“Hell is other people” vs. Heaven is other people

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In his play No Exit, existentialist thinker Jean Paul Sartre said and portrayed that “Hell is other people.”

In a post that deals with the question of eternal punishment and the alternative views of universalism and annihilationism that we have been talking about, Lutheran writer Nathan Rinne develops the idea that, no, Hell has to do with isolation from others, while Heaven is about eternal communion with them.

Photo of a scene from Sartre’s No Exit, by KsKal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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“When the secular was sacred”

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I grew up in a liberal mainline denomination in the 1950s and 1960s, going to the conventions and participating in the youth conferences.  Reading Kenneth L. Woodward’s account of this phase of church history in Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama explains a lot of things that I witnessed and had to go through.  (See my earlier posts on Woodward’s book here and here.)

Woodward, the religious editor for Newsweek, tells about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on mainline Protestant pastors and church people.  In addition to giving them a truly righteous cause, it introduced them to the black church, which seemed to be a truly socially relevant institution, unlike their own church bodies.  The excitement soon extended to other kinds of social activism.  And then came the Kennedy euphoria.

It seemed to many mainline Protestant theologians that the secular world–not the church–was where the real action is.  Also the real virtues, the real meaning, the realm where God was truly working.

As Woodward puts it, “the nation’s liberal Protestant leadership came to embrace the secular as sacred:  that is, to assume that if God is to be found anywhere, it is in the secular world, not the church” (p. 96). [Read more…]

The little nation that defeated the Soviets

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Simo Häyhä, the “White Death”

A nation is defined by its history and its people’s common experiences.  That is especially true of nations whose citizens, for the most part, share a specific ethnic identity.  In Finland, where I spent some time recently, history is a living force.

For some 500 years, Finland was part of Sweden, a region in the East where members of the Finnish tribe dwelt.  Finland was Swedish during the 17th century when that kingdom was a world power, as the Swedish kings saved Lutheranism during the Thirty Years’ War and dominated much of Northern Europe.  To this day, Finland has a Swedish-speaking minority.

But then, in 1809, Sweden lost a war with Russia.  Finland, on Russia’s border, was ceded to the Czar, who made it an autonomous Grand Duchy under his authority.  So Finland went into its Russian phase, though it resisted assimilation.

When the Communist Revolution broke out, Finland saw its chance.  It declared independence and established itself as a free republic.  This happened in 1917, so that this year Finland is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The Communists had their own problems in 1917 so basically let Finland go.  Some Finns, however, were on the Bolshevik side, so the new nation fought a bloody civil war, with the “Whites” defeating the “Reds.”

But in 1939, Stalin resolved to take Finland back.  Soviet troops poured over the Finnish border.  In this conflict, known as the “Winter War,” the Soviets outnumbered the Finns three to one, with 30 times more airplanes and 100 times more tanks.

I was told that the president of Finland then was a devout Christian.  He called upon all Finns to pray.  And they did. [Read more…]

Challenges for conservative churches in Scandinavia

ScandinaviaIn Finland, I taped three programs for the Christian television network.  The host, Leif Nummela, is a well-known figure in confessional Lutheran circles and in Scandinavian Christian circles in general.  On his program, Bible Café, we had wonderful discussions of the Bible, Grace, and Vocation (Luther’s three major contributions to Christendom as a whole).  The network goes out not only to Finland but to Sweden, Estonia, and Russia.

Finland is more religiously diverse than I had realized.  There are quite a few Pentecostals–I talked to a campus pastor from that tradition who said that one of his church’s problems is combatting the Prosperity Gospel–and American style evangelicals (Reformed, Baptist, non-denominational, etc.), though that term is mostly used in the old sense to refer to “Lutherans.”  And Emil showed us congregations of Adventists, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, and Orthodox.  There is even a Mormon Temple in Finland, as well as mosques.  Most of the programming on TV7 is from the Pentecostal and general evangelical perspective.

Leif told me about some of the challenges for conservative congregations and church bodies in Finland and in Scandinavia as a whole. [Read more…]

Back in the U.S.A.

statue-of-liberty-1462952369yo4We’re back from Finland.  We had a wonderful time, were well-received, and learned a lot.  We met a number of inspiring Christians, including some very devoted confessional Lutherans, in that supposedly secularist nation.  I have a great deal to tell you.  Right now, my priority is recovering from jet lag!  But it’s good to be back in the good old U. S. of A.

Thanks for sticking with this blog over the two weeks I was away.  Even though some of my posts were written far in advance and so weren’t as timely as I usually try to make them, readership was up.  I appreciate that.

More on our Scandinavian adventures in the days ahead.

After the jump, I offer a tribute to how I am feeling about my country. [Read more…]

A Lutheran Catholic and vocation

Emil AntonOur hosts here in Finland arranged a city tour of Helsinki with Emil Anton.  As he works on his doctorate in theology, he works for a tour company, among other things, and has put together the “Holy Helsinki” tour of religious sites.  But Emil is also quite a Christian thinker himself.  He is a noteworthy author, speaker, and blogger (see this, for which the translator in your browser can give you an extremely rough translation, and this in English).

Emil is a Catholic who loves Luther and Lutheranism.  He says he is the kind of Christian Luther wanted:  an evangelical Catholic, a member of the historic church who, thanks to Luther, understands the Gospel.  Emil is interested in the whole breadth of Christianity.  He reads evangelical authors, such as Ravi Zacharias, and is writing his dissertation on Pope Benedict.  Emil–whose father is Iraqi (an Assyrian Catholic) and whose mother is Finnish and who is married to a Polish woman–is a fascinating model of contemporary Christianity.

Anyway, as he was telling us about the sights of Helsinki, we were also carrying on other conversations.  I commented on how I was struck by the way contemporary Catholic writers were discussing vocation.  Whereas the term “vocation” in a Catholic context used to only refer to the calling to religious orders, I have been seeing it used lately more as Luther used it.  Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals now talk about the “vocation” of laypeople, the “vocation” of marriage, the “vocation” of workers.  More than that, these documents also talk about the concept in ways that reflect the specific content of the Lutheran doctrine of vocation:  God works through human vocations.  The purpose of vocation is to love and serve our neighbors.

Emil said, “Right!  Which brings us to something I want to show you.”  Huh?, I thought.  What can he show me on a city tour in Finland that would bear on the new Catholic understanding of vocation? [Read more…]