Let's talk about Hell!

Table of Content

As you know, I care about the doctrine of Hell. Dangerous, difficult, and tempting stuff that. The Emergent end of the blogosphere is hanging on every word Brian McLaren and his book The Last Word and the Word After That has to offer, and are giving it and him a good run.

A dear non-blogging colleague once ruefully remarked that two of the biggest issues taken seriously today in Christian theology are the question of universal salvation and the question of the divine economy, which includes the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Unitarian Universalists have nothing to say and nobody to speak to either issue. (In case you wondered why I cast my net ecumenically.)

Part of me really wants to read McLaren's book; part of me thinks that I've read 150 year old books that say the same thing. Nevertheless, I'll probably get it. Until I read it, I'll hold off from any substantive comment.

Andrew Jones a.k.a. TallSkinnyKiwi -- who is a bit taller, much thinner, and far more New-Zealand-esque than I -- has a little rundown of the buzz.

Hell on Other Blogs

10 Replies to “Let's talk about Hell!”

  1. ” … two of the biggest issues taken seriously today in Christian theology are the question of universal salvation and the question of the divine economy, which includes the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Unitarian Universalists have nothing to say and nobody to speak to either issue … “

    Rebecca Parker did a multi-day theme talk at the 2002 Liberal Religious Educator Association Fall Conference where she talked about Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist views on universal salvation from our history and in present-day Unitarian Universalism.

    Given the Unitarian heritage that modern-day Unitarian Universalism came from, I would suggest that questions surrounding doctrine of the Trinity aren’t important matters today. Considering that Trinitarian doctrine arose as a political compromise during the reign of Constatine, why would it be important to us today?

  2. The orthodox Trinitarian solution wasn’t invented by the Constantian party; it was already there, and one of a number of possible outcomes. I’ve come to believe it was the right one.

    But why should we (Unitarian Universalists) care? Well, evidence is that we do, via atonement theory which is dependent upon the divine economy.

    With due respect to the entire ministerial college, myself included, I don’t see evidence that anyone of us (myself still included) can dive or has dived in the deep end of the issues I mentioned before. I’m talking juried journals and like research. Part of it is that we don’t have the institutional capacity to support the interest internally. Part of it is the general lack of the necessary languages to do the work. We do produce some historians — that’s my background — but that’s hardly the same thing.

  3. Universalists once led the discussion on universal salvation. Unitarians and their Arian predecessors once led the discussion on “divine economy”. Why do we no longer do so?

    I would frame Steve’s question precisely in reverse. Given not only the Unitarian heritage that modern-day Unitarian Universalism came from, but also the Arian controversies that swirled around the original formulation of Trinitarian doctrine, why aren’t questions surrounding the Trinity just as important today as they were to our Unitarian and Arian predecessors? Considering the influence that political power played in determining and enforcing religious doctrine in Constantine’s time, isn’t it dangerous to dismiss analogous contemporary circumstances as “unimportant”?

  4. Two recent books I’ve read on history of ancient theological discussions are:

    God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by by Jonathan Kirsch

    Mercenary of the God: Memoirs of a Greek in Service to Judah and Egypt by Jack Cargill

    The lessons I can see from these books are warning of the dangers when the centralization of political authority is combined with religious orthodoxy — which could be ancient Judea, Constatine’s empire, or the United States today.

    Instead of talking about Hell, I would ask what does Unitarian Universalism offer in terms of salvation? Do we save people and how do we do it?

  5. Call me a Dutch Uncle if you will, but I hardly think any human institution is salvific.

  6. Scott wrote:
    “Call me a Dutch Uncle if you will, but I hardly think any human institution is salvific.’

    Then you’re suggesting that human institutions like religious movements, congregations, etc don’t offer salvation?

    I don’t think I can agree with that suggestion. Maybe it’s the religious humanist in me.

    As Unitarian Universalists, one by-product of our theological freedom is we blaze paths for others to follow. And the paths we blaze very often protect us from that which denies life or makes it less whole. And saving us from those things that deny life or make it less whole is salvation for me.

    Examples of UU salvation include but are not limited to the following:

    ** Comprehensive lifespan sexuality education rooted in UU theology (and Liberal Christian theology as well)

    ** Public witness and support for full equality and inclusion for our bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons in our society

    ** Gender equality in our ministry

  7. Not suggesting, but reiterating: human institutions, like religious movements, don’t offer salvation. That’s a common-enough low church Christian answer.

    The three examples you gave are, respectively, good examples of the ministry of didache and kerygma. But I’d hardly call them salvific.

  8. Hey There,

    I must be feeling chatty today. I have been wrting the charge for the ordination on Sunday and can’t get enough apparently…

    Anyway, as one of the few ministers in the UUA expected by his congregation to be “saved” in some way, I thought I would just undorscore what Scott wrote. At least the way I see it, salvation comes from knowing God. No human created “ism” (as nice as it may be) can offer salvation. They are paths, maybe, or tools, but that is all they can be to me. Also, for me and for many in the church I serve the path of salvation runs through or, at least, darn close to Jesus. Jesus, when last I checked, wasn’t part of any organized church but a Jewish Holy Man and teacher.

    Certainly there are other paths as well and I do not wish to denigrate them. And I think I see what Steve is getting at in his post. There is a lot of good stuff that comes out of the UUA, including the things he mentioned. However, I just can’t see how these programs lead to salvation with Divine assistance.

    So again–for me–salvation (or enlightenment) comes from God (or The Divine, Transcendent, The Great Whatever, etc…).

    Incidentally, I have been pretty interested in Hell lately. Maybe you could recommend some additional reading?

  9. Unity wrote:
    “Certainly there are other paths as well and I do not wish to denigrate them. And I think I see what Steve is getting at in his post. There is a lot of good stuff that comes out of the UUA, including the things he mentioned. However, I just can’t see how these programs lead to salvation with Divine assistance.”

    I’m suggesting that salvation (as I see it) may involve divine assistance but it doesn’t require divine assistance or even require the existence of any divine assistance for it to happen.

    What I’m suggesting here is open to all … the theist, the mystic, the humanist, and the skeptic.

  10. CHRIST IS MY SAVIOUR AND THE ONLY WAY TO SALVATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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