An internet controversy is percolating around a soon-to-be-published book by well-known evangelical preacher Rob Bell. In this text, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell apparently advocates the “universalist” position on salvation, according to which everyone in the end is saved and that Hell, accordingly, is empty. Many of his evangelical co-religionists are arguing that this doctrine runs counter to classical biblical Christianity and is designed to appeal to a trendy post-modern audience for whom the only unforgiveable sin is to be “exclusive.” This dust-up over Hell made the main page of the CNN website the other day and has prompted tens of thousands of responses and questions. Obviously Hell is still (forgive the pun) a burning question among both believers and non-believers.
On November 1st 1755, a terrible earthquake struck Lisbon, Portugal. The temblor, which lasted about ten minutes, destroyed most of the buildings in the city and buried thousands of people in rubble. As would be the case with the San Francisco earthquake a hundred and fifty years later, fires broke out in the wake of the Lisbon quake that claimed the lives of many more people and destroyed much of economic infrastructure of the city. Finally, a series of tidal waves ensued, which killed many who had gathered at the shore to escape the flames.
“The Adjustment Bureau” is one of the most explicitly theological films of the last 25 years. The only problem is that it proposes an extraordinarily bad theology. It tells the story of David Morris (played convincingly by Matt Damon), an up-and-coming American politician. Morris has just lost a Senate election but he has met Elise, a woman for whom he feels an immediate and overwhelming attraction. She gives him her phone number and David, despite his electoral defeat, is enthused about pursuing this new relationship.
I confess that I was a little surprised when I visited the CNN website and found a feature on John Dominic Crossan, the controversial scholar of the historical Jesus. I was surprised, not so much that Crossan was being profiled, but that the article was not appearing at Christmas or Easter or on the occasion of a papal visit. Dr. Crossan, you see, is a favorite of the mainstream media, who never seem to miss an opportunity to try to debunk classical Christianity, especially on major Christian holidays.
Some weeks ago, I gave a sermon in which I mentioned Keith Richards, the lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones. I recounted how struck I was by a passage from Richards’s autobiography in which the guitarist described the almost maniacal dedication with which he and his bandmates set out to learn Chicago blues. “Benedictines,” he said, “had nothing on us.” I urged my listeners to approach their spiritual lives with the same “Benedictine” focus and fervor that the young Rolling Stones had in regard to the blues. I was also quick to point out, with a laugh, that I didn’t want people to buy Richards’s autobiography for their teen-agers as Confirmation presents! Keith, I indicated, had walked down lots of bad paths. Now just after that Mass, I went out to breakfast with my sister and her family and my mother. My mother said, “Bobby, I thought your homily was fine, but I wish you hadn’t mentioned that awful Keith Richards, who is just the epitome of nothing!”