To an outsider, the Christian religion can look awfully intimidating.
Between the constant threats of judgment and the, forgive me in advance here, fanciful stories that dot the Christian landscape, it's really no surprise to hear that modern Christianity is struggling a bit.
Seriously, why would a non-Christian voluntarily join a religion where he or she risks eternal damnation in hell come Judgement Day? Oh, right. They'd do it for the reward of a blissful eternal life in heaven sitting next to the great Mr. Christ.
Well what if damnation was removed from the equation, along with the requirement to devote life to Jesus? Or even know his name?
Whoa. That'll get some attention!
And it has, in the form of a new book from megachurch pastor Rob Bell called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne).
Followers of the Christian faith have no doubt heard of him. I have to admit the first I heard his name was earlier this week while reading a newspaper article while on an airplane coming home from a particularly sinful weekend in San Diego. The article laid out a couple of Bell's claims:
- God gives humans the choice to either live with him or without him.
- Death doesn't cut off the ability to repent and there is no infinite torment for things humans did in their finite lifetimes.
- Jesus makes salvation possible, even for those who have never even heard his name.
There are plenty of folks in the Christian world writing Bell off as a heretic and false teacher of Jesus, which of course they have every right to believe.
From the perspective of those in a situation like mine, though, Bell's vision is an incredibly refreshing, loving and accepting message that will appeal to legions of lost young people searching for some kind of spirituality.
In the trailer for his book (which you can watch here), Bell discusses a moment when a church-member said "Gandhi is in hell." That is exactly the kind of close-minded statement that turns people off to Christianity. Gandhi, the "Great Soul" himself, is as likely to be in hell as Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a believer in the Universe and a fierce proponent of the power of love and acceptance of all humans, I believe Bell's message could be an interpretation of Christianity the world can embrace in the future: a world where everyone can go to heaven and hell simply doesn't exist.
What do you think: is Rob Bell about to become irrelevant or will his message resonate with a new generation of Christians?
Travis Griffith, Relief's Blog Manager, is a former atheist now exploring what a spiritual life really means. His children’s book, Your Father Forever, was published in 2005 by Illumination Arts Publishing Company, Inc. Travis works from his home in Spokane, WA as a professional writer.