McLaren |

TBC Staff

May 05, 2006
Brian McLaren's Inferno: the provocative church leader explains his view of hell [Excerpts]
No contributor to "Out of Ur" ["Christianity Today's" blog] has elicited more responses than Brian McLaren. Part of McLaren’s appeal is his courage to rethink long-held evangelical assumptions and call the church to shed the baggage of modernity. Brian's critics, however, accuse him of throwing the orthodox baby out with the modernist bath water. In this interview McLaren discusses his view of hell and judgment, and explains why some have mislabeled him a universalist.
Brian, in your book, The Last Word and the Word After That, you focus heavily on "deconstructing" the evangelical view of hell. Some critics think your deconstruction has moved to the point of your embracing a "universalist" position. Are you a Universalist?
McLaren: No, I am not embracing a traditional universalist position, but I am trying to raise the question, When God created the universe, did he have two purposes in mind -- one being to create some people who would forever enjoy blessing and mercy, and another to create a group who would forever suffer torment, torture, and punishment? What is our view of God? A God who plans torture? A God who has an essential, eternal quality of hatred? Is God love, or is God love and hate?
It might sound surprising to state it that way, but you'd be surprised at some of the emails I've received. For example, someone quoted Scriptures like Psalm:5:5 or Psalm:11:5 and said, "If you don't believe in a God of hate, you don’t believe in the God of the Bible." Here's my concern: if you believe in a god of hate, violence, revenge, and torture, it makes you very susceptible to becoming a person made in that god’s image.
Even though this subject is so controversial and I don't like controversy, we have to address it because we're dealing with our view of God, and the consequences of our essential view of God are staggering. The only thing that’s more important, I guess, is God's view of us!
Anyway, Western Christianity has been overly preoccupied with the question of who's going to heaven or hell after death, and not focused enough on the question of what kind of life is truly pleasing to God here in the land of the living. We’ve got to look at that. In The Last Word and the Word After That, I wanted to raise the issue of "Judgment," that all will be judged rightly and fairly by God alone, who weighs the scales rightly, and does this for everyone. Again, when we put ourselves in the position of judge -- making pronouncements on the eternal destiny of others -- I think it's pretty dangerous, especially in light of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount.
My approach is a little different. Although in many ways I find myself closer to the view of God held by some universalists than I do the view held by some exclusivists, in the end I'd rather turn our attention from the questions WE think are important to the question JESUS thinks is most important.
We obsess on "who's in" and "who's out." Jesus, however, seems to be asking the question, "How can the kingdom of God more fully come on earth as it is in heaven, and how should disciples of the kingdom live to enter and welcome the kingdom?"
Most people aren't willing to reopen these issues with an open mind, and those who do find the process painful and socially dangerous in many of our churches. In the end, I suppose I am truly an evangelical Protestant in the sense that I believe we must go back and search the Scriptures and look at them afresh and see if there isn't something better than what we have been taught. Ironically, we could stand before God and have to answer for our judgmentalism and heartless attitudes that were, to a significant degree, consequences of a popular and longstanding misreading of the Scriptures on this subject of hell.
[TBC: According to McLaren's logic, Jesus was one of those who was "overly preoccupied with the question of who's going to heaven or hell after death." Look to the Scriptures. Jesus spent far more time warning of the dangers of hell than of the joys of heaven. Apparently this subject was important to our Savior.]