Raising Hell

Raising Hell

ERASING HELL: Francis Chan is the latest Christian author to take on the topic of man's eternal destiny.

“Hell’s a-Poppin'” is how the headline began on a Publishers Weekly article yesterday about best-selling author and pastor Francis Chan‘s new book, Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity and the Things We Make Up. It’s no wonder, given months of public discussion about the topic generated by publication of Rob Bell‘s controversial new release, Love Wins.

David C. Cook is so confident about the potential marketability of Erasing Hell, it has committed to a 250,000 unit initial print run, “a six-figure marketing budget, and a simultaneous audio release from Oasis Audio,” Publishers Weekly reported.

God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins will debut in July, even though its author, Chrisitianity Today senior managing editor Mark Galli already reviewed Love Wins for his magazine. Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones and Is Hell for Real? Or Does Everyone Go to Heaven? a compilation by Tim Keller, Albert Mohler and others are also scheduled for summer 2011 release, Publishers Weekly reported.

Dr. Brian Bantum, an associate professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University, is reticent about the current public obsession with hell. Bantum shared these thoughts by email this afternoon:

“In many ways the attempts to revisit the question of hell have been refreshing. Refreshing in the sense that Christians are being confronted by the wonder and transcendence of God in such a way that we believers become displaced or our misplacement is revealed. That is, these discussions have surfaced Christians’ not so uncommon tendency to turn God’s grace towards us into judgment upon others.

“But at the same time I worry that the outrage over Rob Bell and others so often seems to be more intense and vehement than reactions to the many injustices that plague our society. I worry that we do not acknowledge how hell is not a distant reality for some, how the existence of some is marked by perpetual exploitation and suffering that points not to their ‘choice’ for or against God, but of the exercise of power, greed and dehumanization. In this way, I am grieved that some become so incensed over articulating the mystery of a life after death while being so unconcerned with the lives God places before us in this world.”

Harvard professor Robert D. Putman and Notre Dame professor David E. Campbell reported in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us that Americans’ doctrinal commitments are weakening and that a growing number of Christians don’t believe that God will send their non-Christian friends and relatives to hell.

Given this climate, do you think the focus on hell and the afterlife is a distraction from the suffering that exists in our world? Or is it a necessary response to the doubts raised by Bell, and the culture at large, regarding man’s eternal destiny?

The Reluctant ‘Godfather of Rap’

The Reluctant ‘Godfather of Rap’

The “Godfather of Rap,” musician and spoken-word poet Gil Scott-Heron, died May 27 at the age of 62. Although no cause of death was reported, Scott-Heron struggled with drug addiction and had contracted HIV.

The influential artist rejected the “godfather” label, according to an Associated Press report. Instead, “He referred to his signature mix of percussion, politics and performed poetry as bluesology or Third World music. But then he said it was simply ‘black music or black American music,'” the report said.

His signature composition, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” appeared on his debut album, A New Black Poet: Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, which was recorded live at a Harlem nightclub at that address. In 2010, he released I’m New Here. There were many albums in between.

Atlantic editor Ta-Nehisi Coates grew up listening to Scott-Heron and lamented the fact that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” overshadows Scott-Heron’s other work.

At The Grio, Earl Ofari Hutchinson downplayed the importance of the song and Scott-Heron’s influence on rap.

“Neither of these do justice to Heron,” Hutchinson wrote.

“In fact, by the time ‘Revolution’ hit the airwaves in the early 1970s, black singers, jazz musicians, and spoken word poets had been pouring out incendiary black radical lyrics, sounds, and poetry for several years. The rap cadences were pronounced in many of their works. In the decades before the 1960s, legions of black jazz, bee bop, and blues singers ‘rapped,’ scatted, and hooped in their songs,” he explained.

Hutchinson prefers Scott-Heron’s Winter in America album, which he described as “a grim, bitter look at racial and political oppression in America and optimistic call for the forces of hope and change to renew the struggle against it,” and From South Africa to South Carolina, which he said “forcefully and brilliantly linked the struggles of Africans and African-Americans.”

“To Heron, the struggles were one and the same,” he wrote.

Scott Heron was no fan of the rap music he was given credit for. He criticized some artists’ “resort to shock, demeaning, and degrading lyrics” and their “lust for the bling and opulence, at the expense of socially grounded and edgy lyrics that blasted oppression and injustice,” Hutchinson wrote.

Greg Tate published an eloquent obituary for The Village Voice that begins with a deconstruction of the “Godfather of Rap” identifier.

“You know why Gil never had much love for that ill-conceived Godfather of Rap tag. If you’re already your own genre, you don’t need the weak currency offered by another. If you’re a one-off, why would you want to bask in the reflected glory of knock-offs? If you’re already Odin, being proclaimed the decrepit sire of Thor and Loki just ain’t gonna rock your world. Gil knew he wasn’t bigger than hip-hop—he knew he was just better,” Tate wrote.

He had much to say about Scott-Heron’s social activism, but this part provides speculative context for the evolution of the man and his work.

“Many cats of Gil’s generation became burnt-out anachronisms from trying to wage ’60s battles on ’70s battlegrounds; some are still at it today. Gil knew The Struggle was a work-in-progress—a scorecard event of win-some-lose-some, lick your wounds, live to fight another day. Keep your eyes on the prize—a more Democratic union—but also on the ever-changing same. Keep it progressive but keep it moving too. Not so difficult if you’re the type of self-medicating brother who gets lonely if he doesn’t hear the yap of hellhounds on his trail,” Tate wrote.

At The RootMartin Johnson shared this interesting tidbit.

“In the summer of 1991, when I interviewed him between sets at the Blue Note in New York City, Scott-Heron’s complexity was apparent. He surprised me twice, once by defending Clarence Thomas on the grounds that ‘self-determination means that everyone gets to choose who they want to be rather than be who other people want them to be.’ He also noted that he was no fan of rap music. He shrugged it off as a generational thing. ‘My parents didn’t like my music, even though I felt it was in the tradition of what they listened to. I feel the same way about rap.’ During the interview, he chain-smoked marijuana,” Johnson wrote.

In his redemptive conclusion, Johnson reminds us that Scott Heron’s work transcended his human frailty.

“There have been scores of artists whose careers were marred by drug abuse, but no one who could write poetry and songs with so much social awareness and political bite as Scott-Heron. And no one could sing them with such depth and passion. His artistic legacy is far too great for the sordid details of his final decades to ruin,” he wrote.

What none of the reports I read mentioned is Scott-Heron’s religious upbringing or identity. With a body of work as large as it, one assumes his faith or lack thereof is there to be found, but I don’t know Scott-Heron’s work well enough to assess the roots of his activism. Perhaps you do. If so, please share your thoughts.