A new metaphor for thinking about heaven and hell

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I’ve been reading a very stimulating and provocative book by Pauline Biblical scholar Michael Gorman called Inhabiting the Cruciform God. Gorman argues that the central point Paul has to make is that Jesus’ cross reveals the nature of God and that the way we are justified and reconciled to God is by joining Him in His cruciform existence. Gorman claims that to Paul, God is not the triumphalist emperor/military hero that popular American evangelicalism wants Him to be, but rather someone whose nature is to continually empty Himself for the sake of others, the most perfect illustration being the cross itself. This got me thinking about heaven and hell in a very different way that is partly inspired by C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce but in one way, the opposite of Lewis’s metaphor. Continue reading

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Is the gospel the invitation to a party or a get out of hell card?

inviting to the feastFor the first 1500 years of Christianity, the high point of every worship gathering was Eucharist. The sermon served to prepare the hearts of the congregation to receive the body and blood of Christ. In today’s Protestantism, the sermon has replaced Eucharist as the focal point of our worship. And the individualistic altar call has replaced the communal table as the congregation’s standard response to the proclaimed word. I wonder if this change is the reason that the Protestant gospel became more about hell than the heavenly banquet that Eucharist proclaims. Continue reading

Sarah Moon and unmerciful #universalism

A week ago, ex-evangelical blogger Sarah Moon wrote a post titled: “When my abuser is welcome at the table, I am not,” taking aim at the presumptuousness with which some progressive Christians champion a table where everyone is welcome. A friend had told Moon that she should be grateful Jesus died for the man who raped her and she should accept him as her fellow forgiven sinner. Though Moon wasn’t necessarily writing about life after death, the pain she shares illustrates the problem with universalism. Wouldn’t God be lacking in mercy for the victims of abuse to force them to spend eternity in communion with their abusers? Continue reading

I want to sit in the clouds with Zach Sobiech

Sometimes you hear songs that only your eyes know how to talk about. I’ve spent all day talking with my eyes as I listen to a very beautiful album of songs by Zach Sobiech, a kid who died of cancer yesterday after recording an album in the final months of his life. Zach formed a band called A Firm Handshake with his lifelong friend Sammy Brown when he learned that he had less than a year to live. I’ve spent time that I don’t have trying and failing to summon up the right combination of adjectives to describe his music about living richly in the shadow of death. Continue reading

Born from beyond, not just again (John 3:3)

I listened to a second podcast today from Company of Burning Hearts, a British charismatic mystic group I recently discovered. It’s a bit out there in terms of the encounters of the Holy Spirit being described, but the theology is sound so far. In any case, Justin Abraham says in the podcast that the church today is a lot like Nicodemus. We don’t get what it means to be born from beyond. Actually he said a different word that I can’t remember, but “beyond” captures the sense of what he was saying. We think our conversion is about having an official datetime stamp when we can say that we were “born again” so that we get through security at the pearly gates, while what Jesus is actually discussing with Nicodemus are the implications of being born into a different reality. Continue reading

Why you need to hear Jonathan Martin preach about heaven

I’ve got issues with how people talk about heaven. It bothers me that the most popular Christian books are “proofs” of the afterlife instead of accounts of how people have lived out the kingdom of God here on Earth. Last week, part of my sermon text came from a passage in Hebrews 11 that refers to the hope of the Israelite patriarchs: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises… They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” It is one thing to live in the hope of a promise that will not be fulfilled in your lifetime; it is another thing to live in a nihilistic indifference to God’s beautiful creation because you’re ready for Him to burn it up and rapture you away. The way that my favorite podcast preacher Jonathan Martin put it in his sermon last week is that we don’t need to get ready to leave Earth and go to heaven; we need to be ready for the day that God brings heaven to Earth.

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Holistic sexuality, distorting pieties, and the pursuit of heaven

There’s been an outburst this past week from evangelical women bloggers against the idolatry of virginity. Three prominent posts have come from Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, and Emily Maynard. It’s been amazing to read in the comments about the toxic things that youth pastors and parents have said to conservative evangelical girls about sex (“No man will ever want you now,” etc). I grew up in a more moderate evangelical environment where I never encountered anything like purity balls or abstinence pledges. So I wanted to respond to Emily Maynard’s challenge to articulate a more holistic account of sexuality. Because I do believe that sex is a powerful force whose abuse can wreak havoc on our ability to worship God. And I also recognize that there are some very unhealthy distortions that have been at play in the evangelical consciousness. And I think that ultimately it all boils down to what we think heaven means. I’ll explain. Continue reading