When I was a kid, my favorite book of the Bible was Revelation.
Granted, this almost certainly was because it was easily the most interesting book to read for a kid who wasn’t allowed to bring an activity bag or any other distractions for worship service – also known as the slowest 45 minutes of my week. All I had was my Bible, and beasts, earthquakes and other calamities helped the time fly right by.
Obviously, growing up in a conservative evangelical faith tradition, I learned the “left behind” interpretation of Revelation, or to use the fancy technical term: premillennial dispensatiionalism. Rapture, Tribulation, World War III, Armageddon and all the rest.
Fast forward two decades or so, and I’m now teaching a class on Revelation at the Episcopal congregation my family attends. Far from repeating the code-book style of interpretation so common in American Christianity, we’re trying to find a healthier way of reading the book that would be recognizable to the original recipients. After all, it seems like the ultimate practice in arrogance to assume that a letter written 2,000 years ago is somehow all about you, and it certainly does us no favors to uncritically accept a reading that argues, as philosopher-theologian Randy Harris once called it, that “God so loved the world that he sent World War III.”
Continue reading Reading a Different Revelation
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
In an effort to clear out some of my to-read backlog, I dove into Hell: A Final Word – a semi-autobiographical synopsis of Edward Fudge’s much longer and groundbreaking case for annihilationism as the biblical vision of the fate of the wicked.
Fudge, who died late last year, is little known outside of a very small group of people interested in challenging the traditional Christian notion of hell as the home of eternal conscious torment. In the 1970s, he was commissioned to spend a year researching the subject and to his surprise found that he felt the Bible taught that the souls of those condemned to hell eventually perished in the flames, thus the labels “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality.” That book was The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment; Hell: A Final Word was written to coincide with the release of a biopic about Fudge’s theological journey.
(While you might think a film about a preacher engaging in a yearlong quest of biblical scholarship about hell would be horribly boring, it’s surprisingly good! It’s called Hell and Mr. Fudge, and it’s worth your time if you’re at all interested in the subject. I ended up seeing a premier screening at Abilene Christian University’s annual Summit lectureship in 2012, where I also bought the book. Fudge was a lifelong member of Churches of Christ, thus the ACU connection.)
All of that to say, if you’re dissatisfied (or not!) with eternal conscious torment – either because of your own research or because of your discomfort with the nature of the God it requires you to worship – this is a good popular-level primer for how Fudge came to articulate the most comprehensive case for one of the two major alternatives.
But. Continue reading Book Review: Oh, Fudge, We’re Talking about Hell
I love the old hymns. I grew up singing them, and I wish there were more opportunities for singing them in our modern world. Nevertheless, it’s no surprise that some of them are chock full of bad theology (at least I hope it’s no surprise; you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Christmas hymn that takes all sorts of liberties with the biblical narratives of Jesus’ birth).
But in light of our discussion Monday about the way in which N.T. Wright (and others) have urged a reshaping of our eschatological consciousness from seeking to escape this world to instead seeking to restore it, I couldn’t help think of the following contrast between the 1929 hymn “I’ll Fly Away,” one of the most popular spirituals of all time, and the much more recent, decidedly unhymnlike “Afterlife,” by the modern rock band Switchfoot.
Continue reading Eschatological Song Wars!