The headline looks like something one would read in The Onion: After Controversy, Baptists Affirm Belief in Eternal Hell. The accompanying real article describes how the Southern Baptist Convention actually voted during their annual gathering in Phoenix to proclaim to the rest of the world that "hell (is) an 'eternal, conscious punishment' for those who do not accept Jesus." This was in response to a recent book by mega-church star Rob Bell called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived that questions such notions.
So, now we know. And we're shaking in our flip-flops.
But, I still have a question. If hell is for those who "do not accept Jesus," I need to know something. Which Jesus are we talking about?
Is it sweet Jesus, meek and mild, the Nicest Man Who Ever Lived? Is it Jesus the Miracle Worker who we call upon to exempt us from illness, troubles, job loss, and pain? Is it Jesus who wields the Sword of the Lord, slicing and dicing everyone who does not adhere to the moral code we impose upon other people? Is it Jesus who speaks King James English? Is it Jesus who, although he was born in what we call the Middle East, bears Anglo-Saxon features?
Which Jesus is it that we have to accept in order to avoid the eternal hell voted upon by the Southern Baptist Convention?
With over 30,000 Protestant denominations currently existing in the world -- all of which call Jesus "Lord and Savior," but who stand at odds with their sisters and brothers in the faith because of doctrinal differences -- one gets the impression that Jesus represents different things to different people. Just who else will we see when we are burning and screaming in hell?
How about instead of "accepting" Jesus in order to avoid eternal damnation, we try to grow closer to him (not closer to creeds, doctrines, theologies, or Christologies) so that our lives are reflective of light and truth and love? How about we de-emphasize religion and correct belief and focus on faithfulness? How about we live now, today, and always into the Reign of God that exists throughout Creation rather than trying to avoid at some future date extreme heat and the stench of sulphur?
I soon will attend the General Assembly of my church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and fortunately, we won't be voting to reaffirm hell's torment. Although, I assume it gets plenty warm in Nashville in the summertime...