I’ve just got my haircut in Cape Town. I get bored, so I asked the 5 people in the salon “Do you believe in Hell?”. Answer: 5 unswerving affirmatives.
Hell is a hot topic. Arf arf. Tomorrow, Friday 13th, US audiences get to see a special entitled “Hell: Our Fear and Fascination” on ABC. For further background to this issue in the context of this debate, see the posts on Universal Restoration and The Scandal of Carlton Pearson. You will see some of the bile and retro-bile associated with it in the latter. (And this includes my own; we’re all affected by this disease.)
Let me give you a little background to a question you may not see much relevance in. Theologically speaking, this last year has been an adventure for me. I’ve broken into new territory, and things are beginning to work together, to resonate in a very profound way.
The 3 areas that have come into my field of vision are these
1. Creation Spirituality. This was introduced to me via Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”. This is is a spiritual tradition going back to the earliest writers of creation accounts, including the Yahwist (author of Genesis), David, Jesus and Paul, and having a profound expression in the 11 – 13 Centuries in writers and saints such as Meister Eckhart, St. Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen. The tradition also espouses many other faiths as well as the new science. It has been misunderstood by the casual and uninformed observer as simply “New Age”.
2. Emergent church and alternative worship. This started to form as I deconstructed by own disaffections with worship as practiced by various (not least Charismatic) church traditions. However Brian Malaren is perhaps its leading prophetic figure. I have yet to read his “Generous Orthodoxy”. My view or EC/AW has been informed by fellowships associated with alternativeworship.org, specifically UK ventures Greenbelt Festival , Vaux (1998-2005) and Grace . “Incarnation” is the key concept holding together a loose, diverse and heterodox grouping.
3. Universal Restoration. This was a line of enquiry started by my closest friend, who suffered much anxiety over the notion of “hell”. It led to the likes of Martin Zender, Tentmaker and Carlton Pearson. Essentially UR contests the 1500 year old doctrine of eternal damnation, based on the myth of Fear, Gods character and the misreading of scripture. “Inclusion” might be UR’s watchword.
Now, Creation Spirituality has been a big influence in the Emergent Church, and this link is reasonably well established. The theme of Incarnation runs throughout these 2 streams.
But what has seemed to be quite separate has been how Creation Spirituality and Emergent Church relate to Universal Restoration. When I saw that Carlton Pearson was talking at the “Sacred Activism and the power of Inclusion” conference in Tulsa Oklahoma (The so-called “Buckle of the Bible belt”), I thought – this must be the missing link. Wisdom University is based in San Francisco and emerged from Matthew Fox’s now defunct University of Creation Spirituality, giving it a Creation Spirituality pedigree.
I ordered several recordings from the conference, which I have now listened to; I think Podcasts are also available (I’ve not hear them yet). I am now convinced that there a profound connection exists, but am not aware of too many explorations of the link between Incarnation and Inclusion, so I will introduce my view on this in this and related posts.
Let’s try define 2 key terms as briefly as possible.
Incarnation: the belief that we know God through Gods working in the World, not apart from it. Its mystery is alluded to in the scripture “In the world but not of the world.” There is an excellent debate on this hosted by Matt Stone.
Inclusion: The belief that all people (and all of creation) will be saved, and that none shall be excluded or punished for eternity. Note, Judgment and free will still exist, in case you think I am disappearing down a new age rabbit hole. This view is evolving, and I don’t have it all neatly tied up, but good scholarship indicates the “official” Church may just have been in heresy for the last 1500 years. Paul alludes to the truth in 1 Tim 4:10 “The savior of all men, especially those who believe”.
To some (perhaps Anglicans, Anabaptists, leftfield Catholics, and Universalists) this might appear a non-issue, but to many others, including those emerging from the Charismatic, Evangelical, Protestant and Catholic worlds, hell has always been a prerequisite for faith.
I will at a later stage attempt to round up thought on this, but for part 1, I pose a question, and it is this:
Is it possible to adhere to the Incarnational without a proper acknowledging of the Inclusive; can you hold to Incarnational teachings of the Emergents and Creation Spirituality whilst still holding a belief in Eternal Punishment aka Hell?