Thursday, January 29, 2009

At least he has a cool beard...

Its no secret that I'm not a big a fan of John Calvin or anything theology connected to him. But I've been thinking...

Would people be more accepting of Calvinistic/Reformed theology if it was taught in light of these past 3 posts? If hyper-Calvinism, Calvinism, and neo-Calvinism was connected to annihilationism, would people still hold such a strong distaste for it? If it wasn't taught that God was literally choosing to send billions of people to "eternal torment," would people believing the "free will side of things" be more open to the discussion with those on the other side of the theological spectrum?

I'm curious as to what you all think.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Life After Death: Part 3/C

Part 3/C:

I would propose that nothing else has changed from Part 1 and Part B. We die and, in the grave, we wait for the End.

(I realize that some of the following sounds rather dualistic, and as I have stated before, I don’t really believe that we have a separate body and soul. I think that idea is firmly rooted in Plato and not the Bible. I think we are holistic beings. So while I don’t understand how it all works when speaking of the afterlife, please note that I am not a dualist and I certainly don’t have all of this figured out. You can label most of my theological ideas as being “under construction.”)

Psychopannychism, better know as the idea of soul sleep, would probably most accurately describe our post mortem state. As said before, we are still in the presence of Christ even when dead. However, unlike traditional soul sleep ideas, I think the New Testament is clear (re: Luke 16 parable) that WE ARE still conscious in our intermediate state; we aren’t just unaware and numb to it all. Paul specifically uses the term “to fall asleep” as a common euphemism for the act of dying. MJ Harris says that of the nine times Paul uses the verb, it is punctiliar (i.e., to fall asleep) rather than linear (i.e., to be asleep). So when people fall asleep in death, they are no longer aware of time and space as a human on earth would be—but they are fully aware of their past and their current environment.

So we die, we are in the presence of God (whatever that’s like and where that is), and we wait for the End.

What’s the End?

Paul’s words in 1st Thessalonians 4 have more meaning than what they say on the surface. In verses 14-17 Paul discusses how the dead in Christ will rise first, those alive on earth will rise second, and we’ll all meet Jesus in the air. He ends with the words “and so we will be with the Lord forever.” It sounds nice, right? The story ends on such a pretty note: we all get to be with Jesus. But the translation makes it sound misleading. You see, the imagery and language Paul uses here is of an important figure coming to a town. All of the people go outside the city gates to greet this important dignitary, welcomes them by starting the party, and then they all parade together back into the city. So based on what Paul is saying: all of the followers of Jesus would rise (somehow) to meet Jesus in the air/clouds/sky/atmosphere/etc then we’d return to the earth with him.

We do not, at any point in Scripture, go off to some magical place and leave the rest of the planet behind to its own demise. This is called Christian Escapism or Dispensationalism and has been very popular in America since the late 1800’s, particularly since the Great Awakenings and the World Wars. People saw the world going up in flames all around them and thought that the End must be near; ergo, they decided to put all of their hope in a future state rather than caring about their lives and the present state of this world. Somehow, this theology has rapidly developed and shifted much of Christian thought. People quickly forgot the importance of taking care of the earth and saving people from the torment they are caught in now—all significance was placed on “saving souls” (i.e., getting people to “heaven”). But, once again, this seems to wander off the central theme of Christian Scriptures. Nowhere in the Bible is the idea of a Rapture or a “leaving behind” of this planet ever taught.

If there is a heaven now, it’s the dwelling place of God—if such a place even exists. (I’m not saying God doesn’t exist or dwell somewhere, I’m simply questioning whether or not you can refer to it as having a physical location.) The pictures we get in Revelation of “heaven” have either taken place already or are taking place now. The only picture we get in Revelation of a heaven that humans will see is in chapter 21—the New Jerusalem. Wiping away tears, streets of gold, pearly gates… all that is in the New Jerusalem. The crazy thing is: the New Jerusalem is a future place that God will create here on earth. To condense the story of God: there was the Creation, then Fall, then Redemption, and there will be Restoration. In 2 Peter 3:10, it talks about the earth being cleansed by fire. (Possibly it could mean that God is wiping the slate clean before he rebuilds.) I don’t understand how it all works, I don’t understand the process or the order thereof, but I do know that Heaven/New Jerusalem will be here, on earth… eventually.

{As an aside: I think it would be really odd if I died, was judged by God, sent to heaven, then was taken out again at the End to be re-judged and sent back to heaven. That makes no sense. I believe in one Judgment. I believe that it will happen at one point for all people. But until then, if dead, we wait.}

When discussing immortality, I think our thoughts have shifted off base as well. Three Greek terms are used in the New Testament that come from two root words: athanasia (meaning “deathlessness” [example: 1st Cor. 15:53-54]) and aphtharsia (meaning “incorruptibility” [example: Romans 2:7] or “incorruptible” [example: Romans 1:23]). (Note: Murray J Harris says that its significant these terms are never used in association with the word “psyche” [which we translate as “soul”].) In the New Testament, all ten uses of these terms are Pauline and are not intrinsic attributes of every living soul. Immortality is something we attain at the End, at the final resurrection. So, in that vein, immortality is conditional in that there is no eternal life except in Jesus Christ. I would go so far as to say, that at this point, no human has been granted eternal life; God alone has eternal life—we will share in that later on.

I’m not saying that all humans won’t survive beyond death. I think all humanity (all those in the past, all those currently living, and all those to come) will persist to the End. All humanity will be present and accounted for at the return of Jesus to the earth. Then comes separation…

Once again, I don’t know what this judgment looks like. In Matthew 25, Jesus banishes people from his presence based on whether or not they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison, gave medicine to the sick, etc. So I think some type of judgment obviously exists. I would go so far as to say that I think a lot of God’s judgment has to do with what we’ve done with our lives. (see Rev 20: 12-13) But who really knows?

So there we all are, at the End, standing before God, being judged. Seems like a lot of people get to return to earth with Jesus for that whole New Jerusalem thing. To me, this is Eden restored. This is the re-creation of what God intended for this world to be like. This is Heaven. There are no more tears, streets of gold, no more death… all that jazz. These people inherit eternal life—the life of the ages. But what about the other people? What about those who aren’t allowed into the New Jerusalem/Heaven? The New Testament says that these people, along with death and the grave itself, are thrown into the “lake of fire.” This is Hell. If Heaven and Hell haven’t been in existence up to this point, they certainly are up and running now.

So because there is no more need for death or a place of waiting (i.e., Hades/Sheol/the grave), they are thrown into the lake of fire. There is no more death, there is no more grave. They are done away with. Those who are forced to depart from the presence of God are also thrown into this lake of fire, this Hell. If death and the grave are done away with, are these people done away with as well? What I’m asking is: do people who choose not to follow in the way of Jesus cease to exist? Are they destroyed here? No more waiting, no more torment or ambiguity—are they simply finished?

I would answer that question with a resounding: yes. (This view, by the way, is called “annihilationism.”) I don’t think the New Testament is absolutely clear, so keep in mind that this is one person’s opinion, but I think this view of Christian Scripture is much more in line with the Bible and what we know of God and his character. I believe this view of Scripture weeds out a lot of Platonic thought and Greek philosophy that has infected much of the modern church. I believe this view of Scripture reconciles Jewish and Christian thought on the afterlife (or the “life after life after death” as NT Wright calls it). To say that there is a Hell, a place of torment, where people spend all of eternity seems totally incongruent with an all loving and merciful God. Sure, the New Testament is clear that a Hell will exist. Sure, the New Testament seems clear that some people will go there. But the New Testament says that once they get there it’s called the “second death.” Why is it referred to as the “second death” if they hang around in fire and agony forever? If they die again, wouldn’t some type of transition be involved?


Well, there you have it. I’ve done a lot of reading, writing, thinking and stressing over this. I’ve talked to a lot of people and had a lot of discussion and this is where I am right now. I’m not saying this is it—that this is the absolute final word on life after death. I’m just saying that this view of things seems much more in line with the Bible as a whole than anything else out there. I don’t believe in heaven or hell as they are traditionally taught. I believe the typical evangelical Christian theology on these subjects to be unorthodox views. I would venture to say that my views expressed here are much more historically orthodox and compatible with Christian Scriptures as a whole.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I really appreciate you reading along. You deserve some sort of reward. Perhaps if you’d like to get a cup of tea and talk about it all, I’ll buy that cup of tea as a present. Anyway, let’s chat.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Life After Death: Part B

Part B:

With all of the aforementioned things in mind, let’s move to Jesus on the cross.

He is hanging, crucified, with a convicted thief on each side of him, who are also crucified. He tells the dude on one side of him that “today,” he “will be with” him “in paradise.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say: “Today, you’ll be with me at my Father’s side.” Or “Today, we’ll be together in heaven.” He specifically says: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” He is basically promising to the robber: “today, with me.” Not that he would be entering into heaven, but that he would be in Jesus’ presence. So I don’t think Jesus was promising the thief anything different than what the rest of humans had experienced after death up until that point. (King David, in Psalm 139, basically talks about the fact that we can’t remove ourselves from the presence of God: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” God is everywhere—in life and death.) I feel like Jesus was simply comforting the thief, letting him know that nothing could separate him from the love and presence of God.

So Jesus dies and crazy stuff starts happening. Matthew 27:52-53 says that tombs broke open, holy people were raised to life and started walking around. ZOMBIES? IN THE BIBLE? ZOMBIES? REALLY? Where did these people come from? I would suggest that certainly weren’t in their final place of existence. It would suck be in some form of heaven and yanked out of it to starting walking around on earth again. (How could you die, be judged, sent to heaven, pulled out of it and returned to earth to live a while? You’re gonna die again. Are you re-judged at that point? Anyway…) I would also suggest that since they weren’t in their final place of existence, they were in some temporary state and were pulled from it to return to the land of living. Does this mean our location in death isn’t necessarily final? Is this a first and only event?

CS Lewis, in his book “The Great Divorce,” talks about a resident of hell that gets to take a bus tour to heaven. Lewis stated the story was allegorical, but he was obviously making some suggestions about rethinking what comes after our lives on earth.

So, once again, Jesus dies. He was in the grave for 3(ish) days. Then he rose from the grave. What happened in those 3(ish) days? Nothing? Something?

1 Peter 3:18-20 says that after his bodily death, he “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” The “he” is Jesus. The “spirits” and “prison” part aren’t so clear. Are the spirits the fallen angels alluded to in Genesis 6:1-4, Jude 1:6 and 2 Peter 2:4? Maybe. Are they humans waiting in torment with the rich man from Luke 16? Are they just humans who are waiting in Sheol? Maybe. All we know is that there were spirits in prison, and Jesus went to preach to them. Then what happened?

In Ephesians 4:8-10, Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 and gives his own little commentary on the verses. He basically asks: how did the he in the verse go up unless he also first went down? So it would seem that Paul is suggesting that Jesus went to the “prison,” preached to them there and set some of them free. Does this follow along with the idea that in Sheol we are not necessarily stuck in one of its divisions? If Judgment has not occurred, the final resurrection has not taken place, the New Heaven and New Earth have not been created, and souls are still in some intermediate state—then anyone that was “set free” would have remained in Sheol, just in a different part. NT Wright points out that Paul is very clear that Jesus has been raised from the dead but no one else has yet.

So Jesus came, lived and paid the sin debt. He’s resurrected and conquered the grave. He’s walked 40 days more on earth to give his followers hope and tell them to spread the good news. Now what?

Part 3: coming soon!

Tell me what you think so far. I'd appreciate the comments.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Life After Death: Part 1 (Beware-its long.)

I think you can only have this discussion in three parts: 1, from Creation up to the death of Jesus on the cross; 2, from the death of Jesus on the cross until he resurrected from the grave; 3, from the resurrection of Jesus from the grave until current times. (The future state of humanity, the End, the final resurrection, and the final judgment could be discussed as an extension of part 3.)

First, my prejudices: I believe in a line of accountability after death. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do think God will separate people in the afterlife. I can’t read chapters in the New Testament such as Matthew 25 and come away with anything else. So while I believe in a post mortem judgment, I won’t define what that means and I’ll leave the judging and deciding part to God. (I think universalism has its merits. I think inclusivism has its merits. I think exclusivism has its merits. But I really don’t fit in any category—perhaps I would say that right now I’m an exclusivist with inclusivist leanings. Does that make me an inclusivist? Anyway…)

I think humans were created with free will; that free will also plays into the length of our existence. I don’t think we were created immortal—I think were created with the ability to be immortal. The tree of eternal life was in the Garden, after all (that’s why we were kicked out post-Fall—we could have eaten of the tree in our fallen state and been stuck that way). Therefore, I think the way to immortality was closed by Adam. (Adam chose his own path—he thought he knew better than God. He could have chosen to listen, but instead, he chose a way outside of God’s design.) Jesus reopened this door. (I’ll discuss this further at some later point.) So what happened in between?

Part One:

Gen 25-Abraham died and was gathered to his people
Gen 35-Isaac died and was gathered to his people
Gen 49-Jacob died and was gathered to his people

These verses seem to lead you toward the thought... that... they... were being gathered together... duh. No mention of heaven, hell or anything of the like. Just a gathering. Then too, Jewish teaching says that this correlates to the fact that they gathered the bones of the dead once their body had decayed and nothing but the bones was left—it wasn’t a spiritual term, simply their physical end in a family tomb. Nonetheless, the writer of the text is clear: people died and they were “gathered to their people.”

Leviticus 16-the Day of Atonement

In chapter 16 of Leviticus, Moses goes into great detail when discussing what the high priest should do to atone for the sins of Israel. Aaron (or the high priest) kills a bull to pay for the sins of himself and his family so he can perform the ritual. They then choose between two, spotless goats. One gets killed and its blood is used to cleanse the Tabernacle from the sins of Israel. The second goat ceremonially has the sins of Israel placed on it, then its sent into the desert to carry their sins away. The sins of the people escape in the flesh of the goat—hence the term “scapegoat.” Some dude had to walk the goat out of the city and leave it in the desert—and the poor guy had to wait a while before he was “clean” and could re-enter town. This day and its ceremonies were a big deal to the Jews. It’s a picture demonstrating that sin was simply put away or out of sight, but not dealt with. It just rolled it over for another year.

So with the sin debt not being paid, I don’t see how access to a holy God would be possible. The Jews didn’t seem too concerned about it. Some said that if God made our bodies, he could put us back together at the final resurrection—they were called Pharisees. Some said that we go to Sheol (the grave) to wait until the End. It wasn’t very clear. I read a rabbi’s comments talking about the subject of life after death. He said something to the effect of: if you want a bunch of spiritual hocus pocus, go look into Christian ideas on life after death—Jews die and that’s it.

The only description we have of the afterlife before Jesus’ death on the cross is in Luke 16. In it, Jesus talks about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man dies and, in the grave, is in torment. Lazarus is taken to Abraham’s side, where he is comforted. While one seems to be in torment, the other seems to be at peace—and at “great chasm has been fixed” in between the two areas. This is the only New Testament depiction we have of Sheol—the grave. It should also be noted that in John 3:13, Jesus states that no person has ever been to “heaven” except himself. So, up until the death of Jesus, it seems that there was an intermediary location or state for human souls that the Jews called Sheol.

We can also deduce several things from the parable about our anthropological condition post-mortem: we have consciousness, memory and rationality. Murray J Harris says that we not only “retain our capacity to reason, but also gain an acuteness of perception.” (In Rev 6:9-10, the martyrs under the altar of God have the same characteristics.) Harris says that Paul wouldn’t have expressed a preference between living and dying unless his “post mortem state involved fellowship with Christ that was even more profound than his experience of Christ on earth.” So there seems to be a good place of waiting and a not-so-good place of waiting before Jesus’ death and resurrection.

(As a side note, the Book of Enoch (ca. 160 BC), describes Sheol as having four divisions: 1, where the faithful saints blissfully await Judgment Day; 2, where the moderately good await reward; 3, where the wicked are punished and await their judgment at the resurrection; 4, where the wicked who don’t warrant resurrection are tormented. Take that for what you will.)

Jesus confirms the existence of a waiting place in John 14. He tells the disciples that he is “going to prepare a place for” them. There isn’t a place ready. He is going to prepare it. While I certainly believe God could do whatever he wanted in the shortest of moments (after all, he created a universe by speaking), he also seems to go about doing things very orderly. Once again, as he was creating a universe, he did it over the span of several days. There is a method and process to the things of God.

This whole “I go to prepare a place for you”-thing is a Jewish wedding metaphor. Jesus did that a lot—perhaps because he was a Jew, he was speaking to Jews, and they would understand Jewish traditions and such. (See: Communion and the Last Supper with Jesus) In a Jewish marriage, once the engagement deal was settled on by the parents, the groom would tell the bride that he was going to prepare a place for her—when things were ready, he would come back to take her with him (familiar, eh?). He would then go back to his dad’s house and build an addition on to it for his new family. It took some time—things weren’t ready immediately. So the bride would keep watch, because she never knew exactly when the groom was coming back. But whenever he did come, he would take her back to their new home together. I think its obvious Jesus was telling them he was going away, was going to get things ready, and then was going to return to be united to his bride.

Please don’t ask about a “rapture.” We’ll take about that fallacy later.

So what about after Jesus’ death and resurrection? I don’t think we can jump to that quite yet. Let’s just handle the “death” part next. After some discussion and digestion of all of this, I'll post Part 2.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fail Blog makes any day better...

I know, I know--I haven't posted the first part of the "life after death" stuff I promised. I'll get to it. But in the mean time, here's something to brighten your day...

Check out Failblog. It'll make a day on the internet worthwhile.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The New Year...

Our New Year's Eve was pleasant, but low key. Bobby and his girlfriend Emiline went with Brittany and I to Nashville for some shopping and dinner at Cheesecake Factory. As always, the Chicken Costolletta and cheesecake was amazing. We went to bed early as we left for Arkansas at 7 am New Year's Day. You read it right...


Morrilton, Arkansas as a matter of fact. Some friends had organized a retreat at an Episcopal Camp in the mountains; folks from BG, Nashville, Oklahoma, and North Carolina met up on the 1st for some dialoging, eating and relaxing. It was so nice. Discussions were shared on exile theology, humble epistemology, and Christian peacemaking. (On a side note: if you've never met Stefan Warner, you're missing out.) Basically, the idea was to meet up and talk about what has brought us all to this point in our journey in life: we are all dissatisfied with the institutional church but still earnestly desire to pursue the way of Jesus. This has, obviously, encouraged lots of change in all of us. One of the more interesting discussions revolved around how we, as individuals, are to live in the freedom of Jesus and still be understanding of the opinions, concerns and doubts of others. Long story short, it was an incredible weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

Aaron and Terry, who planned the trip, asked everybody to bring something to share; we believe everyone has something to contribute to the church. Besides the discussions I mentioned earlier, Brit taught people to knit. The Rev. Summer Brown led yoga sessions every morning (and some nights). Skinny Man Nate Settle led a discussion on living simply, making things instead of buying them and art. But Terry asked me to teach and lead some discussion on a New Testament perspective on life after death. I've spent a lot of time studying the topic--Dr Trafton, the head of the WKU Religious Studies department, initially helped guide a lot of thoughts and questions about the subject. Since then, lots of authors, speakers, teachers and discussions have helped shaped my ideas concerning what really happens to people when they die.

I spent lots of time trying to put my thoughts on paper concerning life after death--mainly so I could teach on it without jumping all over the place. I'm still trying to finish it, but I've got 90% of it done. So I'm going to post it in several parts and I'll explain my reasons for doing that with the first post. I'm really interested to see what people think about it all.

So stay tuned. I'll post Part 1 in the next day or two.

And then came Cameron...

Morningstar Corn Dogs are... a-maz-ing.

Really. No joke. This company never ceases to amaze me. The veggie burgers were top notch. Now corn dogs without the hot dogs? All vegetarian goodness and no pig intestines. I was thrilled. It made my day.

I've had a great past week, and have an update and some thoughts coming soon... I'm still working on the post though.

Prepare thyself...