Q & R: From “a former critic and slanderer” on hell

An encouraging note …

My name is XX and I am a new “fan” of yours but haven’t always been. I first heard of you about 3 or so years ago. At that time I was involved in ministry at a YY affiliated fellowship. As I’m sure you’re painfully aware, they are not big Brian McLaren fans. I simply drank the proverbial kool-aid and spoke quite negative of you but never read or listened to a single word you said. For that I am ashamed and would like to apologize.
Not long after that, I left that fellowship to finally pastor a fellowship myself. I took a job with a struggling YY affiliate in ZZ in hopes that I could turn it around. The next [few] years were a series of ups and downs that ended in a ball of flames. I was unsuccessful at “turning it around.”
But in that time something happened. As “the pastor” I was no longer shielded from things that I once never knew existed. What I came to see was the sad condition of our YY movement and even more so the larger American church. I began to see the focus on institution instead of people. It broke my heart and I vowed to change it. Hence, how it ended in a ball of flames. I lost the church and it all collapsed as I was accused of being an “emergent heretic.”
But even in the midst of all the pain and confusion, God was able to work some amazing things. I began to search and read like crazy, looking for understanding and solutions to the issues I saw in American Christianity. A whole new world of faith opened up and, I don’t know how else to explain it, but as I continued to search and seek it felt as though I had just met Jesus for the first time.

More after the jump …

The note continues with a question …

Yet, with that freshness has come so much uncertainty. For one, I’m really struggling with the issue of hell and what that all means. I realize now that many of the things I was taught growing up may not be entirely accurate. I’m OK with that but I also have a lot of questions. My biggest is this issue of hell. My traditional views just don’t seem to be meshing with my current understanding. My friend recommended your literature, but I’m broke and figured I could possibly send you an email. He gave me everything must change which I just started reading and have thoroughly enjoyed so far.
So, maybe you’ll read this email? I know you’re probably insanely busy but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’d love to know what your thoughts are about hell.
Thank you so very much for having the guts and the courage to take a stand and speak your heart even under some of the most venomous criticism I’ve ever seen. You have helped me in many ways just by writing some things online and speaking on various podcasts. So as a former critic and slanderer, I want to first say sorry, second say thank you and thirdly say if possible could you help me understand hell?

R: Thanks so much for your note. Your story and encouragement mean a lot to me. I’m so sorry that you’ve had to experience some really tough stuff … but it’s beautiful to see your positive attitude through it all.
On hell:
I know you’re reading Everything Must Change, and I’m sure that by the time you’re done, you’ll find a good bit of help on the subject. I raise the issue of “framing stories” in the book, and I don’t think we can resolve the issue of hell until we resolve the deeper issue of the framing story in which it is normally embedded. I try to open up that subject in another book – The Last Word and the Word After That, which I think you’d enjoy. You said you’re broke – so I’d recommend either borrowing it from a friend, seeing if it’s in a local library, or looking online for a used copy (which can be amazingly cheap – and sometimes, other peoples’ underlinings can be a big added value!).
My upcoming book will also be helpful. It’s built around ten questions people are raising around the world and across denominations. The first several questions, and the first one in particular, deal with the underlying assumptions that brought us (among other things) to the conventional view of hell.
I’d also recommend you check out emergentvillage.com, and see if you can find or form a cohort in your area. Face-to-face conversation can help so much in dealing with these deep and important questions. Most of all, I’d encourage you to keep your heart open to God through all your questioning. It can only be a good thing when we stop drinking the kool-aid and sincerely search for truth, even though some folks, in God’s name, don’t make it easy sometimes.