Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Heaven 1

posted by xscot mcknight

There are two good reasons to do a focused Bible study on heaven. First, because the history of how Christians have understood heaven has been written by several and this history reveals that Christians have both invented plenty and have failed to interact adequately with the Bible. For, this I recommend McDannell and Lang, Heaven: A HIstory. The second reason is because Tom Wright, in Surprised by Hope, has suggested that heaven is not a place we go to eternally after we die. Instead, at the resurrection we will enter into the new heavens and the new earth. So, here goes …
Before I say another word, this: Matthew has tons of references to the “kingdom of heaven” and that Jewish expression means “kingdom of God, who dwells in the heavens.” What this helps us with is simple: heaven is where God dwells. Out of reverence, Jews frequently substituted expressions for God and in this case “heaven” means “God’s dwelling place.” So, this expression doesn’t tell us that kingdom is heaven. That’s not the point. And what I have chosen to do is focus on Mark’s Gospel; there are so many NT references I can’t dwell on each one. So, I’ll get this going by looking at the first four references to heaven in Mark. Here they are: they can be combined to make one general point.
Mark 1:9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ?You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.?
Mark 4:30 Again he said, ?What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air [heaven] can perch in its shade.?
Mark 6:39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Mark 8:11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, ?Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.?
First, heaven is up.
Second, heaven is the skies.
Third, heaven is where God is and where God dwells, which is not to say God isn’t omnipresent and present on earth, but heaven is where God dwells. Thus, a sign from heaven is a sign from God, who dwells in the heavens.
Fourth, it is the place from which God speaks and from which God makes his move when God becomes manifest on earth.



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Bryant Mathews

posted June 30, 2008 at 2:15 am


“The second reason is because Tom Wright, in Surprised by Hope, has suggested that heaven is not a place we go to when we die.”
Really? I’ve read most of Wright’s work, and my understanding was that he is fine with people using the words “heaven” or “paradise” to refer to the intermediate place people go when they die, to rest in God’s presence, but that he wants to emphasize the new heavens and new earth that we will inhabit later on at the resurrection.
He has this line he likes to say to the effect of “Sure, we’ll go to heaven when we die, but it’s not the end of the world!” In other words, “life after death” will be in heaven with God, and then “life after life after death” will be the real deal, in the new creation, heaven and earth knit together.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:26 am


Bryant,
Thanks for this. I slightly edited according to my original intention; the point is that heaven is not the eternal home.



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RJS

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:30 am


Scot – Second line: The history of how Christians what – view heaven?



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josenmiami

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:54 am


great topic … I just started reading Wright’s book. Anyone familiar with Randy Alcorn’s book on “Heaven”?



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John S

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:58 am


Yep — if you read Wright and Alcorn back to back, you might be sucked into a vortex of heavenly confusion. They have pretty different views on this subject…



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:42 am


I’ve read several things by Tom Wright and I thought he was a bright guy (maybe too absorbed by tradition, but bright). After hearing his performance on the Colbert Report a couple of weeks ago it really changed my opinion about him. He sounded more like John Hagee, Hal Lindsey, and all the others obsessed with a literal end-time. His description of a life-after-life-after-death made Christianity sound one half-baked superstition shy of Scientology.
You can read my full review at:
http://www.faithprogression.com/2008/06/nt-wright-on-colbert-report.html
Can one of the Tom Wright fans address these questions…
Isn’t he making the same mistake as Hagee by taking ancient superstitions literally? Isn’t there a way for us to keep our ancient truth-filled and life-changing stories without having to swallow the naive ancient attempts at astronomy and biology that came along for a ride?



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:50 am


Progressive Faith,
Though you tend to want to fight instead of entering into a conversation with those who are, by and large, committed to the same faith, I would say this:
NT Wright should not be connected with Hagee and Lindsay. No one can miss the sophistication of the former and the lack of it in the latter two. Your connection is unfair and disrespectful, two signs of good conversation.
Second, NT Wright’s basis is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Once one comes to that conclusion, life after death takes on a bodiliness that must be examined in a consistent manner.
If you’d like to discuss whether physical resurrection entails other physical resurrections, that would be fair — though the consensus of the NT is overwhelmingly in favor of the entailment.
I did not listen to the Colbert Report; I have read Tom’s two major books on resurrection, which I suggest you read to interact with him at his best.



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:15 am


Scot,
Challenging previously taboo topics is not “fighting”. I haven’t judged Wright. I’m simply asking for clarification. I have tremendous respect for Wright and for those who are his fans. That’s why I complimented him and why I would ask questions here to understand him better (I’d call him if I had his number). It is also why I DID buy and read his books and why I have listened to him in debate with others about resurrection.
I do think it is fair to connect him with Hagee and Lindsay on certain points. They are different in how they see the “end-time” playing out, but they all clearly see a literal “happening” and some kind of after life (either spiritual and physical). I never said they were exactly the same, just in the same boat (sounded like them). That is fair. To suggest otherwise is an “unfair” attempt avoid the questions. Wright’s language does seem sophisticated. But, I’m not sure it goes much deeper than his skills as a writer. I’ll be glad to let you convince me otherwise. I’m here to be convinced.
I think anyone outside the Christian tradition would hear what he said as sounding very much like Hagee. Often, when you are too close to a topic, it is hard to step back and see how strange it seems.



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B. Stanley

posted June 30, 2008 at 8:58 am


Scot,
Thanks for doing this series. This is a matter I’ve been pondering a bit since your series on Tom’s recent book a while back. I’m look forward to the future posts.



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T

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:00 am


Scot,
Have you read Willard’s take on the term “heaven” in the Divine Conspiracy? Not that it’s scholarly-level work, but the main take-away was that Jews’ concept of (the first) heaven was right here, all around, as in “the air”. That therefore, God’s dwelling was higher than one could see, but also in the very air we breathe. Curious on your take, if it won’t be evident in the study.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:31 am


PF,
Well, let’s just disagree then: anyone who connects Wright to those two is slurring his ideas; why not connect him to what nearly everyone in the history of the Church has believed, including all the heavyweights. Enough for that one. I can’t convince you if you’ve read his Resurrection of the Son of God.
The issue is this: if Jesus’ body was physically raised, then the resurrection theology of Christians will be a physical resurrection. That’s the kind of “happening” he is talking about.
T,
Not read Willard on this one … yet.



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Scott M

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:32 am


T, it’s the age-old dilemma of scholars. If you can’t say everything every time you speak (and that’s impossible) then aspects always get left off in what you do say and it’s prone to be misunderstood. You see, I know Tom Wright utterly and completely wants to avoid the deist dualism that places God somewhere else in “heaven” and us here. I’ve heard him speak on that any number of times. Heaven, or God’s dimension, as he says, is not far away. It’s not actually any “distance” away from us at all. There is right now a veil between heaven and earth, a veil that will one day be completely removed. And here we have the tension between Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 11 (and the fuller expression in Habakkuk). The whole earth is filled with the glory of God. And it will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God. So though I haven’t heard him use those precise words, I think Wright would say that yes, of course God is in the very air we breathe. He is everywhere present and filling all things. Further, he tabernacles with his people right now. As the Temple was once the intersection of heaven and earth, the place where God dwelled on earth, the place where the veil was lifted, now we are all the dwelling place of God through the Holy Spirit. (I have heard Wright say that.) But there is still a veil. Our God is a consuming fire. Who can stand in his presence?
PF, the Colbert Report is a comedy show. Now, people watch it who would not hear about Wright’s book from any other source. I’m sure that was part of the reason he agreed to do the show. And the Bish did really well. He was funny, personable, and engaging. Which is what you’re supposed to be on a short comedy segment. Sheesh. It strikes me that the dry, rationalistic, and severely modern faith you seem to be constructing is about as appealing and engaging as the modern fundamentalist perspective against which it seems to be a reaction. I’m struck by a description of the heart of Christianity I once heard as “the absence of one-sidedness”. I think there’s a lot to that thought.



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T

posted June 30, 2008 at 9:45 am


Scott M,
I actually wasn’t assuming that Wright and Willard disagree! :) In fact, I wasn’t thinking about Wright at all in my question, though I’m happy to hear that you think they’d agree! I just remember being struck by Willard’s take on the term, ‘kingdom of the heavens’, or ‘heaven’ generally. It was a highlight of the book for me.



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 10:01 am


Scot (#11),
How am I “slurring his ideas”? Doesn’t he champion a literal life-after-death? Isn’t that in agreement with Hagee? They may differ on the details, but they do fall in the same “camp” of general ideas. You may not like that your views are similar to Hagee, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are similar on this point and those views have led to other similar conclusions about faith and life.
I’ll take Wright over Hagee any day, but I don’t think you can sweep the similarities under the rug. Both have a modern bent toward trying to focus too heavily on the mythical aspects of the bible and trying to make it authoritative in areas (like science) that it has no authority.
Scott M. (#12),
I also oppose a “dry, rationalistic, and severely modern faith”. I know you’d like to place me there to make your opposition easier, but you can’t do it. I won’t fit. Modernity’s great error was that it bet the farm on the historical factuality of the bible’s stories and the ability of its authors to predict the future. One modern side bet for it. The other modern side bet against it. Both were completely wrong because they both missed the point that the truth of the bible has nothing to do with the factuality of its stories or the literal accuracy of its predictions. A robust post-modern faith will recognize this more-than-literal understanding of ancient stories but doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. It also doesn’t drink the yellow kool-aid of foundationalism left in the diaper.
(fyi… that was a metaphor)



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Anonymous

posted June 30, 2008 at 10:11 am


Scot McKnight’s Two Cents on Heaven « Way of the Revolution

[...] Scot McKnight’s Two Cents on Heaven 30 06 2008 Scot McKnight begins a series of posts about Heaven. And apparently it’s not all clouds and baby angels and harps and stuff…Who knew? [...]



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Rebeccat

posted June 30, 2008 at 10:18 am


PF, I know that you see yourself as extremely open, non-inflammatory, reasonable, never insulting, etc. However, I would venture to say that this is not how most Christians are going to experience what you say and how you say it. If I said that Borg was a quack who was inline with someone like Peter singer because they both are both committed to a rationalist perspective which values the material over the mystical, I would hope you would call foul. However, that is exactly the sort of thing you say here with a good deal of regularity. Then when someone calls you on it, you insist, “oh, no, no – you’re eyes and brain deceive you. That’s not at all what I am saying. It’s just . . . ” and then you repeat what you have already said.
NT Wright believe in a literal afterlife just like Hagee. Well NT Wright believes in a literal afterlife just like Osama bin Laden. They must be of the same cloth, no? Or how about you do not believe in a literal afterlife just like Stalin. You two must be ideological soul mates, right?
Obviously most of us here choose to believe in mystical aspects of the Christian faith. If you would like to argue against those things, that’s fine by me personally. However, when you insist on labeling what for many of us are cherished beliefs which we believe we have good cause to put our faith in as “myths”, “superstitions”, “yellow kool-aid . . . left in the diaper” and other derogatory, rude and dismissive labels, it is hardly surprising that people are not very receptive to what you have to say. It’s a simple rule of thumb: if you want to influence someone it is best not to habitually insult them. IJS.



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Scott M

posted June 30, 2008 at 10:49 am


PF, my impression of the faith you hold is solely based on what you’ve posted here, so it is by that nature limited. But that is how most of your comments here have come across to me. There hasn’t been anything vaguely appealing, aesthetically or spiritually, in the faith revealed in the snippets you’ve posted here. It’s been relentlessly “head-bound” for lack of a better term. Now, that may be because you almost always comment in the negative here and that has created a distorted window, more like a funhouse mirror, into your faith.
And I also agree with Scot. You’re welcome to adhere to a newly developed faith if you want. People do that all the time. But the beliefs you have explained are either novel or rearticulations of ancient and long-discarded Christian heresies. If I’m going to be Christian at all, I’m going to be Christian in a manner that is at least consistent with the ancient and historic faith rather than belittling that faith as primitive, which you have repeatedly done. If I find that faith unbelievable, then I’ll be something else rather than attempting to reshape Christianity in my own image.
For the record, that also tends to be my issue with a lot of the soup of modern Western Protestantism. There are many beliefs and practices which can only be traced back one, two, three, or four hundred years. They have absolutely no root before that time. And in many cases, they directly contradict beliefs which were held universally (often even within Protestantism) up until the time this new belief sprang onto the scene. And a lot of these are about core matters of the faith. Who was Jesus? Who is God? What happens when we engage in sacred practices?
“Postmodern” is one of those words which is used in so many varied ways, it’s always hard to perceive what people mean, but you seem to be using it in a more philosophical sense. And that’s fine. But I’m not sure a cultural postmodern perspective is something you can think your way to. In fact, I’m not really convinced we can actually reshape our cultural formation into something else — except that perhaps by the energies of God through the Holy Spirit we can be reshaped into the culture of the Kingdom of God. But our default formation tends to color all we do and see.
However, everyone I’ve heard you cite from a theological and philosophical perspective is not even vaguely “postmodern”. They express one aspect (I’m not sure I would agree with the modern tendency to reduce it to just two “sides”) of the modern philosophical perspective on the Christian faith. I’ve never heard you mention Jack Caputo, LeRon Shultz, Mark C. Taylor, Walt Lowe, Edith Wyschogrod, and others who are generally considered “postmodern theologians” whatever that may mean. (I have probably the most affinity with John Caputo out of the ones I have read, but they all say interesting things.)
As far as I can tell, from the brief mention you’ve made here of your history, from the tenor of the things you write, and from the people you tend to reference, it looks to me like you’ve simply jumped ship from one modern perspective to another. But the perspective is still relentlessly modern and rational. For the record, I haven’t yet found any modern perspective on or practice of Christianity interesting, appealing, or at all compelling. So I wasn’t intending to single you out. I would say the same thing about a lot of other things I hear here that would probably be considered the “opposite” of what you say by many people.
Mostly, I did intend to say: Lighten up! The Colbert Report is a comedy show. Enjoy it for what it is.



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T

posted June 30, 2008 at 11:20 am


Progressive,
I’m probably someone you think makes the ‘mistake’ of “taking ancient superstitions literally”, but don’t worry, I probably would too if our experiences were reversed. I don’t know what you do with stories like the woman at the well in John 4. I guess you conclude that it didn’t actually happen (along with several other ‘signs & wonders’ in the NT). But my problem is that I’ve personally been involved with interchanges very much like what happened between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (both on the giving and receiving end), whereby people were given specific insights &/or directions about or for someone else that they just couldn’t have known about based on physical realities alone. Just like Paul said would happen, I’ve seen the secrets of people’s hearts laid bare, including my own. I’ve seen God act in other ‘miraculous’ ways as well, all for good and redemptive purposes. I’m happy to relay a few by email if you’d like. Now, these events of my life fit very easily within New and even Old Testament face-value descriptions of how God operates from time to time. I used to keep track of every one of them I experienced, but unfortunately, I got somewhat used to them and have likely even forgotten a good few, and some are more easily remembered than others, I guess. So why would someone like myself think that the NT stories are all just myth when, as written on its face, it gives me the best explanation available for what I’ve personally observed? I’m personally not offended when you’ve used derogatory phrases for describing these things; I just don’t know if you realize how unfathomable it is for some of us (really, it would be hard to impossible) to think of the NT events in the terms and categories you use, when we saw or even did something like it just last week, and two months ago, and two weeks before that, etc., even if we don’t have such matters completely figured out.



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 11:36 am


Rebeccat (#16),
I’d be perfectly fine with you comparing me or Borg with anyone you like. You could compare us with Hitler if you want. Comparing doesn’t mean we agree 100%. Hitler and I both liked to eat food (probably both liked German beer too!). That would be a fair comparison. You can put us into the same category on that issue. I would be happy to defend our similarity and then highlight other areas where we differ. There’s no need to get bent out of shape about comparisons.
you said:
“NT Wright believe[s] in a literal afterlife just like Hagee. Well NT Wright believes in a literal afterlife just like Osama bin Laden”
I think that is correct. NT Wright and Osama Bin Laden (and most muslim fundamentalists) have a similar perspective about certain metaphysical assumptions, but not all. That is a fair comparison. It would actually be a really good discussion to have. We could discuss the way Muslim fundamentalists have difficulty imagining how their texts might be something other than God speaking to humanity through a miraculous revelation. We could compare that to they way some conservative Jews and Christians imagine Moses authored the Torah and the way many view the divine authorship of the New Testament and reject more recent scholarship. It would make for a good conversation. There is little doubt about the similarities.
Why would the words “myth” and “superstition” be a problem for you? As for my yellow kool-aid remark, I made it clear that this metaphor represented foundationalism (not you personally). I left no room for confusion about what I meant. Why would you have a problem with that metaphor? I think it is fair to suggest that foundationalism is something I’d like to see land in the diaper pail (thrown away with the decay of modernism). In any case, I think it is fair for me to use that as a metaphor that suggests throwing away the residual effects of the modernist addition to consumption, consumerism, and force-fed doctrine. Wouldn’t you agree?
Scott M,
I think I am able to move past the tendencies of both conservative and secular modernity. The fact that I can devote my life to a story despite my recognition that the story is a myth should clue you in that I have little desire to embrace modernism. The fact that I don’t despise or belittle the word “myth” like the modern philosophers is another sign. At the heart of someone like Jack Caputo is an ability to move past the historical facts of the stories.
As for the Colbert appearance, I do realize it is comedy. It was a good piece. It did however match up with what Wright says in his books. Colbert does make people look absurd, but he usually does it by shining a light on the most absurd elements in a person. I don’t think Wright said anything that he wouldn’t say again.
T (#18),
I think the problem is that many people have a modern perspective of the word “myth”. For example, you made a point of saying “JUST myth”. Why? Why is myth less valuable than fact? That is the byproduct of modernity. Modernity failed to realize that truths are best carried through the centuries by myths. How else would they survive? Maybe modern communication techniques have changed that, but I still think myth does a darn good job of telling and preserving truth. I’m not sure it has ever changed with William Shakespeare, Earnest Hemingway, Mark Twain, or Stephen Spielberg. Reaching beyond modernism back to the ancient technique of story telling (myth, narrative, parables) is what postmodernism is all about.



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:mic

posted June 30, 2008 at 12:01 pm


Scott:
This looks to be a good topic. If anyone is interested in the NTW with Colbert, it can be found here:
http://grasshoppersdreaming.blogspot.com/2008/06/nt-wright-on-colbert.html
Especially when one considers the forum in which he is participating, you have to admit that NTW does a fantastic job presenting his case. It in NO WAY looks like the fanaticism of Hagee or Lindsay – Wright presents a view of Christianity which might actually appeal to people.
My only comment on the discussion so far is that while it might have the initial appearance of doing so, using phrases and words out of their common usage (i.e., using second or third definitions of words which do not reflect their connotations) does not make for insight or clever questioning. There is certainly nothing wrong with raising query on the ‘taboo’ . . . Wright is doing this with the current pop-opinion of heaven, and he does so responsibly. . .other postings reflected here lack the same coherence.



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Rick

posted June 30, 2008 at 12:10 pm


PF #19:
“Modernity failed to realize that truths are best carried through the centuries by myths. How else would they survive? Maybe modern communication techniques have changed that, but I still think myth does a darn good job of telling and preserving truth.”
What/which “truth”?



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2008 at 12:18 pm


:mic,
You could help us by clearing up what you mean in the last paragraph.



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 12:27 pm


Rick (#21),
What/Which “truth”?
If we are talking generically about stories being the carriers for truth, then my answer is…
Most any truths.
If we are talking specifically about the bible’s truths then my answer is…
The truth that liberation from oppression is possible. The truth that restoration into community is feasible. The truth that justice is obtainable. The truth that self-sacrifice trumps selfishness and non-violent protest trumps violent rebellion. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.



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Rick

posted June 30, 2008 at 12:33 pm


PF #23:
I was referring more to biblical truths, so thanks for the clarification.
What about truths about God and our worship of Him?



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 12:44 pm


Rick (#24),
Can you be more specific? Maybe to keep us on topic for this post, I’ll assume you might mean truths about “heaven”.
I don’t think the bible tells us truths about heaven. I think it tells deeper truths about the possibilities of life through the metaphor of heaven. Genesis doesn’t teach us how the world was made, but it does tell truths about life and living as a community through some beautiful stories about creation.



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Rick

posted June 30, 2008 at 12:48 pm


PF #25-
Scot’s concluding points #3 and #4. Specifically Heaven and its relation to God (and who He is).



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 1:04 pm


Rick (#26),
So what makes us read biblical texts about heaven and God and then assume the truth we should glean from the text is the particular metaphysical views of its authors?
Sure we can read these texts and glean something about how these people viewed the universe (they thought heaven was up, it was the sky, it was where God is, and it was where God speaks from). But, why would we want to adopt those understandings? Why not look behind and beyond those understandings to see what the authors were telling us about life? Those truths transcend any changing world view.
It seems modern Christianity has adopted the ancient world view of those authors, but rejected the truths about justice, community, and peace. Modernity got it backwards. It mistakenly took literally what was meant metaphorical and then rejected ideas about loving neighbor as symbolic rhetoric only applicable in ancient settings. It became obsessed with making the metaphor of heaven a literal place rather than understanding our literal task of making God’s will (heaven) on Earth.
I agree with Tom Wright on this point. It is our task to make God’s will on Earth. In that way, he is no Hagee. I’ve said that from the start. However, he seems to get wrapped up in how this happens after death (or life after death after death) and how it happens by bodies coming back to life (I’ll call that supernatural/miraculous for lack of a better term).
peace



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T

posted June 30, 2008 at 1:10 pm


Progressive,
I used “just myth” because it seems that you don’t think the gospels or the book of Acts for example typically deal with historical events. While I disagree, that’s not an uncommon conclusion. The reason that myth is valuable in ways that myths cannot be, by definition, is that one deals with things that actually happened in this world–actions someone actually took–and the other does not. In my job, for instance, sometimes I want to know what a given judge or court has actually done in the past so that I can try to assess what they’re likely to do if faced with a similar circumstance in the future. Myths have little to no value for this purpose. There are countless other examples on this point. Knowing another human being or even knowing about an inanimate object depends greatly on knowing how the person or thing actually has acted/responded in the past. Not myths about them, facts about them.
You reference some works of fiction as valuable. And I agree that fictional stories can be wonderfully helpful and valuable for certain things. Jesus obviously thought so. I also remember watching Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and other historically based films. It was so much harder to get internal distance, for lack of a better word, from the more disturbing scenes because I knew that things very much like what I was seeing, and likely worse, actually happened. That kind of story had a power, a value, that even the best fictional stories, for all their value, just don’t have. For the people who think the holocaust is a myth, I imagine the story had considerably less value or power, if any.
Again, it’s difficult to impossible for someone who has seen God do things like what’s recorded in the NT to even begin to think of the NT as not being literal about those things.



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T

posted June 30, 2008 at 1:13 pm


Sorry, one sentence should read “the reason that historical facts are valuable in ways . .



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John J

posted June 30, 2008 at 1:13 pm


Scot-
Thanks for this series. I just finished Alcorn’s book on Heaven and heard a great sermon on the subject yesterday, so I’m eager to be able to keep diving deeper in this.
John S(#5)-
Would you mind summarizing the main differences between Wrights and Alcorn’s views on Heaven? I haven’t read Surprised by Hope yet, but based on excerpts and interviews I’ve read with him, it seems to me that he and Alcorn are both driving the same basic ideas about the afterlife in their books. Thoughts?



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 1:37 pm


T. (#28),
I DO think the New Testament deals with historical events. But the method it uses to deal with the history is mythical story telling. Actually a better word is Midrash. It is how ancient Jewish people (and even some today) tell stories about stories (and history) to convey deeper truths. It is like narrative exegesis that ties current history back to ancient myths. They even expanded known stories with additional mythical elements to unwrap the truth even more. The point was the deeper truths about life and they had no problem working in the realm of “story”. Modern people struggle with that concept.
You bring up a good point about legal precedents. That has me thinking. Our courts would of course have a problem with mythical precedents, but just for giggles, what if some of those Judgments were rulings on fictional cases? Wouldn’t they still be “true to the law”. Wouldn’t the legal elements and arguments still be valid if the defendant, the crime, and the testimony wer fictional? I’m not suggesting it would be used in court, but it wouldn’t change the validity of the interpretation of the law applied by the judge. Would it?



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:mic

posted June 30, 2008 at 2:04 pm


Scot,
Sorry it’s a little scattered. Too many people crossing through while I’m trying to type today.
Contra the approach taken by Progressive Faith. . .In other words, I agree with his comment that it is certainly right to question aspects of faith (#8) but the manner in which he is doing so is entirely suspect. This is perhaps why he tries to connect NTW and Hagee/Lindsay together when in fact they quite apart on the matter. Further, the use of secondary or tertiary definitions of words and phrases does not make his point more substantive.
Short end = I agree with NTW’s perspective. I question the methodology of PF.



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T

posted June 30, 2008 at 2:14 pm


Progressive,
Interesting question. As long as the judge was unaware of the fiction, I’m sure he/she would proceed normally. But, of course, the very validity of the case would change dramatically if the court became aware of the fiction (which the rules of evidence, procedure and ethics would go to great lengths to insure). There’s actually a term for hypothetical cases, or even for cases between real people without an “actual controversy”: In the legal world we call such cases “moot” and they are dismissed on that basis. The legal world is only concerned with actual cases and controversies.
I admit I’m of the same attitude when it comes to religion. The world has actual problems. I’m not interested, other than maybe for entertainment or cultural history, in hypothetical or mythical gods with anything less than actual power to deal with this world.



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 2:43 pm


T (#33),
Keep in mind that in our little scenario, we are talking about a real problems but only considering that some of our precedents are done in “moot court”.
We have real lives with real problems and our ancestors of faith have given us a library of precedents. Maybe those precedents are historical and maybe they were crafted as fiction to help us. In either case, they can we weighed and measured against our reason to see where they apply and can be used in our real trials of life. I see no reason to disqualify perfectly solid judicial opinions written by crafty surveyors of truth just because the facts of their “moot cases” were not historical. The rules of law (and life) still apply.



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 2:45 pm


Mic (#32),
Can you explain “secondary or tertiary definitions of words and phrases”. I’d like to know what phrases and definitions you are talking about.
All else,
Lastly, the comparison of Wright and Hagee was valid because it was about their belief in some kind of afterlife. I never said they agreed 100%. I was suggesting that both DIFFERENT views on afterlife are faced with the SAME problems because they both depend on an ancient superstitious view of the world (a life after death or maybe a soul or a recreated body). That is a fair grouping of two mean who both DO fall into this “category” of views even if they differ on any or all parts of the mechanism.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 30, 2008 at 5:50 pm


Concerning heaven’s “location,” Wright writes in SBH:
“? We need, in fact, a new and better cosmology, a new and better way of thinking about the world than the one our culture, not least post-Enlightenment culture, has bequeathed us. The early Christians, and their fellow first century Jews, were not, as many moderns suppose, locked into thinking of a three-decker universe with heaven up in the sky hell down beneath their feet. When they spoke of up and down like that they, like the Greeks in their different ways, were using metaphors that were so obvious they didn?t need spelling out. As some recent writers have pointed out, when a pupil at school moves ?up? a grade, from (say) the tenth grade to the eleventh, it is unlikely that this means relocating to a classroom on the floor above. And though the move ?up? from vice-chairman of the board to chairman of the board may indeed mean that at last you get an office in the penthouse suite, it would be quite wrong to think that ?moving up? in this context meant merely being a few feet farther away from terra firma.
The mystery of the ascension is of course just that, a mystery. I demands that we think what is, to many today, almost unthinkable: that when the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two localities related to each other with the same space-time continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with a physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time. ?”(114-115)
T raised Willard’s ideas in #10 and I think their ideas of complementary. I almost wonder if the new creation is not a point in time when there is unveiling of the reality behind our present existence in which all we presently know is reintegrated into the unveiled reality behind it all and thus simultaneously transformed. The dross is refined away and only what is pure survives. That probably goes beyond the issue of heaven but it does make me wonder about the concept of heaven.
I look forward to the series.



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Mason

posted June 30, 2008 at 6:44 pm


Sidestepping the ongoing Progressive debate for a bit to get back to the original topic…
I think it is very much to the church’s determent that we for so long adopted a Platonic view of the afterlife and our final destiny, it seems that Gnosticism may have been condemned but its affects were never fully purged from the church. However, I am very encouraged to see a return in recent scholarship and wider Christian thinking to a more Hebrew and Biblical picture of the age to come, an age which (after an intermittent time in ‘heaven’) plays itself out here on a renewed earth as heaven and earth come together and God makes his dwelling with us.
About a year ago now my pastor did a series on this recovery of a Biblical view of heaven and the new earth. We talked a lot about it before and during, and although I’ve seen this as being the Scriptural teaching for some time now, we both worried the reception to such a reordering of the Christian hope might not be as good as we’d like. However, the congregation saw the basis in Scripture for it, and devoured everything put before them with enthusiasm. I still rejoice in the excitement my pastor and our congregation showed as they saw our hope in a new light, how often people would make comments like ?how could I have never seen that??. My prayer would be that this reclaiming of a biblical view of our destiny would both excite us about the future, and drive us to act in more Biblically mature ways in the present, like caring for the earth we were originally created to live on, and that will one day be restored not scraped as some teach.



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Progressive Faith

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:03 pm


Michael #36,
You said “The mystery of the ascension is of course just that, a mystery”
I’m not sure how it can be a “mystery”. It is obviously meant to be a literary allegory to the Elijah story. It says metaphorically that Jesus is the new Elijah. Just as the walking on the water story and calming the seas story are references to Jesus as the new Moses. In addition, the ascension story is a competition to many Greek gods who had their own ascension stories (and many of them had virgin birth stories). The Jesus story would have been woefully inadequate to survive without those elements. It is no “mystery” that they are included. His legend would have never held up in either the Jewish culture or Pagan culture without those important symbolic references. The same is true with a resurrection story. Jesus must have a resurrection story like the Greek gods including Dionysus who rose and ascended to Mount Olympus, where he took his seat at the right hand of his father Zeus.
To call this a “mystery” is to ignore what we know about the literature and religious views of everyone who would have first heard the stories. As soon as ascension would be mentioned the name Elijah would have been jumped to the forefront of the jewish mind. When resurrection was mentioned to Pagans names like Osiris, Adonis, Tammuz, Zalmoxis, and Odin would have come to mind.
Wright cannot pretend that the authors of our sacred text understood modern astronomy or biology. At best they would have been familiar with Plato or Aristotle and that is not saying much. At worst, they would have been influenced by and believed in Pagan myths about the universe and in the sacred place for such gods known as “the heavens”.
As Christians, we need to stop ignoring or sweeping under the rug all these other stories which predate our own as a futile attempt at modernistic apologetics. This problem was well known to the early church fathers. Their documented answer was that Satan implanted these “false stories” into Pagan mythology ahead of time to counterfeit the Jesus story that would happen centuries later. You have to admit that is really absurd. It is dishonest for us to continue ignoring this issue and calling these items “mysteries”. These mysteries all have sources in other older stories and it is common Midrash tradition to tell new stories by connecting them with older stories.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:07 pm


PF,
It’s your (if I may, modernistic) confidence in your views that makes it difficult to engage in conversation.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:14 pm


PF,
In other words, treat the views of others with respect and trust that they, too, are thinking. I advise you to read the “JCreed Rule” on the Sidebar, or go back to the series I did on the Art of Conversation. I’m struggling with letters to me about you, and with how I’m seeing you hijack conversations to something you want to talk about, and how you defend your view instead of listening to the other person’s viewpoint.
E.g., “To call this a ?mystery? is to ignore what we know about the literature and religious views of everyone who would have first heard the stories. As soon as ascension would be mentioned the name Elijah would have been jumped to the forefront of the jewish mind. When resurrection was mentioned to Pagans names like Osiris, Adonis, Tammuz, Zalmoxis, and Odin would have come to mind.” Really? So sure that this is what would have come to mind? 1st Century Jews? I have my doubts, and if you don’t respect that others doubt that, no conversation can take place.
And this is a random example that illustrates weeks of a pattern.
Now, here’s the deal as the monitor of this blog:
I get 1-200 e-mails a day from this blog.
The last thing I want to do is spend oodles of time negotiating with someone on whether or not they are being reasonable. So, because I don’t have time to do that — I have a job that consumes most of my time — I have to make judgments, and my judgment is that you will have to steer your ship in a different direction.
We’d like you around, but as a conversationalist.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 30, 2008 at 7:20 pm


#Mason #37
Did your church come across any particular resources you found helpful in this discussion?



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Mason

posted July 1, 2008 at 6:45 am


There were a few resources, I think it started for my pastor with reading Alcorn’s ‘Heaven’, which I also read and thought was better than some takes but quite a mixed bag.
More central to the series, and the book that was ofton recommended when people expressed interest, was Wittmer’s ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’. This book I liked a lot more, much better scholarship for one thing, and I would highly recomend it. I met Wittmer (he teaches at a local seminary) and I was very impressed with him and his teaching on this subject.
My personal favorites though would be first of all N.T. Wright’s ‘Suprised by Hope’ which is great on this topic but was not out during the series, and his ‘Resurrection and the Son of God’ which was used in the series and is excellent but not as directly about the idea of heaven though it does touch on it.



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Bob Brague

posted July 1, 2008 at 7:04 am


Thirty-some years ago I wrote five poems that I called collectively “Sonnets for the Space Age.” Here is one of them that speaks to the subject at hand:
IV
Three heavens stretch above Earth?s little pond:,
The daylight blue; the midnight?s starry host;
Incalculable distances beyond
These two, the one that modern men fear most.
(For if there is a Heaven they should gain,
A Hell to shun the day they pause to die,
Then all their science simply can?t explain
How in the merest twinkling of an eye?)
So, flippantly declaring it absurd,
Men laugh until their laughter turns to tears;
But Saul of Tarsus visited that third
And dared not speak of it for fourteen years.
If not till set of sun come out the stars,
Why balk at glories waiting behind Mars?
(by Robert H. Brague, circa 1976)
The only thing I might revise today is in line 4; “the one that modern men fear most” might be more timely as “the one postmodern men fear most” :}



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Bob Brague

posted July 1, 2008 at 7:27 am


Line 1 does NOT have a comma at the end, and that last thingy in the post was supposed to be a smiley face.



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mariam

posted July 1, 2008 at 11:06 am


I’m impressed Bob. More to you than meets the eye in those sometimes sarcastic posts of yours. Still writing poetry? You should. Oh, and that smiley face? I don’t think that was an accident. You always seem to be sticking your tongue out at someone ;)



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Michael W. Kruse

posted July 1, 2008 at 11:44 am


Mason #42
I’ve read Wittmer and appreciated it. I’ve read Wright’s work as well. Both Volf and Darrell Cosden touch on these issues in their books about the meaning of work. I have Alcorn’s book but I get negative vibes from a number of people I’ve met. I suspect I need to read it just because so many others are.
I also recently picked up a couple of used books by Peter Kreeft (1980s) on heaven but I have no clue about his take. I’ve now ordered the book Scot listed in the post. It is remarkable to me how hard it is to find many books that give a good solid focused discussion of the topic.



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Travis Greene

posted July 1, 2008 at 2:41 pm


I’ve read Surprised by Hope, but none of Alcorn’s stuff. N.T. Wright comments on Alcorn’s work, I think in a footnote. He basically says Alcorn is right on the money, but what he’s really talking about is the New Heavens and New Earth, even though he just calls it Heaven.
If Progressive Faith is still around, I have some questions. Your little list of truths (liberation from oppression, community, etc) is all good stuff, but I’m wondering, do you believe in a personal God at all? Because I wholeheartedly believe in those things BECAUSE of my belief in Jesus’ literal resurrection, that there is at the center of the universe a powerful God who will one day (yes, literally) make all things right. And by placing my faith in him I get to be part of that redemption.
Without some of what you call “ancient superstitions”, what exactly is the point? You seem to want to separate the moral teachings of the Bible from other ideas they held about the nature of God, Jesus, and the Universe. What are your ideas about the future? The long slide of thermodynamics into nothingness? The annihilation of physical death? Maybe you’re a better person than I am in some ways, because if I believed in that universe I honestly wouldn’t give a hoot about justice and community.



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Progressive Faith

posted July 1, 2008 at 3:03 pm


Travis (#47),
Those are reasonable questions and they deserve an answer. I’d love to answer and also compare how we both live out our different answers. I think there is hope to bridge some of the gaps between theological “camps” within Christianity by sharing our differing views and wrestling together with the data. Sometimes that hurts. The truth is that we probably are not that different, but use different language. I think our views are compatible and we could find wonderful ways to bridge our language barriers if the conversation could survive long enough to get over the initial shock of realizing not everyone in Christianity agrees.
However, I don’t think this site is a good place for those deeper controversial topics. I respect Scot and don’t want to offend him or his readers. When deeply held beliefs are questioned it creates emotional responses. Often people confuse vigorous well-intentioned debate and scholarly disagreement with anger and bitterness. I have no bitterness or anger for anyone here, but I feel like if I answer those deeper philosophical questions in a way that is true to my current understanding, research, and perspective it will come across as disrespectful for many people here. So, I’ll decline to answer here.
However, please feel free to ask any of those questions on my blog
http://www.faithprogression.com/
I’d appreciate the dialog and most people there won’t mind if you disagree or challenge anything that I say. Whatever I think is merely my “present understanding” and its open for challenge and maybe a change in my perspective. I’m always looking for better words and better ways to understand the viewpoints of others. Just expect to be challenged and don’t mistake a challenge or even a direct rebuttal as a personal attack. I disagree theologically and politically with my best friends, but we don’t mind. We love the debates and we’ve all changed for the better as a result.
Peace



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RJS

posted July 1, 2008 at 3:16 pm


Progressive Faith,
When deeply held beliefs are questioned it creates emotional responses. Often people confuse vigorous well-intentioned debate and scholarly disagreement with anger and bitterness.
Oh…Come on – most of us here value discussion and disagreement. I certainly do. I have even valued many of your comments. And I know quite well how scholarly debate, disagreement, and civil conversation work.
However – we all prefer to have our comments respected, not belittled – even in disagreement. And we all prefer to have the conversation interact with our actual statements rather than have snippets taken out of context and ridiculed. Otherwise conversation is impossible.
Now I open myself up again.



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Progressive Faith

posted July 1, 2008 at 7:54 pm


RJS,
I completely agree! Most of you have been respectful. I’ve enjoyed our discussions. Our interaction was mutually respectful despite our sharp disagreements. When you misunderstood and misquoted me, I assumed it was unintentional and sought to clarify. No hard feelings. I wouldn’t question your motives even if I questioned your theology.



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Mike Mangold

posted July 2, 2008 at 5:45 pm


I’m still plodding along in SBH and I too, see Wright and Willard as being complimentary. Jesus said: “repent, for the kingdom of God (or of the heavenS) is at hand.” Now, stretch out your hand like a handshake. IT’S RIGHT THERE! Like a parallel universe or dimension. The ancient Jews believed in 7 heavens, with the first being the air surrounding us. So, 3 dimensions of our world, the 4th being time, and then 7 “heavens.” That’s 11 dimensions. When one dimension collapses into another, it would do so with a crash and maybe that’s what we’ll see with the restoration of the new heaven and new earth. Sure this is mythology because it describes something yet to happen with our limited ability to communicate. But I believe modern science is catching up to these ancient truths, just like psychology did with Paul.



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