Dodgy dogma about heaven

Howard Grace encounters a evangelist trying to convert Jews to Christianity

Dodgy dogma about heaven

I was recently at a church event where the speaker described the work of his organisation to evangelise and convert Jews to Christianity. His approach seemed to me to be very contentious.

He talked a lot about their work in Amsterdam. As it happens my wife is Dutch, and a few days earlier we had been to see a play about Anne Frank in which one of our Quaker friends was a cast member. This Dutch, Jewish girl and her whole family hid for two years during the war before being discovered and sent to Nazi concentration camps where they suffered terribly, and died.

So, at question time, in an attempt to delve into the speaker’s doctrinal beliefs, I mentioned this play. I then recounted being at a church a few years ago where the pastor had said that, like many other Jews who were sent to holocaust camps, Anne Frank had encountered hell on earth. But that was nothing compared to the eternal hell she went to because she was not a Christian. I asked the speaker whether he agreed with the view of that pastor. He said that some people may decide for Christ at the last moment so would be ‘saved’. But when I pushed him further he said that he did indeed believe that Anne Frank would have gone to eternal hell because she wasn’t a Christian. “That is what The Bible says.”

There is no point in going into doctrinal discussion here because that would be never-ending. For millennia, far more learned people than I have debated biblical interpretation. But I would just say that if my thought process had led me to believe that, because all non-Christians go to hell that will include people like Anne Frank, I would be compelled to stand back and consider how I had managed to get to that point of belief.

If we think of having the right set of doctrinal beliefs as the crucial aspect of Jesus’ way, the internal dynamic of the Christian life becomes ‘meeting requirements’. But during Jesus’ ministry he took strong issue with Pharisees who made ‘living by certain rules’ the requirement of acceptability by God. I suspect that in the present time Jesus would have confronted, just as strongly, the belief requirement of ‘correct doctrine’ as the route to salvation.

I am reminded of the phenomenon that if a frog hops into a bowl of boiling water it immediately jumps out again. But if the frog is placed in a bowl of cold water that is slowly brought to a boil it just stays there with inevitable consequences!

How can a person like the speaker referred to above, step by step, come to the boiling point of believing that Anne Frank and millions of other ordinary people, spend eternity in hell, just because they hadn’t come to certain theological beliefs? The troubling thing is that many people continue to be alienated from the life that Jesus exemplifies for us, by being presented with such unbelievable doctrines as part of the Christian package.

Though not a Catholic, I resonate with Pope Francis who maintains that if the choice comes between doctrine and compassion, we should choose compassion. That sounds to me just like the sort of thing that Jesus might have said.

Image of Anne Frank by Unknown photographer; Collectie Anne Frank Stichting Amsterdam (Website Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons​


1 On 10/02/2018 Nicola Phelan wrote:

Howard thanks for sharing this encounter which highlights the implications of these beliefs about salvation and the meaning of the life and death of Jesus. I have been meaning to respond because I have met one person in the past who was part of this same organisation with a mission to the Jews CMJ I think it is called. Suffice it to say she and I were not on the same theological page. I have looked the organisation up on their website and find they have been going since 1809 but I have never been anywhere where they were invited to speak.
I was wondering what the reaction was amongst the rest of the audience in response to your question and the talk ? Did it lead to further conversations about this kind of belief system that would mean all non Christians would be considered cut off from God for eternity? I often wonder how people live with this knowledge when it includes many family and friends but that is also why they are often so concerned that people are ‘saved’.
I joined the Council for Christians and Jews (CCJ) some years ago which as you might be aware was set up after WW2 and has done much good work including addressing the anti Semitic interpretations of the New Testament . I am also part of my local interfaith forum which I have found very enriching but I know that some local Christians are highly suspicious of it because of the very beliefs you describe. I hope your question has got some people perhaps thinking through the implications of what they believe and you are having some positive discussions.

2 On 20/02/2018 Andrew Vivian wrote:

Dear Nicola
Howard has now replied directly to you by email, please let me know if you haven’t received it safely.
Good wishes, Andy (Web editor)

3 On 23/02/2018 matt wrote:

“if the choice comes between doctrine and compassion, we should choose compassion” No you should choice what is true not what you want to believe in.

4 On 01/06/2018 Richard Fellowes wrote:

Wonderful site.  Interesting blog.  For years, I’ve been struggling with my position on the many fundamental ideas (and some conservative ones), that Christians hold.  I’ve really come to a crisis point with my identity.  If you read some of the Christian blogs on the internet, it’s very easy to feel isolated.  Because much of the material is very much ‘our way is the right and only way’.  And certainly, it’s hellfire and damnation.  Great to find a site run by like-minded people.  Thank you smile  And thank God, for this site smile

5 On 04/06/2018 Adrian Alker wrote:

Richard, good to hear from you and glad you found PCN! If you want to contact any of us at PCN please do just that and hope to meet you at one of our events.
Adrian ( Chair of trustees)

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