Sunday, May 08, 2005

Party in the Living Room, Torture in the Basement

This is the title of the 4th chapter of Brian McLaren's new book The Last Word and the Word After That. In the chapter, the main character, Rev. Dan Poole retells the story of his daughter's confrontation with a member of her campus' Christian fellowship regarding the concept of hell.

Rev Dan's daughter, Jess, sums up here difficulties with the idea of hell this way in a previous chapter, "If Christianity is true, then all the people I love except for a few will burn in hell forever. But if Christianity is not true, then life doesn't seem to have much meaning or hope. I wish I could find a better option."

In chapter 4 Jess had decided that becoming a universalist was the best way for her to handle hell. So during a sharing time at a meeting of her campus fellowship she decides to share that fact. Her proclamation was met with silence.
A girl named Joanna catches up with her after the meeting and explains why universalism is one of the worst heresies facing Christianity. Joanna goes on to say that Jess' views on heaven and hell, the Party in the Living Room, Torture in the Basement analogy are worldly. And that Jess lacks an understanding of "God's holiness and justice and God's ways are higher than are ways and whatever..."

I actually stopped and put the book down after reading that section. My brain was cloudy with memories of similar conversations. Conversations, discussions and arguments that took place, 15 years ago in college, 10 years ago with family members, five years ago with high school students, 18 months ago in front of an entire congregation as I helped lead a question and answer day at our church. In hindsight, I am not proud to say, that I was the Joanna character, at least externally. Very matter of factly, very ananlytically stating to friends that " yeah people they know and love will end up in hell." Even before reading this book, the memories of those conversations were not fond ones. The feelings that accompany those memories are ones of regret, of inadequacy, and of betrayal. The Rev Dan character sums up my memories of those conversations later in the book when he says "I had been pretending to know something when deep down inside I didn't."

All this to say that, I no longer feel comfortable, right or good playing the role of Joanna. Nor do I think universalism is the way to go. I am a man without a home. As a youth pastor it feels like a dangerous place to live.

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