It’s very clear that the afterlife and what it may look like means many different things to many different believers. Some have worked through the immorality that comes with belief in hell and the many other problems associated with it and have come to accept non-existence or the annihilation of souls out of God’s favor (but heaven for the rest). N.T. Wright believes this. Some believe in heaven – we all end up there – but not hell. Some have the more traditional view of heaven and hell but disagree wildly on the criteria for entry into either. It’s an important question one would think, and it seems God could have given us some ironclad clarity. I get consigned to hell on a fairly regular basis for any number of things, but most often because, 1) I no longer have correct beliefs with damning consequences for getting any number of things wrong, and 2) I am openly critical of many of (the countless versions) of Christianity’s bad ideas and practices.
I have written about hell here, (At Least) Seven Ways God Had Around Hell, and that might be a good place to start for any who might be interested in how I think about it. Recently, this post showed up in my feed:
An important word from J.C. Ryle.
J.C. Ryle; “The subject of hell is always offensive to human nature. The minister who dwells much upon it, must expect to find himself regarded as coarse, violent, unfeeling, and narrow-minded. Men love to hear “smooth things,” and to be told of peace, and not of danger. (Isai. 30:10.) But the subject is one that ought not to be kept back, if we desire to do good to souls. It is one that our Lord Jesus Christ brought forward frequently in His public teachings. That loving Saviour, who spoke so graciously of the way to heaven, has also used the plainest language about the way to hell.
Let us beware of being wise above that which is written, and more charitable than Scripture itself. Let the language of John the Baptist be deeply graven in our hearts. Let us never be ashamed to avow our firm belief, that there is a “wrath to come” for the impenitent, and that it is possible for a man to be lost as well as to be saved. To be silent on the subject is positive treachery to men’s souls. It only encourages them to persevere in wickedness, and fosters in their minds the devil’s old delusion, “Ye shall not surely die.” That minister is surely our best friend who tells us honestly of danger, and warns us, like John the Baptist, to “flee from the wrath to come.” Never will a man flee till he sees there is real cause to be afraid. Never will he seek heaven till he is convinced that there is risk of his falling into hell. The religion in which there is no mention of hell, is not the religion of John the Baptist, and of our Lord Jesus, and His apostles.”
What Ryle calls “the plainest language,” requires a literal, contemporary reading of a few handpicked verses, ignoring a good number of other verses that argue in exactly one of the other two ways (universalism and annihilation). Consider* this, this and this, which all suggests that Christians themselves cannot agree on such a serious matter. Second, rejecting the doctrines and objective claims of Christianity or any other religion does not equate to “persevering in wickedness.” This is a false dichotomy and fear-mongering on the face. Once anyone can actually demonstrate the evidence for a “real cause to be afraid,” (what Ryle calls “being wise above that which is written, and more charitable than scripture itself” be damned) perhaps more might be convinced but the arguments are so incredibly weak from logical, theological and loving, human points of view that they defy serious consideration. And yet the fear the teaching instills is powerful and persistent and Ryle knows how to wield it. I felt the need to respond and mine were the first two comments:
Ojo Taylor: Good luck with that “gospel.”
Ojo Taylor: There are many, many Christian biblical scholars who disagree.
At this point, the threads split off in two sub-threads. I’m posting them both with only the most minor of edits, including removing last names. No content has been changed. I’m posting this not because I feel the arguments for hell are profound – they are clearly not, again betraying Ryle’s “real cause to be afraid” – but because it’s a good reminder that a lot of people in the U.S. still think this way, and because I think it’s important to offer counter-arguments to bad ideas and to get them out in the open. Too many live in fear and hopefully this will give others a voice to express their own doubts about hell and the afterlife and even more, to free them of this fear and guilt, perhaps move someone even a little towards a more liberating point of view. So away we go…
Eric: Ojo Taylor difficult subject. If someone believed in the Christian God and what Jesus accomplished on the cross, the idea of God ultimately saying, “okay, your will be done” is hard to take.
John: Ojo Taylor, I’m sure there are also many, many Christian biblical scholars who do agree as well. It would be grossly irresponsible for someone who teaches God’s word not to mention hell. The hope we have in Jesus Christ is eternal life in heaven. The reason the path to Heaven is narrow is due a great deal to the choices man makes to follow God or self. That doesn’t mean one has to become a mindless zombie either. God created the earth and there is much to enjoy here. You are a talented musician and teacher. Another might be a gifted scientist, pilot, athlete, etc. Anyways, I’m not looking for an argument, I respect your opinion. I believe if one reads the word of God in the Bible asking God to give them understanding, then the responsibility to warn about hell becomes clear.
Ojo Taylor: Yes, I’m sure you and many others believe that, just as many other Christians do not, including a number of mainline conservative scholars like NT Wright. Anything can be (and is) justified using scripture. Hell is a pernicious and immoral teaching, as we understand those words, unworthy of a supposed benevolent deity. It is possible though that there is a pernicious and immoral god out there. In any case, hell and any god who created a scenario where his children are consigned to eternal torment for any reason must be rejected.
Ojo Taylor: PS- I’m not looking for an argument either. Just presenting another point of view that I think needs to be offered in the face of these kinds of propositions.
Eric: Ojo Taylor I take your point of view seriously. I also respect NT Wright a great deal. I pray for discernment…
James: Ojo Taylor , the Words of Jesus Christ; And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Matthew 25:30 NKJV.
and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:42 NKJV.
Ojo Taylor: Yes, like others, I accept that you believe that, as many other Christian scholars understand the language differently. But in any case, this teaching is Immoral and pernicious, as I mentioned.
Ojo Taylor: A literal reading of the KJV or the NKJV is neither robust nor sound.
James: Ojo Taylor , if teaching of Hell is immoral and pernicious, Jesus Christ started the teaching and taught that subject of Hell with simplicity and simple language.
Ojo Taylor: Yes, again, I’m sure that’s what you believe based on the way you read the text. The fact that the teaching is pernicious, immoral and evil (which is beyond doubt), leaves a few options. Either Jesus and God are immoral and evil, which is certainly possible, but not worthy of a deity, and I reject that idea also. Or the teaching is wrong, as many, perhaps most biblical scholars agree. It’s interesting to me that very few if any actual scholars (and here I am not talking about theologians. I’m talking about experts in the language, history, culture, archeology and anthropology of the time and place, etc.) accept the simplicity and simple language as compelling, or the texts that must be accepted as authoritative to get there. The KJV and the manuscripts and translations it is based on is probably the weakest of the available translations. This is not a controversial fact. Even the mainstream denominations accept that. Happy New Year, James!
Mark: Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish
Ojo Taylor: Funny… that actually requires intelligence and logic to understand, almost like wanting to have your cake and eat it too.
Ojo Taylor: Plus, I could make that silly argument about anything.
Mark: You’re a good man Ojo
Ojo Taylor: Thank you. So are you.
John: Ojo Taylor, interesting point of view. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’ve referred to Hell as a pernicious and immoral teaching. That would depend on one’s view of what is moral. Also, Hell was not created for man, but rather for Satan and his fallen angels. The only way a human goes to Hell is by their own personal choice.
For example. A man is not happy with a comfortable, profitable job, a nice vehicle to drive, nice home to live in, plenty of food and anything else that could be added to that list. He decides to rob a bank, because he thinks to himself “I want more, I don’t have what I want”. The man goes to the bank and pulls out a loaded gun demanding money and that everyone does as he orders them to do. Everyone complies with his wishes, however, the man says to himself, “It might be fun to shoot someone”. So he kills someone to see what the feeling is like. He thinks, “Wow, that wasn’t bad, I want to shoot someone else”. So the man continues to kill people, some he tortured and watches them die slowly. The police arrive and take him to jail. After his trial he gets locked away for life. The man can’t understand why he is going to be sentenced to this pernicious and immoral jail. After all, he saw nothing wrong with the killing he had done. It was only someone else’s point of view that murder is morally wrong.
Also, Jesus was never subtle when talking about Hell. He came straight out with warning us. So I know you have your own beliefs, God gave us the freedom to decide what we want to do. I know my beliefs are different than yours.
Sorry this is such a long post, but I appreciate the author opening up this discussion. Have a fantastic New Year Ojo!
James: Ojo Taylor , it’s interesting that you mentioned expert in language, well Jesus when teaching His disciple never used expert in language to reach his audience, who were mainly simple people example them being fisherman, for the expert in such field had already rejected Him. Am not surprised you Ojo you have rejected Him as well, in any case you are free to do so.
Ojo Taylor: John – happy new year also to you.
“That would depend on one’s view of what is moral.”
That’s why I said earlier that we discuss it as we understand the term. It’s not an ambiguous word.
Jesus did exactly that, and this is where @james is going wrong too. Jesus did use simple language that the people then understood on their terms. He did it over and over, to the Pharisees, his family and followers, everyone. He put his teachings on terms they understood, never appealing to some other intelligence or logic or moral code. If you want to Invoke that, the burden is going to have to be on you to articulate that.
So let me help you out here with your own metaphor and take it even further. If I were omnipotent and all-loving, and I had a child who of his own free will and choice chose to be Hitler to the 20th power for a thousand lifetimes, I STILL would never ever consign such a child to eternal gnashing of teeth where the worm dieth not. I would use my power and love to ease this child’s suffering and grant him peace especially in an afterlife where we know as we are known, where knowledge is perfected. It’s God after all. Use your imagination. I expect God to be at least as loving, gracious and merciful as I am. Your metaphor simply has God shrugging…”oh well, you chose not believe in the virgin birth of your own free will! To eternal gnashing of teeth with you! Next!”
Any such religion and teaching of hell is on the face immoral, evil and must be called out and opposed wherever it shows up. That’s why I said “good luck with that ‘gospel.’”
Fortunately there’s no good reason to believe any of it in the first place.
@James- I am not so easily dismissed. I do not reject Jesus. I reject versions of Jesus, as do you. I especially reject a Jesus that is immoral and evil. There are better and more moral teachings by other Christian pastors and scholars that have other problems but they’ve at least solved this one.
Ojo Taylor: There is no scenario, not one, zero, where the most moral outcome for a child of mine who I love unconditionally and without limit goes to hell for any reason at all.
Mark: Ojo Taylor just out of curiosity Ojo, what is your stance on consequences for actions? Not baiting you for anything, just trying to frame my mind around your belief system.
Ojo Taylor: Mark – That’s an excellent question, and one that as a father of five and grandfather of seven, I think about all the time. Of course there are consequences for our actions. As a parent I always thought consequences should be fair, responsible, should fit and match the severity of the action, should be educational, restorative and healing. But there are also other consequences out of my control as a parent. Perhaps having to do with courses of action that cannot be reversed once an action transpires. Murder is one such example. Those must also be taken into account and acknowledged.
With regard to hell and an omnipotent, all-loving god, none of these apply. God made the rules and created the scenario apparently where by free will or otherwise, a large number of his children, most if we are to believe the “narrow is the road and few there be that find it” verse will be eternally tormented. God had a number of other more moral options at his disposal. This is why this version of god and any theology must be false, is immoral and must be rejected.
James: Ojo Taylor , if I may ask you, if God is wrong in your opinion can you correct Him? Second question, can you be more just than, God. Thirdly can you judge God, fourthly, can you be more loving than God. And lastly can you enforce your judgement [sic] if by your standard find God to be wrong. In my opinion you need to be well equipped to oppose the living God. In other hand, if truly God will cast those who rejected His Son into Hell, and you happen to be one of them, are you ready to face the consequences.?
Ojo Taylor: 1) if there is an all-loving god then God is not wrong. As I mentioned earlier though, it is possible God is an immoral god. In that case yes I can offer correction. In this case though it’s those who believe this immoral teaching who are wrong. Again, many other Christians have already figured this out.
2) If God is immoral, then yes I can. But again I pursue and seek the highest truth and expression of love as we understand those words. So I would expect God to be at least as just and moral as I am. Thus my rejection of hell, which is unjust and immoral. 3) I have no interest in judging any god. 4) Again, if God is the immoral god of hell then yes I can but I’m more hopeful than that as I just said. 5) I have no interest in judging God or anyone else, as I just said. If such an immoral god exists and insists on consigning me to hell against the choice of spending eternity worshipping an immoral deity then I must choose hell. It would be the only moral and loving choice. But also as I said earlier, fortunately there’s no reason to believe any of it. I fear the Christian hell no more than you fear the Islamic hell. ❤
James: Ojo Taylor, you made your own judgement [sic] not God, if rejecting God is the moral thing for you to do, and accepting God through His Son Jesus Christ for the work He did on the cross that whoever believes in Him should not perish in Hell is immoral. Then who can help you. The work of our Lord Jesus becomes irrelevant to you.
Ojo Taylor: I’ve already said I do not reject god or Jesus. Just certain versions of god or Jesus, the immoral versions which I guess would include yours since you continually attempt to dismiss me to hell. I’m sorry you are driven so much by fear. I pursue only the highest expressions of truth and love. I hope not just for your sake but for those around you that you also think are going to hell that you come into a deeper understanding of god and love. ❤
James: Ojo Taylor, when God declears He is almighty, there is a reason behind those Word. He is the judge of every soul. You see not every person will agree with the ruling of a judge ever, so not every person will agree with God.
But to be a judge worth the title of a judge you need to have authority that enforces the judgement because after all not every one you judge as a judge will accept your judgement. Criminal who are judged into prison do not accept kindlyly the judge judgement but they still find themselves in prison no matter protesting cursing etc. The point is, the judge doesn’t have to be moral before the accused, for that matter the accused may have a different moral standards. But can the judge enforce his judgement. Hence God declears Am Almighty.
Ojo Taylor: James – we’ve been over all this already. I accept that you believe that. Many millions of Christians reading the same texts and scriptures do not. An earthly judge has demonstrable authority. You’re just asserting yours by way of chest thumping and that’s not going to carry the day. You’ll have to address the problems on the merits. Otherwise, as I said at the very beginning, “good luck with that ‘gospel.’”
James: Ojo Taylor, before you go one more question, you must be a citizen of a country do you agree with everything in constitution? Can the constitution be exactly the way you want it to be? If honest it’s impossible or else you have to move. It’s the same with the Kingdom of God. Some have decided to move.
Mark: I believe the real issue here is the focus on avoidance of hell rather than relationship with the creator. For someone to truly love someone, it must be a choice and not a forced arrangement. One must understand that evil is not a created thing, it is the rejection and absence of God. Therefore, the souls that reject God ultimately, will never be in the presence of God as they have chosen. The hell we speak of is a place that is the fulfillment of anarchy and there will be absolutely no peace. God is not condemning people to torment, rather people choose that place that is absent from God.
Mark: Ojo Taylor I don’t believe I will ever change your mind, and that is perfectly fine. But I do want to share my perspective on the issue.
James: Salvation, Saviour, saved, as we understand the meaning of those words, we appreciate the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father who send Him to save us, and for that reason we can’t help but love Him💗
Ojo Taylor: Yeah, I don’t agree with your conclusion. We disagree with how the constitution is interpreted. That’s the explicit job of the courts. That there are millions of Christians and other people who disagree with your interpretation does not mean that they decided to move.
Mark: Ojo Taylor I believe that many people completely misinterpret the scriptures as a whole. Many use it as a dogmatic hammer designed to control people. However, when looking at the whole instead of focussing and misinterpreting details out of context tends to turn a lot of people off.
James: Ojo Taylor – The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:41-42 NKJV.
Do you need a expert in law or language to interpret the above Word’s of Jesus Christ.
Ojo Taylor: James – did I ever argue anywhere that there are not people who believe in an immoral god or that god might be immoral and evil?! You are still not addressing the merits. And also you are arguing with other Christian scholars who know a lot more about those texts, interpretations, origins and the many thousands of manuscripts, none of them original, that the verse you cited comes from. Study to show thyself approved, and that means scholars who don’t necessarily hold your view. In the meantime, again, any such god read literally from that one verse in that one translation is immoral. The chest thumping doesn’t make it any more acceptable or believable. Hell is immoral. I don’t care how many verses you quote. Happy Sunday.
James: Ojo Taylor, you don’t care how many verses, scriptures I quote, I get your message. Well my faith is pegged on scripture not what schoolers think.
Ojo Taylor: Yes, you’ve been very clear on that in your attempts to send me to hell. Good luck with that “gospel.” Perhaps at the very least you’ll understand why so many of us aren’t having it.
Ben: Jordan Peterson’s thoughts on “Hell” and “Being” in his book 12 Rules For Life are very thought provoking and may serve as a liason between dualistic thinking…
Steven: As with so much else, the punitive view of hell and the substitutionary atonement view of the cross both depend on a literalist view of the bible. If a person does not share that view, then these concepts become meaningless.
James: Ojo Taylor am not sending you into Hell, am showing you where you are headed by rejecting the Lord Jesus and His teaching. The Bible is very clear many are headed there.
Ojo Taylor: Sure James. Sure.
James: Ojo Taylor, my words means nothing, if you doubt the Words of the Savior the Lord Jesus. Why do you need my words.
Ojo Taylor: Whatever gave you the idea that I needed your words? May you someday find freedom from fear and threats my friend.
The second thread is here. Shorter, due in part to my not being able to capture the expanded comments before the entire thread was deleted by the author. I’ve posted what I have and only those comments that are still coherent even unexpanded.
Steve: Academically is ‘fear’ the antithesis of love? ‘Hate’ is the antithesis of love, is it not? Fear is a rational and reasonable emotional reaction to something which bears grave consequence…See more
Ojo Taylor: Steve – I’m driving and will have to give you a more detailed answer later. But in the meantime I would suggest that what YOU call biblically accurate, millions of other Christians consider false. So I’ll let you guys argue that one out.
As for fear and love, I was simply referring to your own scripture:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18 – New International Version
Steve: Ojo Taylor I’ll spare you a line of erroneous reasoning. What ‘millions of Christians’ might believe is utterly irrelevant
Steve: I’m quite sure we can clear up any misunderstanding with a bit of specificity and clarity, instead of mysterious sounding attempts at theology.
Ojo Taylor: I think I’ve been crystal clear. You’re free to ask whatever you want about whatever I’ve said. In the meantime, we’ll just have to disagree on whether the widespread disagreement among Christians is relevant or not with regard to “biblical accuracy” for which there is after all, no authoritative person or body to decide such things. Happy Monday!
Steve: Although I’m a mite troubled by your comment ‘simply referring to your own Scriptures.’ MY Scriptures?…See more
(The following three comments were written to directly address points in the above un-expanded thread. Those points are apparent by reading my responses – that Steve has standards he thinks should be used to determine biblical accuracy, that since I am not a Christian I cannot know what the bible says, and for the same reason, I shouldn’t even quote or cite it.)
Ojo Taylor: Besides all that, whether something is “biblically accurate” or not using standards you set doesn’t mean anything to me.
Ojo Taylor: I don’t need to be a Christian to know what the Bible says or to know that there are widespread and irreconcilable differences among all sects, especially on hell. This seems patently obvious. You have no idea what my understanding of scripture is.
Ojo Taylor: Nor do I need to believe what you believe to quote scripture.
Steve: Ojo Taylor So we’ve learned that you haven’t been clear and are persisting in not being clear, and that when you’ve been asked to be clear you became arrogantly self-assured in the authority of your position and not only refused to condescend to clarif…See more
Steve: Ojo Taylor No, you don’t. But you’re not winning any credibility points by being so disingenuous.
Steve: Ojo Taylor “I don’t need to be a Christian to know what the Bible says or to know that there is widespread and irreconcilable differences among all sects, especially in hill. This seems patently obvious. You have no idea what my understanding of scripture is.”
You’d be surprised. You’re not as mysterious as you think. Or as clever.
Ojo Taylor: I respect your right and desire not to have a serious discussion about the issues.
Steve: Ojo Taylor Fascinating approach to trying to make yourself look more intellectual than you are, while persisting in avoiding the subject opened up for your discussion, by trivial attempts to detract with a myriad of logical fallacies and psychological games.
You must be REALLY insecure.
Ojo Taylor: Steve – This is epic! Thank you. This is going to make a fantastic blog post.
[i] Thanks to my friend James Lewis, who is NOT the same James in this thread, for the links.