Posts Tagged ‘Heaven’

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

January 26, 2015

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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Book Plunge: Two Views of Hell

January 16, 2015

What did I think of Fudge and Peterson’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

twoviewsofhell

My wife got me this book as a Christmas gift just going through my Amazon wish list I suppose. (And God have mercy on her since I have two just for books and one of them is completely full.) So naturally, I went through the book as soon as I could. I will admit my bias. I hold to a view of Hell that would be closer to traditionalism, although most traditionalists I think would not really hold to my view.

The book starts with the view of Fudge who holds to annihiliationism. I think Fudge would prefer it not be called that and today it’s more often called Conditionalism or conditional immortality. To be fair also, Peterson would prefer his viewpoint not be called traditionalism since it can look like one believes just because it is a tradition. I think it’s best for us as we consider the merits and problems of the book to look at the claims of the positions and not just their titles as we might just have to stick with those. Such is the nature of the beast.

The book starts with Fudge’s case. I found it in many ways an interesting look. I do agree with the criticism later on that a number of passages I do not think really are talking about what I prefer to call the after-death. I think Fudge did put forward a good argument and he did try to stay focused on the Bible. I do understand that as he went through each section of Scripture with an emphasis on the NT understandably and tried to cover as much ground as possible.

Peterson’s critique I thought of this section was good, but lacking in some areas. I do think too often Peterson had relied too much on a more futurist eschatology. I also did think it was problematic to say that Fudge went too much into the Greek. I understand the fear of writing to laymen, but the thing to do on Peterson’s side is just answer what he considers a bad usage of Greek with a good usage of it. I happen to think Peterson and Fudge neither one did well on their critiques.

Then Peterson made his case and he made his slightly different, but I understand why. He started off from a historical position. Many of the greatest minds in church history have denied annihilationism. Of course this isn’t a slam dunk. Peterson himself would not say it is. What it does mean is that if you are going against that kind of consensus, you had better have some good evidence for it.

Next Peterson makes his case from Scripture. In this, he goes to ten passages and tells the time frame and setting of each one and responds to the annihilationist interpretation, namely that of Fudge. I found this section to be quite well-written, though again there were times I think a more futurist interpretation was included in the text, but few if any texts depended on that.

Finally, Peterson shows how this impacts other doctrines and the best case was in Christology. What happened to Jesus on the cross when He died? Did He cease to exist? Did His humanity go away. These are questions that have to be answered and if Fudge holds that Jesus ceased to exist after He died, then I think that we are entering into some very serious issues at this point.

After that, we get to Fudge’s reply and honestly, this was for me the low point of the book. I have admitted my bias at the start, but when I read the text, I was trying to keep in mind that in some ways, Fudge was critiquing the view that I held. How would he do?

It didn’t help when the first sentence is “Robert Peterson now has done his best to defend the notion that God will keep sinners alive in Hell forever to torture them without end.”

Is there really any need for this? You would get the impression from Fudge that Peterson is practically roasting marshmallows watching unbelievers burn and celebrating it. I suspect Peterson would say that even if he thought Hell was a literal furnace, and he doesn’t, that he gets great sorrow from this. Fudge’s first sentence then in his reply was a let down for me and brought motives into play rather than dealing with the arguments.

Fudge also did this in pointing to how Peterson has to hold to the tradition that he is in and Fudge does not. His denomination is one that says Scripture is the final authority. That applies to Peterson as well I’m sure. If you asked him which was the final authority, he would no doubt say Scripture. The problem when we get often to just the Bible is that it is not just the Bible. It couldn’t be. The Bible is not a text in isolation. We have it translated and we have to interpret it with the works of the leading scholars. I seriously doubt Fudge has done all the textual work and linguistic study and such to translate and interpret every passage in the NT. He too relies on the minds of others. To not do this is to in many ways make us our own Popes.

This also troubled me when I read Fudge talking about Peterson referring often to uninspired writers. This is the kind of thing that I see from fundamentalists on the internet and it is troubling. What matters to me is the claims. It is not if the author is inspired or not. Jesus in his own culture used language from the Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period and some of which we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was not inspired, but so what?

And of course, the claims of being influenced by pagans is something that I would like to see more research on. Color me skeptical of this since I regularly see claims about Christian ideas being influenced by pagans be it from the Christ-myth camp or be it from Christians who want to say that holidays like Christmas have borrowed heavily from the pagans. It’s too easy to just throw out the idea of “pagan.”

So like I said, I think Fudge just did not do well in his critiques of the traditionalist position. There was too much emotional content that frankly I think does not belong in a debate like this. I realize this is difficult, but it just doesn’t. Too often too many times I see the ideas presented with speculation on what is better. Conditionalists will say “We do not have God keeping people alive forever just to punish them. Unbelievers get turned away by this.”

Well if an unbeliever is going to be turned away and not look at the evidence for a claim like the resurrection just because of something they don’t like, it’s their own fault frankly. You do not say “I do not like the claim, therefore the evidence behind the claim must be false.” One investigates the claim. If one finds that Jesus did not rise, then who cares? It’s not going to change my mind if Muslims change their doctrine of the after-death concerning unbelievers. I don’t care either way.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, traditionalists can say to conditionalists that you’re just giving unbelievers what they want. They just cease to exist. It looks like they get off easy. Again, I understand the sentiment there as well, but so what? The evidence for the resurrection changes because someone gets off easy? Conditionalism is false because it is believed that someone gets off easy? We end up speculating on this point and miss going with what the text itself really says. Now if we become convinced of either view in the text, then we can ask “Why did God do it X way instead of this?” That can be a fascinating way to learn, but it should not be used as a debate point.

In looking at the book as a whole, while both sides were interesting to read about, I think the book could have been better served with a more point-counterpoint position. To have each side present their whole case and then one counter to that is a bit overwhelming. It would have been better I think to have perhaps discussion on history and then on interpretation and then on ramification. It could have been longer had this been done, but I think the content would be better.

This is still an interesting read to see both sides of the issue and I can recommend it there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: And The Life Everlasting

October 20, 2014

What awaits those who trust in Christ? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Death is something we often don’t really care for. It’s such a finality to matters. I have been to two funerals this year for instance. One was for an aunt who died. The other was for a neighbor who lived just down the street from us and whose death we were not at all expecting. My wife has lost her grandfather this year as well.

When someone dies, we are suddenly filled with grief if we knew the person well and cared for them. When I walk past my neighbor’s house for instance, I can know that in this lifetime, I will never see him out there tending to his garden and have him wave at me and have my wife and I talk to him about the plants in our garden.

Scripture gives us the promise of life everlasting as does the Apostles’ Creed, but here is another area where we have misunderstandings. This is often done at funerals. As I mentioned in an earlier post, too often, we have made it seem like the goal of Christianity is simply to get to Heaven. That’s a goal very much about us.

Yet the Bible is about what God is doing with His creation for His glory and part of it is redeeming the creation. It is not as if he says “Dang it. Looks like the devil screwed up that Garden of Eden plan. So much for that planet.” Too many Christians have this idea. This world is not our home supposedly. God did not make it to be our eternal dwelling.

Wherever that idea comes from, it is not Scripture. It is more a Platonic sort of idea of an otherworldly experience apart from this world. In fact, Scripture says the opposite. Heaven comes down to Earth in the book of Revelation. It is not the case that people go to Heaven. God comes to dwell with His people. His people do not go to a far off place where He is. In fact, if we are true believers of Scripture, we should realize God is here right now. We are just waiting for His presence to be more manifest and I would suggest the problem is not with Him, but it is with us. After all, it can never be with Him.

Part of that promise is not just going back to Eden, but going beyond Eden. This will be a place that is far better than Eden. This will be life everlasting and of a kind that will eternally satisfy us. Thankfully, it will not be like what we often see in the cartoons. For most of us, if Heaven was simply sitting on clouds and playing harps, most of us would wonder if we had instead gone to Hell. It is why some youth growing up have asked the question of if Heaven would be boring. With our descriptions of it, we have not given them much to be excited about.

Of course, the biggest excitement is that God is there and we interact with Jesus. Now if some of you don’t get excited as you should at that, could it be because we have not made the topic that exciting? We have turned God into some detached far off being that is not really interacting with our world, aside from as a friend of mine said yesterday, to perhaps send a hurricane to judge homosexuals and people attending casinos and I could add perhaps answering that prayer for a miracle and finding that parking space every now and then.

And as for Jesus, well we’ve made Jesus this nice approachable figure from our Sunday School lessons that doesn’t really challenge us which leads to an obvious question. Why would someone crucify this Jesus? For instance, as I read through Five Views on the Historical Jesus, I found Crossan’s essay quite interesting with the ending that Jesus would be seen like someone providing social renewal with a message of love. Okay. Perhaps He did. Here’s my problem. A Jesus like that is not a threat. At the worst, He’s an annoyance. There’s no reason to crucify Him.

Do we really think about Jesus? Do we think about who He is and why He came? For instance, last night I read Psalm 86 with the prayer in there of thanking God for saving them. Now isn’t this interesting? The knowledge of salvation and forgiveness before the cross? But on what basis? Because people were keeping the Law to show their faithfulness to God in response of His faithfulness to them.

Did Jesus really come into a world where the Jews were looking for a way of salvation? It doesn’t look like it. Most of them had a way that seemed to work quite well for them. Yet still He came to show them a new way. What a strange message this must have been. Instead of righteousness with God being found on the basis of the Law which came from Moses, it was found on the basis of this man who just showed up and did some miracles and spoke in these strange parables? Look at it this way, and you can understand why Jesus was not received as well by the leaders of His day. We must all honestly ask ourselves before we condemn them if we would do any better.

Then you can ask also how John the Baptist fit into this. Why did John the Baptist speak out against the actions of Herod? Was he just a political agitator? Or was he concerned about the righteousness of the people and people getting their hearts right in preparation? If he said nothing about the leader of the people openly disobeying what was righteous, then how could He be taken seriously?

These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking. Who was Jesus? What kind of world did He come into? What difference did He make in it? What difference does He make in it? What does He tell us about God? Remember, Jesus is the revelation of God. He is the one through whom we are to see and interpret the Father. To know Jesus is to know God.

If the prospect of eternity with the Trinity does not excite us, it is because we have not come to fully know them as they are, and indeed this certainly applies to my own self who often does not get excited enough. None of us will have that kind of excitement until we pass over into eternity as we are all still bound by our sinful natures.

The good part is that we will have all of eternity to discover the wonder that we have missed and the wonder that we were meant for. It will never be interrupted. It will never be painful. It will never be sorrowful. It will never be boring. This does not mean we will be passive. We will be incredibly active. We will be working in Heaven, but it will be worthwhile and enjoyable, unlike most of our work today where most of us can’t wait to get home from the evening shift.

To see the analogy, go back to the Garden of Eden. As David Lamb says in his book “God Behaving Badly”, man is placed in the garden and given a job and he is given what many men have called the greatest commandment God ever gave man. “Go forth and multiply.” As Lamb says, he is told to eat a lot of food and have a lot of sex. Now men, imagine going through CareerBuilder or a Monster.com and seeing a job description like this.

“I have a garden that I want a husband and wife to attend to for me. I will cover all of their expenses. I will handle their dental, health, and any other insurance coverage. Aside from one tree I choose, they may eat anything they grow in the garden that they want. I will make sure their clothing and living arrangements are provided for. I will make sure their children are provided for. Oh. One more thing. I also expect the husband and wife to have a lot of sex with each other in the garden. No credentials or skills in gardening needed. I will teach you all you need to know.”

Personally, if I saw a job application like that, I would be applying immediately. In fact, I would probably be reapplying to it every day.

It’s my suspicion that our work in Heaven will be jobs tailor made for us. I suspect someone like myself could be assigned to do research and teaching and I will have the best library of all with all the books ever written and I will get to do that research alongside people like the Apostle Paul and Thomas Aquinas and just think of the conversations we can have.

Also, I do fully believe that this will take place on this Earth. What all that entails for us I cannot say. I get suspicious of people who claim to give detailed accounts of what Heaven is like when Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12 that he could not speak of what He saw. Whatever it is, it is made for us to enjoy and it will be enjoyable because it is our place in God that we find. We find our total completion in Him when we get there.

As I write this, I can confess I do get a hint of that joy and that desire. To use the parallel given earlier, and every man can understand this, imagine being at work one day and it being tedious and boring and you find out on your break you have a voicemail from your wife. You turn it on to listen still kind of in a moping mood and hear something like this.

“Hey honey. I just wanted to let you know it’s been really lonely here and I’ve been thinking about you a lot and how much I appreciate what you do. I sent the children over to grandma and grandpa’s to spend the night with them. I am as we speak fixing your favorite dinner right now and we’ll share it together when we get home and then, we can go to the bedroom together. I went out and got a new outfit today and I think you’ll really enjoy it. I can’t wait to see you when you get home and I hope you can’t wait to really see me.”

I can assure you if I was that husband, my mood would have gone straight up for the rest of the day and I could not wait to get home in the evening. Some of you women might be thinking “Won’t my husband be worried about how much the outfit cost?” I can assure you that will be one of the last things on his mind. In fact, the desire that he has is in fact enjoyable in itself. Anything he goes through for the rest of the day will be worth it in comparison to the joy that he knows awaits him when he gets home.

This is why the Bible compares things so often to a marriage. We are awaiting the full consummation of what is to come. Remember also we are the bride. We are the ones that will have the life of God given to us. What you see happening in a marriage is meant to be a picture of what happens between Christ and the church. This is in fact why we must take marriage seriously as Christians and must take sex sacredly as Christians. To do anything less is to dishonor God.

Keep the faith Christian, and someday, you will be in the manifest presence of God celebrating His great love and never again to be absent or apart from it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: The Resurrection of the Body

October 17, 2014

Does the body really matter? Let’s dive into Deeper Waters and find out.

I was at a funeral and hearing the pastor really mess up the eulogy he was giving for the deceased. Unfortunately, I’ve heard this kind of talk before, yet I got some hope as we got to 1 Thess. 4 being mentioned. Surely, this is where the pastor will redeem himself. The pastor started speaking about 1 Thess. 4 and said we have the same hope as the apostle Paul.

Yes! Yes! Go on please!

“We have the hope that we will see our loved ones again in Heaven.”

And there I’m deflated again.

Am I against seeing loved ones in Heaven? Not at all. What am I against? 1 Thess. 4 is not about that. 1 Thess. 4 tells you specifically what it’s about. It’s about the Lord and His return and the resurrection of the dead that will happen then. It’s about how we do not mourn like those who have no hope and that our bodies will one day come out of that grave.

If you skip ahead to Heaven without mentioning the resurrection, then you do not have a completed victory of God.

You see, in overcoming death, Christ shows that nothing has any power over us. Death is the ultimate destroyer ripping our souls from our bodies. Those bodies are good! We often lose sight of that! God did not create us to be angels. He created us to be humans and part of being human is living with a body.

This is why the resurrection of the dead is so important and why I think that anyone who denies the future bodily resurrection has stepped into heresy. Our bodies will be resurrected the same way Christ’s was. He is the first fruits. He is the exemplar of what we have coming. If we are not raised physically, then Christ was not raised physically.

At another funeral I was at once, one preacher spoke about the deceased and said that right now, she was experiencing the resurrection. I had to look and say to myself “Sorry Pastor. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that her body is still in that casket.” We too often think that once someone has died and gone on to be in the presence of Jesus, then that means that things are done with them. No. They are happier than they were of course, but they still await being reunited with their bodies.

When Christ comes to redeem, He does not redeem just us. He redeems all of creation as well. He comes to release it from its bondage. He will not allow the devil to ruin creation so much that it is irredeemable. He will not let the devil have a victory even over the human body. His goal is to bring redemption for all.

Funerals unfortunately are hot beds for these kinds of mistakes, but let us not make them any more. We are not just people who are awaiting life in a Heaven to come. We are people who are waiting an embodied life in a physical creation that God has waiting for us. He did not make a mistake with giving us bodies. He has them for us for a reason. (This is also why we honor God with our bodies including sexually. What you do with your body matters.)

Celebrate and honor your body today and remember that as you live a righteous life, so your body will show that in the future.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

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

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

Apostles’ Creed: Of Heaven and Earth

March 25, 2014

What does the Bible mean when it speaks about Heaven and Earth? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

When we hear Heaven and Earth, our minds can often think of two opposites. In some ways, this is accurate, but not totally. The danger with many Christians is to make it such a contrast that there is no relation between the two, whereas in Revelation 21, what one ultimately sees in the end is the marriage of Heaven and Earth. Christians don’t go up to Heaven. Heaven, in the New Jerusalem, comes down to Earth.

What is really going on when we see Heaven and Earth spoken of in the Scripture then?

What is happening is what is called a merism. This is where you speak of two contrasting realities and by speaking of them, you mean to include everything in between them. North and south, east and west, good and evil, etc. In the Psalm, when the Psalmist says he can go to the highest heaven or the deepest darkness and not escape God, it doesn’t mean that if He stays right in the middle God won’t notice Him. It means that by saying those two opposite, He’s included everything.

What this means then by Heaven and Earth is not saying the celestial realm, but rather the skies above. Now of course, sometimes the Bible uses the term Heaven and refers to the celestial realm, but not normally. One place I can think of that is an exception in fact differs in that Paul refers in 2 Cor. 12 to going to the “third Heaven.”

So when we read that God created the Heavens and the Earth, it means He created the universe. As was said yesterday, this is a being of great power and intelligence who can do something like this and that is a power and intelligence that deserves to be respected.

If we form a divide between Heaven and Earth that the two will have nothing to do with each other, we end up holding to a more Gnostic worldview that says this world as it is evil. Now there is much that is fallen about our world and I am of the viewpoint that it was not created to be perfect as it is, but there is much that is good. I agree with the old hymn that says “This Is My Father’s World.”

Heaven is not meant in the Bible to be seen as an escapist reality. To be fair, Christians should think about Heaven, but we should be aware of how much of our idea of Heaven comes from modern popular thought and how much from Scripture. I happen to agree with many skeptics who say they don’t want eternity sitting on a cloud playing a harp. I’m not much of a musical man. Some of my favorite words to hear in church are “You may be seated.” An eternal concert would have me thinking I was in the other place.

If there is one defining feature I’d point to about Heaven, it would be the presence of God. Heaven is where God’s presence is made manifest. God is in fact what defines Heaven and for those who love Him, being eternally in His presence will be a great joy. For those who do not love Him, being eternally in His presence will be Hell.

If we make Heaven too much about other things, then we distract from what makes it Heaven. Of course, we can ask other questions such as what will be the status of our marriage in Heaven and will our pets be in Heaven and what will we do, but these are secondary questions. The primary question is “What will our relationship to God be in Heaven?”

Until then, let us realize this Earth is not a plan B. This Earth is God’s idea. We are to care for it and cherish it. Now of course, we are not to worship the creation or find our salvation in it, but we are to be stewards of the creation and to care for it. For those who think that Heaven is in a way like “God’s House” it is a wonder that we think He would let us in His house if we can’t take care of the place to live that He gives us.

Let the fact that God is the creator remind us that creation is a good and we ought to cherish and celebrate it. There is much in our world that is good and beautiful and we should thank the Creator for it.

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