|Ten Propositions on Hell (an alternate proposal)
||[Oct. 6th, 2006|04:56 am]
A short while ago, I read Kim Fabricius' "Ten propositions on hell" which is quoted in full on Ben Myer's blog (cf. http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2006/09/ten-propositions-on-hell.html). I thought I would provide 10 alternate (but not necessarily contradictory) theses on hell.|
Let us begin by asserting that:
(1) Jesus saves us from hell in the same way that he saves us from death.
This can then be rephrased in a more provocative manner:
(2) Jesus does not save us from hell any more than he saves us from death.
(3) Our salvation from death does not prevent us from dying. Rather, our salvation from death is a salvation that leads us through death.
(4) Our salvation from hell does not prevent us from "descending into hell." Rather, our salvation from hell is a salvation that leads us through hell.
If this is the case then:
(5) What we mean by the word "hell" must be reconsidered.
As we do this we must note that:
(6) The references to hell in the early creeds (the Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed) occur within the domain of Christology (and they are not a part of the assertions about the final end state of humanity -- which only speak of the "resurrection of the dead" and the "life everlasting").
(7) "Hell" must be understood within the framework of Jesus' mission.
When this occurs:
(8) "Hell" is best understood as the place where Jesus' ultimate, and salvific, solidarity with "sinners," with the god-forsaken, and with those who experience the utter extremes of exile comes to its fullest expression.
Furthermore, it must be remembered that:
(9) Christians are called to participate in the mission of Jesus, not because Jesus' victory was incomplete, but so that Jesus' victory can be implemented in the present.
(10) Christian's are not saved from hell, if that is taken to mean a complete escape from hell. Rather, Christians are saved so that they can participate in Jesus' descent into hell, and share in his mission of salvific solidarity with the god-forsaken.
2006-10-06 03:49 pm (UTC)
Hi Dan. Kim Fabricius here. Thanks for this stimulating post. I feel honoured that my Ten Propositions moved you to come up with your own.
There are many good things here. Your death/hell relationship gives pause for thought. You are absolutely right that hell is a Christological concept, and that it therefore has to be reconsidered in the light of Christ's redemptive work. And, yes, the church is called to be - indeed is - the visible form on earth of the ascended Jesus, and, as Emil Brunner memorably put it, "exists by mission as a fire exists by burning" (not, needless to say, the fire and burning of hell!).
I think my only problem - though it is a problem - is that your Augustinian ecclesiology (so central to de Lubac's and Jenson's ecclesiology) of the totus Christus, which is right and important, nevertheless requires a fundamental distinction to be made between the body and the head which I'm not sure you make; and therefore, although you do rightly insist that Jesus' victory was not incomplete, nevertheless threatens in a semi-pelagian way the solus Christus of salvation.
Specifically: although it is true that Jesus does not save us from death (= dying) but leads us through death (as long as this "through" is understood as a creatio ex nihilo), it is not true that our experience of death and, a fortiori, hell, is the same as his. In a crucial sense, Christ died and descended to hell alone and in our place; his death and descent were unique in that he bore the weight of rejection and abandonment by the Father in a way that we will never have to. I am, however, quite willing to allow that now, through baptism, we "can participate in Jesus' death descent into hell," and, in ministry, "share in his mission of salvific solidarity with the god-forsaken".
What do you think?
Thanks for reading and responding. I appreciate the dialogue, so allow me to pick up on a few of the things that you say.
(1) I'm not entirely comfortable with the way in which you describe my ecclesiology as an "Augustinian ecclesiology." I am attracted to the idea of being an "high-church Mennonite" (to borrow the words of Hauerwas), and I've never been too comfortable with a lot of what Augustine has to say about the Church (or language, or the world, or humanity, or sin).
(2) Labels aside, I can understand your discomfort with the ways in which I seem to relate Christ (the head) to the Church (the body). Of course, I would need you to clarify your statement that my position "threatens in a semi-pelagian way the solus Christus of salvation." If you are suggesting that my position is in danger of falling into pelagianism, but that it does not actually do so, then I am quite comfortable with your discomfort in that regard. However, if you are suggesting that I have actually crossed over into pelagianism then I'm afraid that I was not clear enough in my all too brief theses (one of the challenges in writing this post was limiting myself to 10 brief theses). I absolutely agree that our salvation is accomplished by Christ alone, but I also recognize that God has consistently wanted to work out his plan of salvation through his true humanity. Hence the movement from Adam to Israel culminates in Jesus (the truly human one, and the truly faithful covenant partner/Israelite) and continues on in Church (God's new humanity, "the Israel of God" [Gal 6]). Thus, I think a proper understanding of the mission of the Church is one that always threatens semi-pelagianism without ever falling into pelagianism (perhaps my discomfort with Augustine is showing once again!). The key is choosing to remain within a particular tension with a particular level of discomfort, instead of making ourselves more comfortabbe by removing the tensions that are intrinsic to our faith.
(3) Further, I do not at all mean to suggest that Christ's death and descent into hell are exactly replicated in our own deaths and our own descents into hell.
(3a) I agree with your suggestion that we are not alone in the way that Jesus was alone. Because we are following Jesus, our descent is not one that brings us to a place of total god-forsakenness. Rather, our solidarity with the god-forsaken is simultaneously a solidarity with the crucified Christ. Of course, I believe that this means that we also share in the god-forsakenness of the crucified Christ but, once again, at this point let the emphasis fall upon the fact that this god-forsakenness is shared, whereas Christ's was not (Hans Urs von Balthasar sums this up beautifully when he describes the Church as "the community of the abandoned gathered around The Abandoned One").
(3b) We do not descend in the place of others in the same way that Jesus did. As the eternal Word, the descent of Jesus saw the Creator substituted for the creature, as a creature. As creatures we can never engage in any sort of comparable substitution. Further, Christ's substitution recapitulated humanity and defeated sin, death, and hell once and for all. However, as we implement the consequences of this in the here and now (or, as Paul would say, as we "make up what is lacking in Christ's sufferings" [cf. Col 1.24)) there is an element of substitution in our missional praxis. This becomes clear when we realize that we are all burdened with the sins of others. All of us continually bear the burdens of other people's sins. This was a realization I came to in my journey with people who have encountered sexual violence. It is the victim of the assault that bears the burdens of the sins of the attacker. It is the victim that is broken (physically, emotionally, spiritually) because of the sin, not the attacker. The victim bears the burden of the attackers sins. However, this also means that Christians who bear these burdens can, through the type of forgiveness which is enabled by the victory won by Christ, bear those sins away. When we suffer because of others sins and yet choose to forgive, there is a sense in which we have taken the place of "sinners" in a salvific manner (I find the example of Jesus' judgment in Jn 8 to be quite intriguing in this regard. After the crowd has scattered Jesus turns to the woman and asks: "Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir" the woman responds. And so Jesus concludes: "then neither do I condemn you." When I think about this exchange in light of Jesus' later affirmation that "if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven" [cf. Jn 20.22] then I think that there is a sense in which our embodied proclamation of forgiveness, when coupled with our suffering, can said to be a participation in the substitutionary atonement of Christ).
So, I completely agree with you that Christ's experience of death and of hell is far different from the Christian experience of death and of hell -- however, I do think that there might be more similarities than some of us have imagined.
(4) Finally, I would argue that it is not simply "through baptism" that we participate in Jesus' death and descent into hell. I think that some have been so eager to associate Pauline passages on suffering with "early baptismal formulas" that they have lost the very Pauline focus on cruciform living (indeed, I suspect that those who see many baptismal formulas in Paul's letters are engaging in eisegesis, not exegesis). By over-emphasizing baptism as the point of identification with Christ's death and descent, our participation in Christ's death and descent simply becomes a part of our initiation into the people of God and end up having little or nothing to do with our day to day life as members of the people of God (I should make it clear that I make this argument as somebody who highly values the sacraments). I think looking to the baptism of Jesus is instructive in this regard. Granted Jesus' baptism was unique. Jesus was baptised in order to be identified with sinners, and we are baptised in order to be identified with Jesus. However, just as Jesus' baptism leads him inexorable to Gethsemane, the cross, and the grave, so also our baptisms into Jesus should lead us to share in those things. In our baptism we become identified with the Christ who is identified with sinners, and we should, therefore, view our baptism as the beginning of an ever deeper movement into the death and descent of Christ, instead of viewing it as a static, once and for all identification with those things.
I would love to hear any more thoughts you may have on all this. I recognize that some of my arguments are rather "unconventional" in all of this so please don't hesitate to tell me what you think.
Grace and peace.
2006-10-07 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Hell 2
Thanks for that response, Dan. Detailed, helpful, great clarifications with which I found myself nodding in agreement. Not only do I find my fears of semi-pelagianism allayed (your appreciation of von Balthasar on hell alone would have seen to that), but I found what I said, e.g. on baptism, nicley balanced out by what you say (my emphasis on Paul's indicative in Romans 6 with yours on his imperative). I like tensions. Tensions are good.
Thanks again. Good stuff.
2006-10-08 10:33 pm (UTC)
God Wants to Save Christians from Hell
I've been thinking about the topic of hell recently as well. Mainly because I often listen to sermons from Mars Hill in Grand Rapids. Check out Rob Bell's talk titled "God Wants to Save Christians (part III)" ... from hell. Definitely the most interesting sermon i've heard in a while, and makes me want to do some of my own research on what the Bible doesn't say about hell. (www.mhbcmi.org/listen/index.php)