Hipps on Hell

In September, Rob Bell announced that he was stepping down from his role at Mars Hill to pursue work on a TV show with one of the producer/writers of Lost. Teaching Pastor Shane Hipps, a Fuller Theological Seminary grad, will take on the lead teaching role. With the swirl surrounding Rob Bell and Love Wins, many might be asking what Hipps thinks about heaven and hell.

Recently Shane Hipps wrote a blog entry discussing that very topic. Hipps post was cross posted on the ChurchLeaders.com site. I came across the entry when I saw Scot McKnight’s tweet which opened up a discussion on the article at his blog the Jesus Creed.

For those with short attention spans Hipps conclusion is that theological positions on heaven and hell are all speculation.

There is a lot of talk these days about heaven and hell. …

It’s strange that so much passion and ink has been spilled over something that is all speculation.

I can only comment on this one piece, I don’t know Shane Hipps and have not read other things he has written. However I have to say I was really surprised by the way that Hipps made the case to support this conclusion. The basis of his case lies in the premise that only Jesus died and rose from the dead and that it is only after His resurrection that Jesus could know for sure what the after-life was all about.  Therefore only those teachings after the resurrection should be considered when evaluating the after-life.

Now having said this, I’m only aware of one person who died, and I mean really died, like three days dead, and came back to life again. His name was Jesus. Upon his return from the dead, he didn’t believe anymore; now he knew. So if I wanted some indication about what happens after I die, I should probably pay attention to what he said after he came back from the dead.

Here’s what he said about heaven and hell after his resurrection. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

If anyone had the authority and credibility to provide a coherent-once-and-for-all description of exactly what happens after you die, it would be Jesus upon his return from beyond the beyond. But he didn’t.

As the Lord says – “Come now, let us reason together”.

Is certainty only possible through direct experience?

The first problem is in how Hipps compares knowing with believing:

I take a position when I know something with certainty. Almost always through direct experience.  … But until I’ve experienced it, this is only something I believe– a possibility. And possibilities should be held with an open hand, perhaps with some humility and even humor. Who knows, I could be wrong about what I believe?

Humble? Sure. But if these definitions are universally applied then at best Hipps could only be aware of the possibility that Jesus died and rose again. It can’t be a  theological position for Hipps because he was not among the 500 who were visited by Jesus between the resurrection and ascension. So  does Hipps think that Jesus’ death and resurrection is only speculation? Can we not have assurance and conviction of things that are not directly experienced based on the trustworthiness of God and His Word (Heb 1:1-2; 11:1)? Assuming he is willing to accept Jesus’ death and resurrection as more than speculation then Hipps has no basis to reject passages on the after-life that are in the Scripture because he has not directly experienced them yet.

Was Jesus only able to teach with certainty about the after-life after He died and rose again?

Hipps case implies that Jesus’ teachings on the after-life before the resurrection are based on speculation and are at best a possibility. Therefore we can only build a theological position on the after-life based on what Jesus says after He rose. However, as the One through Whom all things were created (Col 1:16) and having come from above where the Father is (John 30:36; 8:23), Jesus is more than capable of teaching with absolute certainty and truth on all things including the after-life both before and after His death and resurrection.

Does the limit on Jesus’ ability to teach with certainty after He died and rose again apply only to the after-life?

But if Hipps is right regarding Jesus’ teaching on the after-life with certainly only after He rose from the dead then why should we limit this to the topic of the after-life? If this were true then how can we trust any of Jesus’ teachings on anything? On what authority should we accept Jesus’ teaching on morale behavior or social justice? What do we do with the Old Testament? Or the majority of the teaching and content found in the Gospels? Is all of this teaching less reliable because Jesus had not died and rose from the dead yet?

And what are we going to do with all of the New Testament writings that are penned after Jesus’ death and resurrection? Does the teaching on the after-life found in these texts count? I am sure that is not what Hipps really intended but I am not sure what other conclusion one can draw.

Does this make sense even if we accept all these premises?

But even if we accept the premise Hipps suggests, that we should favor Jesus’ teachings after His death and resurrection then does this support his conclusion that teachings on the after-life prior to that are less certain. Let’s look at two events that occurred after Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus on the very day that He rose from the dead met two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Interestingly He pointed to the Scriptures to teach them about the Christ.

That very daytwo of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,  … And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning withMoses andall the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:13, 25-27)

This would certainly require the Scriptures and teachings that predated the resurrection to be true.  And that would include all of the statements made regarding the after-life.

Then there is the Great Commission:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” – Jesus (Matt 28:18-20)

Now, Jesus said this after He died and rose from the dead. So using Hipps logic we need to pay particular attention to what is said here. Jesus tells us to “make disciples”. In the process of making these disciples we are told that we must teach them. What should we teach them you might ask? The answer is “all that Jesus commanded”. The content of our curriculum then must include the teachings made before and after His death and resurrection. And that would include all of the statements Jesus made regarding the after-life.

Even if we tried to wiggle out of these interpretations, Hipps asks why Jesus did not write a book on the after-life after He rose again:

If it were important to him, you’d think he would have written a book about it. Or preached a sermon or two. But he didn’t.

Actually after Jesus rose and ascended He sent angels to give John the visions that comprise the book we call Revelation (Rev 1:1-2). In this book we have teachings regarding the after-life. So even working within the untenable framework setup in Hipps article, the notion that what we can know about the after-life is pure speculation just does not hold up.

This probably should not be surprising given the muddled message found in Love Wins, but the logic (or lack of it) and the arguments made by Hipps in order to defend a speculative and vague theology about heaven and hell are worse than the conclusion.

What do you think?

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