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« Brian McLaren, Here on Monday. | Main | The Last Word and The *Prayer* After That »

May 09, 2005


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Hey Brian,

Mike Clawson here. We met at a youth pastors retreat in Minneapolis this past November. Anyhow, thanks for writing The Last Word. I found it very helpful and a good starting point for reconsidering my assumptions about hell. However, I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed at the end of the book. I felt like a lot of valuable deconstruction of our traditional concept of hell had occurred, but that there wasn't enough reconstruction for me to look to as an alternative. I was left really not knowing what to think about hell. I realize that was probably your intent, i.e. not to tell us what to believe, but simply to prod our thinking and encourage further conversation. So I guess that leads to my first question: Can you provide me with recommendations for conversation partners (in book form) to help me continue this journey? In other words, are there any authors you'd recommend that spell out more clearly where you're headed in your conception of hell? Anyone who defines more specifically an alternative to the traditional views of hell who I could be reading?

My second question has to do with Markus' comment at the end of chapter 23 about how we are saved by grace but judged by works. I wish you had elaborated more on how you think grace, salvation, and judgment all work out. One of the criticisms I've often heard of emergent folks is that we are reinstating a works based salvation. I think there is that impression because you and others (Tony Jones for example) seem to return so much focus to questions of spiritual formation and the process of becoming like Christ as key to what salvation really is all about (i.e. learning to live according to kingdom ways). The implication then seems to be that if we therefore don't succeed in becoming like Christ (i.e. if we're not perfect) then we aren't really saved. I know you wouldn't want to put it that way (and as a fellow emergent Christian, neither would I) but how would you put it? Where does grace come in? Does bringing sanctification (or theosis) back into the picture of what it means to be truly saved place too heavy of a burden on those of us who struggle day by day with our own sinfulness? Was there any value to Martin Luther's move to separate justification from santification?

I realize that's a pretty heavy question and probably worthy of a whole book in itself, but any thoughts you could offer would be appreciated.



Well I'm joining the discussion late..

I was wondering if the idea of the developement of theology and the nature of the Church as developings "organically" has been explored at all.

That is one idea that I talk about a lot when I get into some theological discussions with people. Especially as an Orthodox (Coptic) Christian talking to more modern evagelical Protestants.

Things like Hell. The Belief in the Trinity many things happen over a long stretch of time. They happen over various theological battles, discussions and even in coming into contact with different cultures (The belief in Hell for instance from coming in contact with Persian Zoroastorianism, while the the Trinity with Greek Hellenic phisophy).

Anyway there is belief in Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy that God guides the Church. And does so progressively over the centuries, he doesn't necessarily lay it all out there at once. So I was just wondering what you thought about that.

I am one of those from what would be classified as a "mainline" perspective and have been drawn to the postmodern thinking of the emergent conversation. I confess to not having read this book and wonder if you engage the idea of "The Harrowing of Hell" as suggested by 1 Peter. Does the creedal confession "(Jesus) descended into hell," based on this text offer a way of pairing judgement with mercy?

Does what you believe cause you to love God and people more? That was the most helpful over-arching idea I received from "The Last Word".

At first I thought the book would spur me toward digging deeper into the questions of hell but it actually did the opposite. I found myself moved toward greater concern over the present realities of my relationship with God and others. It's not that the concept of hell isn't important but I'm just not motivated by it...right now...maybe in time...maybe not.

The whole "heaven as the carrot and hell as the stick" concept seems to forgo the immediate reality of kingdom of God in the present.

Hope that's an encouragement to you Brian.

Grace and peace to you,


Sounds like a bunch of worldly relativism to me. May I refer you to Albert Mohler's column on such "wisdom of the world" today. Such talk about no hell sounds like what our "itchy ears" want to hear.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. "In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."

The conclusion of this study........

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die".

Of course, if there is such a thing as heaven....or hell.

BTW...there is no "word after that". God's Word is complete and true. Making it into something more palatable is not only wrong, but worthy of ETERNAL CONDEMNATION.

If you think that Brian or anyone else here is advocating what you describe as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" then you obviously haven't read the book or been listening very closely to what people are saying. Your "MTD" sounds more like a strawman to me. Easy to fabricate and knock down, but not really representative of what anyone (or at least, anyone in the emerging church) really believes.

I haven't read this book, but the title gives the whole thing away. There is no "word after that". Adding to or changing the bible is worthy of ETERNAL CONDEMNATION.

I have read up on this "emerging church" stuff, however. Apparently, this is a euphemism for changing bible truth to make it more palatable in todays sensitivites. The truth of the matter is that Jesus died to save us from an eternity in hell. If you don't understand that, then the need for a Savior is very relative. Certainly, your level of gratitude to Jesus, and a heart for the lost is negligible.

The comment..."open and affirming inclusive faith preacher," hmmmm sounds very un-Christian to me. Jesus was not open and affirming. The was very closed to the reality of an eternity in heaven, and said that only "through Him" can you get there. Only those who repent of their sins and receive Him as Savior will be saved(from an eternity in hell). And what does "affirming" mean? In today's society, it usually means "to declare positively or firmly" sinful behavior. Jesus never did this? He told the adulterous woman to go and "sin no more". Those who consider themselves Christians and willfully live a sinful lifestyle, must examine their faith. Jesus said that "if you are truly my disciples, you will do what I say". Saving faith includes Lordship, and if you are not following the Lord, then maybe you don't have saving faith.

Another quote from Albert Mohler on the "emerging church"
Mohler concludes that McLaren and other leaders in the Emergent Church represent “a significant challenge to biblical Christianity.”
“Unwilling to affirm that the Bible contains propositional truths that form the framework for Christian belief, this movement argues that we can have Christian symbolism and substance without those thorny questions of truthfulness that have so vexed the modern mind,” Mohler writes.
“The worldview of postmodernism—complete with an epistemology that denies the possibility of or need for propositional truth—affords the movement an opportunity to hop, skip and jump throughout the Bible and the history (of) Christian thought in order to take whatever pieces they want from one theology and attach them, like doctrinal post-it notes, to whatever picture they would want to draw.”

Jesus was very clear on the reality of an eternity in hell for those who do not recieve Him as Savior. Eternity is a long time. The life we live here on earth is a blip....a vapor. Do not be afraid of discussing (with the Holy Spirit's prompting) the reality of hell to unbelievers, Jesus didn't. The gospel is very simple and easy to understand. All this "emerging" nonsense may just make some folks feel good enough about themselves to reject the simple reality of the truth of scripture and spend an eternity in hell. That is why Paul was so "astonished" at the folks in Galatia, and why he was adamant about them being eternally condemned.

"After my skin is destroyed,"

hey seraphim my friend -- maybe Job was referring to the destruction of his skin because of the boils. and that he believed his flesh would grow back.

just another POV.


You said:

"Do not be afraid of discussing (with the Holy Spirit's prompting) the reality of hell to unbelievers, Jesus didn't."

Where did Jesus do that exactly? Talk to "unbelievers" about hell? In the gospels? Where exactly I'd like to know.


How about these 2.... just 2 of many

Mark 9:45-45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." Everyone will be salted with fire.

Luke 13:22-30 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' "But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' "But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."

oops....Mark 9:45-49

Tammy, thanks for the new POV, but I don't think so. Love ya though.

Steve, you say:

"haven't read this book, but the title gives the whole thing away. There is no "word after that". Adding to or changing the bible is worthy of ETERNAL CONDEMNATION."

what can I say, but Sigh. Here you are defending the Bible, the Word of God. IN which Paul said he'd go to Hell if he thought it could save some of his countryman. A stance that seems the opposite of you telling us someone is worthy of eternal condemnation....what you must remember is that we are all worthy of not being with God and only Jesus changes that.

When the Last Word of the Bible is fulfilled. When all the books are opened, read and shut, there will still be a Word after the Last Word. Jesus The Christ. The God-Man. The Logos of God, the Word of God is not repeat not a book. The Book important as it is, points us to the Word of God, the Logos who is Jesus Christ. Check you tude dude, alot of us are going to be in Heaven. You'll have to learn to deal with us eventually, unless of course you arn't there with us...



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