barren….”Once down there, Ereshkigal wouldn’t let you leave, so you would have to promise to send someone back in your place as a substitute—weird resonances with some Christian atone­ment theology, I know.

 “There will be a final cosmic battle between G and Evil, and Evil will lose. A savior figure named Sosh will go into hell and rescue and forgive everyone who is penitent, after they go through some kind of ordeal involving molten metal. Hell will then be destroyed, along with any un­repentant people left in it, I guess. All the souls of the just and the penitent who are forgiven will be reunited with bodies and will return to earth to live forever.”

Plato has Socrates say—right be­fore his suicide-1f death were a release from everything, it would be a boon for the wicked, because by dying they would be released not only from the body but also from their own wickedness together with the soul.’ I think he’s saying, ‘Look, it’s important to believe in postmortem punishment; otherwise wicked people will feel that they can get away with wickedness.

As long as they die before being brought to justice, crime pays—unless there’s an afterlife with judgment.'”

 For Jesus, good meant forgiving =nets and reconciling them to the community. For the Phar­isees, good meant explaining why the poor and sick deserved to be poor and sick and blaming scapegoats for the bad status quo. For Jesus, good meant helping the poor and healing the sick and seeking through love to transform the status quo. So for Jesus, good is always compassionate and. . .”

Neil interrupted, “As soon as you say that, I think about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, where he quotes Leviticus and says, ‘Be perfect as your Father in heaven is per­fect.’ Jesus has just told them to love their enemies, and he has said how God blesses the good and evil alike with rain. It’s in that context that he says be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. .”

Now I interrupted. “You mean, Jesus is saying, ‘Your Fa­ther in heaven has a compassionate perfection. Mercy is part of God’s justice. Kindness is part of God’s righteousness. But the righteousness of you Pharisees is cold, exacting, heartless, merciless.’

“Not just how individual souls will be saved but instead how the world will be saved. When I say ‘saved,’ I mean not just from hell, and not just from God’s wrath either. After all, God’s wrath is a good thing, a saving thing. No, Daniel, the gospel is about how the world will be saved from human sin and all that goes with it—human greed, human lust, human pride, human oppression, human hypocrisy and dishonesty, human violence and racism, human chauvinism, human injus­tice.

Neil nodded. “He also speaks of being thrown into Gehenna, which was a garbage dump with a terrible reputation where carcasses were cremated along with garbage. In fact, one of the main words translated as hell in the New Testament is that word Gehenna. Does that mean that people will very literally be deposited in that trash dump outside Jerusalem? And he talks about a place where worms don’t die—a place of perpetual decay, I guess you’d say. Do you believe in literal eternal worms? Why be literal in one place and not another? Besides, all these images can’t be taken literally at the same time—I mean, you can’t have literal fire and darkness, right? So don’t they all suggest waste, decay, regret, and sorrow? Isn’t that what anyone would feel if he spent his whole life on accumulating possessions or wealth or knowledge or power but missed out on life to the full in the kingdom of God? He would have wasted his life! He would have failed to become the glorious person he could have become and instead become something crabby and cramped and ingrown J and dark and shabby and selfish. Wouldn’t that make you weep and gnash your teeth? Isn’t a garbage dump the perfect imagery to use for that kind of waste? It sounds to me like hell is one image Jesus uses among many others.”

 “The reader of the Word cannot select out comfortable passages and ignore those that make us uneasy. . . . Yes, I know a chill comes over you on hearing these things. But what am I to do? . . . Ordained as we are to the ministry of the word, we must cause our hearers discomfort when it is necessary for them to hear. We do this not arbitrar­ily but under command.” Chrysostom

 Lewis suggests that the act of closing in on the self and rejecting God causes souls to shrink or decay into something less and less human, which may suggest that their capacity for suffering decreases.

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