In Conclusion: Belief

Aside from my approach to the Bible (see the previous post) the most significant point where I've departed from the doctrine of my Evangelical upbringing is that I don't believe in hell. It's not that I ever stopped believing in hell so much as that I came to realize that, despite my best efforts, belief in hell is impossible for me. I'm not saying that a place of eternal torment does not exist (what do I know about such things?). It's just that I don't know how I could live my life as a believer in hell. It would change everything, and it would probably drive me to despair. So what else can I do? I reject belief in hell.

On the other hand, there are a lot of big Christian doctrines that I just don't feel too strongly about. Is Jesus God? I don't know. I tend to think of him that way, but it doesn't mean a whole lot to me. (Although I firmly believe that Jesus was God’s Messiah - the one chosen to speak for God and do his work.) I like the idea of the trinity, because of what it suggests about the significance of community, but I have no real interest in any doctrine that tries to explain the relationship between Jesus and God. And the objective, historical reality of the virgin birth doesn't really interest me.

So in some cases I disagree with the central doctrines of conservative Christianity, but most have simply lost importance for me. The essential change is not in the content of my beliefs, but in my understanding of the nature of belief itself.

The way I read the Bible, true faith is inseparable from works. When Jesus asks us to believe, he is speaking about lifestyle, not doctrine - the sort of faith which spurred the heroes of Hebrews 11 to action. Our beliefs are manifest in the way we live our lives. To the extent that our intellectual beliefs about Christ do not govern our lives we are, in fact, unbelievers.

I'm not saying that we who don’t practice what we preach are frauds or unredeemed. I do not preach a spiritual elitism, and I am as weak and inconstant in my faith as anyone. I affirm the sufficiency of God's love and grace, independent of our belief. But I think we need to call our unbelief what it is.

Peter Rollins, one of my favorite Christian writers at the moment, was asked if he denies the resurrection, and admitted that he does:

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

This is what faith in Jesus means to me. I am a believer in Christ inasmuch as I am actively striving to imitate him and put his teachings into practice. I have a habit of thinking that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. But my opinion on this matter just doesn't seem all that significant to me anymore. What matters to me is that I live (or am beginning to live, or desire to live) as if dead and ruined things can be brought back to life, as if God has called me to participate in the resurrection of all creation.

So what do I believe in? What are the ideas that shape my view of the world and the way I live my life?

I believe that there is a God, and that she love us.

I believe that I was created to love and be loved, and that this is true of all other people, and even all of creation.

I believe that Jesus exemplified God's love in his life and death.

I believe that there is gratuitous and unjustifiable evil in this world.

And I believe in the ultimate redemption and reconciliation of all things.

Some of these beliefs come naturally to me. I believe them because, for whatever reason, I cannot do otherwise. Some of them are the result of long and careful consideration. And some have been adopted out of necessity, in order to save me from despair.

I am interested in why I believe what I believe, whether these beliefs can be justified, and what amendments I ought to make to them, but mostly I want to work on living them out.


Rick Lannoye said...

Thanks for sharing so honestly and deeply.

As a former Evangelical, I can relate to much of what you're saying, especially how you came to feel about the doctrine of Hell.

I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell." If you'd like, please download a free Ecopy of it from my website:

After many years of studying this doctrine, as well as all that went into getting me, as a young teen, to buy into it, and keep me buying into for 2 decades, I think it will help, especially those who have any lingering doubts or feelings of fear about it.

Jens said...


I just read Barclay's commentary on the book of Acts, and he pointed out that the literal belief in the ressurection was, for the early church, the lynchpin of both their beliefs and their good deeds. "If Christ is not raised, all out preaching is useless", that sort of thing. Interesting that you come to different conclusions,

Rick, I mean to download your book and read it at some point. I generally agree with this blog's thoughts on hell, but I'm not sure how anyone can be "certain" of anything when it comes to the afterlife.

Jacob said...

Rick: I'm not certain of much. I'm certainly not certain that there's no such place as hell. But this may be more a semantic disagreement than anything.

Jens: A good point. I don't pretend that my understanding of belief is the same as that of the early church (although I think it's a fair bit closer than the pop-evangelical understanding).

It's important to note the difference between saying "it's all useless unless Christ was literally raised" and "it's all useless unless we believe the doctrine of Christ's literal resurrection."

Of course, in the grand scheme of things - that is, after we're dead - it makes a hell of a difference whether Christ literally rose from the dead. But in this life it makes no difference at all what your opinion on the matter is, except inasmuch as it affects the way you live your life. This is essentially James' point in 2:14-26.