Heaven Is (Not) Somewhere [Questions That Haunt]

Today I respond to Bart Mitchell’s inaugural question to the Questions That Haunt Christianity series. Before I proffer my response, let me say that I am both humbled and astounded at the outpouring of responses to Bart’s question. I agree with many of your comments, and if I were a wiser man, I’d probably just copy and paste them here.

I’m also very grateful that Bart himself has been heavily engaged in the conversation. It’s not easy for a non-believer to repeatedly put himself in dialogue with committed believers, so it says a lot about Bart that he has. Now, without further adieu, my response.


Thanks for your question. It’s a tricky one, and I’ll admit that it’s not one I’ve spent much time thinking about. Unlike the Christians that you seem to meet, I did not grow up in a version of Christianity that was preoccupied by the afterlife. Sure, we talked about it, but it really wasn’t the motivating force for our Christian faith.

Of course, I am familiar with Christians who are preoccupied with what happens after you die — they seem to think that their purpose, as one pastor told me, is “to depopulate hell and populate heaven.” I’m not one of those. But the recent spate of books about “after death” experiences shows that it’s not just Christians who wonder what happens when we die.

Even the popularity (and infamy) of Rob Bell‘s book, Love Wins, shows that many, many Christians are concerned with the same question that you, as a non-believer, are raising.

You asked a two-part question:

  1. How enjoyable would heaven be if my loved ones aren’t there?
  2. If everyone goes to heaven, why become a Christian?

For me, the second question is easier. Let’s take your premise that everyone goes to heaven — that’s called “universalism,” and the evangelical pollster George Barna says that 40% of Americans and up to one-third of evangelicals hold this view. Universalism as a Christian belief is becoming more popular, and some have even argued that it is not antithetical to an evangelical understanding of the Bible. So I think that more and more Christians will be asking your second question in coming years.

The fact that there are so many universalist Christians attests to the fact that Christianity is attractive, even without the promise of avoiding hell upon death. I think that’s the case because in the Christian faith, millions of people find something that they deeply desire: intimacy with God.

What Jesus offers is a connection to the divine that is unique amongst the varieties of religions in world history. I’ve got some experience with the other major religions in the world — even last month — and I can attest that they do not offer the same kind of relational intimacy to the divine that Christianity offers through Jesus of Nazareth. Only in Jesus did the one God fully inhabit a human being, and only in the resurrected Christ is that divine-human connection continued into eternity.

That may not be a compelling reason for you to cross the line into Christianity, but a lot of your fellow human beings desire a close relationship to the divine, and Christianity alone offers that, regardless of the question of an afterlife.

Now, regarding your first (and more difficult) question…

I will again begin by accepting your premise that, at face value, the Bible seems to indicate that some people will experience a blissful eternity in God’s presence, while others will be eternally tormented. (I don’t believe this, but I’ll deal with that below.) The traditional Christian response has been this: the bliss that you will experience in God’s presence will so overwhelm your senses that you won’t have the ability to experience sorrow at the absence of your loved ones.

The problem with this answer is, What kind of an eternal destiny is this?!? It doesn’t seem very attractive to me that I would spend eternity in a state most like a drug-induced coma — alive but with only one, univocal sensory experience.

And here’s where our understanding of heaven (and the premise of your question) starts to unravel. The Bible was written at a time and by persons who understood the cosmos in metaphysical categories that I wholeheartedly reject. I no more think that heaven is “up above us” and hell is “down below” than I think that the sun “rises” and “sets” every day. The biblical writers, and even Jesus, communicated about eternal realities using the language and idioms that they knew — that’s why, for instance, Jesus’ contemporaries thought a guy who was foaming at the mouth and chained up in the cemetery was infested with demons, while you and I would consider him mentally ill.

So what’s left to us is the task of interpretation. Or, to frame it as a question, Can I reject the Bible’s metaphysics without rejecting its message? That’s a bridge too far for many of your fellow atheists (although they have no problem accepting Plato’s wisdom while rejecting platonic metaphysics). But it’s not a bridge too far for me. The Bible’s overriding message trumps its quirky details. That’s why I can accept the overriding theme that God desires our worship without accepting the quirky detail that women should cover their heads in worship.

Honestly, it’s not much different from you appreciating the witty genius of Mark Twain, even though he repeatedly uses the odious word “nigger.” Twain was a man trapped in his time; so were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And so was Jesus.

So the quest for a modern Christian is to find the transcendent truth in a text that is inevitably time-bound. And, as you’ve seen in the comments under your question, the words in the Bible about eternal torment of sinner is one of those quirky, time-bound details that many modern Christians are ready to abandon.

For me, the eternal future is almost completely shrouded in mystery. I don’t think there will be an eternally burning lake of fire, even though Jesus is quoted as mentioning that. Neither do I think there is a mansion, though he talked about that, too. In both cases, I think Jesus was using metaphorical language to make a point. I don’t know if eternity is another dimension or a re-creation of these dimensions in which I now exist. All I can assume, on faith, is that the nature of eternal existence will be in keeping with the nature of God — and the nature of God is ultimately good, loving, accepting, and gracious.

Thanks again for your question, Bart. I look forward to your response.

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  • Dan Hauge

    Hey Tony, I really like a lot of this–while I think you may move a bit too quickly to dismiss everything about the worldview of the biblical writers (I’m not sure that their notion of a future kingdom was just a ‘quirky timebound detail’, it seems to be a major motivator throughout the New Testament at least), I do agree that we should look at the language largely metaphorically, and that there is a lot of mystery in terms of what our existence after death actually looks like.

    My other response may swerve from the topic a bit, but I was really struck by your affirmation of intimacy with God (which I agree with), given how much you seem to dismiss that intimacy as a valid reason for prayer, in your speaking and writing towards the Why Pray? book. If relational intimacy with the divine is something central to the Christian faith, how come experiencing that intimacy isn’t a valid reason to pray, or an important facet of what prayer is?

    • The only way that I know how to understand “intimacy with the divine” is through an awareness of the divine all around us, and through my human relationships.

      What else is there?

      • Dan Hauge

        I think those are good ways of understanding intimacy with God, but I also think that God is personal, and it’s possible and good to focus and open ourselves up more to the personal love that is at the center of all that is, and who created all the humans we have relationships with.

        So, experiencing the divine through our human relationships, yes; relating directly to the One who is the source of love, and all that is, and who loves us directly, also yes.

        • My only point here was that I’ve been in and out of all kinds of churches for most of my life – up until my early 20s it was charismatic/Pentecostal churches – and I’ve never personally had an “experience” with or of God that many people describe. That, to me, doesn’t negate the other “ways” of relating to God. But, it does make me question the possibility that everyone can – or should – have those kinds of experiences. For me, more often than not, instead of waiting around for something to happen, or actively doing something to make God “present,” I just need to be more aware of the good that is already all around me.

          • Dan Hauge

            Fair enough.

      • Amen Rob and Dan.

      • Ted Seeber

        Quite a bit else. Humans are a very small portion of the universe around us- which is *also God*.

    • Evelyn

      The “kingdom of heaven” is neither a “quirky timebound detail” nor necessarily an indication of what happens after you die. After investigating the concept of “kingdom” in the old and new Testaments and its meaning within Kabbalah, I came to the conclusion that it refers to the earthly manifestation of the interrelationship between God and (living) man. Here is why:

      There are two words for kingdom in the OT: “malkuth” and “mamlakah”. From perusing the uses of both words in the OT it is not clear whether one or the other refers to a purely earthly kingdom where a king merely rules over his subjects or a kingdom ruled under Yahweh’s divine inspiration where the king rules over his subjects and everyone follows biblical Law. In 1 Chronicles 29:30 both words were used in the same sentence, “malkuth” referring to David’s kingdom (Lawful, divinely inspired) and “mamlakah” referring to all the other kingdoms of the earth. Regardless of which word is used, “kingdom” in the OT does not refer to the afterlife.

      In Jewish Kabbalah, the word for the kingdom sefira is “malkuth” which is the locus through which all of the other sefirot are made manifest.

      To the OT and mystical Jews, Kingdom really refers to the manifestation of God’s relationship with man on earth. It doesn’t necessarily refer to a heaven that exists after death.

      In the NT, Jesus refers to kingdom in three ways: The kingdom of heaven “is like”, the kingdom of heaven “has become like” (usually translated as “can be compared to”), and the kingdom of heaven “will be like”. When he says the kingdom of heaven “is like”, he is referring to his own concept of what the kingdom of heaven is like and usually uses it in a metaphorical parable. For example, in the Parable of the Mustard seed, Matthew 13:31- “He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field;” (“is like” is translated from the biblical Greek “homoia estin”). When Jesus apparently says that the kingdom of heaven “has become like”, he is referring to how the Jews of his day are relating to God and how their history has led them to relate to God. For example, in the Parable of the Great Banquet, Matthew 22:1-2 “Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. ‘” Here, “may be compared to” is translated from “homoiothe”. The verb “homoiothe” is in the aorist indicative passive tense indicating an action that began in the past and is perfected in the present so it means something more like “has become like” than “may be compared to”. So, in this case he probably isn’t talking about what >he< thinks the kingdom of heaven is like but is using a parable to illustrate how the Jews of his time relate and have related to God. When Jesus says the kingdom of heaven "will be like" (or will be comparable to), he is usually making eschatological predictions but they are not necessarily anything relating to something that would happen to a person after they die. For example, in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Matthew 25:1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom." Here, "will be compareable to" is translated from "homoiothesetai", a future indicative passive verb.

      The use of past, present, and future tenses in the NT to refer to the kingdom of heaven leads me to believe that the NT "kingdom of heaven" is a metaphysical concept referring to a state of mind of living beings, not dead ones.

      To back up my argument, "The Catholic Encyclopedia" of 1910 at one point says "The kingdom of God means, then, the ruling of God in our hearts; it means those principles which separate us off from the kingdom of the world and the devil; it means the benign sway of grace…” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08646a.htm)

      • Oneness.

        • Evelyn

          Wholeness amidst duality.

      • The aorist sense in Greek is one of past and completed action. It doesn’t have any elements of present perfection. Greek is a really neat language, but we need to be really sure we understand it, before we use it to teach someone else something.

  • Ric Shewell

    It seems Evangelicals are (finally) distancing themselves from dispensationalism and ideas of immediate judgement, heaven or hell, upon death. However, I don’t hear a lot of Evangelicals taking up a better eschatology (in my opinion) that embraces general resurrection and new creation.

    In your opinion, are resurrection and new creation more quirks of the faith bound to their time, like pearly gates and fiery lakes?

    If not, does a better eschatology help answer people’s questions of the after-life?

    • No, Ric, I consider resurrection and new creation among the most compelling ideas in the Bible. In fact, I think they testify to the lovingkindness of God, over against the passages about hell and torment.

      • Lance

        I agree. And I appreciate your response to Bart’s questions. Very helpful post.

      • Ted Seeber

        Hell is also the lovingkindness of God. It is his mercy creating a state which those who hate him can still have an afterlife instead of oblivion.

        The fact that afterlife isn’t attractive to ME, is beside the point.

  • Erick

    Tony, I Agree with a lot of what you have to say, although I disagree with much as well… but more importantly, I think you shortchanged Bart and basically just skimmed over the first part of his question. You basically spent one sentence on his concern and then went on to preach about your interpretation. I understand that you believe your interpretation is the correct one, but that is definitely not the interpretation that Bart is going by. At the very least, I think you should expound more on the traditional response, and perhaps other responses you are familiar with, as clearly as you expounded on your own view.

    • That may be true, Erick. But how do I answer a question based on an ancient metaphysic that I don’t believe to be true?

      I guess I could say it this way: If there were a heaven to which some people go and other people do not, I cannot imagine that you would spend an eternity being tormented by the fact that your loved ones are not there with you, for that would make heaven into hell.

      • Erick

        I suppose you could actually go into the reasons people believe the metaphysics of the traditional response actually work. If you don’t believe in the metaphysics, then you must have analyzed what the metaphysical arguments are in order to find where it goes wrong. And I’m sure it wasn’t just one sentence.

        You said, “The traditional Christian response has been this: the bliss that you will experience in God’s presence will so overwhelm your senses that you won’t have the ability to experience sorrow at the absence of your loved ones.”

        I don’t agree with your summary of the traditional response, but can you at least explain to us why the traditional response thinks this works? You explained why your view works.

        You said that this interpretation is akin to saying one is “alive but with only one, univocal sensory experience”, but isn’t that exactly what the Christian ethic of living according to only God’s will is — God’s will being the only one, univocal experience? And yet, traditionalists don’t equate this to a drug-induced coma? Why don’t they?

        Lastly, you said, “All I can assume, on faith, is that the nature of eternal existence will be in keeping with the nature of God — and the nature of God is ultimately good, loving, accepting, and gracious.”

        How does hell go against this nature of God? How does the nature of man fit with this philosophy?

  • If you are going to call out atheists, I will respond. You compared rejecting the Bible’s metaphysics without rejecting its message to rejecting platonic metaphysics while accepting Plato’s wisdom. Atheists choose to accept the message of peace, of loving your neighbor and your enemy, of forgiving trespasses all the time. You cannot generalize how well atheists or Christians do that. To judge either group based on the choices and actions of some is purely prejudice.

    What you fail to mention is that you accept that Jesus is special. You hold the Bible above other books. You hold out that there might be something supernatural that the Bible points to, leads to or comes from. The difference between you and a fundamentalist on that issue is that you are less specific and allow room for discussion.

    An atheist should be completely up front about choosing one idea over another based on the merits of the idea. An atheist, or anybody, should make not choices based not on who the author of the idea is or the culture that the author lived in when it was written or the history of the organizations that were built around those ideas, or as you put in bold, because they told a better story while making their point about the idea.

  • R.O.

    For a more theologically interesting account of heaven, one that departs in significant ways from the pseudo-liberal one that is sketched here, see Christopher Morse, *The Difference Heaven Makes*.

  • As Christians living in the 21st-century why do we presume to even hold to a ‘biblical worldview’? It seems to me that any look backwards into history is handicapped by not being there. At best, to me, we can only have ‘our’ reconstruction of what we think consists of a biblical metaphysics. Not only were the bible writers time-bound so are we. I know many Christians think they think exactly like Jesus or Paul but how much of that is even possible?

    • Ted Seeber

      The reason is the same reason that Protestantism itself exists- because without a dead Bible book to replace the Pope, the rejection of authority doesn’t make logical sense

  • I’m going to have to call bullshit on this one Tony. For starters, Plato never claimed to be speaking on behave of the all-knowing creator of the universe. That is what separates Plato from the Gospels. Plato also never claimed to BE God and that is what separates him from Jesus. If you are willing to accept that views and alleged facts portrayed in the Gospels and by Jesus are not actually the views and alleged facts of God, then the both the Gospels and Jesus lose all credibility. How can you trust any of it? For Plato, you don’t have to trust any of it because he was just a guy with an opinion. We can look at his opinion in the context of the information we have today and decide for ourselves. As you pointed out, Plato was a person trapped in his time. But is God trapped in the bronze age?

    This brings another question to mind. Why couldn’t God communicate his message perfectly if he is a perfect being? The standard Christian answer is that humans are flawed. But this answer isn’t acceptable. A perfect deity should be able to get his perfect message across perfectly even through flawed people. Also, God made the people and he could have made people not flawed in the first place. Or he could have just made one person not flawed and then transmitted his perfect message to him or her perfectly.

    All this aside, you completely ignored the actual question asked. Your excuse was that you don’t believe people will be tortured for all eternity in Hell. But what is your basis for rejecting this belief while accepting any number of other ridiculous beliefs expressed in the Bible (like the resurrection)? Are you just picking things to accept and reject at random? How do we even know that the concept of God or the divine is something one should accept?

    I look at the Bible as being written by flawed people who lived in a time before we knew much about the world. So I can evaluate what they say in the same way I evaluate Plato. Plato lived 500 years earlier and had a much better grasp on reality than those who wrote the Gospels. But that aside, there is no evidence for Plato’s gods or for the Christian God. I base my beliefs on evidence. How do you determine what parts of the Bible are true and which are just the ramblings of ignorant goat herders?

    • Dangerous Talk. I didn’t know Plato was a materialist. What do you make of his apparent belief in a ‘demiourgos’?

      • I never claimed Plato was a materialist. I claimed that “I” and a materialist. I said that Plato didn’t claim that he was speaking for the perfect creator of the universe. He certainly believed in gods and a demi-urge but he presented no evidence for such beliefs so I reject them.

        • Neither did the writers of the Bible claim this. Instead, they were reporting on the divinity of another, much like Plato.

          • Let me get this straight, you are claiming that Jesus never claimed to be speaking for God in the Gospels? Really? You are claiming to be a Christian but reject the divinity of Christ which last I heard was THE central tenant of Christianity?

          • Mr. X

            Jesus wasn’t one of the writers of the Bible. The Gospel writers reported on his sayings and actions, but that doesn’t make him one of the authors, anymore than Plato’s demiurge is the author of his philosophical works.

  • Excellent, Tony. Here’s where you nailed it:

    I don’t know if eternity is another dimension or a re-creation of these dimensions in which I now exist. All I can assume, on faith, is that the nature of eternal existence will be in keeping with the nature of God — and the nature of God is ultimately good, loving, accepting, and gracious.

    I do, though, strongly disagree with your assertion that “Christianity alone offers” a “close relationship to the divine.” (emphasis mine)

    I’m glad you also mentioned the Bible and how you believe it is possible to “reject the Bible’s metaphysics without rejecting its message.” Though the deeper issue, as I see it, is how many Christians still behold the Bible as an authority, as the “word of God,” even if such people discard the ancient “metaphysics” with which its writings are flavored. It deserves to be asked: says who?

    • Ted Seeber

      In fact, the Catholic Church in Nostra Aetate claims that Christianity is not alone in offering the divine. She’s just alone in the Church Triumphant having *NO DIVISIONS*. Gentile or Jew, Servant or Free, Woman or Man, and dare I add, Christian or Pagan, Protestant or Catholic.

      • Alan R.

        Ok Ted. No one else is biting but I will because I’m Catholic. I just want to make sure I’m clear on what you are saying the Church is saying. You are saying that there are others “offering” the devine but that only the those in a state of sanctifying grace will go to heaven and that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation right?

  • @ Dangerous Talk. I didn’t know Plato was a materialist. What do you make of his apparent belief in a ‘demiourgos’?

  • Frank

    Anytime anyone says “I don’t see things the way the disciples see them” or “even though Jesus said that I don’t believe it” you should very quickly run away and not give them any credibility. They will most certainly lead you astray.

    • “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.

      “Do not stop him,” Jesus said.

      (Mark 9:38,39)

      • Frank

        “He was not one of us” not he didn’t believe in you Teacher and your word. Try to keep up.

        It’s a wonderful verse used inappropriately. I hope you don’t have to ask why.

        • I quoted it or your benefit Frank, not mine.

          Of course, the big questions for you remain: 1) what is the source of the authority you always refer to; and 2) how can you ultimately validate it?

          In the end, the answer will always be the same: your source cannot possibly be validated objectively as an authority. In your particular brand of religion it may be accepted subjectively as the standard. But that is a choice made by you and others who choose to be part of your religious tradition. But it is not universally absolute, no matter how frequently you repeat the contrary.

          • Frank

            I can’t manufacture faith for you even though I wish I could.

          • But you see Frank, when you make a claim that something material and observable — in this case, the Bible — is a universal and absolute authority, then that subjects your claim, and the Bible, to valid scrutiny. In other words your material assertions can only be upheld or dismissed by material conclusions.

            We can see the Bible. We can examine Bible. We can even examine its course through history. We can test your claims about the Bible. We can therefore make a real and true judgment based on the criteria you’ve asserted in your claim.

            Unfortunately, you offer no real criteria at all. In fact, not once have you taken a moment to even attempt to present any substantive support to lend a shred of credence to your claim, i.e., that the Bible is sourced from a supreme deity and that it is therefore a universal and absolute authority.

            You simply say, “My claim is true because I believe it is, and if you don’t agree with me then there is something wrong with you.”

            And then to say that your material claim can only be validated by non-material means, i.e., “faith,” then you render that claim void and baseless in its entirety.

            What you’re doing, then, is engaging in a one-way argument. The simple term in English for this is opinion.

            So when you dismiss people who disagree with you and try to diminish them for not possessing your own sense of “faith,” that isn’t godliness. That is simple human arrogance.

          • Ted Seeber

            Can any source be validated objectively as an authority, at all?

  • Pax


    Could you clarify a couple of things? You point out that a lot of people believe in universalism, but do you? Or do you think some people go to some kind of hell – whatever your understanding of that would be?

    And a related question: Did Jesus have a real, physical resurrection, and did he physically “ascend” to heaven? If yes, does the presence of a physical body say anything about the physics/metaphysics of heaven? If no, what is the real message of those biblical accounts?

    • Pax,

      I’m not ready to answer your first question…yet.

      On the second question, I think that Jesus likely did have a real, bodily resurrection. And I don’t doubt that, in the disciples’ eyes, he went “up.” But even if he did, that doesn’t mean that heaven is above.

      • Pax


        Thanks very much for your reply. I don’t know if you’re still reading this, but I’d like to clarify that my second question is not concerned with the location of heaven relative to us. I want to know what happened to Jesus’ body. It is my understanding that most Christians believe that His body is in heaven (and again, I’m not concerned with “how” it got there), and if that is so, then there must be some aspect/part of heaven (not excluding other aspects of its reality) that is capable of holding a body. Do you dissent from this view? Is Jesus’ body somewhere other than heaven, did it die, did it dematerialize, etc.? If you think His body is in heaven, then doesn’t that say /something/ (not everything of course) about the physics or metaphysics of heaven?

      • Paul D.

        So he was tricking the disciples? Did he hide behind a cloud until they left?

  • Luke Allison

    I take issue with the idea that Jesus talked about “hell” in the sense that most people talk about hell. Negative judgment is a part of every religious system, and I’m assuming it’s a necessary part of a purely material worldview as well. So I agree that Jesus talked about negative judgment, but “hell” as we’re talking about “hell” is a concept that I don’t believe was in the believing ethos of the 1st century humans we’re discussing.

    Whatever is going on in Jesus’ judgment passages, it has nothing to do with cognitive acknowledgement of a fact, such as “Jesus is God”, or “I need Jesus” or something like that. Why do the goats go to judgment? Because of a failure to take care of the poor.

    I know a few agnostic friends who feel similarly….as I matter of fact, I’ve heard a few of my friends who self-identify as atheists suggest that various politicians or dictators or bigots are going to “burn in hell.”

  • Tom Estes

    It amazes me that someone who claims to be Christian wrote this? Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe anything in the Bible that goes beyond your understanding?

    It makes no sense for you to blog under the guise of being a Christian because you clearly are not, because you completely reject the authority of the Bible, and claim that Christianity is basically whatever a person wants it to be.

    This article, and the blog for that matter, is a shame.

    • Tom, yes Tony is a Christian. So am I. And so are many, if not most, of the folks here who are faithful enough to ask the bold questions and engage in honest conversation.

      And who says the Bible is an authority? Who made that decision for all Christians? And if you tell us it is the “word of God” then please validate that claim. In other words, prove it.

      • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Word of God. Thus, I refuse to extend that designation to a set of writings that has human fingerprints all over it. We need to desire God’s will and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.

        • Tom Estes

          If the Holy Spirit is guiding you He will guide you to the book that He wrote. II Peter 1:21

        • Erick

          “He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures”
          Luke 24:45

          • Ted Seeber

            Their minds. Nobody ever said anything about yours.

      • Tom Estes

        Why would people like you and Tony not want the Bible to be your authority? You claim to be a Christian, meaning you are one who wants to be like Christ, but you don’t live under his authority? God says in His Word that It was written by the Holy Ghost(II Peter 1:21), meaning it was written by Him. Was He lying? If He wasn’t lying, why do you get to dismiss the Bible?

        I know words like these offend people like you, and I understand why, but the only thing that can be said about people who believe that the Bible should be dismissed is that they are not Christians.

        • No, your words don’t offend me.

          So you believe the Bible is the “word of God” because the Bible itself says so? Self-declarative claims of authority are not valid.

          And it was supposedly Peter who, at 2 Peter 1:21, wrote: “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

          Again, those are Peter’s words, or at least that’s what is assumed. So my question is: why do you believe him? What makes his words believable? How did he validate his claim?

          And you still haven’t answered my original question.

          • Tom Estes

            God’s self-declarative statements are valid and if you don’t believe that, just be an atheist, it’s pretty much the same thing.

          • Tom, you’re talking in circles, and doing so with the presumption that the Bible is the “word of God.” You have yet to answer my question: says who, and how do you know?

            If you cannot answer this simple question in rational terms, please just say so. This way I’ll assume you’re interested only in spewing absolutist judgmentalism. In which case I’ll refrain from “casting pearls before swine.”

          • Tom Estes

            I believe the Bible is the Word of God by faith.

          • Well then there you have it, Tom. It’s subjective. You believe the Bible is the “word of God.” You then qualify your belief as “faith.” But really, it is just your opinion. Your belief is your own, founded in your own mind. You therefore cannot impose that belief on all Christians as fact and/or truth, or as universal authority.

            Your mere belief does not make your claim true. And that’s exactly what you’re attempting to do.

            Which means it is obvious you will not answer my original questions because you cannot answer them.

          • Erick

            “He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures”
            Luke 24:45

        • Luke Allison


          Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is still speaking and moving and distributing gifts in 2012?

          • Tom Estes

            Not in the same way. I Corinthians 13

          • Luke Allison

            Can you elaborate on that some more?

        • Ted Seeber

          Because my authority is the people who edited the Bible and wrote the Table of Contents.

          • Alan R.

            Ted, you are doing it again. When you say your authority is the people who edited the Bible and wrote the table of contents, you of coarse must mean people under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit right?

  • ME

    If Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit exist right now, which I believe, it seems to me they must inhabit a dimension that we cannot see but intersects the dimension in which we live. I believe some day that boundary between dimensions will be abolished, and that’s what I think of for heaven and the new creation. Would you reject this cosmology? Isn’t it consistent with the cosmology of the bible and present day?

  • Craig

    Tony, I admire your approach to the Bible. The approach, as I understand it, is compatible with the view that there is no tenet of the historic Christian faith (including the belief that God exists) that is in principle safe from the possibility that it is just another quirky, time-bound detail that Christians should ultimately abandon. While such a view is compatible with the judgment that you nevertheless have sufficient reason for affirming a central core of the historic faith, it also allows you to be genuinely open to opposing views and criticisms.

    • Tom Estes

      Hey Tony, I wonder if it alarms you that someone who doesn’t believe God exists likes your approach to the Bible.

      Tony, you obviously have the right to say whatever you want, I just understand why you do so under the guise of Christianity. Just go start an atheist blog, they will welcome you with open arms I’m sure.

      • Tom Estes

        Should be *don’t* understand.

      • Tom, the guy you’re talking about is named Bart. He was very actively involved in the earlier discussion on this same topic when Tony posted it on Tuesday. I refer you to that thread to learn what Bart had to say. You may find his insights very interesting. I sure did.

        Oh, and to be a Christian does not require the Bible or acceptance of it.

        • Frank

          Actually it does. One day your eyes might be opened enough to understand that. All I can say is keep searching.

          • Luke Allison

            And someday, you too can become a Reformed white guy.

        • Frank

          Now THAT’S funny considering that the emergent church is mostly white and privileged and does not in any way, shape or form reflect the diversity that the Gospel demands.

          • Luke Allison

            I don’t associate with the emergent church. As a matter of fact, one of the things that keeps me from associating with them is their profound angsty-young-and-overly-educated-white-converted-suburban-now-urban vibe.

          • Luke Allison

            By “associate”, I mean “consider myself part of.” I have lots of friends who are part of it. And lots of friends who are black. Seriously!

          • Frank

            Well Luke you got something right! 🙂

        • Tom Estes

          Then tell me, what are the demands of a Christian? That is not a rhetorical question. If you don’t believe accepting the Word of God is paramount to Christianity, than what is?

          • Love.

          • Tom Estes

            Well, then let me just encourage you to read the Word of God and let it speak to your heart.

          • Tom, my God-experience was not sourced in, nor had anything to do with, the Bible. And my Christian faith came out of choices I made after my God-experience. And while writings in the Bible inform my Christian faith, they do not command it. The Bible is a treasure, but not a necessity.

          • Frank

            R. Jay that much is obvious that your beliefs have nothing to do with the bible and instead is your own made up faith and religion. At least you are honest about that.

        • Erick

          Actually it does. Jesus himself required his Apostles to understand the scriptures (Old Testament), so that they could understand and know Him. Luke 24:45 is a testament to Jesus post-resurrection providing the Apostles with the tools for exegesis of the Old Testament. Basically, that’s what the New Testament is… correct exegesis of the Old Testament. It is who Jesus is as He was in life, as He is right now, and as He is foretold throughout salvation history starting with the Jewish prophets. The entire bible is about Jesus! Hence, the entire bible is the Word of God.

          • Erick . . .

            Since you’re making a “truth claim,” then you need to validate that claim.

            1) The writer of Luke 24:45 is claiming that man named Jesus said such-and-such. How do you know the writer’s claim is true? Can you prove what he wrote is true, or do you simply believe that what he wrote is true?

            2) You said, “the New Testament is… correct exegesis of the Old Testament.” How do you know it is “correct”? Is it really knowledge, or is it merely belief on your part?

            (The above two questions relate directly to your last claims in your post above: “The entire bible is about Jesus! Hence, the entire bible is the Word of God.”)

            I invite you to objectively answer my two questions above. Please validate your claims.

          • Erick

            Hi R. Jay,

            As a default, I will proceed with objective to mean scientific:

            1) I do not know if the writers’ claims about Jesus are 100% true. I wasn’t there at the events, and history can be a bit of a fog for many things. But, by that standard neither you nor I can know anything true from before the time of video recording.

            I do, however, have a high degree of confidence scientifically that the claim is true via historians’ analyses. Academically speaking, it is in the extreme minority to believe that Jesus did not exist (at the very least) and say the things written about in the bible. I am as confident about the New Testament as I am about any history we have learned, based on the same analytic rigor that has been used to figure out whether the rest of our history as we know it is true. The historical evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the New Testament’s historical truth.

            2) This would be just a belief arrived from belief in Jesus as God. It is I believe, a Catholic claim (I am Catholic).

          • Erick . . .

            As to “objective,” the meaning I meant was the drawing of a conclusion without being influenced my preconceptions or personal bias.

            The most important words in your response are these: “I do not know if the writers’ claims about Jesus are 100% true.

            You then said you have a “high degree of confidence scientifically that the claim is true.”

            Your own internal confidence does not make the claims about the Bible universally true.

            And even though a vast consensus may believe Jesus existed, such consensus does not mean the belief is fact.

            Therefore, in the future it would probably be of great value in dialog if, when you refer to the Bible as the “word of God,” you qualify the statement with “according to my own belief.”

            (I should note that I love the Bible deeply. It is a beloved part of my personal faith heritage and I would never discard it. Having said that, while it informs my faith, it does not command my faith. I do not consider it the “word of God.” It is a collection of writings of men who reflected their own spiritual insights, which were informed not only by their religious culture, but also their individual, subjective experiences, ideas, etc. Though for all of that, I consider the Bible a treasure. By choice.)

          • Erick

            Like I said, then by the standards you live by, there is no truth that can be validated from before the time of video/photo recording.

          • Tom Estes

            I love how R. Jay Pearson thinks that he sets the rules for what is or is not truth. The Bible is either true or it’s not. It should either be believed, or it shouldn’t be believed. If you (R. Jay) don’t want to believe it, then don’t, just don’t act like it makes you superior, because it does not. All you have done is made up a religion that doesn’t need the Bible. If you think this pleases God or will get you to Heaven, all I can hope is that the Lord opens your eyes to His truth before it is eternally too late.

            I’ll close out my part in this conversation with this, if you don’t believe the Bible, you don’t believe Christ. If you don’t believe Christ, you certainly haven’t repented to Him. If you haven’t repented, your going to hell. How do I know? The Bible.

          • (This is for Erick and Tom)

            Erick . . .

            You wrote, “by the standards you live by, there is no truth that can be validated from before the time of video/photo recording.”

            I wasn’t asking for a validation of historical fact. I was asking for validation of claims to universal truth and authority.

            For example, the statement “the earth’s rotation accounts for the perception of the sun rising and setting” is a truth claim that can be validated. The truth that the earth revolves around the sun was for all intents and purposes proven in the 16th century by Copernicus and Galileo (and they did it without video/photo recording; they instead used testable mathematics). And perhaps it’s not so ironic that the Roman Catholic Church rejected this truth because of their erroneous scriptural literalism and resulting devotion to “false truth” (e.g., the sun revolves around the earth).

            My question to you was about epistemology, i.e., how a thing is known. As such, if someone says they “know” it is true that Scripture (an observable object) is “the word of God,” then my challenge to them is to establish how such truth is known so as to substantiate their claim.

            And every single time I have challenged “truth claimers” to validate their claims about the source and authority of Scripture, the answer is almost always the same: it can’t be proven. Which reduces their claim to the realm of mere belief.

            And then such “truth claimers” typically resort to what Tom Estes said to me above . . .

            if you don’t believe the Bible, you don’t believe Christ. If you don’t believe Christ, you certainly haven’t repented to Him. If you haven’t repented, your going to hell. How do I know? The Bible.

            And then, as is natural to Bible absolutists like him, he hopes his god will enlighten me “before it is eternally too late.”

            So Erick and Tom, in case you haven’t noticed, I have not made a single truth claim. Not one. And unlike yourselves, I have never presented my perspective or my way of “belief” as universally superior to all others. Nor, by the way, have I rejected the Bible. I simply do not behold it as you do.

            Instead, I have offered an honest challenge to your claims, which you both have failed to substantiate. I do not demean or disparage either of you for this. It is simply a fact.

            I am a Christian, and am immensely joyful and motivated in my faith as I strive to live by the Jesus Way of Love for the sake of Oneness. I clearly see things differently than both of you. And in my faith I focus on things that are truly practical. How I live by love is far, far more important than how I believe about theology.

            Tom, you can reject my proclamation of Christian faith all you wish. It doesn’t make me non-Christian, nor you more righteous. It only makes you fearful and intolerant.

          • Tom Estes

            R Jay,

            I am not righteous, which is why I need Christ. I am not afraid of any of your arguments, and why would I be? If it doesn’t line up with Scripture then it’s not true, so there is no need for me to fear what you, or anyone will argue about Christianity.

            You have conflated me, with my view of Scripture. What I have pointed out is what God is intolerant of, not me.

  • Gary Bryson


    You are an infidel pretending to be a believer.

    • Luke Allison

      You should change your name to Ga’ary Muhammed B’r’yson.

  • Tony,
    I’m surprised you chose the word “intimacy” to sum up the first part of your argument. All of our words fall short, but “intimacy” seems bound by our culture of individualism in ways that make it just as dangerous as some of the heaven-bound language. One says God is found in the intimate moment of experience and the other says God is found out there in the disembodied heavens. I get what you’re saying, I agree that Jesus offers a personal relationship with God, but the gospel of the Jesus who created all things, redeems all things, and sustains all things is so much larger than that. I’m just curious why you chose that to sum it all up. It’s the classic evangelical appeal but I doubt people like Bart find that very compelling and there are other ways of summing it up that would offer more appeal.

  • Jubal DiGriz

    Tony’s final statement jumped out at me- “All I can assume, on faith, is that the nature of eternal existence will be in keeping with the nature of God — and the nature of God is ultimately good, loving, accepting, and gracious.”

    My understanding was the purpose of this series was to satisfactory answer the question that keeps people from becoming Christian. This answer to Bart’s question is deeply unsatisfactory if Bart is supposed to rely on another persons faith.

    Most of the post is okay… a literal and binary concept of heaven is metaphysically primitive, a heaven where the saved watch the damned suffer would not be heaven, when reading the Bible don’t miss the forest for the trees… but the closing argument for why Bart should take this interpretation to be true instead of a literalist approach is “trust the faith of Tony”? I intend no offense to Tony’s faith when I say this is an extremely poor reason. I cannot imagine a scenario where this would persuade a person who is not a Christian to become one.

    • I’m not asking Bart to rely on my faith. I may, however, be asking him to rely on my interpretation of the biblical arc of God’s connection to and love of creation. But I am far from alone in seeing this as the character of God, so it wouldn’t just be my interpretation that he’d be accepting.

      • Jubal DiGriz

        As far as I could tell from your post today, the reason why Bart should rely on your interpretation is because you have faith “that the nature of eternal existence will be in keeping with the nature of God”, and that other people have it to. Why should Bart trust the faith of other people? You don’t trust or believe the faith of people who have a literal interpretation of the Bible (not enough for you to hold that view at least), so why should Bart trust your interpretation over his own?

        This is not rhetorical. I suspect you do have reasons apart from simply faith for your conclusions… your brief discussion on metaphysics shows there are also underlying intellectual reasons. For a person like Bart, who has no faith and does not (I assume) accept the validity of faith in others, it does no good to try to answer his question by appealing to faith and the desire to have a closer relationship to God. For an appealing answer, you should try to use sources that you think Bart WILL trust.

        If your goal in this series is genuine outreach, remember than your target audience is not Christian, and will not be satisfied with answers that do make sense to Christians.

        • Erick

          Jubal, I left a reply on the original question post.

  • Tony, I couldn’t agree with you more about heaven, the afterlife, and what you say about the metaphysics and other quirks of the Bible.

    But when it comes your statements about the radical uniqueness of Christianity with regard to intimacy with God, I just can’t be so dismissive of other faiths as you. I guess this fits under the “Tony isn’t progressive enough for me” thread.

    When I went to college I was essentially an evangelical fundamentalist. Growing up in mostly small communities and suburbs in the South, I never really encountered people of other faiths. I was arrogant and full of hubris when it came to the uniqueness of Christian faith. But one of the greatest insights of those formative years came when I finally concluded that there is no way for me to say that my religious experience is more authentic than that of someone else. I cannot know or judge another’s intimacy with the divine (as they understand it).

    So to say that other faiths “do not offer the same kind of relational intimacy to the divine that Christianity offers through Jesus of Nazareth” is going too far for me. I experience intimacy with the divine through Christ, but there is no objective way for me to compare this intimacy with others.

    And the thing that bothers me the most when I read statements like this from you is that it isn’t consistent with your broader theological and ecclesiological project. How can you argue so passionately for epistemic humility and then make such comments about other faiths? Your judgments are thoroughly conditioned by the language, categories, and metanarratives of your particular faith tradition. Where is the epistemic humility in this?

    How can you say with such certainty that the kind of intimacy with the divine that Christians experience is so much more deeper or authentic than other religious traditions?

  • Tony when you say “… the words in the Bible about eternal torment of sinner is one of those quirky, time-bound details that many modern Christians are ready to abandon,” it may be because scripture doesn’t actually have those words.

    It does talk about an eternal place of torment made for the devil and his angels, but it does not say anything about the mortal sinner’s stay there being eternal. Rather, it speaks of the destruction of evil taking place there.

    Now, that can easily be disproved with just one scripture to the contrary – but I haven’t found it yet.

    Somewhere back a few centuries ago, someone assumed that since eternal life was a gift for the believer, eternal endurable punishment was the curse for the impenitent sinner. Destruction is permanent … but by definition, not endurable.

  • A Medrano

    Jesus claimed he was the son of god.

    You believe so.

    Validate that.

    • More accurately, certain people wrote that a man named Jesus made the claim that he was the son of “God.”

  • Mary

    I hate to belabor this but:

    “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10
    {Believing that every word in [whichever translation you are using] is the word of God is not a requirement for being a Christian.}

    1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
    14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.John 1:14
    {God through Jesus is the author and finisher of Christian faith.}

    • Tom Estes

      I mean no disrespect, I’m just not sure what you’re point is. If you clarify for me I’ll be glad to respond.

  • TicklishMeerkat

    This was a supremely dissatisfying non-answer, Tony. I was expecting more than the general baseless feel-good apologetics that non-believers are so used to seeing from Christians. Your answers may make like-minded believers very happy, but they are worse than useless to non-believers. You insist that your vision of Christianity is correct (why? what objective evidence is there supporting your view vs. some other less progressive view, or really that anything Christianity claims is true?), that your vision of Jesus is the correct one (what actual evidence do you have that God incarnated himself beyond your fervent desire that he did?), and that other religions lack “intimacy” with the divine (upon what do you base this pungently offensive assertion? Did you actually talk to people of other religions or those who’ve left Christianity? Because I’ve got something to tell you about the wild ride that is paganism, and I know a lot of ex-Christians who could tell you all about how “intimate” Christianity was for them!).

    You’ve managed to contort a truly malevolent, inhuman mythos into something ever so slightly less so, and chances are this view is the ONLY thing that will save your religion from extinction, but you offer no evidence for why your viewpoint might be the correct one between thousands of differing interpretations. What the questioner is really asking is this: “Given that almost all religions have *some* idea of an afterlife, why in the world should I trust the brutality of the Christian concept of it?” And you answered “No no no, here’s a much kinder, gentler version, and I think this is the right one because I really, really, really want it to be like this.”

    And, um, the Bible’s insane, mindless cruelty is hardly some “quirky detail” to those who have been hurt by it. You’re talking about a book used to destroy lives, hearts, families, and nations. Please don’t downplay its barbarism like that. A “quirky detail” is like Hello Kitty liking bows in her hair–not a myth about a pantheistic storm-god drowning the entire world in a genocidal flood because he got frosted one day.

    So in sum, you denigrated other religions because you don’t think they offer “intimacy” with the divine, which is demonstrably untrue and patently deceptive, offered your favored flavor of Christianity without a single shred of evidence or proof that it’s the actual truth, and then downplayed the Bible’s brutality by repeatedly calling its crazed, bloodthirsty laws and stories “quirky details.”

    I don’t know why I expected more, but I really did. I hope other Christians come around to your view–at least they’ll be less toxic to be around–but I’m not seeing anything here that compels me to reconsider that religion.

    • Luke Allison

      I hear you somewhat, but you also seem to have a built-in assumption that other religious viewpoints are superior to Christianity; that Christianity is not only false, but patently dangerous. I’m willing to concede that this could very well be. I’m also certain that legitimately following the teachings of Jesus will only make you dangerous to the unjust power structures and systems of the world.
      Would you be willing to say anything disparaging about your own system? Or about other systems? There’s no way that Christianity is the only potentially dangerous religious structure.

      • TicklishMeerkat

        @Luke: Your assertions about me, my experiences, my reading history, and my knowledge are FLAT. OUT. WRONG. (That noise you just heard was me cow-tipping your carefully-built strawman to the ground.)

        If I could say anything “disparaging” about my current belief structure on the scale of what I can say about my time in Christianity, then you may be absolutely assured that I would not be part of it to begin with. Not all pagans are eclectic and/or Wiccans, not any more than all Christians are evil child-molesting fundies. But that’s a biking trail for another time. You think you know the “real deal” original Christianity, but you’re just as wrong as any modern fundagelical. You’re both basing your beliefs on dubious interpretations of way-after-the-fact fraudulent pseudo-histories, and you both have no objective proof whatsoever for a single one of your claims. And THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY WITH ME if you’re respectful toward the separation of church and state and what you have is working for you. As the saying goes, I’d die for your right to believe whatever you want on your own time and your own dime. Just be aware that there is no religion that has solid objective proof behind it, and all religions provide intimacy with the divine. We’re all just doing the best we can, and not a one of us knows for sure what the afterlife will look like or if there even is one at all. As I’ve mentioned, I’d welcome a Christianity that somehow managed to claw its way out of its barbaric, brutal roots. It’d be a lot less toxic for everybody. That’s why I like Tony’s blog–I see in it a religion that is evolving and adapting and I like that. But it has a ways to go! You’ll pardon, I hope, a bit of bristling at his insinuation that no religion but his provides intimacy with the divine. If he’s wrong about that, and I can absolutely tell you he is, what else is he wrong about? It almost sounds like he finds the idea totally threatening to his own concept of Christian privilege.

        Do I think that Christianity is inferior and dangerous? Well, yes, the traditional forms at least. But Tony’s blog is not about that type of Christianity, and I wouldn’t feel safe commenting at such a blog, so that’s irrelevant. I suspect you and I both agree about the heaven-and-hell thing and probably about all sorts of stuff about early Christianity and its evolution into its modern toxic form. Like you, I did my time searching and studying. I may be taking a different trail than Tony or you, but at the end of the climb up the mountain, we all look up at the same gorgeous bright moon.

        • Luke Allison

          Not sure I made any assertions, besides that your characterizations of Christianity seemed to be focused on a somewhat mainstream fundamentalist version of it.

          But I’ll accept that I am probably completely wrong about you. Everyone’s more complicated than messages on a blog make them appear. I really appreciate what you’ve written here, and I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said.

          My only disagreement, and perhaps you can help me work this out, is the idea of the single mountain with multiple climbers (a variation on the parable of the blind men and the elephant). I don’t quite understand how that could be a true understanding of life, since it would literally mean that the massive pantheon of Hinduism, the somewhat amorphous “god” of Buddhism, the various spiritual realities of Wicca, the Judeo-Christian/Muslim “King God”, and the suffering servant king who rules through love of Christianity were all sort of coexisting together. Unless you’re implying that none of the truth claims of any religion are true, in which case I don’t think any of them are worth following at all.

          All that said, that picture also implies that you have an eagle’s view of the mountain while everyone else is climbing up it…otherwise, how would you know the other people were all climbing up the sides too? Isn’t that the knowledge you’re claiming is impossible?

          Not trying to be combative, but genuinely wondering what you think, since you seem like a very thoughtful and intelligent person.

          • TicklishMeerkat

            @Luke, a person’s religion–or lack thereof–is something very personal, and I can tell that in your case it’s something you’ve studied and chosen with great care. Well, same here. Not all religions say the same thing, but they all say whatever they choose to say with faith–that is, with a total lack of objective evidence. So I don’t bother fighting about which religion is right. For all we know it’ll be like South Park, except discovering at the pearly gates that it was some prehistoric atavistic religion that died eons ago that “got it right” and we’re all screwed. 😉 But what makes a religion “right”, if not a one of them has evidence and all of them have the same “warm fuzzies” and intimacy that Tony’s asserted is Christianity’s monopoly?

            By using the mountain metaphor, I was saying that we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve chosen as our path to the top of the mountain, and we all think that we’ll reach a sort of enlightenment at the top of it. Jesus said he was the only way to the top, but frankly, his ghostwriters were selling something very specific–they didn’t know any more than you do, or Tony does, or I do, what the real way is. It’s pure hubris to pretend otherwise. Peace to you and yours, and be well; this is probably my last comment here. I want Tony to succeed, but suspect that my heathen outlook isn’t quite as welcome as I’d originally thought.

          • TicklishMeerkat . . .

            First of all, I love your profile name.

            Secondly, I though you were right-on when you wrote: “[Religions] all say whatever they choose to say with faith–that is, with a total lack of objective evidence.”

            That statement is exactly true when it comes to those religions that make “truth claims.”

            And Christianity is exceedingly guilty of this. Centuries spent trying to assert universal “rightness” in knowledge, authority, etc. Look what it has done, even in the present.

            I also disagreed with Tony that “Christianity alone” offers a “close relationship to the divine,” though it is a loving disagreement.

            I am a Christian. By choice. Not because of any claim to “rightness,” but because certain elements in Jesus’ “love ethic,” as presented in the Gospel stories, resonate with me. I suspect that resonance is partly a factor of western culture and geography, and I am fine with that. I confess that it is likely that, if I were born and raised in the far east, and still possessed the same basic personality traits and family/educational exposure, I would experience and express my very same “faith” via the template of Buddhism.

            As a Christian I see it this way: where love and grace abound without competitive proselytizing, then there is “God.” Whether it is through Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, or even atheism, then it is “right.”

            My faith isn’t about knowing better. It’s just about wanting to love better.

    • It’s pretty clear from your comment that no matter what I wrote, you’d find it dissatisfying. If you want me to embrace a metaphysics I don’t agree with, you can forget it.

      • TicklishMeerkat

        Sir, you said something that is flat-out nonsense: that your religion is the only one that provides “intimacy” with the divine. I know that is not true, because I have experienced intimacy–and lots of it–with the religion I follow now. I know other ex-Christians have cited a lack of intimacy with the divine as the reason they left, and lots of people in non-Christian religions who feel that intimacy, as well. Intimacy with the divine is found in lots of places, even in Christianity 😉 You don’t get to declare a monopoly on it.

        You’re going to have a metaphysical view of the world that doesn’t work for me. I’m fine with that, certainly unafraid of it. But don’t you wonder even a little about what else you might be wrong about, if you were wrong about something so fundamentally basic as what people get out of following other faith systems?

        All you offered here was “well, I just really like this way of believing.” That’s fine for you, but there are tens of thousands of flavors of Christianity just in the US alone–and many of them are diametrically opposed, and some of them have some really scary threats behind them. As someone who actually wants to see your Christianity succeed over the threat-based forms, I can tell you that when someone’s rooted in fear, it can be hard to transplant them to a sunnier and calmer clime. Good luck and cheers..

  • Luke Allison

    Also, you don’t seem to have read anything outside of the conservative fundamentalist mainstream. While this is obviously a popular kind of Christianity, I would argue that a movement which began as a 1st Century pacifist collective of equality was never intended to be “popular.”

    So any expression of Christianity that takes off and becomes the majority is going to necessarily be false and potentially dangerous, in my opinion.

    One more thing: My youth was filled with converts from Wicca and paganism who claimed all sorts of negative and abusive experiences (with demons and darkness and destruction to boot!). Should I believe them? They seemed pretty messed up. Wicca must be nothing but Pannic orgies and pedophilic sacrifices from dusk to dawn, right? Or, maybe that’s not the experience of the common person in paganism. Maybe I need to be careful before I assume things, lest I gain an unhealthily negative perspective toward another group of people.

    I would love to talk to you more about why I think the modern heaven-and-hell narrative is not historically close to anything believed by the early Jesus Movement, but a message-board is probably not the place. Email, perhaps?

  • Craig

    Mr. and Mrs. Conservative Christian,

    To what extent is your opposition to Tony’s remarks motivated by fear? When you fear a possibility, do you shut your eyes to it? Does the threat grow monstrous in the dark room of imagination? Are you clutching at your Sunday school faith in panic? Have you locked the door against new ideas in fear for your soul and souls of your children?

    It might be that your fears are irrational. As with most fears, this wouldn’t diminish their grip on you. There are species of gentle tarantulas, but try reasoning away your fears of sleeping with big hairy spiders. Fearing God and hell, we sometimes fear doubting the very beliefs that give rise to these fears.

    • Ted Seeber

      My opposition to Tony’s remarks, such as it is, is entirely limited to the idea, from Nostra Aetate, that all that is good in all religions, both Christian and Pagan, is accepted by the Church for the Glory of Christ- and that NOTHING rejected by the Church is good.

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  • Ted Seeber

    Ok, this is going to be a strange response to most, because it comes from the Catholic point of view, but I missed Bart’s original questions so I’ll put it here.

    Neither of his questions show an understanding of Pope John Paul II’s version of Heaven, which is s state of mind, not a place.


    On question #1- you won’t care. Dead people don’t. Your loved ones will go where they want to go, but IF you make it to heaven, like some of the Saints do before they die, mere human friendship, mere human love, even biology and sex, will all pale in comparison to your experience of God.

    On question #2- Catholics are much more universality than other Christians because we believe in Purgatory- which can be thought of as the last stage of conversion. By being Christian, you experience your purgatory *right here in this life*. Many others may make it to heaven- the invisible Church is far larger than the Church Militant- and even they may be experiencing purgatory in this life. But the point of purgatory is that it eventually ends, and you enter the Church Triumphant- as one Catholic Evangelist once said, *everybody* in Heaven is Catholic. So why not get a head start now on learning about heaven by at least being Christian? Or at least experiencing the drama that is the Catholic Mass, which is Heaven itself (it’s right there in the Eucharistic prayer- we join our voices with the Angels in Heaven, singing Holy Holy Holy is The Lord).

    • Alan R.

      Ted, this is the third time. I am afraid you are not communicating the teaching of the Church in their fullness and are potentially leading others into error.

      I believe the Catholic Church teaches that Heaven is a place but that ones experience of heaven will be what it is, not because of the place, but because of the direct vision of God in whos presence one will be. I also think you would be hard pressed to find any teaching of the Church indicating in anyway how many people are currently in Heaven or how many will be in Heaven.

      Also, I believe the correct teaching of the Church is that purgatory is after death not in this life. I have never heard it refered to as a further conversion but only as a state of purgation necessary for those that are not perfect to enter into heaven after having first believed in the Gospels, been baptized, and die in state of sanctifying grace.

      • Erick

        Alan R.,

        While I agree that Ted does not communicate Church teaching very well sometimes (but we’re just laity so that’s nothing against him), I would agree with him that Heaven and Hell are not places! That’s straight out of the catechism. The term “place” is merely a metaphor, since we have no word to express the reality that is the spiritual realm. Just as the word “person” within the Trinity does not really mean “person” as we know it, but instead means a reality of God for which we have no other word to express.

  • Djwatz

    Interesting thread. Have to admit that the original post seemed a little lacking for me, but since my eschatology has shifted dramatically over the past 20 years, I guess I’ve been forced to consider this a little more extensively. I’d be interested to hear what more you might add with more research/ time, especially regarding how this might look in the ‘restoration of creation’ model that was the cultural understanding of God’s plan in the time of Jesus. The basic assumption that we all get removed from this earth and it gets toasted is by no means certain from the writings, so I’m curious what you make of the idea that heaven might actually be coming here when Jesus returns…

  • Bill in NM

    I have written a little short story called “The Tadpole and the Biologist” that I think bears on the question being asked here (to be sure, without answering it), and I’d like to post it here or somewhere else where readers interested in the question can see it. It’s rather long for a reply to the blog article, so how to do it? I am treating it as copyrighted, but I have no current intentions to publish it other than possibly in a church bulletin. Recommendations appreciated.

    Be aware that it definitely doesn’t answer the hard question asked by “Bart.” Far from it. God willing, perhaps it sheds a little light on the question itself, though.

    • Ted Seeber

      Bill, that’s what hypertext is FOR. Post a link.

      • Bill in NM

        Chicken-and-egg problem, Ted. At the moment it exists only on my home computer. I’m looking for a place to stash the thing so that I can link to it, I guess. Recommendations?

  • Ken

    The nature of God is also JUST. He is HOLY. God has no sin and will not accept sin into the Heavenly realm that once expelled Satan. His justice must be satisfied. God sent Jesus for that purpose. And out of his LOVE, God extends the opportunity to each of us to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a choice we have. For those who fail to make that choice, they will ultimately be cast in Hell by the very JUST God whom they rejected.

    When we talk about God’s nature, we cannot treat it like a grocery store where one chooses which isle to traverse. We must confront every aspect of his nature as no one is greater or less than another. The flaw in this article is a common flaw, that while making people “feel good”, mis-represents who God IS. As much as He has revealed himself as LOVE, He has also revealed himself as JUST.

    What the author needs is a counter discussion to his writings so that nice-sounding words do not mis-represent Christianity and ultimately lead people astray. Here, God most certainly is LOVE. Choose the personification of his LOVE, the person we know as Jesus Christ. Choose Jesus not simply to avoid Hell, but more so to enjoy being at peace with the God of our creation.

    I am willing to speak with anyone interested at manofdestiny2000@yahoo.com

  • Erick

    @ R Jay Pearson

    The first part of your question specifically asked to validate the historical claims of the New Testament. My confidence is not internal. Externally, after rigorous analysis, historians have validated that Jesus existed and said the things written about him. It’s as true as one can know something to be true without actually being there themselves.

    So, frankly speaking, I think you are obsfucating what I’ve said, because you know it’s a weakness in your argument.

    Now, what you may say is that just because the writers’ claims are true, it doesn’t follow that they are actually true objectively. The bible is true only as the writers have subjectively known.

    Certainly, people can deny that Jesus’ words and actions as described in the bible meant he was God. And certainly, people can deny the resurrection or the miracles occurred as written. Plenty of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc have said so. I can certainly understand that. I may disagree, but at least that argument is consistent for them.

    So yes, if you were Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, or Atheist, then the claims to universal truth and authority are just that — claims.

    But if you are Christian as you say you are, and if you do believe that Jesus is God, as I assume a Christian does… then the historical claims to the reality of Jesus and his words as presented in the New Testament is sufficient to believe in the Christian claim to universal truth and authority. To believe otherwise is to deny God… or to believe that God lied… or to believe that the followers of God lied about God!

    But if you are Christian as you say you are, then it is not just a claim. A Christian claiming that his own faith is not truth is a Christian who does not know his own God. They are lost!

    • Erick

      And I agree with Tom that, in a certain way, being a Christian who doesn’t believe in historical Christianity is in a worse boat than any unbaptized.

      Sorry for the double post.

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  • Drinking From The Streams

    Tony, I have such a hard time reconciling the NT God, depicted as all you say here through Jesus, with the OT God, who I’m not so sure was any of those things. Frankly I see a God on both sides of the Bible as fully capable of tormenting me eternally.

    “All I can assume, on faith, is that the nature of eternal existence will be in keeping with the nature of God — and the nature of God is ultimately good, loving, accepting, and gracious.”

  • Drinking From The Streams

    Do you have no encouragement to offer me? I didn’t put that out there to create doubt, but to seek encouragement in this hard place I find myself in. Perhaps a blog is a silly place to seek such things.

  • Drinking From The Streams

    Okay then, how about a question for your series then?

    Is God the Father really the ultimately good, loving, accepting, and gracious one that Jesus is?

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