Whether it was a brilliant marketing strategy or just a sad reflection of the charged atmosphere of Christian dialogue these days, one cannot deny that Rob Bell’s latest book Love Wins has stirred up a load of controversy before it has even hit the shelves. As a book claiming the daunting task of being “A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” the uproar was understandable although disappointingly cruel at times. For some reason many Christians hold to the notion that where we go when we die is the most important aspect of our faith and thus get rather up in arms when people even dare to open that topic up for conversation. Bell deftly addresses the need to re-prioritize what is central to our faith, but more on that in a moment. Let me first get the controversial stuff out of the way.
Tall Skinny Kiwi: Who has the skinny on hell? notes that "'Farewell Rob Bell' has probably become the most famous Christian tweet of all time". Then there's Stoking The Religious Fires With Rob Bell by Jonathan Brink. And so it goes.
I'm not going to add to the blog posts about the book because I haven't read it, and on the subject of Hell I have little to say other that what I have already said in two other blog posts at Hell became afraid and Go to Hell! | Khanya.
So why am I writing this?
It is mainly because I went back to read those two previous posts as a result the flurry of posts about this book, and was struck by some of the comments on the second of them.
I had noted that in the New Testament when Jesus talks about going to hell he does so mainly in the context of wealth accumulation and redistribution. Specifically, he teaches that those who accumulate wealth and fail to redistribute it are going to hell (in the parables of the sheep and the goats at the last judgment, and the rich man and Lazarus). Yet this emphasis seems to be lacking in the blog posts of those who seem to be most upset by Rob Bell's alleged threat to the doctrine of hell.
And a lot of the commenters on the post at Go to Hell! | Khanya seemed to be obssessed with a point that seem (to me at least) quite peripheral to the parables. For them the question of whether or not Lazarus got health care was unimportant. And whether he got it or didn't get from the rich man or from the dogs was unimportant. The really important point was that it should not come from the government. This, it seems, is the first and greatest commandment, which supersedes the law, the prophets, the Fathers of the Church, and indeed the gospel itself.
They seemed to regard any use by "the government" of tax-funded resources to relieve suffering as the worst possible form of theft.
And that led me to thinking about the recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand. Various governments of various countries offered to send help, and many of the "search and rescue" teams looking for survivors were government funded. US president Barack Obama even offered the services of a US government-funded aircraft carrier that happened to be in the vicinity of Japan.
Some of those who have offered and provided help are NGOs, and therefore, one hopes, not stigmatised with the "theft" accusations in their effort to rescue and help survivors. Such, for example are Rescue SA to search for survivors - Times LIVE:
The South African search and rescue team that left for Japan last night will have the grim task of helping to search for survivors in the devastated town of Ishinomaki.
Half of the town, with a population of about 16500, was engulfed by the tsunami triggered by Friday's earthquake. The town is 60km north of Sendai and 100km west of the quake's epicentre.
I just hope they don't use government funded helicopters in their work!
And then there is International Orthodox Christian Charities:
International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) has been in contact with the Holy Autonomous Orthodox Church in Japan and our ACT Alliance partners to assess the emerging needs following the massive earthquake and tsunami which devastated north eastern Japan on March 11. IOCC is also reaching out to the Metropolis of Korea which is also the Exarchate for Japan under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As the Orthodox Church in Japan works to assess the needs of survivors, it reports that one priest in Tohoku, Japan is missing.
'Most of the church buildings in Tohoku parish along the Pacific coast are severely damaged and one priest is missing,' reports Fr. Demitrios Tanaka of the Holy Autonomous Orthodox Church in Japan. 'However, we confirmed that the clergy of Sendai Orthodox Church, including Bishop Seraphim, are safe.'