Posts Tagged ‘afterlife’

Book Plunge: True Paradox

October 7, 2014

What do I think of David Skeel’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TrueParadox

David Skeel’s True Paradox is a difficult book to place really. Now this could be because of the way that I think and like things to be nice and organized. Skeel is trying to get us to look at complex issues that seem to be paradoxical in their nature and ask how it is that Christianity makes sense of them. I do not see this as a book to show that Christianity is true, you need to argue for the resurrection specifically I think to do that, but a book to get you to consider that perhaps there’s more to the world than you realize.

Throughout, Skeel deals with various areas in our lives that are often ones we don’t think about. For instance, an early chapter is on the question of beauty. Why is it that we even think some things are beautiful? What role does beauty play? Of course, Skeel points out evolutionary explanations of this, but he often finds them lacking. In many cases, there would be no immediate benefit and the ideas of what is beautiful doesn’t really lead to the benefits supposedly given. When many of us see a beautiful painting, we don’t immediately want to go and be a contestant on Survivor. Instead, we often get transfixed. If anything, we are more prone to an attack from an enemy.

There is also the paradox of suffering and evil. Why do we act as if something unusual is happening to us when we suffer? Skeel compares his Christian friend Bill Stuntz to the atheist Christopher Hitchens. Both died from cancer. Stuntz and Hitchens both saw it in different ways and Skeel pictures how it is that they would respond to different questions about suffering. The question to ask is which worldview best explains not only suffering but why we think of suffering the way that we do.

The best chapter in this book without a doubt for me was the chapter on Heaven. There are times in this chapter where one finds oneself emotionally moved and gripped by thinking about what the reality of Heaven is. By all means, I do not mean the silly Sunday School images that we have of sitting on clouds being angels and playing harps. None of that has any Biblical justification whatsoever. In fact, if such was the nature of Heaven, most of us would quite likely think we’d gone to the other place when we wound up there. Instead, I am thinking more of a rich view of Heaven found in the writings of people like Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright. In fact, if you could only read one chapter in this book, I would definitely recommend that you read the chapter on Heaven and the afterdeath (As I prefer to call it).

In the end, my thoughts on this are mixed. The last chapter is highly recommended. The others do present something that an aspiring apologist can look at and for people who live on a more existential level, I suspect that they will find something in this work that they really really like. If you enjoy thinking about paradoxes, it is one that is worth a look.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

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A Tribute To Gretchen Passantino Coburn

October 3, 2014

Will you run your race so that you finish well? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I believe it was just a couple of days ago that my wife asked me to pray for Gretchen Passantino Coburn, someone highly instrumental with the apologetics ministry of Answers in Action. I was told she was going under for an operation. Of course we prayed, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking “Gretchen is really tough. She’ll be out of this in no time and bouncing right back.”

As an apologist, I make it a point to try to not be wrong.

And this time, I really really hate that I was wrong.

When we got home yesterday, we found out the news. Gretchen had passed away from a massive heart attack. It left a dark cloud hanging over our household for the rest of the evening and that kept going. I don’t think either one of us slept the best last night.

Now I’m not going to be one who says I knew Gretchen very well. I didn’t. Now I wish I had known her well, but alas, I did not. Still, when we did talk, it was always a good and friendly conversation. When I posted something on the Deeper Waters Facebook page, she would sometimes comment, and I always delighted in her comments.

I also liked about Gretchen that she was someone who was real. One memory I have of her that could seem awkward is when her husband came home from a long trip. He told her that he was back from his trip to which she said “See you in the bedroom!” Some of you could think I’m sharing something private. I’m not. This was posted right on Facebook. Everyone could get to see it, but that was something that made it special too. This was a couple with a great love for one another and they weren’t afraid to show it.

It also brought out what I just said. Gretchen was real. She was an apologist who was not afraid to show her fun-loving and joking side. In a private conversation, she even made a joke to me once that my Aspie self had a hard time responding to. She apologized when she found out, but I told her there was no need to. I appreciated her humor. I really liked that about her.

I found Gretchen’s articles that she wrote to be quite helpful at times and fair, even if I didn’t always agree. Gretchen never acted like she was better than anyone else because of her established position in the apologetics world and treated people well who were just starting their journey. That includes people like myself. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I have a habit every night of reading a portion of the Psalms and thinking about it as I try to go to sleep. I normally don’t place much stock in special events like this such as just opening the Bible and finding just the right message for you. Yet as I don’t think that commonly happens, I’m wondering if last night was an exception. I go through the Psalms in order and last night, I was reading Psalm 84 and the next section was verses 5-7.

5: Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    each one appears before God in Zion.

I couldn’t help but think this was a fitting tribute to Gretchen. There is no doubt that Gretchen found her strength in Jesus. Anyone who looked at her knew her heart was on the path to the place of God. What about the valley of Baca? That refers to a place of pain and sorrow. Now I’m not one who thinks this whole world is awful, but it’s not as it should be. It is a place of pain for many of us.

What did Gretchen do? She made that valley less painful for the rest of us. She was the one who made it a place of springs, mainly by sharing her knowledge of Christ and letting the rest of us know that we could rightly place our trust in Jesus. She helped answer the despair of many hearts who wanted to know if Jesus was real or if the whole thing was just a fiction.

And how does it end? Gretchen is not in her resurrected body of course, but I do say she has appeared before her God. One day she will be reunited with a glorified body and we will see Gretchen as she really is, and I do not doubt that it will be far more beautiful than anything we ever saw here on Earth, which should leave us all in wonder. It will be because she will be the best reflection of God that she can possibly be.

Gretchen ran the race well. As I thought about her last night, my honest prayer was to give me the desire and enable me to do the same. It has been said that when each of us was born, we cried while the world rejoiced. We should all live our lives so that when we die, the world will cry and we will rejoice.

Right now, there is reason to rejoice for Gretchen, but we will have the tears on this side. We are not sorry for her. She is not at a loss right now. We are sorry for ourselves who are suffering the loss. A great warrior for Christ has passed on. Gretchen can never be truly replaced of course, but she would be honored to know many are rising up to fill in the spot that she left behind.

Earlier this year also, I had the joy of getting to interview Gretchen on my podcast. That interview can be heard here. Gretchen chose to talk about the beauty of life which meant dealing with the question of abortion, dealing with suffering in the intermediate stage of life. Finally, we talked about end of life issues with questions such as euthanasia. Now Gretchen has seen all the beauty of life and is now in the presence of true beauty, a beauty she could never have imagined.

God bless you Gretchen as He already has. Thank you for your friendship and I look forward to seeing you again someday.

Gretchen

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rethinking Hell

June 2, 2014

What am I thinking about Rethinking Hell? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Several of us don’t want to rethink Hell. To be frank, we don’t want to think about it to begin with. Hell is one of those topics we’d rather not think about until we meet someone who does a hideous crime. This could be something such as an act of terrorism, child abuse, or just as hideous to many of us, someone cutting us off in traffic.

But Hell is a reality. This is something evangelical by and large agree on. There is a Hell and you don’t want to go there. But what is the nature of that Hell? Ah. Now that is the question and that is the question of Rethinking Hell. The traditional view is some kind of eternal torment. There are some who will think of Hell as consisting of actual flames, but this is still a minority view. The main point of the traditional view is that people will eternally exist in some kind of separation from God.

Rethinking Hell wants us to consider that that view is false.

This largely came about through the work of people like Fudge with “The Fire That Consumes” and with the admission of John Stott that he holds the same position, though he wasn’t as forward with it as others. The view is known as evangelical conditionalism. The idea is that God alone has immortality and others have it as a gift. If you do not have that immortality, then eventually, God will do away with your existence.

I am not fully convinced of this view, but at the same time I want it to be clearly stated that I do not doubt the contributors to this volume are less of Christians than I or anyone else is because of this. If these people are outside of the fold, it is because of other reasons. I do not think that having a view of Hell that I consider to be wrong to put one outside the body. This discussion is good for evangelicals. It is one that we should be having. Unlike certain other evangelicals, I prefer to have open discussion on issues of disagreement.

While I am not convinced, this is without a doubt the best case I have read. Still, there is a downside that sometimes it can get repetitious. This is not the fault of the authors so much as this is a collection across time and space. It’s not that they contacted writers who agree and asked them all to write something. The authors have taken writings from people past and present and put them all together so there will be some overlap. (There will be times when you wonder just how many times something can be said about such and such a passage.)

I do wish there had often times been more looking at the Greek and Hebrew words. Sometimes this does happen, but the English translation can often be lacking. There were many times that I was wanting to see a more in-depth look at a word. What is exactly meant by destruction, for instance? As I said, this sometimes happened, but I wanted to see it happen more often.

The whole book does not consist of emotional appeals, which is good, but I did find that when it happened, it didn’t really impress me too much. Some could wonder about how our sin could warrant a certain punishment, but I wonder if we are really seeing the gravity of sin. Every sin is ultimately an attempt to be God. It is wishing that God was dead and that you were on the throne instead. Now I might not like the fault of someone eternally separated from God. No one should. For that matter, I don’t like the thought of someone ceasing to exist! If we were going with what I’d like, it’d be universalism, but it is not the case.

I also would have liked to have seen more on the honor/shame culture of the Biblical writers. I find that too often we have misunderstandings of ideas and words because we impose a Western mindset on them. I would like to look at the passages in question from that perspective. (For instance, I think in the ancient world something was said to not exist when it did not have a function even though it could have ontological existence. Could this affect our view of Hell?)

I found it concerning as well to see Greek philosophy be mentioned. Why? Because while it can be said that some Christians imposed a view of an immortal soul from Greek philosophy, I find that too often, Greek philosophy can be a whipping boy. This works for anti-Christian groups as well like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Trinity supposedly came from Greek philosophy. Jesus mythicists use this as well with the idea that the Christians just copied from the pagan cultures by being influenced by them that much. These kinds of statements do put me on guard.

Finally, with regards to the Old Testament, it is said that much is not said about Hell. This is true. At the same time, not much is said about Heaven as well. If we are to get our view of the afterdeath in that way, then we will end with a bleak afterdeath in the OT. My own thinking is not much was said due to progressive revelation and that frankly, the Israelites were more interested in day to day living and did not have a heavy forward focus.

Still, I do think that this book is worth engaging and will definitely raise good questions. I suppose I would end the way Ben Witherington ended his essay in the book. I am friendly, but not convinced.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A View On Heaven and Hell

December 4, 2013

What is the basic nature of the afterdeath? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, an atheist told me of how they left Christianity and one large problem was Hell and ethics. A Christian has asked me about why it is that the Christian system of rewards and punishment seems arbitrary. These two are connected.

Let’s start with the second one. Is it being arbitrary? Let’s consider that the idea is that someone can repent on their deathbed and get eternal life whereas someone who does good all their life and never comes to Christ gets eternal death. Why is that?

God’s standard in righteousness is we must match up to Him. We must be seen to be on His side entirely. When we declare Jesus to be Lord, we are in essence siding with God and God declares us to be in the right then based on that. This meets his standard of perfection. That’s not an arbitrary standard. Holiness has always been required and one must have the perfect holiness bestowed on them from God.

What if one does not have that?

Well God is fair then. What does He do? He judges them by their works. Those works have to add up perfectly.

Let’s consider that the idea was simply more good than bad. This is vague and in fact arbitrary. If you have to do so much good, how much? Is it a point system? How many points do you have to have? How many points does each good act give? How many points does each bad act deduct? The whole idea would be entirely arbitrary!

What about the deathbed conversion? Yes. God will grant someone eternal life, but not the same eternal reward. There are degrees of Heaven and degrees of Hell based on how one responded to God overall. Yet the problem is those who say they will come to God in the end have no guarantee that they will do so. The more they live in rebellion against God, the harder it will be for them to bend the knee because each action is affecting the way that they will live their life.

We know this from experience. If you treat women as objects, you will be more likely to engage in watching pornography. If you watch pornography, you will be more prone to sexual behavior outside of marriage and with an allure of risk to it. This could even lead to greater evils like rape. No one becomes a rapist or a murderer or some great evil overnight. They start on a continuum. No one also becomes a saint overnight. They start with doing good in their own lives.

This is also why we have to act contrary to our feelings and desires at times. We all know if we all acted according to our feelings and desires we would live in a world of chaos. Road rage would be abundant as we all have strong feelings about “that idiot behind us and that idiot in front of us.” Wives would have to fear constantly being raped by their husbands since by and large, men have a much higher sex drive than women do. Dieting and exercise would be unheard of. Suicide would go through the roof when depression strikes. Part of being a person of virtue is learning to foster in oneself proper emotional responses (Insofar as its possible) and proper desires. Christianity also helps with this.

I do not want to give the impression that Christianity is determined by how Christians live or even that the great message it was meant to give us was an ethical system. Jesus is King and ethics is part of any Kingdom, but it is not primary. Being good persons will not restore creation or destroy the problem of evil. Yet we are told to be subjects of King Jesus and work to eliminate evil and that means fostering virtue in ourselves.

But what about the nature of Heaven and Hell? Well my view is a bit unique.

The view I hold at this point though not sold on it entirely, is that much of the language is apocalyptic in describing the nature of Heaven and Hell in the Bible. That part is not so controversial. The next part will be more so and what the end point view I see of Heaven and Hell is.

I actually think that God rules on Earth entirely in the end. We don’t go to Heaven. Heaven comes to us. For the unbelievers, I don’t think they go to Hell. I think Hell comes to them. How is this so?

Because the two are the exact same place.

What?

Yep. We will all live on an Earth filled with the manifest presence of God.

Those who have been building in us the character of God and living as subjects of the King Jesus and seeking to serve Him will adore being in His presence. We will love it. We will be ecstatic. We will be around the greatest good in existence that we have sought all our lives!

That is Heaven!

And the others?

These are the ones that have been resisting God all their lives by not submitting to King Jesus. They may have done good works, and indeed all people do some, but they have not done the ultimate good of bowing the knee to Jesus. They have resisted God’s desire for them to reflect His image. In the end, they will be surrounded by the manifest presence of Him who they have sought to resist and avoid all their lives and there will be no escaping from His presence.

That is Hell!

Note that none of this means this system is true. Whether or not the question of Heaven and Hell is true depends on if Jesus rose from the dead. As I said to the non-Christian, the abandonment of the faith should only rest on the question of the resurrection. The only reason to not be a Christian is because you are convinced Jesus did not rise from the dead.

I understand people have a lot of ethical problems with Hell and there are a number of good works that can help with that, but let’s remember that it is not a primary question. N.T. Wright recently on Unbelievable? said that it is strange that America seems so obsessed with the devil and hell. Paul talks so much about righteousness and new creation and this is what we focus on. Most amusing was hearing him say “Come on people! Get a life! A biblical life!”

Heaven and Hell are important, but these questions are secondary and only matter after the primary question, the resurrection. Answer that first.

In Christ,
Nick Peters