Andrew Jones aka the Tall Skinny Kiwi has some great thoughts in a post " Rob Bell and the New Generation " ...I would just add, it's just not the new generation. I think we're in a " generation " that really want's to revisit these doctrines of " Hell " and " Heaven "...to look deeply within the context of scripture, the cultural, philosophical and religious influences of the day. After 1800 years...i think it's time to dust it off...has it ever occured to anyone they might have been wrong. Anyway, Andrew continues...
I think the new generation of Christians are suspicious of the default fundamentalist-premillenial view of heaven and hell and are open to learning what other streams of Christian thought have to offer.
Regarding the next generation and their view of the last things, I think...
1. They will continue to examine the broad resources of Christian theologyincluding those from Eastern, Coptic, Syrian and Western church fathers as well as more recent streams of thought.
2. They will desire a view of the end times that moves beyond a Jack Chick hell, a Left Behind rapture, and a Hal Lindsay burning-planet-ecology.
They will continue to be suspicious of an end-times perspective that cannot differientiate itself from the fundamentalist imbalances of the past 30 years.
3. They will assume that because God is a just God, there will be justice in the end.
After all, the concern for justice is a hallmark of the emerging church. Why should we then want to affirm the final victory ofinjustice? Is it simply because we confuse the idea of a final judgment with misplaced, medieval notions of hell as a place of eternal torment? Andrew Perriman, Does Emerging Church have a problem with final judgement?
4. They will acknowledge that its a difficult subject. Regarding the issue of hell and heaven:
- its not as crystal clear as some teachers make out,
- much of what the Bibles gives us on the topic is through parable and dream and vision.
- our preconceived notions of hell and heaven might have been move flavored by Dante than the Bible,
- the many words and concepts used for "hell" in the Bible could only be taken as interchangebly pointing to the same reality with a lot of effort,
- they will treat the matter as complex, mysterious and worthy of humilty in our explanation of it and will [hopefully] be wary of going further in their certainty of what we know about heaven and hell, and who does and doesnt go there, than the Scriptures themselves.
"The traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage, postmortem journey represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope." NT Wright, Heaven is not our Home, CT
5. They will resonate with a view of biblical prophecy that answers the questions of immediacy among its initial hearers before bouncing 2000 years into the future to give us a 'relevant' message for today. It's a narcissistic view of biblical prophecy that assumes Jesus was giving his hearers a message that was irrelevant for them and all about us, about our times, about our particular countries.
6. They will acknowledge nuances in meaning and will not assume that because a theologian who lived 1600 years ago said "hell" or "heaven" that he was picturing the same reality that we do when we hear the same word. I commented this morning on Scot McKnight's post regarding what the Eastern Orthodox believe about hell [Part 1 and 2]. . .
I noticed Al Mohler uses John Chrysostom’s mention of “hell” as proof that John believed in the same reality of current day Reformed thinkers. But then I read Chrysostom’s Easter sermonand he seems to be talking about 'hades' or the grave:
"Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed.
Hell was in turmoil having been abolished.
Hell was in turmoil having been made captive.
O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?"
7. They will not select a new eschatology out of rebellion or protest, or because it makes God out to be mean or intolerant (as Mark Driscoll suggests inTo Hell with Hell), or just because the old one does not suit their sensibilities. That is insulting! We are talking about Generation Text who are only one click away from the world's largest library.
I think if they [we] suddenly discovered that God was a lot meaner that we thought, we would still follow him because He is God, not because we find in Him a blend of human qualities and preferences that matches our own ideals.
No, if a new generation is to commit itself to a re:worked understanding of heaven and hell then it will only happen if that understanding is informed by a comprehensive and coherent understanding of what the Scriptures actually say about the topic, an understanding that we would expect to have precedent in historic Christian orthodoxy, which may have been previously glossed over and temporarily blinded by present concerns and prejudices.
I might be naive, but when that happens, I think there will be more consensus than confusion. Even among the Reformed, as I saw happening a few years ago when NT Wright challenged our inherited idea of heaven and challenged us to read our Old Testament.
N. T. Wright actually does believe in heaven; he just doesn’t believe that Christians go there to live forever after they die. That may sound strange to some ears, but what he says on this point is actually orthodox Christian truth.
Denny Burk, Does NT Wright believe in heaven?
So, am I too optimistic?
Doctrine of Hell in the Early Church Fathers...this was there preception, and again I think we really need to address " all " the influences ( scriptural, cultural, philosophical, religious ) of that period.
In the church fathers (post-New-Testament Christian leaders and theologians), the doctrine of hell quickly becomes more well-defined as a place of eternal torment, which is generally seen as physical in nature:
"The way of darkness is crooked, and it is full of cursing. It is the way of eternal death with punishment." (Pseudo-Barnabas, c. 70-130 AD)
"You should fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the eternal fire. It will afflict those who are committed to it even to the end." (Letter to Diognetus, c. 125-200)
"[The martyrs] despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by the suffering of a single hour.... For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and will never be quenched." (Martyrdom of Polycarp, c. 135)
"Sinners will be consumed because they sinned and did not repent." (Shepherd of Hermas, c. 150)
"Those who have not known God and do evil are condemned to death. However, those who have known God and have seen his mighty works, but still continue in evil, will be chastised doubly, and will die forever." (Shepherd of Hermas, c. 150)
"We believe...that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merits of his deed. ... Sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up." (Justin Martyr, c. 160)
"Hell [Gehenna] is a place where those who have lived wickedly are to be punished." (Justin Martyr, c. 160)
"Some are sent to be punished unceasingly into judgment and condemnation of fire." (Justin Martyr, c. 160)
"We who are now easily susceptible to death, will afterwards receive immortality with either enjoyment or with pain." (Tatian, c. 160)
"We are persuaded that when we are removed from the present life we will live another life, better than the present one...or, if they fall with the rest, they will endure a worse life, one in fire. For God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, who are mere by-products. For animals perish and are annihilated. On these grounds, it is not likely that we would wish to do evil." (Athenagoras, c. 175)
"To the unbelieving and despisers...there will be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish. At the end, everlasting fire will possess such men." (Theophilus, c. 180)
"Eternal fire is prepared for sinners. The Lord has plainly declared this and the rest of the Scriptures demonstrate it." (Irenaeus, c. 180)
"All souls are immortal, even those of the wicked. Yet, it would be better for them if they were not deathless. For they are punished with the endless vengeance of quenchless fire. Since they do not die, it is impossible for them to have an end put to their misery." (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195; from a post-Nicene manuscript fragment)
"We [Christians] alone make a real effort to attain a blameless life. We do this under the influence of... the magnitude of the threatened torment. For it is not merely long-enduring; rather, it is everlasting." (Tertullian, c. 197)
"Gehenna... is a reservoir of secret fire under the earth for purposes of punishment." (Tertullian, c. 197)
"There is neither limit nor termination of these torments. There, the intelligent fire burns the limbs and restores them. It feeds on them and nourishes them. ... However, no one except a profane man hesitates to believe that those who do not know God are deservedly tormented." (Mark Minucius Felix, c. 200)