I have written before (A New Universalism, No One is going to Heaven) about the relationship between heaven and our life after death.  In that post I came down quite clearly on the side that heaven is not a place where we are going to go, but is the place where god lives.  I also supported that through an analysis of every verse in the New Testament where heaven is mentioned.

But, many people look at the thief on the cross and believe that Jesus is indeed referring to heaven when he says “today you will be with me in paradise”.  This says a couple of things.  First, it says that it will be today  and second that Jesus will be wherever this place is located.

N.T. Wright has discussed his view of life after life after death on many occasions and most notably (for common folks like us) in his book Surprised by Hope which I highly recommend.  In there he does refer to this life after death as being in paradise, and in being with Jesus.  I believe that Wright comes down on the side that it is still a bit of a mystery since all we have are sign posts pointing to what that future will be like, and no clear pictures of the actual location.

I also watched this video N.T. Wright – Rethinking Life After Death today.

In it Wright again discussed his view on heaven, hell, the resurrection and what the core beliefs about these subjects for Christians today.  I recommend that as the best summary I have seen on the subject.  But there is something else he discusses that I found quite useful.

Literal or Metaphor?

In the video, starting at about 12:30, he discusses the use of the words metaphorical and literal as it relates to the bible and interpretation.  I find myself regularly debating the meaning of various parts of the bible and find that much of the controversy comes down to whether people think they should be interpreting a particular part as metaphor or literally.  Wright says:

“There is a problem with those words, literal and metaphoric, those are words about the way words work.  If we want to talk about the actual realities we ought to talk about concrete and abstract.  Things are either concrete, in the sense that they are actually there, solid, or they’re abstract, in which case they are ideas.”

Now that offers a bit different perspective on the debate because it gives us new vocabulary to use about the contents of particular passages.  He uses the example of Daniel 7 that has a part where 4 monsters will come out of the sea and Danial discusses what these monsters are like.  Clearly everyone would read that and recognize that there will not be 4 actual monsters coming out of the sea, those are not concrete parts of the metaphor.  But the fact that there are four of them is something that we would start to believe refers to four actual things.

People get hung up on stating that something is metaphor or literal.  This gets particularly nasty when someone refers to something like Genesis 1 as poetry.  There are many who will argue that Genesis 1 does not fit the definition of what poetry looks like in ancient Hebrew.  And I think they may be right.  But they go on to say, therefore, it cannot be metaphor and must be read literally.  At that point I disagree and Wright helps me with the language he uses in this video.

Genesis 1 is largely abstract representations of concrete happenings, in my view.  It may not be poetry, and it may be inappropriate to refer to it as only metaphor, but it seems that the concrete and abstract language applies wonderfully.

Wright does not use Genesis as the example in the video, he uses the rapture text.  He clearly feels the Thessalonians text is talking about an abstract idea, not something concrete.

I hope that this language can help.

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With all of the worry these days about people allowing too many people into heaven, it may seem odd to consider the exact opposite.  That is, perhaps no one is going to heaven.

We have been debating and considering the nature of our soul over on Scot McKnight’s blog The Jesus Creed, and one of the ideas that is coming up is that we are somehow a composite being, not a dualistic being consisting of a body and a soul that can be separated.  More specifically, we do not have a soul that can go anywhere when we die since our body will be dead and the only way the soul can exist is with the body.

I admit that this idea rocks my perception of life and god to its core.  I have been taught and never questioned the absolute fact that we have a soul that will live on.  Only in the past year have I been able to even consider such a thing.  Let’s face it, science has never been able to come up with a way to measure or confirm the existence of an immortal soul.  But on the other hand, every major religion out there says that there is an immortal soul, right?

Well, if I am going to seriously consider that there may not be an immortal soul and be a Christian, I need to look at what the bible says about my soul.  There are many approaches that I could take to researching this, but for the first attempt I decided to explore the most immediate implication.  If there is no immortal soul that can be separate from the body, then this soul obviously cannot go to heaven when we die, right?  To examine this I set out to look at all of the instance of the word heaven in the New Testament and see if any of them said that we will ever go there.

If you want to view the raw data then take a look here. These data came from a search on Bible Gateway.com by choosing the word heaven, looking in all books from Matthew to Revelation, and use the NIV, which should be the NIV 2011 edition.  This results in 276 entries while my table only shows 271 entries.  The entries I eliminated were the three occurrences of the phrase “highest heaven” and the two occurrences where the section heading had the word “heaven” in it but did not have the it in the actual text.  I eliminated the “highest heaven” ones because when I looked at other translations and the Greek it seemed that the word heaven was not actually there, just the word “highest”.

Here are the categories I came up with. (after the jump) Post continued, click here…

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Al Mohler Wants Hell

by Dave on March 16, 2011

in General, Theology

Anyone who knows me will attest of my preoccupation with Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Big Al is a tried and true Calvinist who feels that it is important for all of us to shun anyone who feels the primary message of Jesus is Love, and most particularly to shun the likes of Rob Bell for writing a book released yesterday, Love Wins.

I have not read Rob’s book yet, but in Al Mohler’s blog, he comes down on the side that Rob Bell being a heretic with this book as proof of his slide into liberalism.  Oh my, liberalism.

If you have time, tomorrow March 17, please tune in to hear Al Mohler and his buddies try to show that Love does not win, instead hell and hate do.

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