A funny news story found its way into my inbox from the Huffington Post this morning:
This confuses me. A lot. Here’s why.
On March 15, 2011, a guy named Rob Bell published a skinny little red and black book titled Love Wins. It ignited an internet firestorm because Rob Bell had the nerve to wonder whether God might save people who were not Christians. Books were written. Martin Bashir interviewed him and the title of the video on youtube indicates that the uploader felt that Bashir had “won” the interview.
This was relatively new. Rob Bell had never solidified his claims, and never before had he written them in a simple, easy-to-understand book. (Apparently not that easy to understand, though, because he was immediately accused of making claims that he had never made).
But today came Mark Driscoll’s tweet:
If you are not a Christian, you are going to hell. It's not unloving to say that. It's unloving to not say that.
— Pastor Mark Driscoll (@PastorMark) January 10, 2014
The world responded. Click the timestamp underneath the tweet to see how. Atheists responded, mocking him. It was front-page news on the Huffington Post’s Religion page, and that article was trending on Facebook. (Must’ve been a slow news day in the Religion department).
But there was nothing new in what Mark Driscoll was saying. He has been saying this since forever. A few years ago, I was a Mark Driscoll fanatic. My friends told me that I didn’t have any opinions of my own and that every theological thought that I had began with the words “Well Mark Driscoll…” I knew that he believed nonbelievers were going to hell. I believed it too, which is part of why I liked him so much: I agreed with nearly everything he said. When I say that he has been saying this forever, I know of which I speak. <This paragraph exists because I didn’t feel like digging through his sermons to find the actual quotes>
Furthermore, unlike Bell’s book, a huge chunk of American evangelicals, famous American Christians and televangelists and radio preachers in particular, agree with Driscoll. Joel Osteen would be the standout here in that he has failed to say in so many words that he believes that non-Christians will end up in hell forever, but if my memory serves me correctly, he has also failed to deny it.
When I started this post, I thought that Mark Driscoll’s comment was pretty non-controversial. I believed it for most of my life, and most of the Christians I knew for most of my life believed it. Most of the books that I had read (Love Wins notwithstanding) agreed with that perspective. Then I discovered a shocking statistic from Pew Research: Mark Driscoll’s claims are more controversial than I had once believed. According to the report:
- “65% of religiously affiliated Americans continue to say many religions can lead to eternal life”
- 47% of white evangelical Protestants believe that many religions can lead to eternal life
- 49% of white evangelical Protestants believe that theirs is the one true faith leading to eternal life.
Still, it could be argued that these people are churchgoers who didn’t grow up fundamentalist and have never heard what is considered to be the gospel message in those circles: that everyone deserved to go to hell and that if you accept Jesus you will go to heaven, otherwise you will go to hell. It’s still an interesting statistic.
I’d like to know what percent of American Christians have pastors who believe that. My experience has been that the loudest voices within Christianity have had a pretty firm insistence that it is the sawdust trail or the eternal flames.
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Two years ago, a firestorm ignited because Rob Bell questioned whether non-Christians might not be in hell. I find it fascinating that a new one ignited yesterday because Mark Driscoll insisted that they would be.
In other non-news that appeared on the Huffington Post’s religion page, Westboro Baptist Church is protesting another famous person’s funeral. Paul Walker. I think he was in a movie about driving quickly and furiously or something.