Dan Kimball on Wholeness and Hell

Dan Kimball, a leading voice in the Emerging Church Movement, shares his concerns of an absence of evangelism and downplaying (if not outrightly rejecting) the reality of hell. Here’s an excerpt from Kimball’s blogpost (emphasis mine):

Something else I love about [this convention] is something I honestly feel is often missing often in the whole emerging and emergent church conversations – and that is evangelism. I am not talking about social justice or issues of Kingdom living in the now which is talked about and acted on a lot (thank God). I fully admit that most (not all) of the evangelical church didn’t pay the attention needed to how the gospel of Jesus changes this life, not just the afterlife. A wonderful book I would suggest reading about this is Ron Sider’s book “Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel”. The gospel of Jesus is more than just salvation for the life to come.

At the same time, I wonder if because we are reacting to perhaps the over-focus on the gospel being about the after-life only, that we have gone too far in response. Do we now focus so much on the gospel and Kingdom-living in this life and what that means (which is incredibly important) but we now neglect talking about the gospel’s impact on the after-life? Perhaps it is fresh on my mind and heart, since my dad just died and my thinking has been about the after-life. But something I have a personal concern for is balance. As we adjust to making sure we teach and live out the good (great) news of the gospel and Kingdom living here and now in this life – that we still talk and teach about the reality of the after-life. That we still talk about heaven and we also still talk about the reality of hell. I honestly don’t hear too much talk about hell in most (but not all) emerging and emergent church circles. I know it isn’t pleasant to talk about. I know there is much mystery with it. I know God is the only one who knows people’s eternal destinations. I know we have used “hell” in manipulative and incorrect ways. And again, I understand fully the reality of how we neglected understanding the Kingdom of God on this earth and what that means and perhaps focused too much on the after-life only when we talked about the gospel. But at the same time, how can we forget about the reality of the after-life and not talk or think about hell and heaven?

I know some of my friends may not agree with me, but I fully believe in the reality of both heaven and the eternity of a hell. I may not understand all there is to it and much of the hell imagery isn’t actually biblical truth, but a poor understanding of biblical metaphors and mixing in medieval concepts that we have historically used. But I believe from passages such as in Daniel 12:2 to a bunch of them in the New Testament which to me clearly indicate that there is an eternal separation of people in the afterlife. A horrifying and heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, mind-searing, painful thought. But a reality I personally cannot dismiss. So it doesn’t mean that we take the gospel and only focus on hell, as the gospel is about this life too. But at the same time, we can’t forget or dismiss the topic of hell either, which I am wondering if we are beginning to do in some circles.

But I hope in emerging church (and all church circles) we don’t forget the reality of hell and aren’t afraid to speak about it in a balanced way. I don’t mean to sound like a backwoods fundamentalist of some type here, but we must have a healthy balance of Kingdom living and the gospel being for this life and for the life to come. Hell is real and to some degree, it does motivate and compel me to never forget about evangelism and teaching about the gospel in terms of the after-life, as well as this life.

What Kimball is seeking is a balance between social action and evangelism, already (kingdom now) and not yet (kingdom to come). We recently discussed what Ajith Fernando wrote as part of the Christian Vision Project as well as an excerpt from Christopher J.H. Wright. As you can see, this is an issue of concern for those who tend to swing the pendulum to either extreme – Kimball’s concern for the extreme of social justice alone (kingdom now) in the emerging church and others (including myself) concern for the extreme of evangelism alone (kingdom to come) in the traditional church.

What do you think? Can there be a balance forged by emerging churches and traditional churches that strengthen our evangelism and encourages social action?

Explore posts in the same categories: Emerging Church Movement, Evangelism, Social Reform

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13 Comments on “Dan Kimball on Wholeness and Hell”

  1. I appreciate Kimball’s post and you bringing it into the spotlight for many who probably do not read his blog. I remember Driscoll referring somewhere to Kimball as “an evangelical” which I think his post here helps to confirm. Many in the emerging movement would fall beyond the pale in an honest assessment of their “evangelical-ness.”

    Balance is a difficult thing, and I think we will always tend toward an extreme. Honestly, I would prefer to fall toward the extreme of evangelism over social action, which is what most conservatives (i.e. people who actually believe the gospel) have done. However, this should not be a false dichotomy, and the gospel should be applied to “this side of eternity” also.

    A good friend of mine who has served in Cambodia as a missionary said their team has come face to face with this reality. An example: they support and help with a Catholic orphanage which cares for AIDS babies, many of whom could very well be dead before they are even old enough to understand the gospel. However, they support the ministry because they have been convicted of the need to care for the weak orphans in their area. I think it helps, also, to enhance their evangelistic impact, when people see their good works.

    I am not even close to hashing it all out, of course, but it is an important question.

  2. Bill Says:

    I think one thing that can help strike that balance that Kimball is talking about is making sure the church starts with a grounded and firm doctrine. Our doctrine must be our lead foot. And then good doctrine rightly applied will lead to evangelism and social action going forward. Too often the Emergent community leads out with the foot of social action and therefore issues like hell and atonement get adjusted to fit in.

  3. This is good stuff to hear from Kimball. Much of what I’ve read from Kimball (this stuff here is an example) makes him sound as if he could be the second “Mark Driscoll” to come out of the ECM, but other stuff makes me scratch my head.

  4. Danny,

    Your example is very telling, and it reminds me of what Don (Elbourne) mentioned earlier. There will be times when it is more appropriate to do “good works” such as after disaster (whether hurricane, tsunami, drought, etc.) where evangelism is perhaps not possible (such as in closed, militant people groups or geo-political arenas). I know some will read that and say, “See, I told you he is not committed to evangelism. He is saying that evangelism is optional.” While I am not saying that evangelism is optional, I am saying that we need to be wise, discerning, and patient in meeting the needs of people, including their spiritual needs. While evangelism is eternally more important, often times physical/temporary needs are met first. Is this not what we often find in the Gospels and early church?

    There are many false dichotomies in current evangelicalism (such as head and heart), and evangelism/social action seems to be in that long line.

    As far as Kimball goes, I have not paid as much attention to him as I have Jones, Pagitt, and McLaren. I have some of his material but have not had the time to delve into it yet. But I think you’re right. There are many in the Emergent village who could not be considered evangelical in the historical/classical understanding of the term.

  5. Bill,

    Right on. The first step should always begin with God’s Word and what he has revealed to us. I think in recent years more and more Emergent folks who have derided the idea of doctrinal statements and confessional emphasis are realizing the folly (and contradiction) of such thinking. In the end, dogma cannot be avoided. The question is, then, where does it come from and what is your authority? For evangelicals, it has and will continue to be God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. And it is here I fear that so many have missed the boat. Conservatives get the orthodoxy right but often have a weak and inconsistent orthopraxy. In the end, we should have a robust theology of evangelism and social action that is built upon a clear understanding of what God has spoken to us.

  6. brad brisco Says:

    Very good words from Kimball. I do think we can strike a balance and I agree that it starts with a solid theological view of the missionary nature of the church that includes (as Guder states) being the witness, doing the witness and SAYING the witness.

    I think Kimball’s words are also a great example as to why you (that’s a generic YOU) can not lump all EM folks into the same pot. Just as with any classification of people there are streams. That is why I find the categories or streams that some use in the EM to be helpful, regardless if you use Stetzer’s three categories, Scot McKnight’s five streams or even Doug Pagitt’s “some minister ‘to’ postmoderns, others ‘with’ postmoderns, and still others ‘as’ postmoderns.”

  7. gavin Says:


    I’m planning on using some of your nature photos for backgrounds in our church’s Thanksgiving service…I remember you giving me permission some time ago, but just wanted to make sure it was okay. Let me know.

    Sorry for hijacking your thread:)


  8. Glad you read that Timmy – glad you posted it too…

    Timmy, does Gavin’s use of nature photos projected in a church service violate the regulative principle?

  9. gavin Says:



    I guess our use of central heating and air would also violate the RP:)


    BTW, I’m still casting my votes for your question. As a worship leader, the RP is something that has always intersted me.

  10. Gavin,

    No problem man. I am glad you are find the photos useful to you and the ministry. I appreciate you letting me know, though! That way I can report everyone who is violating the RP to the ecclesiological police. 😉

    Yeah, I checked in yesterday to see how the question is doing. Losing steam it seems . . .

  11. I have now had a good deep laugh today – shared silently in small blog comments…Timmy, I think you may just need to report yourself – you may just be aiding and abetting extrabiblical thanksgiving service worship!

    Of course such things must be investigated to see if you are actually in violation of the RP. My guess is that due to my interpretation of the photo clause in section c of RP version 1.12.7 that you are indeed in violation.

  12. Chad Says:


    You mentioned the early church. I think that’s a great place to look for how to maintain this all-important balance. Rodney Stark’s book “The Rise of Christianity” discusses how the early Christian church experienced tremendous growth in large part due to the inexplicable sacrifice displayed by followers of Christ. During the plague in Rome at the time, the diseased were typically left to die – even by their own family members – but Christians nursed them to recovery and often died in their stead after contracting the disease.

    Since nothing else could explain this type of selfless sacrifice, many came to Christ in the first couple centuries. Anyway, the point is people did not sit around asking if they should let these people die b/c they were not technically “brothers” in the church nor did they worry about it being too “liberal” to help people’s actual health issues in the here and now. Instead, they sacrificed as Christ did and the church boomed as a result. But it was belief in the DOCTRINE of Christ and the ressurection that was the impetus to living out the grace and redemption of the gospel through sacrifice.

  13. Frank Says:

    Right on. I’m glad Kimball has finally seen that focusing on this side can only do so much. I appreciate the comment above about erring on the gospoel, but I cna;t but think aboyt Matthew 25. Jesus will judge us one day based on how we trated our flocks as leaders, and how we treated the most defenseless in our world. May God convict us to not have to live an either/or, but a both/and christian life. I wrote about Kimball’s quote in my own blog where I begin to interact with a lot of the either/or thinking in both the evangelical and emergent camps.

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