(In The Life Of The Church)
Heaven, Hell and the World Between
12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is,because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. - St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
This is what I’m thinking about today.
Let’s start here: If you are a former Evangelical, soteriology (salvation) was the centerpiece of your theology. A rough sketch of that soteriology probably went something like this:
You are a sinner. Born into it, in fact. Original sin, it’s called, passed on to you by Adam. But you did/do plenty of your own sinning, so that point always seemed moot to me.
Without God fixing your sin problem, you are destined for hell.
God did fix your sin problem through Jesus on the cross.
If you confess and believe Jesus as Lord of your life, you’ll be saved.
Being saved means not going to hell to burn for eternity and going to heaven to spend eternal bliss with God.
As for me and Evangelicalism . . . well, let me share what I agree with. I am a sinner and I need God’s grace. There is a New Testament scholar, J. Louis Martin, who argues compellingly that the Bible often explains the what of atonement but not the how. Paul uses different images depending on what’s familiar to that particular community, because that’s how teachers use metaphors. Let me explain what I mean.
Hebrews uses the language of sacrifice because the audience is likely Jewish and familiar with the sacrificial system.
Colossians uses the language of reconciliation from the world of relationship.
Romans uses legal language because Rome and court systems.
2 Timothy uses the language of victory, probably indicative of military knowledge.
Ephesians uses the language of redemption, which is from the world of commerce and business.
But none of these explain the how. How did the cross save us from sin? Perhaps the most honest answer we get is from C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Lucy asks Aslan about his resurrection. His answer implies that the witch killed him unaware of a “deeper magic.”
One might think that because of the plethora of images from Scripture, the church ended up with a few different theories of atonement. Well, you’d be right if you thought that.
Origen did ransom = it’s based on Mark 10:45 and states that Christ was paid as a ransom for us.
Anselm did satisfaction = based on Anselm’s feudal system worldview, this view suggests that Christ satisfied (or paid a debt) owed to someone because honor was broken.
Luther did Christus Victor = Christ invaded enemy territory and took us from the devil.
Calvin did penal substitution = God loved and was angry at humanity at the same time. That tension was resolved on the cross when Christ incurred our penalty.
There are others that are mostly derivatives, but those are the big winners in Christian history.
As for me, I get tangled up in Lewis’s deeper magic. I will continue to speak about the plight and solution (sin and Jesus) without needing to understand the details of the mechanics.
But that’s not what I am thinking about. I’m thinking about heaven, hell, and the world between. That’s us, here, now.
I blame physics for introducing the first deficiency in my hell/heaven theology. It’s the hell thing. Jesus talks about the lake of fire, especially in Matthew. Presumably hell is hot and, because of the properties of light, bright. But hell is said to be darkness (Jude 13). So I got suspicious. And then there is the heaven thing. In Revelation 21 we are told that the new Jerusalem will be made of pure gold as clear as crystal (which seems to present its own problems based on what we know about physics). Also there are crowns with jewels (Isaiah 62:3). Here’s the thing, though: if heaven is heavenly in other ways, like equity and a lack of need, then it strikes me that the relative value of gold will be diminished. And if gold is simply an ornate choice . . . well, the 80s are over.
There are other interesting details about heaven and hell, like the fact that at one point hell is compared to a trash dump by the southwest gate of the temple by Jesus. He also says that heaven is within you. My point is that these descriptions we get are metaphors.
Now for two quotes:
“The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing.” C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
“Heaven is the place where God’s purposes for the future are stored up. It isn’t where they are meant to stay so that one would need to go to heaven to enjoy them; it is where they are kept safe against the day when they will become a reality on earth.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
At some point in my theological journey, I was taken with the idea of purgatory. This is the itch it scratched for me: if we are all saved despite ourselves, and if works have no bearing on salvation, then why work? Here a standard Evangelical will jump in and say something about gratitude for God’s love. That’s a good answer and probably represents a healthier version of Christian faith then I posses. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder if the Bible says so much about loving one another because it’s actually consequential (see Matthew 25:31-45).
I remember processing these thoughts with a friend in college and he suggested this: What if loving God is about expanding your cup? And someday God will pour Godself out on all of us, and our sanctifying work will be the mechanism by which our cup is expanded.
I was recently reading Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond in which he talks about the false self, which I talked about Sunday. Of the false self he says this: “If all you have at the end of your life is your false self, there will not be much to eternalize.” At some point, some of you may be thinking this highly abstract and a ways from the text, but consider the verses I included at the beginning. Paul seems to think there will be a kind of burning away. As in, when heaven, or God’s future purposes, finally comes to us, it will prune that which is incompatible. In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul talk about moving from glory to glory, or an ever-increasing glory, so as to suggest that taking God will be an expansive process. Perhaps, then, our ethics have to do with our eschatology. Said differently, what we do now matters in (prepares us for) eternity. You have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.
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Meet Our Newest Leadership Team Member
Name: Taylor Torregrossa (soon to be Beard 🙊🙊) (Taylor gets married this Saturday)
Reason you are in Waco: I stayed after graduation for a job, then I started to really love Waco, and now my almost-husband is a small business owner here so we’re here to stay for a while!
Bible verse, chapter, or book you like: I really love Philippians 2:1-11.
Best waco restaurant: I’m a big fan of Harvest on 25th and Moroso’s.
How long have you been at UBC: Since 2014!
Something we might not know about you: Tulsa, OK is probably my favorite place in the world.
Junior/Senior Retreat - October 24-26 - $40
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Parishioner of the Week
Craig Nash for helping organize Relay of Kindness.
Homecoming Breakfast 10/13
UBC Kids Teacher Training:
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