Last week it was my honor to participate in a talkback with filmmaker Kevin Miller after a viewing of Hellbound?.
This week on my blog I’ll have four posts coming out to work back through some of the Q&A Kevin and I hosted, the queries we fielded and some of our answers regarding UR. I’m going to be cross-posting those posts here on the EU Forum. Fair warning: these posts are fairly rudimentary (except the last one) dealing with questions that have been extensively discussed on the EU Forum. But some new twists to old arguments might be found here. Plus, it’s always good to go back to basics for those new to the conversation and the Forum.
The first installment is about heaven and hell as motivating forces in the Christian life.
Specifically, Kevin and I were asked the question, to paraphrase from memory, “If there is no hell what’s the point of being a Christian?”
It’s always surprising how often this question comes up. And it’s always startling that people need to ask it.
First, as you well know, most of those who espouse evangelical universalism actually do believe in hell. As Kevin pointed out, the issue isn’t hell per se but if hell is an end in itself or a means to an end.
Setting that aside, the question really has to do with human motivation and the role of punishment. That is, the question assumes that if there isn’t some really bad punishment out there then why would anyone become a Christian and keep at it?
Such a theory of motivation is pretty scary and sad. It suggests that, at root, Christianity is a fear-based religion. And no doubt it is for many people. Which is why so many Christians are violent. Where fear is the motivation violence of all sorts soon follows.
By contrast, Kevin and I talked about–surprise, surprise–love and joy being the motivation for the Christian life.
But along with those comments I went on to pose a question that I’ve heard attributed to Tony Campolo. I said this, “Why don’t we flip this on its head. Rather than asking about why you should be a Christian if hell didn’t exist, let me ask this: Would you still be a Christian if heaven didn’t exist?”
We can see the thrust of Campolo’s question. By taking other-worldly punishments and rewards off the table we are forced to consider this-worldly motivations for being followers of Jesus.
And that completely reconfigures how we understand the motivations of the Christian life.