This is the second of a tw0-part series covering David Rudel’s Who Really Goes To Hell?—The Gospel You’ve Never Heard. Rudel looks at how Scripture (The Bible) and our understanding of GOD’s purpose and of Jesus (The Gospel) intersect and where they diverge. My introduction can be found here and Section 1 is here.
In the second segment of the book, called “Judgment—Tearing Down Mansions” (chapters 5-7), Rudel constructs an immediate confrontation with the popular understanding of Jesus as judgment eliminator. As I described before, the author doesn’t deny the judgment (far from it), but argues that the standard evangelical equation (Faith in Jesus as God is the only means of entrance to the desired afterlife) is a distortion of Jesus’s actual teachings.
Laying it out in three parts, Rudel makes the case that standard evangelical dogma is a distortion of Scripture (5), what judgment seems to really be about (6), and what faith in God really looks like (7).
“A Chain of Broken Links”
In Chapter 5, Rudel eviscerates the familiar teachings about judgment on several grounds, but primarily on their Scriptural inconsistency. Each argument seems to rely on a human understanding or desire for what the judgment should be and uses that to fill in the gaps in Scripture.
Some of these arguments include:
- God can’t tolerate the unrighteous in his presence
- A single sin makes us unrighteous
- The theory of atonement based in sin/guilt/debt
- Does sinful behavior stop being sinful when we are ‘saved’?
- Jesus is the only means of forgiveness
- Payment for sin is a cosmic struggle beyond our ability to contribute
Rudel’s response to each of these arguments is thorough, consistent, and Scriptural. But in ‘tearing down mansions,’ he also reveals the potential. If the author isn’t steeped in deconstruction, he seems to naturally understand its practice, because his taking the machinery apart reveals both the essence within and our own failure to recognize what we bring to it:
We have manufactured a Judgment that suits our psychological needs rather than God’s attributes and designs. We have our eyes so much on immortality that we’ve made the Judgment the end of the game. We see it as a wrap-up session where God’s sense of justice (or, rather, our understanding of that justice) must be served. But the Judgment and its aftermath are not God’s opportunity to balance a budget of wrath at the end of the fiscal year.
“What Judgment Can We Expect?”
For Chapter 6, Rudel begins to piece together what the judgment might look like. Using the same methodology he used to deconstruct the elements of our tradition that are inconsistent and irrational, the author makes use of a broad reading of Scripture that shows integrity to its historical roots and to the guiding theology of the Hebrew Scriptures.
What Rudel finds at the core of the judgment is what we might cast aside as the old argument about Faith vs. Works—the old Reformation chestnut that continues to divide people within today’s worship communities. But Rudel gives it a different spin—which is entirely consistent with what scholars refer to as the “New Perspective on Paul”. Though I won’t go into this in any detail, it should be noted that a great deal of Protestant thought, most especially for Evangelicals, is based in a tradition that dates to 16th Century rereading of Paul. Rudel’s suggestions, though not anti-evangelical (far from it) would no doubt be taken hardest by these very groups, whose theological foundation is based there. For a good discussion about the New Perspective, go to Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, here.
To reconstruct judgment, Rudel uses several underlying currents in Scripture:
- God’s goal for humanity is to establish the Kingdom on earth—what Rudel refers to as New Jerusalem
- God’s ministry was extended beyond the reaches of Israel
- Jesus’s goal was to prepare the way for the Kingdom
- The primary concentration for followers should be on being Christ-like to one another
Each of these currents is heavily supported in Scripture and are a commonly-held understanding of how we work together. There are other currents or teachings in Scripture that might be relevant to the conversation, but few have the volume of Scriptural support that these have.
Taking these currents, Rudel argues that Faith vs. Works is a false dichotomy, since Scripture strongly suggests that judgment has to do with what we do and how God judges us. The Scriptural support leads toward God’s judgment of us being heavily based on how we judge others.
Rudel explains that he sees in Scripture an ongoing search for the Kingdom of God on earth, as represented by a New Jerusalem. It also describes the way people would behave in this world. So here’s his thesis on judgment:
Jesus chooses citizens for New Jerusalem whose history demonstrates they will contribute to its purpose. All others are left outside (in hell).
The seventh chapter is an exploration about what Jesus seems to mean when using the words ‘faith’ and ‘believe.’
[Jesus] mocks the Pharisees by explaining how their actions make no sense in light of their supposed beliefs about God. He describes incongruities between what they do and what they claim to believe. He points out it is incompatible for them to worry about what they will eat tomorrow if they believe God is loving, knows their plights, and cares for them. Rather than store up savings against unseen future calamity, they should be aiding those in need today. He notes the hypocrisy of expecting long, loud prayers to a God who already knows their needs, and exposes the foolishness of neglecting to utilize God’s gifts for good.
What Rudel is dancing around is this tension in our faith—not between belief and actions—but between our actions and our nature. For many of us, there is no tension—at least, not as we can see it. We think that actions are actions and beliefs are beliefs and we go about our normal business as if there are easily divided walls between the world and us. We say “I believe in God…” (and mean it), but seem to demonstrate little of that faithfulness in our personal lives. Or we may formalize our corporate faithfulness in large demonstrations of generosity while ignoring the person that walks through our doors.
If we were better Christians, every action would bring the Kingdom closer, every action would extend beyond our comfortable boundaries, every action would help our neighbors get ready for the Kingdom’s arrival, and every action would help the people around us see Christ.
In the end, this is the work upon which God will judge us.
The final section of the book are in-depth looks at different parts of what Rudel has been arguing. I’ve changed my mind and decided to address each one separately. I will try to get to at least two of the four this week. The titles include:
- What is The Gospel Anyway?
- God Surprises Everyone
- Making Sense of Paul
- Atonement Through Merit
EDITED: Changed the intro to reflect the new reality: I’m not planning on writing a third part. That, and I listed this as the second “first” part.