Is there a Heaven and Hell?

Joe Broadmedow is the co-writer of this blog ‘The Heretic and the Holy Man’. We grew up in the same town, cut the same classes in High School and recently reconnected at our class reunion. Joe is an atheist and I am a Baptist pastor. The question we are posing in this particular blog is the question of whether Heaven and Hell exist. To make it personal: ‘Is Joe going to a warm place (and I don’t mean Aruba)?’

Traditional Christianity would have us believe that Joe as a non-believer is going to Hell. Augustine the theologian became influential in the 4th century. Augustine believed that humanity is sinful by nature and that Jesus died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross we too who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, are restored to relationship with God. Since the 4th century this has been the dominant Christian theology. Those who don’t know of or who reject the story of Jesus are condemned to eternal damnation (hell).

Saving people from such a consequence has fueled the faithful to this very day. It’s a great motivator to save family, friends and strangers. According to Augustine and classic evangelical theology, Joe is going to a very, very warm place. Forever.

In fact, my friend who is a Rabbi, with whom I had coffee this morning, she too, according to Augustine, is going to that very same place.

Are my friends, Joe and the Rabbi lost to God for eternity?

Listen to Origen 185 – 254 and Gregory of Nyssa 335 – 390 CE. Origen and Gregory were respected leaders in the early days of Christianity. They believed in Universal Salvation. Universal Salvation teaches: ‘No one is lost to the love of God. The nature/essence of God is to bring about eternal communion with God. To condemn someone to eternal damnation because they have a different concept of God or no belief is contrary to the nature of God.’

Throughout my ministry I have been a proponent of universal salvation. It is based on my deep belief that God’s essence is love and reflected to us as grace. Philip Yancey describes grace this way: ‘There is nothing we can do to make God love us more….and, nothing we can do to make God love us less.’

This grace is extended to me, to Joe (even though he is a Yankee fan), and to my friend the Rabbi.

I can hear some of my evangelical friends saying: “Kent, if everyone is accepted into heaven by God, then what’s the point?” Implied in this thinking is the belief that there must be ‘winners and losers’, those who ‘are saved and those who aren’t’. Augustine would agree.

My response? Winners and losers is a human construct. The Pharisees at the time of Jesus were rule keepers, judging who was pure and impure, righteous and unrighteous. Jesus came along to say that ‘everyone is welcome into God’s house, everyone is loved, all are forgiven.’ This ticked off a lot of religious leaders then….and, now. (I John 4: 18 gets to the heart of what Jesus is all about).

I will leave it to another blog to reflect on heaven. Let me simply say I believe heaven is very real and we catch a glimpse of it in moments of profound kindness and beauty. I believe too that when we take our last breath that each of us, atheist and people of faith return to God, who is the source of all that is good, lasting and true.

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About Kent Harrop

I am bi-coastal...I was raised in New England (Rhode Island) and for twenty years 1994 - 2014 served as pastor of First Baptist Church McMinnville, Oregon. In May 2014 I moved with my wife Tricia back to New England and serve on a team of ministers at the First Baptist Church in Beverly, Massachusetts. I love the beauty and geographic breadth of Oregon and the north shore of Massachusetts. A growing edge for me is the integration of the contemplative and prophetic life. Tricia and I enjoy gardening, camping and kayaking on rivers and ocean. We have two grown daughters who are strong, smart and adventurous. The purpose of the blog is to explore the relationship between faith and the wider culture. The views expressed here are my own.
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4 Responses to Is there a Heaven and Hell?

  1. Hi Guys,
    Two long posts to follow, replying both to the Atheist and the Universalist. Remember you asked us to share thoughts. Lol. You got it. Just remember one thing: I love you.

    First off, let me say it is so great to ‘see’ my high school classmates here on FB. I have such great memories of Cumberland High and am privileged to have known you as friends. Joe, I know we didn’t hang much but as a fellow alum, I consider you friend.
    I’ m compelled to throw in my two cents worth here, as I have lots of skin in this spiritual game.
    I was raised a Catholic. Went to Catholic school for 10 years; they were some of the worse years of my life. Moving back to RI in my mid teens was a life changing moment, literally. I want from bullies to acceptance and friends. Religion had no place in my life other than what my parents forced me to do. When I was old enough, I left the church and never looked back.
    I joined the Navy in 1977, thinking I needed some discipline and get away from my recreational drug use. But, I ended up finding and using drugs I thought would never get into my system. Truth be told, I enjoyed it. I did really well, however, throughout my short career as as electrician. I got out as an E-5. Not bad. But the best thing that could every happen to a person, happened to me. Here’s my story in a nutshell:
    At my first duty station (USS Frederich LST 1184 in San Diego) after boot/electrician’s mate school I quickly found myself getting into religious discussions about God, war, morality, etc. with fellow sailors. What in the world is going on here? I tried to dismiss these knuckle-headed Christians by giving my glib and totally un-thought- thru beliefs, thinking they’d leave me alone cuz, ‘at least he believes in somethng’, but…no. The evangelization persisted.
    Long story short, I read a book by Hal Lindsay, given me by one of those knuckle-headed Christians, called ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’. It was all about end time prophecy. I was hooked, drawn right in. In the middle of that book a question was raised; ‘do you want to know how to get to Heaven?’. The chapter went on, laying out the plan of salvation; Jesus Christ died on a cross for the penalty of my sin and by believing in Him, I would be saved. This was it!!! Guys, I did not walk an aisle, pray a prayer, or DO anything. But, somehow, miraculously, ‘the lights went on’, I became a believer in Jesus Christ, who He was, what He did and His soon return. I’ve never been the same since. I am a Chirstian. I am going to Heaven.
    I want you to go to Heaven. God wants you to go to Heaven.
    “For God so loved the world (Rick, Kent and Joe), that He gave His one and only begotten Son, that whosoever (Rick, Kent or Joe) believes, would not perish , but have eternal life.” Hmm, ‘not perish…’. Keep that in mind.
    I look back on those conversations and cannot remember all of what we talked about other than Jesus, the cross. It ‘s like I hear in my head “Blah blah, blah Jesus died, blah blah blah, for your sins, blah, believe.’ None of the ‘other stuff got into my head and heat other than the simple gospel.
    I am celebrating 38 years as a Christian this month. I still have lots of growing to do. But, I have no regrets other than the wish to have known Him sooner. I desire that you know Him.
    That’s it in a nutshell. (Ok, big nutshell). See you down the road.First off, let me say it is so great to ‘see’ my high school classmates here on FB. I have such great memories of Cumberland High and am privileged to have known you as friends. Joe, I know we didn’t hang much but as a fellow alum, I consider you friend.
    I’ m compelled to throw in my two cents worth here, as I have lots of skin in this spiritual game.
    I was raised a Catholic. Went to Catholic school for 10 years; they were some of the worse years of my life. Moving back to RI in my mid teens was a life changing moment, literally. I want from bullies to acceptance and friends. Religion had no place in my life other than what my parents forced me to do. When I was old enough, I left the church and never looked back.
    I joined the Navy in 1977, thinking I needed some discipline and get away from my recreational drug use. But, I ended up finding and using drugs I thought would never get into my system. Truth be told, I enjoyed it. I did really well, however, throughout my short career as as electrician. I got out as an E-5. Not bad. But the best thing that could every happen to a person, happened to me. Here’s my story in a nutshell:
    At my first duty station (USS Frederich LST 1184) after boot/electrician’s mate school I quickly found myself getting into religious discussions about God, war, morality, etc. with fellow sailors. What in the world is going on here? I tried to dismiss these knuckle-headed Christians by giving my glib and totally un-thought- thru beliefs, thinking they’d leave me alone cuz, ‘at least he believes in somethng’, but…no. The evangelization persisted.
    Long story short, I read a book by Hal Lindsay called ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’. It was all about end time prophecy. I was hooked, drawn right in. In the middle of that book a question was raised; ‘do you want to know how to get to Heaven?’. The chapter went on, laying out the plan of salvation; Jesus Christ died on a cross for the penalty of my sin and by believing in Him, I would be saved. This was it!!! Guys, I did not walk an aisle, pray a prayer, or DO anything. But, somehow, miraculously, ‘the lights went on’, Right there in my rack, I became a believer in Jesus Christ, who He was, what He did and His soon return. I never been the same since. I am a Chirstian. I am going to Heaven.
    I want you to go to Heaven. God wants you to go to Heaven.
    “For God so loved the world (Rick, Kent and Joe), that He gave His one and only begotten Son, that whosoever (Rick, Kent or Joe) believes, would have eternal life.”
    I look back on those conversations and cannot remember all of what we talked about other than Jesus, the cross. It ‘s like I hear in my head “Blah blah, blah Jesus died, blah blah blah, for your sins, blah, believe.’ None of the ‘other stuff got into my head and heart other than the simple gospel.
    I am celebrating 38 years as a Christian this month. I still have lots of growing to do. But, I have no regrets other than the wish to have known Him sooner. I desire that you know Him.
    That’s it in a nutshell. (Ok, big nutshell). See you down the road, the next post. Thank you for reading.

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  2. Here’s post 2. “All Dogs Do Not Go To Heaven”. Enjoy.

    Let’s start from the beginning:
    In the beginning,, God walked with Adam. Adam was told he could take of all the trees in garden except for one. He was warned of the consequence, ‘the day that you eat, you shall surely die’. Eve was tempted to take of that certain tree, which she did, and Adam soon followed. They were then separated from intimate fellowship with God by their own choice, not because of God’s choice. That is what the inherent nature of sin is, separation from close, intimate fellowship from/ with God. Look at Isaiah 59:2, “But your sins have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” This is the state that you and I are in now. I think we can agree. There is no obvious fellow-shipping going on between God and man on a universalist scale today.
    Jump over to the New Testament, where Paul writes to the Romans 3:23 “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ and in 6:23, “the wages of sin is death (final, eternal separation from God”. Do you have a relationship with God now? No? Do you want a relationship with God? It’s your choice.
    A universalist approach doesn’t work because of this: choice. We have the free will to choose God, or not. Heaven is not going to be filled with people who do not want to be there, for whatever reason. Good so far? Practical thinking, no? A man chooses his spouse to be with for his entire life. He chooses not to be with her, for whatever reason, but it is his choice. In essence, God has chosen us; we get to choose Him back. God’s requirement for admission into Heaven is this: perfection and holiness.
    Another ginormous reason why the universalist approach cannot work is the death of Jesus Christ. If God were to ultimately, because of His grace, allow all into Heaven, then Jesus did not need to suffer at the hands of His own creation and die a criminal’s death on the cross for our sins. Building on the few scriptures laid out here so far, let’s look at the progression. Adam sins. Sins brings death and separation from God for all humanity. We personally have broken God’s law, therefore incurring the
    ‘Wages or consequences of those actions, separation and death”. Jesus pays the price for the penalty of our sin, therefore satisfying the requirements of a holy God; the result being, entry into heaven. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life thru Christ Jesus” Rms 6:23, again. Jesus becomes our substitute. We ‘take on His righteousness’ thru our belief in His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. The cool thing is, it’s a free gift . Paul writes to the Ephesian church and says this: “For by grace (unmerited favor of God) you have been saved thru faith (belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross for you personally), and not of yourselves (not earning heaven by being good or doing good things). It is a free gift of God, that no one should boast.”
    You do not need a gift if everyone is entitled to Heaven because of God’s good nature, regardless of whether we want it or not, or believe it, or not.
    How does one get to Heaven now? Belief. The plan of salvation is laid out, now Jesus is asking one thing, ‘Believe/ call upon the Lord, and you will be saved”. Simple, yes? But you say you don’t believe? The bible says, ‘The fool says in their heart, ‘there is no God'”. Or, ‘wait, Jesus can’t be the only way. Shouldn’t He accept all who give it their best, and He’ll take care of the rest?” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one come to the Father except thur Me.” Heavy, but His words, not mine.
    But, maybe you’re thinking that its’ no big deal if you don’t believe. Here’s a warning of the consequences of unbelief from 2 Thessalonians (or should I say, ‘two thessalonians’ 6-8: “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
    7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
    8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey (believe) the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Wow!!
    Verse 8 is the key here. Scary, yes? It should be. Not enough? Okay, off to Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (the first being our bodily death). The lake of fire is real and not a euphemism.
    So, Jesus puts a heavy emphasis on belief. You can read for yourself all throughout the New Testament, where He chastises unbelief in the disciples and others. Listen, He wept over Jerusalem because of their unbelief Luke 19:41-48. He did not say, ‘oh Jerusalem, don’t worry, even though you had not seen and believed your day of visitation by Me, all will work out. At the end of the day, because of my grace….heck, y’all did the best you could, even if you don’t want Me or believe in Me, right?” Sorry, being totally facetious here.
    Guys, it is a very difficult thing to accept hell. Scriptures is clear of the existence and purpose of hell. But please know, you or I do not have to go there unless we want. Please choose to believe in the Saviour as He wishes and don’t take away or add to that simple message: ‘Choose this day…’. “The Word is near you, in your heart and in your mouth, that if you confess Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you shall be saved.” Pretty simple. See you There.

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    • Rick, first thanks for reading and taking the time to reply. Our purpose is to encourage open and rational discussion of issues and differences. I hope you follow the blog and share it with others. Thanks again

      Like

      • Kent Harrop says:

        Rick, thanks for reading and adding your 2 cents (plus a few more!). Appreciate your sincerity and heart for this and for the joy and hope you’ve found in the way of Jesus. I’ve found joy and hope in the way of Jesus too. You clearly and accurately articulate a traditional, evangelical theology. My Christology makes room for universal salvation. I think we’ll need to agree to disagree on this major theological point but welcome further conversation. ~ Kent

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