According to Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who is one of America’s foremost thinkers on the role of religion in public life, writing in Time magazine (25 Apr 2011), there is a new rebellion in conservative Christiandom (Evangelicals). Rogue pastor Rob Bell proposes that there is no hell. I’m less interested in the institutional ramifications of such a statement than I am a peripheral issue that Meacham presents:
For these new thinkers (like Bell), heaven can mean different things. In some biblical contexts it is a synonym for God. In others it signifies life in New Jerusalem, which, properly understood, is the reality that will result when God brings together the heavens and the earth. In yet others it seems to suggest the moments of intense human communion and compassion that are, in theological terms, glimpses of the divine love that one might expect in the world to come. One thing heaven is not is an exlusive place removed from earth. This line of thinking has implications for the life of religious communities in our own time. If the earth is, in a way, to be our eternal home, then its care, and the care of all creatures, takes on fresh urgency.
In many ways, what these pastors are suggesting is very much akin to Process Philosophy and Theology. There are also strong links to Buddhism.
The Time article quotes Pastor Bell: “I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be Christian. Something new in the air.” If there is no hell and the church isn’t necessary for salvation, then what is the role of ecclesiastical instistutions?
Maybe their role is less involved with doctrine and more involved with helping its members deal with the earth and its passengers. Maybe works are important? Certainly Joseph Smith’s (Mormon) take on “eternal progression” becomes even more relevant.
According to Time’s managing editor, Meacham’s article is not only about Bell, “who is shaking up the religious world with his tolerance of mystery and doubt,” but in a large sense, “an exploration of Christianity’s continuing struggle to reconcile itself with the modern world.” This is a task that organizations like the Mormon Transhumanist Association are examining.