Category Archives: Forging a New Path

Do I Believe in a Literal Hell? (A belief wrapped in a confession)

This is a question I’ve been contemplating for years, and it was easy to say ‘yes’ at first. After all, the Bible said it, I believed it, that settled, at least for a while.  But then, along the way, something happened: I began to wrestle with doubt; I let a few questions seep in; and, oddly, over time, my certainty was replaced by an assurance in the unknown.

I began to walk by faith rather than by text.

Scripture is wonderful for knowledge, for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).  But I don’t put my faith in just text.  My faith is in God, and in the whispers and movement of the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe that faith, nor God, can be placed in boxes. They aren’t that small. They’re vast and limitless. They are oceans:  deep and wide, wild and restless.

So, here I am today, re-examining the question once again: Do I believe in a literal hell?
Well…yes, yes I do.
But here’s the rub: what exactly do we mean when we say, “hell”?
Do I believe in “hell” as some fire and brimstone, eternal torture chamber?
No, not really.
Not anymore.  Let me explain… Continue reading Do I Believe in a Literal Hell? (A belief wrapped in a confession)

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An Update….

I recently read over a page draft for something I once called “Going a Little Deeper”. These were articles I’d written that, at the time, explained in more detail my thoughts and beliefs on such heady content as Hell, Salvation, Church, Doubt, and even scriptural verses like John 14:6.
Man, I was an arrogant little bastard! (Full disclosure: I still can be!)
I set out to look over these “Going a Little Deeper” posts to try and update how I viewed some of these admittedly hot button topics, but, I couldn’t. Not that I still cling to these values that I once held so dear and so pridefully. Not that I don’t. It’s just that, along the way, especially lately, I’ve learned quite a few more truths about myself than I have in Truth of any grand spiritual or scriptural kind.
In fact, one of the things I’ve come to learn is this: The deeper my faith becomes, the less I seem to know. Or maybe, more accurately, the less I feel certain of.
I heard an interesting Atheistic summarization of the Christian argument the other day: “So, I either believe in the God of the Bible, and in Jesus, or I’m going to burn in Hell?” they said. “Some choice.”
Exactly! Some choice!
We Christians have boiled down our faith to a simple issue of certainty—you’re either in or you’re out. And we feel comfortable having that be our main, and often only, evangelical calling card. In fact, that’s all Christianity has become to the too-vast majority of us: A get out of Hell free card.
We feel okay with that of course because we’re in!
And Jesus? We’ve reduced Him to playing the bit part of door man, or maybe “gate” or “good shepherd” to keep it biblical. If only we could read a few verses later into that metaphorical story (John 10 if you’re interested) when Jesus also says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
Who are these “other sheep”? And, what will “my voice” sound like…to them?
That’s another thing I’ve come to learn: Faith is messy.
Faith is not tidy. Faith is anything but certain. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And neither confidence nor assurance equate to certainty.
I’m currently reading over quite a few of these posts that I’ve written over the past several years, some posted, some not. So far, many of these I’ve decided to leave up—as much for myself as for anyone else. These 400+ posts are an ongoing chronicle of my faith journey; signposts and off-ramps and potholes and switchbacks that I’ve encountered along the way. It’s been a great journey. It’s been an ugly journey. But, it’s been my journey.
And, surprise, surprise, I’m not the same man, husband, father, Christ-follower, that I was six months ago, let alone six years. Even more, I have no idea who/where I’ll be six months or six years from now!
One last thing I’ve come to learn: In whatever I write, I’ll likely contradict myself at some point. And that’s okay. I’m in good company. So does the Bible—and it’s inerrant!

The Prodigal Son, Re-revisited

I was in the process of rewriting my “About Me” page on Spiritual Drift, and I came across a few things I’d written in the past, including my belief on hell. I decided not to include any of that there (yet), but instead, I wanted to write something here about my beliefs; first off, on whether (or if) we are born “sinners.”
Well…
No; I no longer believe we are born sinners. And I certainly don’t believe we are born sinners in the hands of an angry God.
If anything, we are born, lost.
In fact…
Maybe we wake up, and maybe we find ourselves with a case of amnesia. Confused and alone. In a pig’s sty of all places. Surrounded by slop. Dirty. Aching. Scared. Hungry. Looking even at the cobs the pigs eat and wishing we could somehow fill our own bellies.
Then, we look up, across the waters, to see a small town on the other shore. Somewhere, in the back of our minds, we recognize that place. We don’t know how, we don’t know why, but somehow we just know; that village is “home.”
Maybe it’s because we feel a tug, a yearning in our chest, in our hearts and deeper still. Urging us on. Pulling us toward that place.
To “home.”
Not all of us will heed that call though.
Some will raise their eyes and look across the waters but feel, even though we are not sure where we are, why or even how we got here, it must have something to do with there, with that place, even if we recognize it as “home.” And our mind is torn: Either sorrow and shame eat away our hope, and we end up feeling we no longer deserve to return, or; even if we could, anger and bitterness arise: Whoever is there must be responsible for why we are here; and though we remain unsure of where we are, here must surely be better than there.
But, for those of us who do rise—those who see hope in the distance and let it live—we will round the waters of the vast lake and, eventually, reach the horizon, unsure of what we will say or even who will greet us. We will prepare our speeches, our prayers of forgiveness and penance, chanting them over and over again, trying to hold the guilt and fear at bay until our throat is raw and our mind aches.
Then, we see a figure cresting the horizon, rushing toward us, arms outstretched.
Are they friend or enemy?
Are we the enemy? Will we be allowed to say our prayers? Will they be heard? Will our penance be enough?
Before we can even decide, the figure descends, wrapping us in His arms.
Fear grips us and yet…
His grip is stronger.
His delight is clear.
His laughter rings in our ears.
His tears of joy stream down His cheeks and onto our bare, dirt-caked shoulder.
He calls us “son”, and “daughter.”
He takes us by the hand and leads us inside.
He says we are honored guests. In fact, He orders a feast in our honor.
He calls us “son, and “daughter.” Is this our Father?
No, it can’t be: To dare and dream that we come from such splendor, such joy, such warmth?
No.
We came from the muck and mire of a pig’s sty. We know nothing more.
We believe we are filth and yet He calls us royalty.
We believe we are alone and yet He calls us family.
He insists, we are “son”; we are “daughter.”
And we are welcome.
We are honored.
We are family.
Long forgotten is our speech, our prayer, our forgiveness and penance.
It was never needed.
It was never asked.
The only thing asked was our presence, our return, our willingness to come, to heed the pull in our hearts, to choose “home”, and to accept that we are, and always have been, loved.
To accept that we were born royalty, that we were born family, that we were not born pigs, but born “sons”, and “daughters”. That we were, are, and always will be, loved.

On #metoo… From a Friend

I pieced this together from a recent tweet by @rachelheldevans. I felt it was a great thread, not only from a Christian perspective, but from a female perspective as well. Christian men, we’d do well to listen…

This week: 1 James Dobson encouraged Christians to fast & pray for the protection  of a serial sex abuser (Trump). 2 When a mega-church pastor’s criminal sexual assault was exposed, he received a standing ovation from his congregation. 3 One of Roy Moore’s victims’ house burned down.
All of these stories point to why I’m sadly pessimistic about a #metoo-style cultural shift in evangelical Christianity (and, to an extent, the broader Church). I’m pessimistic because of the deadly combination of patriarchy & (as discussed recently) evangelical exceptionalism.
As I’ve stated before, evangelical exceptionalism understands “the world” or “the culture” to be filled with darkness & sin, teeming with people who are “lost,” and evangelicalism & evangelicals to be the sole bearers of light, the counter-cultural path to salvation.
White evangelicals perceive “the world” to struggle with racism & sexual immorality, but not themselves. Because of this, it’s rare to see serious efforts made at examining the ways racism & toxic masculinity/patriarchy are embedded in evangelical culture.
You see this so clearly in the fact that Andy Savage’s church rejects LGBT people, yet gives their abusive pastor a standing ovation! (This points to the reality that anti-LGBT sentiment is usually more about prejudice than a commitment to “sexual purity.”).
The fact is, evangelical culture (and, generally speaking, the Church culture at large) remains mired in patriarchy. So someone who is perceived as a “man of God” doing “God’s work” will almost always be protected over women & children. It happens. All. The. Time.
When Savage’s victim came forward, who did she face? Who was in charge of her church? Men. All men. When churches sideline women from leadership, a culture of patriarchy is inevitable and toxic, abusive masculinity can flourish.
But you won’t see many churches challenging patriarchy or abuse or toxic masculinity in Christian culture. Instead, you hear sermon after sermon railing against immodesty, cohabitation, sex before marriage, LGBT people – all those real or perceived “sins of the culture”.
In order to turn #metoo into #churchtoo, the Church in America, and specifically evangelicals, are going to have to muster some humility and take a serious look at how patriarchy, sexism, and toxic masculinity have infected their culture.
It’s great to see women like @BethMooreLPM & @KayWarren1 speaking out. But as long as church leadership & evangelical culture are dominated by men (who believe God wants it that way!) I fear the voices of women & victims will not be heard and nothing will change.
TLDR version: In the name of Jesus, smash the damn patriarchy.

…So I feel like this thread was too pessimistic and Oprah says we should be hopeful. So some hopeful thoughts: While the Church in America is perhaps not positioned to lead the charge against sexual harassment & toxic masculinity. There are some significant generational differences within the Church, including evangelicalism, that suggest attitudes are changing on gender & sexuality. I’m hopeful this means more introspective conversations about consent, inclusion, & patriarchy in the near future.
Also, our present cultural moment, as tough as it’s been, seems to have emboldened some voices of dissent among evangelical women. If evangelicals yield to their wisdom, there’s hope.