Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Biologos - Three Resurrection Themes for Easter (NT Wright, The Resurrection)

Still Surprised by Easter

by Jim Stump
April 20, 2014

I grew up in a “low church” tradition. Our church calendar noted special days for revival services and potlucks, not the names of saints and liturgical seasons. We had choir cantatas and programs for the children at Christmas and Easter, and these were important events within the life of the congregation. But they were not really occasions for systematic and sustained reflection on the meaning of the events that are so central to Christian faith.

During graduate school I attended a church which paid more attention to the seasons of Advent and Lent, and I found my faith enriched by observing them. Even now—though once again I attend a church that doesn’t follow the liturgical year—I usually make an effort to incorporate something distinctive into my personal practice of faith during Advent and Lent to join with those in Christian traditions which recognize these periods corporately.

Whatever its origin, Lent has come to be the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter (excluding Sundays) during which believers more intentionally focus on the death and resurrection of Christ by engaging in distinctive practices—often fasting or other abstention. Since I’m not bound to any particular expression of this by my own tradition, I’ve interpreted it loosely. Some years I’ve given up something for Lent, e.g., ice cream, coffee, television. Abstaining from these caused enough of a disruption to the regular pattern of my life (yes, I’m afraid each of them occupies a relatively prominent place for me) that my thoughts would consistently be attuned with the reality of self-denial. Other years, instead of subtracting something from my normal schedule, I’ve added an exercise or discipline. One year it was the memorization of Psalm 51, David’s penitential song. The daily recitation of it over the period of Lent developed a habit of regretting my own sinfulness and rejoicing in the mercy of God.

This year I decided to read a book for Lent. That might not seem like much of a sacrifice for an academic type who reads books for a living. But I decided that both the length and content of the book qualified its reading as a legitimate Lenten practice. At about 800 pages of detailed and technical argument, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God proved to be a weighty undertaking. Sometimes the 20 pages per day flew past when Wright unpacked the context of an otherwise familiar scriptural passage to reveal the hidden depth and sophistication of the author’s thinking about resurrection. Other days, though, it was work to plow through the massive amounts of historical detail Wright used to substantiate his thesis.

There are several important points about the resurrection I’ve taken away from this reading:

1 - Jesus' Resurrection involved both Body and Spirit

One is the overwhelming case for the reliability of the New Testament accounts—that their authors really believed that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave. Wright’s approach to the documents is not a naïve “the Bible says it, that settles it” kind of method. He is completely aware of, and engages with, the difficulties and puzzles presented by the different [gospel] accounts (e.g., how many and which women went to the tomb? When did Jesus appear to them?). But he shows conclusively (at least to my mind) that modern attempts to claim that the authors themselves were only putting forth accounts of a sort of spiritual  [and not bodily] resurrection are seriously off target. Far and away, the most reasonable explanation for the writings of the early generations of Christians was that they believed that Jesus had died and then came back to life, never more to die again.

2 - Jesus' Resurrection Inaugurated the "End of Times"

Secondly, I was struck by the development in thinking about resurrection in general throughout the Old Testament and into the first century. The Hebrew people of old seemed not to have a hope for personal resurrection. They would “sleep” with their ancestors and hope to see the continuance of the family line (through which God’s covenant with Israel would be kept). When resurrection language was used (think of Ezekiel and the dry bones), it was a metaphor for the national restoration of Israel. Only later did prophets like Daniel start speaking as though the metaphor might also have a literal application to the bodily resurrection of individuals.

By New Testament times, the Pharisees—but not the Sadducees—maintained that righteous individuals would be resurrected at the end of times. The Christian writers continued this literal interpretation of bodily resurrection for individuals. But because Christ’s resurrection seemed to inaugurate the “end of times” (though not yet bringing about its completion), there was a new metaphorical sense of the resurrection: individuals who align themselves with Christ and his kingdom could experience the new resurrection life here-and-now.

3 - Jesus' Resurrection Proclaimed Him as Messiah

Finally, Wright counteracts the argument that stories of Christ’s resurrection were just wish-fulfillment by showing that the story definitely did not turn out as expected. If the first followers of Jesus had understood his death to be the vicarious suffering and substitutionary atonement for our sins, they would have solemnly but gratefully celebrated during the crucifixion (or maybe they would have cheered?). If they had understood that he was going to resurrect from the grave on the third day, they would have been waiting outside the tomb on Sunday morning counting down the minutes. As it was, they scattered. Things looked like they were playing out for Jesus and his followers as they had for other would-be messiahs: after causing a commotion, they were put to death and their revolutions failed (see Gamaliel’s account of Theudas and Judas the Galilean in Acts 5). Even after the resurrection on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas lamented (to the incognito Jesus) that they had all hoped Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel (Luke 24). And of course Saul the Pharisee persecuted the Christian sect for continuing to believe in their failed messiah—there were no dead messiahs; then everything changed at his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus wasn’t dead! What Paul was expecting to happen to everyone at the end of time had already happened to Jesus. Jesus was the first-fruits of the resurrection and the time had come to extend God’s blessing to all people.

We now take for granted an understanding of this Christian story that was largely worked out by Paul and later theologians. Even though the Gospels were composed after Paul’s letters, they were concerned to tell the story itself in all its strangeness as it had been preserved by the first generation of Christians. And what we find in the stories themselves is the shock and wonder and surprise that the resurrection caused. We today are conditioned to read the stories in light of the developed theology (don’t the disciples sometimes seem daft in their inability to read the signs and see what is really going on?). But it took quite some time for the followers of Christ to sort out the Easter events so they could incorporate them into the grand narrative about God and his plans for the world.

I’m not claiming that later theologizing about these events somehow misrepresented them, just that theology tells a different kind of story. It is our attempt to make sense of what happened. Just like scientists who must incorporate new surprising data into theories they thought were perfectly good explanations, the early Christian theologians had to rethink some of the accepted theological explanations (like, the Messiah wasn’t going to establish a political kingdom) in light of the surprising death and resurrection of Jesus.

What This Means for Today for Science and Religion

Does the resurrection still surprise us today? We [Christian scientists] who work constantly at the intersection of science and faith might have a sort of propensity to rationalize away the miraculous. Our critics talk often about the slippery slope we’re on when we point out natural processes that explain some aspects of reality once thought to require special divine intervention. Once we start doing that, won’t we end up denying the resurrection too? Honestly, it would be a lot easier in our culture to say that Jesus was a just great moral teacher who taught us how to live. We might try to treat the resurrection stories as just some anomalous results mistakenly obtained from an experiment that was not controlled well enough. That would put us comfortably on the road to some watered down spirituality where God is kept safely cordoned off from the natural world that science investigates.

But intellectual honesty forces us to look carefully at the data again. When we do, we can’t just dismiss the fact that the first Christians believed in the real resurrection of Jesus strongly enough to give their lives for it. We can’t hide behind modern polemics masquerading as scholarship which claim to give a better more enlightened explanation of the Easter events. We can’t discount the reality of the resurrection life experienced by countless Christians over the centuries.

Still, God does not seem to be in the business of compelling people to believe if they are determined not to. Some will continue to see the data “as” constituting some other kind of story. It takes the eyes of faith to see the data as a confirmation of the Good News. But this is not blind faith that believes despite the evidence. Wright’s book convinces me that we who continue to believe and trust that Jesus is risen indeed, need not commit intellectual suicide in doing so.

And so we too might still be surprised by God’s dramatic entrance into the natural order of things at Easter, by God’s provision for the abundant life now, and by God’s promise to transform the present world at the final resurrection—including our bodies—into an everlasting kingdom of peace, joy, and righteousness for all who recognize Jesus as Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Jim Stump has served as the Content Manager at BioLogos since August 2013. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates the existing content. Jim's PhD is in philosophy from Boston University where he wrote a dissertation on the history and philosophy of science. He is the author (with Chad Meister) of Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010) and the editor (with Alan Padgett) of the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). Jim is a frequent speaker at churches and other groups on topics at the intersection of science and Christianity.

Psalm 51

English Standard Version (ESV)

Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the
prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

51.1 Have mercy on me,[a] O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51:1 Or Be gracious to me
Psalm 51:10 Or steadfast

The Ukrainian Traditions of Lent and Easter

Beautiful Pysanky, Ukrainian Easter Eggs, Are Unbelievably Elaborate

The Huffington Post | by Yasmine Hafiz
Posted: 04/19/2014 4:03 pm EDT Updated: 04/19/2014 6:59 pm EDT

These aren't your average Easter eggs!

Ukrainians celebrate Easter with a traditional art form called psyanky (see Wikipedia article here), which involves drawing intricate patterns on eggs using a stylus and wax, reports NPR.

"When the nation of Ukraine accepted Christianity in 988 A.D., the egg was adopted as a religious symbol of the Easter celebration - both as the egg which was eaten to first break the fast of Lent - and in the form of pysanky, decorated with designs of Christian significance," says the Ukrainian American Society of Texas.

"The egg was compared to the tomb from which Christ arose and the old pagan symbols were given new Christian meanings - the old sun designs now stood for the Son of God, triangles stood for the Holy Trinity, stars showed God’s love toward man, dots represented Mary’s tears, and crosses represented Christ’s suffering for us," they explain.

See them here:

Ukrainian Easter Eggs by Max H on 500px

A Bowl of Pysanky by Helene Kobelnyk on 500px

'EGGStravaganza' by Ron Azevedo on 500px

Painted Easter Eggs / Писанки by Oleksandr Maistrenko on 500px

Artist Mark Humphreys shows off some of his recently created pysanky at his Philadelphia home on Wednesday, March 8, 1995. The symbols used on tradition Ukranian pysanky have survived thousands of years through the advent of christianity, communism, and the westernization of eastern Europe. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Reflecting on the Hollywood Movie "Heaven is for Real"

Allen Fraser/Sony Pictures - Todd (Greg Kinnear) shows Colton
(Connor Corum) a picture of his grandfather in TriStar

What Hollywood gets wrong about heaven

Opinion by Drew Dyck, special to CNN
April 21, 2014

(CNN) - The 4-year-old boy sees angels floating toward him. They start out as stars, then slowly become more visible, wings flapping behind orbs of white light.

As they approach, they sing a melodious song. The boy cocks his head, squints into the sky, and makes a strange request. “Can you sing ‘We Will Rock You’?”

The angels giggle.

So do people in the theater.

The scene is from “Heaven is for Real,” the latest in a string of religious movies soaring at the box office. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film tells the real-life story of Colton Burpo, a 4-year-old boy who awakens from surgery with eye-popping tales of the great beyond. The film took in an estimated $21.5 million in opening on Easter weekend.

Even Colton’s religious parents (his dad, Todd, is a pastor) struggle to accept the celestial encounters their son describes: seeing Jesus and his rainbow-colored horse, meeting his sister who died in utero, and talking to his deceased great-grandfather, “Pop,” who, Colton exclaims, has “huge wings.”

The book and film are part of a larger trend. Depictions of journeys to heaven have never been more numerous or more popular. There’s “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “To Heaven and Back,” “Proof of Heaven,” and “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” just to name a few.

What Does the Bible Tell Us About Angels?

So what should we make of such accounts? And what does their popularity say about us?

Some may be surprised that the Bible contains not one story of a person going to heaven and coming back. In fact Jesus’ own words seem to preclude the possibility: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man” (John 3:13).

Scripture does contain several visions of heaven or encounters with celestial beings, but they’re a far cry from the feel-good fare of the to-heaven-and-back genre.

In Scripture, when mortals catch a premature glimpse of God’s glory, they react in remarkably similar ways. They tremble. They cower. They go mute. The ones who can manage speech express despair (or “woe” to use the King James English) and become convinced they are about to die. Fainters abound.

Take the prophet Daniel, for instance. He could stare down lions, but when the heavens opened before him, he swooned. Ezekiel, too, was overwhelmed by his vision of God. After witnessing Yahweh’s throne chariot fly into the air with the sound of a jet engine, he fell face-first to the ground.

Perhaps the most harrowing vision belongs to Isaiah. He sees the Almighty “high and exalted,” surrounded by angels who use their wings to shield their faces and feet from the glory of God. Faced with this awesome spectacle, Isaiah loses it. “Woe to me!” he cries, “I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Angels in the New Testament

New Testament figures fare no better.

John’s famous revelations of heaven left him lying on the ground “as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). The disciples dropped when they saw Jesus transfigured. Even the intrepid Saul marching to Damascus collapsed before the open heavens – and walked away blind.

How different from our popular depictions. And it isn’t just “Heaven is for Real.” In most movies angels are warm, approachable – teddy bears with wings. God is Morgan Freeman or some other avuncular presence.

Scripture, however, knows nothing of such portrayals. Heavenly encounters are terrifying, leaving even the most stout and spiritual vibrating with fear – or lying facedown, unconscious.

Yes, the Bible teaches that heaven is a place of ultimate comfort, with “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

But it is also a place where the reality of God’s unbridled majesty reigns supreme –and that’s scary.

Can the Story Be True?

Did a 4-year-old boy from Nebraska really visit heaven? I don’t know. My hunch is that the popularity of such stories tells us more about our view of God than the place in which he dwells.

Ultimately I believe we flock to gauzy, feel-good depictions of heaven and tiptoe around the biblical passages mentioned above because we’ve lost sight of God’s holiness.

I fear we’ve sentimentalized heaven and by extension its primary occupant. I worry the modern understanding of God owes more to Colton Burpo than the prophet Isaiah. And I think this one-sided portrayal diminishes our experience of God.

We can’t truly appreciate God’s grace until we glimpse his greatness. We won’t be lifted by his love until we’re humbled by his holiness.

The affection of a cosmic buddy is one thing. But the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who Isaiah says “dwells in unapproachable light,” means something else entirely.

Of course it means nothing if you think it’s all hokum. If for you the material reality is all the reality there is, any talk of God is white noise. But if you’re like me, and you think heaven is for real, well, it makes all the difference in the world.

Drew Dyck is managing editor of Leadership Journal and author of “Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying.” The views expressed in this column belong to Dyck.

Heaven Is For Real Trailer 2014 Movie - Official [HD]

* * * * * * * * * * *

A Theologian’s Reflections on the Movie “Heaven Is for Real”

by Roger E. Olson
April 20, 2014

Either serendipitously or providentially, this coming week my Christian Theology class is studying personal, individual life after death—”heaven” and “hell.” After that they/we will study corporate, cosmic eschatology—the future of creation. So, seeing that this week, before class, the movie version of the best-selling book Heaven Is for Real was being released, I asked my students to see it, if possible, and told them we will devote some class time to discussion of the movie.

I read the book soon after it was published—about four years ago (2011). I don’t remember enough details to compare everything in the movie with the book. I just remember that it’s the purportedly true story of a four year old boy, son of a Wesleyan pastor in Nebraska, who visited heaven while undergoing surgery. According to the boy, he saw Jesus, heard and saw angels, and met his great-grandfather (who died before he was born) and his sister whom he didn’t even know ever existed (because she died in the womb two months before she was to be born and his parents never mentioned her to him).

Naturally, as an evangelical Christian, I’m inclined to believe in some “near death” experiences (which are sometimes actual death experiences but in Colton Burpo’s [the boy's] case he did not actually die). Others I’m not so sure about. I probably was - and am inclined to - take this one more seriously just because the boy seems not to have been coached (unless his parents are simply lying) and his parents are Wesleyan Church pastors. I like the Wesleyan Church. (If I wasn’t a Baptist and lived near a Wesleyan Church I’d probably attend it. Or if there wasn’t a “good” Baptist church I’d probably attend the Wesleyan Church. But I digress.)

First let me say I went to the movie with a healthy mood of combined openness and skepticism. I rarely see evangelical Christianity portrayed in movies fairly. Usually, everything is going along okay until, suddenly, the movie makers put a huge crucifix on the church wall behind the pulpit—or some other gross anomaly. Or they have the allegedly evangelical Protestant congregation singing “Ave Maria” or something. It’s a pet peeve of mine. But I tend also to be skeptical, not unwilling to believe, of personal experiences of God and Jesus. So many I’ve encountered are grossly unbiblical, silly, ridiculous—by any standard.

Second, I will say the movie was not at all bad. I was pleasantly surprised. For the most part, evangelical Christianity was treated sympathetically or at least realistically. (I actually convinced myself that the Hollywood movie makers would not allow the church to be “Wesleyan” but would make it generically Protestant. I was pleasantly surprised to see the sign outside the church say “Wesleyan.” Maybe some people will actually go home and look that up and read about it!) I found the pastor’s (Todd Burpo played by Greg Kinnear) skepticism about his son’s experience a little surprising; I would think your typical Wesleyan pastor would be more open than that. Same with the church leaders. And the culminating sermon left something to be desired; it was a little vague and could be interpreted as saying it doesn’t matter whether heaven is a literal place or not.

I was glad the movie didn’t try to depict God the Father or heaven in too much vivid detail or for very long. Even Jesus was depicted with a soft focus lens. At the end of the movie, of course, a girl’s painting of Jesus is declared to be just what Jesus looks like. That’s a bit startling as he has green-blue eyes! Jesus was and is Jewish and not many Jews of Palestine in the first century would have green-blue eyes.

My wife says I’m overly nit-picky. I realize that. But that’s the side effect of being a theologian and really caring about theology.

So here comes my main critique of the book and movie. I believe in the “intermediate state”—the technical theological term for conscious life after death before resurrection. But I fear the book and movie will reinforce the popular idea that the intermediate state is actually the fullness of heaven (and therefore not an intermediate state!). It isn’t. In fact, we are told very little about it in Scripture. Jesus called it (for the saved) “Paradise.” Paul referred to it as the “third heaven.” But Jesus told his disciples he would go away and prepare a place for them, then return and take them there—to his “Father’s house” with many rooms. So the fullness of heaven is after Christ returns. The “blessed hope” of believers in Christ has always been not the intermediate state, a bodiless existence of being with Christ, but the resurrection [with new bodies] and the new heaven and new earth—liberated from bondage to decay (Romans 8).

The book and movie force us to think about this issue. Do we have to choose between the Bible’s revelation of personal eschatology (intermediate state then resurrection and heaven) and personal experiences of life after death?

As fascinating, inspiring and emotionally titillating as Colton Burpo’s experience was, we must not allow it or any other such testimony to become the basis of Christian belief. Our belief is based on Christ and his resurrection and on the Scriptural witness to him and to God’s plan for us. As Reinhold Niebuhr said, “We should not want to know too much about the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.” The key is “too much.” We can only “know” (believe) what Scripture says about life after death before the resurrection and that’s not much.

Peter Enns - Paul's Letter from Rome to the Christian Churches

This 4th century New Testament papyrus contains the first seven verses of Paul's Letter to the Romans.
Beneath the scripture a different author has scribbled in random 
phrases. It has been suggested that this

papyrus may have been a writing exercise. 
New research has identified the owner of this document - a

man named Aurelius Leonides - who was a flax merchant from Eqypt. (article link here)

a long lost letter back to Paul from the Jewish Christians at Rome (that I totally made up)

by Peter Enns
April 21, 2014

If I could go back in time, I’d love to be a fly on the wall to hear how the Jewish believers in the church at Rome heard Paul’s words in his letter to them. (Actually, if I really could go back in time I’d first make a pit stop along the way so I could win the Power Ball Jackpot, but I digress.)

Here we have Paul writing a letter to a church he had neither founded nor even visited and that had a significant Jewish population. And he says things like the following:

  • Gentiles (a.k.a. Greeks) may be sinners, but Jews are no better off in God’s eyes, since they are the ones who have God’s gift of Torah but don’t do what it says.
  • Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat as far as God is concerned because both are enslaved to the power of sin, both equally fall short of God’s glory, and both equally need Jesus, not Torah, to defeat that power.
  • This decentering of Torah to allow Gentiles to become equal partners with Jews in Israel’s story, though appearing to be an unexpected move, has actually been God’s plan all along, beginning with Abraham.
  • Neither circumcision nor maintaining food laws, both of which are commandments to Israel, remain necessary for God’s people–either Jews or Gentiles–in view of Christ’s death and resurrection.
  • Those whose conscience tells them that they need to maintain food laws may continue to do so, but rather than being praised as obeying Scripture, these believers are “weak” in their faith as opposed to those who are “strong,” i.e., those who understand that no foods are unclean.
  • Neither the weak nor the strong are to judge each other, for love and unity among the people of God take priority over whether Israel’s ancient practices continue to be maintained.

- Paul the Apostle


[In response,] I hope one day we find a long lost letter written back to Paul by these Jewish believers. It might go something like this:

Dear Paul,

We read your letter with great interest, and it sparked no little amount of commotion among your fellow Jews.

Have you lost your mind?

We believe in Jesus as you do, and like you we are still scratching our heads a bit about why our Messiah came in humility and weakness, even dying a criminal’s death, and then was raised. You’ve actually helped us quite a bit on those things, especially early on in your letter, and we much appreciate it.

But Paul, you’re Jewish. You’re one of us. Do you really think that the God of our fathers would simply reverse course and expect us to figure out that Jesus the Galilean brought an end to our ancient traditions–especially given how (according to the stories we heard) Jesus himself never said any of what you’re saying here?

We’ve never met though your reputation precedes you. We believe that you are an apostle, but do you really think we should just take your word for it that all that we’ve known is now, at best, an add-on and at worst a hindrance to true faith in the God of our fathers?

And we appreciate how fervently and creatively you cite scripture to support your point, but don’t you think you took your creative readings of scripture a bit too far? Was obedience to Torah really never central to the Lord’s overall plan? We’ve read our scripture cover to cover many times and we can’t find where God even hints at that idea.

Your reading of the story of our father Abraham to marginalize Torah-keeping is way over the top, and your handling of the Psalms and the Prophets to show how the Lord has always “elected” Gentiles is…well…you might as well say that there is really no advantage at all to being a Jew–like we’re one big mistake.

You try to get out of that implication a couple of times in your letter. You sense the dilemma, but frankly you don’t do a very good job of talking your way out of it.

And then toward the end of your letter, when you talk about clean and unclean foods (which seems to be the real point of your letter), you call “weak” those who have the courage and faithfulness amid our pagan culture to maintain God’s holy laws, given by him to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and you call others “strong” for not doing so.

So, what’s up with that?

Paul, we cannot stress this enough: you can’t just pick and choose what parts of scripture you think are worth holding on to.

After all, if everyone did that, there’d be chaos. And where does it end, Paul? Once you start denying one part of scripture, there is no logical reason not to deny anything else. And then what happens to the authority of scripture?

You can’t do this sort of thing with God’s word and you can’t claim that God is telling you to deny what God had told us from ancient days up to know.

We respect you as our brother, Paul, but when you finally pay us a visit, which we do hope will happen in the not-too-distant future, we would like to sit down with you and hear from you more clearly your reasoning process in all of this–exactly how Jesus’s death and resurrection, which we firmly believe, leads you to draw the conclusion that God is turning his back on the very traditions he commanded.

So, those are our main concerns. If in the meantime you decide to write back, could you please work on writing shorter sentences, and maybe not breaking off in mid-sentence to follow another train of thought? That would help us a lot.

We would also appreciate it you used certain key words a bit more consistently–like faith, righteousness, and law. We see some ambiguity here and it’s already caused us no end of debate.

Most sincerely,

Your brothers and sisters in the faith,

fellow children of our father Abraham, according to the flesh

- Your brothers and sisters in Christ