A Provocation: Twelve Myths Too Many Christians Believe, Pt 2

For part 1, click here.

  1. The goal of Christianity is to leave your body and have your soul go to heaven when you die.
  2. The rapture.
  3. Jesus talks more about hell than about heaven.
  4. Biblical = the historic Christian faith.
  5. Salvation means that your eternal destiny changes from hell to heaven.
  6. The Bible can be relied upon because it doesn’t have any mistakes in it.

The goal of Christianity is to leave your body
and have your soul go to heaven when you die.

This one is particularly pernicious, and not for the reasons you might think.

Typically, Christians will respond, “Of course that’s not the goal of Christianity. The goal is Jesus.” And that’s very nice of course, but most of the people who respond this way have deeply embedded in their souls the idea that yes, of course they’ll get Jesus, but not to worry, their soul is still going to leave their body and they’ll be going to heaven when they die. Which is completely untrue. Well, sort of.

Here’s the deal: Once upon a time, there was a dude named Plato. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Greek philosopher. Anyway, he had this crazy idea that our bodies were evil and that if we could just get into this world of forms, this spiritual world, everything would be wonderful. Our bodies and this earth were the problems.

And then Christianity picked up on it. They decided that Plato had a fantastic idea, and they decided to go with it. There was only one problem: The early church kind of flipped out because that’s not what they believed. Now, you’ll find that the apostle Paul said that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and elsewhere it’s written that Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, so there is indeed reason to believe that you go to heaven when you die…. but that’s not the end of the story.

See, the end of the story has its roots (surprise!) in the beginning when God created everything and said “Yeah, I did good.” The idea is that God isn’t going to trash what God made good, but rather that God is going to fix it. God is going to undo all the bad that’s been done.

And this is way better than the pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, to borrow from Joe Hill. This is the absolute undoing of everything that has ever been wrong with the world.

Let me say that again.

This is the absolute undoing of everything that has ever been wrong with the world.

N.T. Wright says in Surprised by Hope that essentially, the Christian hope is that what happened to Jesus in the resurrection happens to the entire universe. Or to borrow from Tolkein and answer Sam Gamgee’s question, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

Yeah, Sam. It is. And that’s miles better than pie in the sky when you die. That is the promise of a faithful creator to restore his creation – and Jesus is the down payment, so to speak, on the promise.

That is the Christian hope.

Why it Matters: It matters because if we think the world is going to Hell in a handbasket anyway, why not trash the place (except for the fact that we want it to be here for our kids and grandkids). We can take on a sort of irresponsibility that it’s all going to burn and we’re going to go to heaven when we die anyway so why not hurry up and leave?

It also matters because, as Rob Bell puts it, the good news is better than that.

The rapture

There are some great books that discuss this, not the least of which are The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing and Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. The summary of the argument

Why it’s wrong: The idea of Jesus coming back to earth is right-on, but there’s a bit of confusion when people read the text. Here’s the salient passage:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).

With our evangelical glasses on, it’s crystal-clear. Jesus comes down from heaven, resurrects the dead, they meet him, and then we meet him, and everybody goes back to heaven, home where we belong. It’s a pretty picture… but it misses one important detail: it never says Jesus is going back.

It says Jesus is coming here.

See, back in ancient times (or even now), when somebody super-important showed up, people didn’t just say “Cool, he’ll get here when he gets here.” They went out to meet that super-important person. They met that person on the way. And that’s what Paul is describing in I Thessalonians 4. We’re not going back to heaven with Jesus. Jesus is coming here to be with us.

This is a big deal. Jesus isn’t coming back to take his people to heaven and then blast earth with a death star. Jesus is coming back to undo all the shit that been done. And that’s powerful.

Why it’s a problem: Besides the fact that it’s wrong, it’s a problem because we don’t invest in God’s good earth. We’ve trashed the planet and not taken good care of it, and we’ve trashed our own bodies because we’re really spiritual beings leaving behind our temporary physical bodies anyway. We are supposed to be living out the kingdom of God in the now instead of participating in the ways of this present age. Jesus is coming back to restore all things, and we are his servants in the world. How on earth will anyone ever believe that Jesus is coming to restore the world when his servants are trashing the living hell out of it? This is a serious problem.

Jesus talks more about hell than about heaven.

I crunched the numbers. In the gospels, Jesus uses words that the NIV and NASB translate as “Hell” exactly eleven times, out of fifteen times in the entire Bible. By contrast, Jesus also talks about heaven eleven times. …In the sermon on the mount. In the NIV, there are 123 references to heaven in the gospels. Not all of these are Jesus talking, but most of them are.

The catch is that there’s a wee bit of almost-truth to this myth. Jesus does indeed spend more time “describing” hell as most modern Christians think of it than he does describing heaven. As we should know by now, we’re not going to “heaven” anyway, and that’s not Jesus’ focus anyway. Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven far more than he talks about just about everything else.

Jesus doesn’t describe heaven (as we think of it) very much. I didn’t get all the way through, but if memory serves me right, Jesus talks about heaven as somewhere that we go when we die exactly zero times. Sure, there’s that line about Abraham’s Bosom, but Jesus doesn’t say that’s heaven. Then we have where he says that in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven, but he’s talking about the resurrection and not “heaven,” which, as we just discussed, is not accurate. Except that he says the angels are in heaven. That’s about all Jesus says.

Basically, Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven like most people think of it… at all. Ever.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “So if Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven at all, then hell wins by default.” Well not exactly. See, Jesus doesn’t talk about hell at all either. He talks sometimes about people being “cast into outer darkness” in his parables, and a few times about people being cast into Gehenna, where the worm doesn’t die and the fire isn’t quenched, but when his original audience heard him talking about that, they heard him say the garbage dump outside of town, not some shady place in the afterlife where people’s bodiless souls got tormented forever and ever. (I think we just talked about that part, too).

In short, the score is 1-0.

And then you bring back in all the times that Jesus talks about heaven – the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God (basically the same). That whole “Kingdom of heaven” thing never does get explained very clearly. Whenever Jesus talks about the kingdom, it’s always “The Kingdom is like this,” or “The Kingdom is like that.” Similes everywhere. The Kingdom is a big deal to Jesus.

Sometimes when Jesus talks about heaven, he just means the sky. Check it out.

Biblical = the historic Christian faith.

There are a great many things that are Biblical that have nothing to do with the historic Christian faith. I once “proved,” using the Bible, that God does not exist. My friend Joel was quite impressed. The deal is, just because it says it in the Bible, or just because it can be construed to say it in the Bible, doesn’t mean it’s true.

In my Biblical History and Literature class, the professor used the analogy of a tile picture. If you put the tiles together the right way, you get a beautiful picture. If you put them together the wrong way, you get something ridiculous. That’s why we need creeds. They’re like directions for putting the Bible together.

This is important because in the past century or so, people have been collecting all manner of ridiculous beliefs “because the Bible says so.” If we kick it back 150, we can include the idea that Christianity endorses slavery.  Just because it can be “proved” from the Bible, that doesn’t make it Christian. Check out The Bible Made Impossible. (By the way, I want that book. Like really bad. So if you wanna buy it for me, I’ll be really happy).

Salvation means that your eternal destiny
changes from hell to heaven.

If you walk into your average evangelical church today and ask them what being saved means, they’ll tell you (more or less) that you become a Christian and instead of going to hell, you will go to heaven. And this is just wrong.

If you skim the first testament very long, you’ll find that the word “salvation” shows up pretty frequently. To the tune of 80 times. Would you believe that not a single one of them is referring to eternal destiny? Every last one refers to God saving people from some kind of trouble or another, but not a single one has anything to do with eternal destiny or heaven or hell.

And for as big a deal as some Christians claim salvation is in the New Testament, that word only shows up 40 times. Jesus himself only uses the word twice. The first is when Zacchaeous makes good, and the second is the woman at the well. Jesus says salvation has come to Zach’s house, and he tells the woman at the well that salvation is from the Jews. If it was such a big deal, you’d think he’d talk about it more.

Now, if you read through the rest of the new testament references to salvation, you’ll find plenty more that appear to mean what that bit about changing your eternal destiny. But if you take off your evangelical glasses for a moment, you’ll realize that it never links salvation with one’s “eternal destiny.” Not once. See for yourself. Wait! you say. “If going to heaven and not going to hell isn’t what salvation is about, then what is it about? And how can I go to heaven and avoid going to hell?”

I’ve come to believe that these two ever-linked questions only exist because of modern so-called evangelistic efforts. This isn’t the point of the New Testament or the early church. Their point was resurrection. Their point was taking up one’s cross and following Jesus. Jesus, the God of radical inclusion, the lover of sinners.

But I’ve been there. I’ve spent the long, late, awful nights wondering if I’m going to go to hell and wishing and hoping that I prayed hard enough for God to save me, if I was really and truly and honest-to-goodness actually saved. But I’ve stopped, because as Linus tells Lucy, good theology takes a load off of your mind.

I don’t know if I’m a universalist anymore. I don’t think that God is going to eternally torment anyone, but I don’t know how it works. I don’t know if we can or if we’re supposed to.

I’ve heard it argued that eternity is a long time and we need to make sure that we get to the right place, but I’ve read too much of scripture and done too much research to assume that praying a prayer the right way gets us into heaven and out of hell and puts the magical salvation stamp on us.

I would say that God has saved me from so many things, including maybe even a hell here on earth of my own making, but salvation isn’t something that we acquire from God and own, as many from my former days used to express it “I’d like to thank the Lord for my salvation,” but rather something that God does to us. Maybe I’ll blog about salvation later. But, as Rob Bell would say, the good news is better than that.

I believe in salvation. I’ve experienced it, over and over again. I still pray that God will save some people that I care deeply about. And they’re already Christians.

I pray that God will save them from their sins, from their firm beliefs that they are right, and from their self-imposed misery that has resulted from it. And maybe I should pray that for me too. If you want to, I welcome all the prayers I can get.

The Bible can be relied upon because it doesn’t have any mistakes in it.

Have you ever heard the one about the hunter who shows off his new bird dog to his friend? He shot a bird, and the dog walked across the lake to fetch it. He shot another, and again, the dog walked across the lake. He smiled to his friend, and his friend said, “Worthless dog can’t even swim.” Both statements miss the point.

Saying the Bible can be relied upon is like saying that a car is reliable because it can fly. It’s incoherent. It asks entirely the wrong question and insists that the only “correct” answer must be one that’s irrelevant to what the Bible is even about. It’s like that scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams opens the textbook to a page that has a chart showing how to judge poetry: the horizontal is a poem’s perfection, and the vertical is how important the poem’s goal is. Robin Williams’ character tells his students to rip that page out of their textbook.

The Bible is much the same. Asking the Bible not to have “mistakes” is like asking a fairy tale to be literally true. I am not saying that the Bible is a fairy tale. It’s just a comparison. It’s like complaining about a puppy because it can’t fly. My point is that that’s not what it’s for.

For instance, the first two chapters of Genesis are Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology. They envision the world as flat and as having pillars and foundations, with a dome above them in the sky, keeping the blue ocean up there above them. Some “creation scientists” have argued that there really used to be a layer of water up in the sky (Google “canopy theory”), but this is absolutely unnecessary. The first two chapters of Genesis are orienting narrative that tell people who they are and where they came from, and they explain why there’s an ocean in the sky amid myriad other orienting narratives that explain why there’s an ocean in the sky. In their historical context, in the context of the other orienting narratives of their time, the first few chapters of Genesis create an absolutely beautiful orienting narrative.

But this is terrifying. We all have a deep desire to know from whence we came. If the first few chapters of Genesis aren’t to be taken “literally” or as modern-day history or science, that leaves us with a bit of a mystery. Where did the universe come from? How did God create the heavens and the earth if not in six literal days? If not, why does the Bible say that God did? (Hint: ANE Cosmology).

Perhaps science could help us find the answer to those questions if our faith in God begins to revolve around Jesus and ceases to rely upon the Bible “not having mistakes in it.” Science may be able to answer the how (as in how a bowl of water boils), but it can’t answer the why (as in “because I want a cup of tea”).

David M Schell About David M Schell

David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that’s why his posts don’t come out as often or as angry.

  • Qualified like.

    Heaven does exist, and is an eternal perfect sharing between Christ and the Church, the corporate body of the elect, and the Church is also called the Kingdom of Heaven. Heaven is also either inaugurated by or simply is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, after all. It is the beatific vision.

    As for the world, it will “pass away.” This may mean it is more glorious and more fulfilled, but this is speculation.

    =====

    So far as eternal torment, the farthest we can do is hope that all will be saved. That Hell is punishment is half the story; the other half is that any in Hell embrace a kind of unending suicide.

  • So far as the Bible, consider this: The Bible is not meant to be put together, like a puzzle. It is a God-guided mosaic, with some of it left to living memory.

    Support: Witness how heresies begin. Heretics back to Arius and Nestorius came out saying something on a topic which had not been defined, and yet they were somehow rebuked. What gall orthodox Christians must have if they create a dogma in opposition! Unless, of course, they did not pull the true definition out of thin air but formed it from their living sense and pronounced it from their authority.

    Never in history, not even in the enumeration of the articles of the creed or the assembling of the Biblical canon, has the faith been treated as a list of things to believe. Instead, it is treated as a unified body of truth with certain points made explicit. One of these truths regards the nature of the institution which proclaims these certain points, and her continuity through history, and her living sense of God. That she has a living sense takes on living form in the continuity in all aspects of devotions and worship.

    As with doctrines, don’t look at things of themselves. Look at them in corporate. That corporate single thing, my friend, is the Kingdom of God, and she lives still.

  • I, for one, would love to see a post unpacking your view of salvation. It sounds like I’m in a pretty similar place in my understanding, or at least heading in that direction…

  • Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all.

  • Really great blog (all 12 myths). Thank you!

  • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

    Once again, you have captured the best, and debunked the worst, in orthodox Christian theology. I would offer one seemingly small, but I believe important comment re. #7, whichgoes to the heart of my understanding of Christology. Just as it was The Word (logos) , AND NOT JESUS (the Human One, in whom the fulness of God was made manifest), that preexisted from the beginning with God, and who was God (John 1), I believe it is more accurate to say that it will be “The Lord,” (I.E. the resurrected Christ, I.E. God) in some manifestation, and not (necessarily) Jesus (the Human One), to whom I Thess. 4 points as the One on whom our hopes are pinned. No doubt, this will seem heretical to many contemporary Christians caught up in the idolatry of “Jesusology,” but I believe it more accurately, and more fully, represents not only the Christian hope, but the hope of all people, regardless of which faith tradition forms the lens through which people experience God. As the late Rev. Dr. Herrill Beck was fond of saying, “I don’t know why in God’s name 3/4 of the human race didn’t have the good sense to get born White, Christian, Euro-American, and a member of the Republican Party, but I kind of think God loves them anyway, and intends to include them in the Kingdom!”

    • Chris

      🙂 As a Gnostic it is so difficult to explain this concept to people! This is wonderful, thank you.

      • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

        All the thanks goes to my Professor of New Testament, the late Burton Throckmorton (Bangor Theological Seminary)… a giant intellect among 20th Century theologians. Burt authored “Gospel Parallels” along with a large pile of New Testament Study materials, and was instrumental in the formation of the Inclusive Language Lectionary series, and of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Forty years later, he remains one of my heroes. FYI, here is his Obit: https://bangordailynews.com/2009/01/04/obituaries/burton-h-throckmorton-jr/

  • Em Pulse

    The interpretation of the rapture described here is erroneous and taken out of context. Check out eternalrhythmflow channel on YT for proper understanding & teachings (http://youtu.be/SKUfhbj63Uc)

    • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

      Seems to me that the root problem is trying to transform literary metaphor into science. That’s the very essence of fundamentalist literalism.

      • Em Pulse

        Was it fundamentalist literalism for Jesus (and other prophets) to refer to the signs as guideposts for things to come? Refer to Matthew 16:1-4 for an example. We have become so accustomed to our own way of rationalizing things, that we tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater with regards to certain foundations of truth, one of them being that the God of the universe is a God of order. If we are to recognize the signs as He has indicated, through prophecy & discernment, then we ought to be aware of the relevance of these things within proper context.

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          Hi Em,
          I read Mt. 16:1-4 as a Jesus’ commentary on what is going on in that present day, and not having to do with “guideposts for things to come.” I understand prophecy as spirit filled commentary on the socio-political reality of the day, wherein the prophet, God-inspired, speaks to the current situation and the likely consequences thereof, and not as predicting the far-flung future. I think how we read and understand the Bible is what separates us. For example, some Christians (I do not know if this describes you) understand the book of Revelation as referring to the future, whereas others (myself included) understand it to be a highly cryptic and metaphorical analysis of the situation the early church faced vis a vis Rome. The reason Christians are so conflicted on so many points is that we read and understand the Bible differently. That becomes a real stumbling block to unity of the spirit when one group says to the other, “My way is the right way, and yours is the wrong way.” Sadly, this seems to be the situation in which we currently find ourselves in the Church. I have no problem with the notion that we can interpret the Bible differently. But I have a real problem with those who would claim that, because I do not agree with their interpretation, I am somehow less of a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

  • Em Pulse

    An informative teaching about rapture may be seen starting at the 4:45 min mark on the following link… http://youtu.be/SKUfhbj63Uc…. and there are other terrific videos on that same channel…. peace XO

  • Thank you so much for this. More of us have come to understand this than the loudest current voices would lead some to believe.

    • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

      Amen, Brother. You might find this interesting. “http://christianstiredofbeingmisrepresented.blogspot.com/
      You can also follow it on facebook.

      • I did! Thank you brother!

      • Thanks! One of the first websites I found when trying to understand and also distance myself from the Christian label as interpreted by the Tea Party. I’m tired of being lumped in with what I consider cruel and ignorant people who are about as un-Christ-like as you can get!

      • Em Pulse

        I tried responding to your comment (above) but was not given the option. I belong to the United Church of Christ, a progressive community. However, with regards to prophecy, I do not always agree with their understanding of prophecy. Revelation is a book of prophecy (as is the entire Bible actually) which is the ongoing unfolding of God’s truth and kingdom… it has not stopped nor is it a thing of the past. Prophecy that is not fulfilled is not prophecy, so there is much yet to occur. If we dismiss John’s Revelation as an elaborate metaphor or allegory, then we may as well dismiss the Resurrection. Do we really believe this Book or not? Jesus spoke numerous times about His return, and the prophets have corresponding scripture to back this up. To disregard these warnings & prophecies is willful ignorance, especially within the context of certain relevant events, geopolitical and world crises, signs and wonders, etc. But then again, Christ foretold of false prophets who would cry out “Lord! Lord!” in the final days (Matthew 7:21). Pharisees exist not only in the fundamentalist camp, but also in churches that elevate themselves above the word of God with their own academic exegesis and execution, stripping away all power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, in making attempts to explain away the gospel by branding it as “literalism”, one only succeeds in watering down the Truth. But then the Truth still remains, after thousands of years, and will not be compromised by any man.

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          Em,
          I do not “dismiss” Revelation as metaphor (I never referred to is as allegory). I understand revelation to BE metaphorical in nature, just as I understand ALL language about God (theology) to be metaphorical. Dismissal suggests disregard. I do not disregard Revelation. I simply understand and interpret it differently than (apparently) you do. I believe Jesus had something to say about over-reliance on signs. Once again, the problem with so much theological discourse is that we use the same words and images, but often mean vastly different things by them.

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  • Reblogged this on spiritmoved.

  • Thank you so much for this 2-part article. I couldn’t agree more and I appreciate your clarifications on heaven and hell especially. So many have an erroneous understanding! You have explained it very well, and wittily to boot. I know several theologians and they would have quibbles (when are there EVER no quibbles, if not outright violent disagreement?!), but I personally am delighted to read someone who understands it as I do.

  • Wayne Rumsby

    Bam!! Right on.

  • As someone who has totally left the church (years ago actually) Thank You for restoring some of my faith in Christ -ians.. When I was a child in church and allowed (unlike some) to ask questions, I did.. You’ve hit on so many, it’s amazing to read.. Just know if there is one Person who feels completely blessed, It’s me!!

  • Em Pulse

    In response to Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg- Believe me, I am well-acquainted with the varied degrees of interpretation when it comes to prophecy & translation, however no amount of scholastic dogmatism can redefine future events which haven’t happened yet, such as the events described in Matthew ch24 or much of Revelation. To distort these clear narratives is to accept a form of godliness but deny the power of God. It seems that 2 Timothy ch3 describes the egocentric society of today quite well… but when the great “falling away” happens (or the Greek apostasia, disappearance, rapture), only then will the eyes of many will be opened. The 2nd coming of our Lord has not happened yet, nor has the revelation of the “man of sin”, so to refute all of these events as misinterpretation is ludicrous. If our God is indeed omniscient, then He would have known that the Revelation of John would be the preeminent prophecy to survive as our guide for promises to be fulfilled.

    • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

      OK, this has slipped from an interesting discussion into a futile argument. You are absolutely sure that you are right. I see no sense in continuing the dialogue. Be well.

      • Em Pulse

        I have never claimed to be “right”, only loyal to prophetic scripture, and not to human rationale. The only one who is right is God, and His word doesn’t lie, even if we don’t fully perceive it yet. The events that are foretold by Christ (and the prophets) could not have already happened… am I mistaken? Why would we follow partial truth, and reject the rest…? There is no partial truth in God. The only “argument” here, for whatever reason, is between you and God, and whoever else denies the claims of Christ. I’m not claiming anything except what is written in His Word, but also what is revealed by His spirit. You ought to know that even if we search the scriptures to find life (whether that life consists of a doctrine of orthodoxy or progressivism), there can be no spiritual life unless it points back to Him (John 5:39-40). The only reason we would reject any part of that truth is because something within us is causing it. Sorry if this offends you, but I am not trying to do that. Peace and blessings to you.

        • Fools walk in… : The Truth is of and with God. We can not fully perceive the Truth. I think we can agree there. Here’s where we may disagree: 1) The events foretold by the prophets and Christ could indeed have already come to be, but not just in the way that a literal (mis)interpretation of the prophesies would have predicted. 2) We can all only perceive imperfectly what the Truth is. It’s what makes us human, and not God. 3) No one here is arguing with God. 4) It is offensive to make statements like “The only “argument” here, for whatever reason, is between you and God, and whoever else denies the claims of Christ.” 5) The only reason we would attack other people’s interpretation of the Truth is because something (ego, hubris, incomplete knowledge that we mistake for Truth, fear) within us is causing it. Peace and blessings to you, too.

  • Em Pulse

    @Barbara… Matthew 5:22 is meant for you. And sorry, but you cannot convince me that the 1 Thessalonians ch4 has happened already, or countless other similar references speaking of the “end times”. Perhaps I am testy because I just finished reading Elaine Pagels’ “Revelations”… if there is is ever a “zombie apocalypse” then she’ll be ready for it, because that book was written for the DEAD. She tries to explain away all the prophetic visions with historical context, but doesn’t approach it with any spiritual insight, or eschatology that uses prophetic wisdom. Who do you suppose carries more weight…. John of Patmos, or Elaine Pagels of Princeton? I’m sorry, but there’s a difference between attacking someone’s interpretation, and addressing someone’s denial. Learn the difference.

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  • James D. Panetti

    I’m fascinated and fond of this “alternate” (quotes since the mainstream is more the actual alternate here) view of eternity, but I have two hang-ups with it:

    (1) If Jesus (and by extension, God) comes *here*, then he is *leaving* somewhere else. What of that “somewhere else”? Is it abandoned? (Simply going by the basic logic that in order to “come”, you must first “leave”.)

    (2) The thief on the cross. Jesus straight up says to him “Today, you will be with me in paradise”. God did not unbreak the world that day, so where was that paradise the thief was taken to with Jesus “today”?

    I’m self-aware of my handicap: I’m viewing this through a modern Western lens. But with that understood, I’m not quite sure yet how to resolve that as I’m a bit stuck with that lens until I gain some more perspective.

    Moving on to another point:

    In support of your more universalist-leaning beliefs, I like to point out that I find it curious that “The only way to the Father is through me” is interpreted that “only Christians go to Heaven”. Those two statements are not equivalent, and I’d dare say that in no other literature would the reader make so large a jump.

    Consider: If a Muslim is saved — without ever converting — and thus found in “Heaven” (whether that be “there” or here”), wasn’t that still through Jesus? Doesn’t the “I’m the only way” statement still hold?

    It’s as if the mainstream places the onus on the *believer* (YOU have to go through HIM) instead of placing the power where it belongs: on Jesus himself (HE brings YOU). The actor/acted upon roles seem reversed in the traditional view, and I wonder if that places too much power on the individual and too little power in Jesus’ hands.

    • (1) (A). I’m really not sure. I guess so? (B) If God is everywhere, then Jesus is just… uh… more fully here? Philosophy always pushed back hard against my faith, and that with a Christian philosophy professor!

      (2) N.T. Wright refers to this as “Life after Life after Death” in his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. So I think it’s something like maybe we do go to heaven (or “Abraham’s Bosom, or the happy part of sheol, or wherever) but at the “end” of the story, the dead rise because their souls (?) go back to their bodies and Jesus brings them to meet him, or brings them back with him (?) and then we who are alive, if we are, meet Jesus in the air on his way back here, and he doesn’t make that u-turn. In any event, I think Jesus was less interested in talking about eternity than about talking about the here and now, and mostly used talk of eternity to talk about what we do here and now, and to invert other conversations.

      Universalism: I’ve said that sort of thing about those statements not being equivalent, but I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective!

      • James D. Panetti

        Ok, so, better late than never — finally bought it. 😀

        I think I’m going to have to come back and reread this post a few more times to come. This is heavy stuff. A year later and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.