Traditional Christian views about heaven and hell are being challenged from within the Protestant community. Earlier this year megachurch pastor Rob Bell drew a line of controversy within evangelical Christianity in publishing Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. He feels the notion of an ever-burning hellfire is not something a loving God would consign people to. Many theologians decried this as heresy. Yet his book has sold millions.
A few years earlier, respected Anglican theologian N.T. Wright wrote a book I have on my shelf: Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008). Wright challenged the popular notion of the Christian hope being merely going to heaven at death. He argues that the real focus should be on the future resurrection from the dead and life on this earth then transformed.
Does such controversy mark a critical juncture within modern religious thought?
What we are seeing with all this ferment is the failure of centuries-long religious notions to provide answers for the biggest questions of life. Who are we? What is life’s purpose? What happens at death? Is this all there is to existence—or is there something more? The answers from mainstream religion do not satisfy. They are empty wells of knowledge without the fulfilling, life-giving hope God’s truth provides.
The times are right for something different, something better, something true.
The 21st-century world of religious thought is quite similar to that of the first century, when Jesus Christ came the first time and proclaimed the truth of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15 Mark 1:14-15 14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
American King James Version×). The ancient world of religious ideas, inherited from Egypt and Babylon, had run their course. They were empty, and people knew they were empty. Concepts of an afterlife catered more to the wealthy and powerful than the masses. Cults devoted to various gods and goddesses kept their knowledge secret, accessible to initiates only. Life was hard, and people yearned for something better.
As the Roman Empire grew in power, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. Christ came in “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4 Galatians 4:4But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
American King James Version×, English Standard Version). It was the right moment in history for the call to salvation and the beginning of the New Testament Church within the plan of God. Jesus went among the people of Judea teaching about this Kingdom in all its dimensions. He healed the sick. He taught spiritual truth. The reaction of many was to absorb this knowledge like the starved and deprived people they were. What began with Christ spread throughout the empire by the work of His disciples. The ideas of the Kingdom of God found fertile soil among Jew and gentile alike.
We are in the same kind of world today. The teachings of traditional Christianity and other world religions have run their course and been found wanting. People are looking for better answers to fill the spiritual void of a world turned upside down. They want hope. And it’s in this void that God provides through His servants a message of hope for today about the world to come.
The United Church of God, which publishes this newsletter, is sponsoring a series of seminars to explain the hope and message of the Kingdom of God—the same message Christ announced. Come see why the truth about the Kingdom of God never goes out of date (www.kogbibleseminars.org ).
By the way, God’s Church has always proclaimed the biblical truth about life after death. See our free booklet Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? to learn more.