Church signs crack me up and cause me nausea all at the same time. They are so revealing about our theologies and the things we value. There is a church I pass everyday to get in and out of my neighborhood and there are some classics.
Today was no different. It reads "Exposure to the Son can prevent burning!"
A classic line of the reductionist gospel. What it all boils down to is avoiding hell, thats the sum total of Christianity. Does it matter that Jesus hardly ever talked about hell? Does it matter that there are 174 (give or take 1 or 2) other more prominent topics/themes in the Scriptures than a place called hell that non-beleivers go to after they die? I am convinced that hell is a reality, but is largely a mystery as to what its like or what it means. How did such a minor theme in Christianity become the main point? When Jesus is pressed to get to his point, he stands up and delivers the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, arguably his most crucial teaching. And the gist of this teaching is on becoming people of the Kingdom, living in the Way. If we were supposed to reduce all of Christianity to avoiding hell, how come Jesus didn't address it in his teachings? For that matter, we no little of what heaven will be like. Most of our imagery is purely speculative. N. T. Wright suggests that western Christianity follows Plato's dualism which is a separation of the spiritual and the physical. That the physical is evil and the spiritual is good. Therefore, hate this world and long for the perfect spiritual world to come. Rather than embracing this Creation, that the Kingdom has alredy come amongst us (in Jesus the Christ) and that we are to long to be agents of Redemption here as we are transformed into Kingdom people. The future hope has already come but it involves dying to self and we don't like that much. We want to dream of a place where we are given riches and live in mansions, where Jesus comes for those of us he loves and damns the sinners we never liked much anyway (insert sarcasm). We need to embrace a Creation that is pre-Plato where there is no separation of the body and the spirit, but rather we are one. They both need to be redeemed and transformed and embraced.
Hell is a life that is lived outside of the Way, Heaven is a life of communing with Christ and one another. We have glimpses of that in this side of eternity. For me, eternity is the fullness of the Way and hell is some dimension of separation from the Father. Just my own speculation. Of course I'm awaiting comments from those of you who have it all figured out : )