The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Conversations about heaven and hell

I'm not sure if it's a Spirit thing, or what, but recently a retired United Methodist pastor named Raymond Pierson penned a couple of columns that have people stirred up like ... well, hell. The columns basically call into question the existence of hell, as the Church normally defines it, and maintain "God loves each of us, period. Thus He will leave no soul in hell, just as no loving parent would."

(I don't have a link to his first column, but you can find his second one at http://www.thedailytimes.com/sited/story/html/205653 )

One thing for sure, that has to be a comforting thought to unbelievers, or believers who worry about a loved one's soul. Still, I'm only prepared to say a couple of things about this right now, particularly since I'm pondering the possibility of preaching on this very topic ... and this is serious ground, here.

The reason I'm wondering if this is a "Spirit thing" is that several things have been converging at once among postmodern writers. For instance, I'm waiting on Brian McLaren's blog tour to begin on May 9 when he will answer questions about his latest book, "The Last Word and the Word After That." I just got the following e-mail today from Steve O'Keefe through a Yahoo! Group I maintain called PomoWorshipTools:

From Scott:

I have permission from Jossey-Bass to distribute an excerpt from Brian McLaren's new book, "The Last Word and The Word After That."

A leader in the emergent church movement, McLaren was interviewed by Larry King on February 1, 2005, after Time Magazine named him one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.

"The Last Word" is the third and final book in McLaren's "New Kind of Christian" trilogy. It combines deceptively entertaining fiction with scholarly research and Socratic dialogue. In the excerpt I am distributing, McLaren says, "I am more interested in generating conversation than argument."

Indeed, the book is presented as a series of conversations about hell. According to one character, "Millions of people, young and old, 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'... No wonder Christianity -- or that version of it -- is a dying religion in so many places in the world."

I have uploaded the excerpt to the Files section of this group's website (here, he's referring to my PomoWorshipTools Yahoo! Group; if you would like to join, send me an e-mail), under the filename "excerpt.txt."If you'd like to join the conversation, I invite you to participate in Brian McLaren's Blog Tour beginning May 9 at these locations:

Tall Skinny Kiwi: ">tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com
Jordon Cooper's Blog: ">www.jordoncooper.com
Jen Lemen's Blog: ">www.jenlemen.com
Dwight Friesen's Blog: " target="http://dwightfriesen.blog.com/>">dwightfriesen.blog.com
paradoxology: ">www.desertpastor.com
pomomusings ">www.pomomusings.com

Back to Pastor Buzz

The first time I heard a United Methodist theology professor indicate he was dabbling with Universalism (i.e., everyone makes it home in the end), I didn't buy into it, but found it fascinating from a radical grace point of view. Because of that, and because of Brian McLaren's book "A Generous Orthodoxy," I have decided to keep an open mind, knowing that:

A) On this side of eternity, we only know what Scripture tells us about the existence of heaven and hell.

B) I wouldn't dare hold as Gospel any theological opinion that I, or anyone else, comes up that claims a complete understanding about that existence. At this point, I believe that "heaven" is being in communion with God in the hereafter and throughout eternity; "hell" is being separated from God in the hereafter and throughout eternity. However, I leave room for the Holy Spirit to continue instructing me as the Spirit sees fit. (For instance, what does the theology of separation say about Psalm 139? "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.")

C) As I've indicated before, any faith that begins and ends as "fire insurance" is not really faith, but merely a toss of the spiritual dice ... something akin to beginning and ending with "Pascal's wager."

Looking forward to continued conversations ... particularly what McLaren has to say. I've noted before that I don't agree with everything he says, but I find it useful as I learn how to communicate the Gospel (and how not to communicate the Gospel) in this postmodern/post-Christian culture we are engaging today.

Grace and peace,
Buzz