After my last foray into hell, David Reimer kindly pointed me to an article by Tim Keller reproduced from Christianity Today. I’ve finally had a chance to look it over and, rather than tag it on to the other topic, I though it merited separate discussion.
I think I can see what the article is getting at – contextualise how you speak about hell. Keller identifies two groups – traditionalists and postmoderns – who need to have hell explained differently. For traditionalists, the focus is on the horror of hell, but used as a demonstration of God’s love for us. Jesus endured hell so that we don’t need to. He says, “When Jesus was cut off from God, he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. And he did it voluntarily, for us.” I have one major issue with the phrasing of this – “when Jesus was cut off from God…” Is the Trinity separable? Setting this aside though, I can see what he is getting at. A traditionalist will accept the hellfire and brimstone image, but the point they need to take away is not the fear of hell, but the love of God. Which raises the following question – “Is our preaching of the love of God adequate to overcome the fear of hell?”
For postmoderns, Keller has an interesting characterisation – a ‘vague’ belief in God and little sense of moral absolutes. I’m not sure that that’s an altogether accurate characterisation or more of a caricature, but again, setting that aside, his approach here is very different. Keller seems to be suggesting that hell is not the fire and brimstone place of the traditionalists at all, but rather a ‘state of mind’ or perhaps more accurately, a ‘state of soul’.
So, the big question is, is it a place or a ‘state’. The answer seems to be, “that depends”. Do we create our own hell?
I also think Keller makes a major omission here. He speaks of traditionalists and postmoderns, but I don’t think I fall into his characterisations of either group, so where would I fit? Modern perhaps? Or something else? Either way, moderns are a pretty major grouping who, arguably, need yet another approach. They want the rational, the scientific, the explicable. But then, where does God fit into that lot?
Overall I think I found Keller’s article ‘unsatisfying’. But maybe that’s because I’m a postmodern looking for definite answers.