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Spiritual matters

How we speak of hell reflects others' view of us

April 13, 2011 - I want to talk about hell for a few minutes, but I'm not really going to talk about hell. And since this isn't about hell, it isn't about writing an intellectual dissertation or providing a Scriptural defense of it.

Hell is actually a prop to make my point. What this is really all about is a simple observation about how we talk about things and how people see us.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about hell because Rob Bell, a preacher in the Grand Rapids area, wrote a book that asked a lot of questions about it.

What is hell like? Is there a literal hell? Is it eternal torment? Who will be there? How does one keep from going there?

Even before the book was released and read, it was the hottest topic on the internet for a while. It created quite a stir and provoked a wide range of varied, but pointed, responses.

This was mostly in Christian circles. I don't know a lot of people outside of the Christian community that give a rip about entire sanctification, predestination, eternal security, irresistible grace, prevenient grace, or any of the atonement theories out there.

I don't know that most folks even really care about hell, but it is the thing we are talking about and our conversations are getting noticed.

Please don't misunderstand me; I think theology is really important. The point I'm trying to make is that people are watching us.

In the movie "Ocean's Eleven" (2001), Bellagio casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) and his girlfriend Tess (Julia Roberts) are in the casino's art gallery.

As Tess leans in for a kiss, Terry moves away while pointing to a CCTV camera and says, "In my hotel, there's always somebody watching."

To the world at large, we are all Christians. Even though we have more Christian denominations than Cold Stone has ice cream flavor combinations, most people just see us under one label, 'Christian.'

What I see when we discuss topics, like hell, is a group of people that sound anything but friendly and kind. I think other people see it, too.

It's okay to have differing opinions when it comes to theology. It isn't wrong. Besides, I don't think we'll ever agree on everything. Not even the apostles did that.

But we can demonstrate a grace-filled, kind, and understanding attitude even in the midst of our differences.

Jesus said that the world will know we are Christians by the love we have for each other. And yes, that applies even when we are talking about theology.

Discussions about theology are valuable and we should have them. In the process, we need to remember that in this world someone is always watching.

Are our disagreements marked by grace? Is it more important to be right than to love each other? Does it even matter?

The Rev. Dave Gerber is pastor of Skin Ministries.

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