In this chapter, again written in the form of emails sent between Dan and Neo, they discuss Heaven, Hell, and salvation. Neo recalls a previous discussion on Hell, and Dan’s fixation on the subject. “Seriously though, I understand why: it’s a subject about which modern Christianity entrenched itself in some very ugly positions, and I think a new kind of Christian will handle the subject very differently.”
Neo draws out the current Christian doctrines on Hell:
- Universalism: Jesus is the only way and the Savior of the world and everyone is saved regardless of their beliefs
- Exclusivism: Jesus is the only way and saves those who choose (or are chosen) to believe in Him
- Inclusivism: Jesus is the only way and Savior of the world. All can accept God’s grace in some way (known only to God), and all can reject it
Neo also describes pluralism and relativism, “a popular approach to questions of heaven and hell that says, ‘There may or may not be a God, a heaven, a hell, and so on, but there are many beliefs about each, and all are valid for those who hold them. No one belief has superiority over the others.’” Neo rejects this as a logical position and says it is more of a mood or attitude toward beliefs. Though on the surface it is tolerant, the heart of it says that all claims to legitimacy are bogus, and since no one can prove that any view on hell is correct, you should just pick one and go with it and allow others to do the same. Neo says, “It’s certainly very popular, although I consider it a seduction into apathy.”
So how does Neo, or any new kind of Christian, think about Hell? Neo introduces Predicamentalism, which refuses to speculate on anyone’s eternal fate, but instead encourages you to focus on your own. Speculation drives the in grouping and out-grouping that Jesus adamantly renounced when “opening the windows of grace and the doors of heaven to the tax collectors and prostitutes, the half-breeds and ultimately even the gentiles.”
How should we think of Hell, then? Neo basically says that it’s our job to love God and love others, and let Hell serve as imagery to warn us that there are consequences to how we live. We should run from that imagery. “It’s none of your business who does and does not go to hell… Now stop speculating about hell and start living for heaven!”
The conversation transitioned into one about salvation. The way modern evangelicals talk about salvation is highly individualistic. To be saved is to escape Hell, be welcomed to Heaven, have Jesus in your heart, and accept Jesus as your personal savior. However, God’s plan isn’t limited to the redemption of individual souls floating in Heaven. Redemption portrayed in Revelation and elsewhere in scripture describes a redeemed world, complete with galaxies and rivers and animals and even human culture, all redeemed. Neo says, “The scope of salvation in the Bible is so much bigger than my little soul.” When Jesus came to earth he told His people that they had salvation wrong. Salvation isn’t just for Israel; it’s for everyone! Now we are less nationalistic in our salvation doctrine, but we have taken Jesus’s global outlook and made it an individual thing.
Talk about personal salvation says, “You’re unsaved, but it’s okay, I’m saved, I’ll tell you how you can be saved too.” This is invitation by exclusion. Invitation by inclusion looks more like, “God loves you. God accepts you. Are you ready to accept your acceptance and live in reconciliation with God?” The current understanding on salvation is also very passive. To be saved you go from the bad side of the line to the good side of the line. And then you try to get more people onto your side of the line. Jesus didn’t ask us to cross a line though. He told us to follow him, to go on a journey with him. “It’s as if we have taken what is for Jesus a starting line and turned it into a finish line.” Neo says this is another case of modern reductionism. It makes salvation easy and quantitatively measurable. It might not be what Jesus was talking about though.
What is salvation then? What does it look like? Dan defines salvation as becoming part of the solution rather than the problem. Heaven isn’t the main point; the glory and pleasure of God is the main point. “The essence of our identity as people of God isn’t that we’re an elite, saved for privilege, but ordinary people saved for service … So maybe salvation isn’t something we ‘get’ … Salvation is what we experience and spread in the process of joining God in his grand mission.” Our works and our decisions aren’t the focal points here, God’s grace is central, and his plans for the world.
Dan reflects on how this kind of inclusive invitation to God’s grace could form churches into “communities of communities … where people really connect, really care, really make their faith visible through love. A place where we help people believe and become by helping them belong.”