Easter, Bodily Resurrection and the Immortality of the Soul

One really common belief across religions is that existing comes with an inalienable right to continue to exist in perpetuity (forever). That is called the immortality of the soul. That view didn’t come from Judaism or Christianity but from the Greeks. Socrates and Plato both influenced this idea and it has had a heavy influence in Christian circles even still today. It is popular but is it scriptural that all souls are guaranteed eternal existence? Matthew 10:28 says it is entirely possible for God to destroy the soul. Revelation 20:14-15 call hell the “second death”. If these people have already died and are being judged and condemned to hell to die a second time and death is the cessation of life, it is entirely possible that they are consumed and gone forever (some call that the annihilation view of hell). But it only makes sense that your right to an eternal soul does not trump God’s sovereignty or ability to destroy your soul if He so wills it. Instead, many have opted for Plato even where it contradicts scripture.

The Greeks believed there was a body/soul dichotomy. The body was temporary and evil. The soul was eternal and good. So when you die, in some sense, you got an upgrade because your body was no more…decayed and never to be useful again. There was no interest in this body after death because when you die, the Greeks thought, the very best part of you lived on. Many Christians have adopted that idea and it has resulted in the belief that heaven is a place of disembodied souls like in the old hymn “Home of the Soul”,

“If for the prize we have striven,
After our labors are o’er,
Rest to our souls will be given,
On the eternal shore.”

And then, speaking of heaven in the Chorus,

“Home of the soul, beautiful home,
There we shall rest, never to roam;
Free from all care, happy and bright,
Jesus is there, He is the light!
Oft in the storm, lonely are we,
Sighing for home, longing for thee,
Beautiful home of the ransomed,
beside the crystal sea.”

Resurrection
In this view, heaven is a place of disembodied souls that live eternally with God. But is that biblical or is that just pagan Greek philosophy intermingled with Christian doctrine? This view fails to capture what the New Testament teaches us about the resurrection. What happens to the soul after we die? The Greeks believed the soul lived on in the afterlife as a shade/shadow of your former self. Jews and Christians believe in a general resurrection at the end of time and in the meantime your soul was at rest (there is disagreement on what the intermediate state consists of).

So here is the question – Jews and Christians believe in a general resurrection…the question is, “What is raised?” If you believe heaven is a place where disembodied souls live with God forever then you must insist that souls are being raised and that when 1 Thessalonians 5 says “The dead in Christ will rise” that souls are rising to meet Christ. Rising from what? Rising from the ground? The souls must have left their resting place, returned to the ground (where they were buried??? and then rise up from there)? That certainly seems strange. What is more, if you think souls are eternal AND heaven is about disembodied souls then why does scripture talk about resurrection giving us new life? You are already as alive as you would be, under that theory, as a disembodied soul. And, what does it mean for Christ to conquer death if there is no sign in our lives of that ever being the case? If our bodies suffer eternal decay, that certainly doesn’t seem like much of a victory over death (1 Cor 15) to me.

But if our bodies are raised the whole thing makes sense…death is not the victor, decay doesn’t have the final say and the effects of sin are reversed! The scriptures speak with continuity and clarity on this. Jesus was our forerunner. Jesus was raised in the body. He ascended to heaven bodily. Do you think he ascended bodily but checked his body at the door of heaven or do you think he will be the only guy in the room with a body in heaven? Or is it possible (and scriptural) that our bodies will be raised just like His? That is what the ancient Jews believed, what the New Testament teaches and what the early Christians believed as well. But somewhere along the line we let ancient Greek philosophy cloud our view of all of this, even when it contradicts scripture.

Frank Viola’s Kind Words Toward the Church of Christ And Restoration Movement Heritage

Frank Viola recently spoke at the NCY Ministers Conference. All of you guys from a Church of Christ/Restoration Movement background should hear his presentation, especially the introduction. I appreciate his kind words regarding the contribution churches of Christ have made to Christianity (first 10 minutes or so of the talk). I also appreciate Frank’s willingness to address and frame issues in loving and helpful ways. You can listen to the presentation or download it here

For God So Loved the World vs Love Not the World

If you aren’t as familiar with Frank’s books, he has some excellent ones including Jesus: A Theography, The Jesus Manifesto, & Reimagining Church. I love how Christ-focused Frank is. Check out more of his books here.

Two Questions that Are Essential For Discipleship

Last year we created an evangelistic study of Mark called Jesus 101. The study is designed to be used with seekers so that they can discover who Jesus is by studying Mark. Mark is the perfect book for that because it is a little bit of a mystery until chapter 8. At that point in Mark and in the study things start to crystallize about exactly who Jesus is. Before you can become a disciple you have to answer the question “Who is Jesus?”. What is more, this is exactly what Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8:27-30…first Jesus asked who do people say he is and followed that up with “who do you say I am?”. We are working on a followup study on discipleship and its focus is going to be the second most important question that has to come after the first, “Who, then, am I?” In order to be a disciple you first have to figure out who Jesus is and then figure out, based on all of that, who you are. That is all very simple but for some reason it has taken a while for that to crystallize in my mind.

A Few Things I Don’t Get About Calvinists

Be forewarned, the following post contains broad generalizations based on what could be an unrepresentative sampling of Calvinist authors.

I have been reading from various Calvinist authors recently and one of the things I have noticed time and time again is that they don’t talk about “Christianity.” They talk about “Calvinism”. Where most of us would talk about what Christianity means or what salvation means in Christianity, they talk about solely in terms of Calvinism. What is more, and I know this is not true of all Calvinists, when they talk about Augustine, Calvin, Kuyper, Shedd, and others it is like they are talking about the apostles and when they talk about the written works of those men it is like they are talking about scripture. Another thing I have noticed is, in addition to the writings of those men, they tend to talk about the creeds and confessions on the same level of scripture (Westminster Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, etc). I don’t know if this is true across the board but it is what I have been noticing lately. This happens to such a degree that if you flip through these books you see more references to Calvinist writers and thinkers and the confessions, creeds and catechisms than scripture. Is it just me? Is it just the guys I have been reading…or have any of you found this to be generally true as well?

Last, I don’t get why John Calvin’s hat didn’t get passed along quite as well as his theology. To be fair, there are things I don’t get about Arminianists as well!

Why Mormonism is Not Christianity – Ben Witherington

Have a read – Why Mormonism is Not Christianity

It is a really good read but if you don’t have the time the thumbnail sketch. It all boils down to trinity of “ologies”: theology, Christology, and soteriology. According to Dr. Witherington, the differences are significant enough to question whether we would consider them Christians as defined by the New Testament.

John Piper on What One Must Believe to Be Saved

Have a look at this video of John Piper telling what he believes one must believe to be saved. To read a transcript click here.

He includes the following:

  • Believe and confess his Lordship and his resurrection
  • Recognition that we sin
  • That God exists and that he created a world where sin is a possibility
  • That God has expectations for mankind – to trust, love and live for him
  • That we fail in those three things
  • God is holy and we are not
  • God is judge
  • Deity of Jesus
  • Jesus lived a perfect life
  • Substitutionary atonement, basically – he died in my place
  • Jesus’ resurrection
  • We receive salvation from Jesus Christ’s work on our behalf

A few things I would like to point out. The first is where is baptism? When the Ethiopian asked what he needed to do to be saved Philip didn’t give this list of core beliefs he must first understand. Undoubtedly he understood many of these things. All of these things? We don’t know. But he knew enough to realize he needed God and that what he needed to do in response was to be baptized. That is biblical but it didn’t make the list. Before you say this is a list of beliefs so no wonder something we do isn’t on there. He did mention the need for faith and for confession. To be fair to Piper, I don’t know what his view is on baptism but I suspect if he had much of a view of it being a part of what God expects of us he would have included it here.

Second, notice at the end he says God causes people to believe by the work of the Holy Spirit. I would say God certainly plays a role in our faith by revealing himself to us through the Word and in some way the Spirit plays a role in our faith. But to say God causes our faith is missing out on our responsibility to believe and have faith…two things he pointed out in his answer to the original question.

Last, his list is very logical and if you really examine the core truths of the Gospel you understand why he logically pulled these points together. At the same time he is leaving out some very plain biblical teaching that doesn’t take any logic to expand upon or to be elaborated upon. Baptism really is important not just because I attend a Church of Christ and have heard that my whole life but because God clearly teaches us that in scripture. So my list would include,

“Part of God’s expected response would include repentance (not included above), belief/faith, confession, and to submit to his will by being baptized for the forgiveness of my sins.”

Wouldn’t it just make sense those things would come ahead of understanding the nature of substitutionary atonement?

Did Jesus Break the Sabbath? John 5:18

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

-John 5:16-18

In a recent post called “The Naughty Lists” a discussion developed about whether or not Jesus broke the Sabbath based on John 5:18. My understanding of this verse is that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath traditions (considered on level with the law itself by the Pharisees) and not actually breaking the Law of Moses (the 4th commandment).

What Jesus is doing in this passage is using the Sabbath to teach them something about himself. You cannot separate these verses from the broader theology of John and what John is setting out to do. Jesus is not teaching us about the Sabbath, as we typically hear on these stories of Sabbath healings. Jesus is teaching us something about himself. I can say that with confidence because it is all over this story. Jesus makes the point that God works on the Sabbath (and no one is calling God a law breaker – 5:17), so when Jesus works on the Sabbath he is not breaking the Law of Moses because He and God are the same. So Jesus is not a Law breaker. Jesus point is not about the Sabbath. Jesus is using the Sabbath as an opportunity to teach them something about his identity. We are not called to have faith in the Sabbath but faith in Christ. We often miss the forest for the trees on this one and get all caught up on the Sabbath rather than on the Lord of the Sabbath. Often this point is entirely missed because we are unaware or unconcerned with the broader theology of the Gospel of John that this fits so well into.

Last, I wanted to point out a really good article online that is helpful and brief on this topic that I found really helpful. I went through a dozen commentaries trying to find anything helpful on this phrase but came up empty. So if this interests you, have a read – Is Jesus Breaking the Sabbath?

Jesus Manifesto – Introduction

I just got a copy of Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola’s newest book, “The Jesus Manifesto” and wanted to share a few thoughts along the way. I really appreciate the way they frame the discussion as not a way to move more to the right or the left but a way to move forward (xv). They immediately frame the problem that this book is going to address, a Christ-less Christianity. “Something is wrong when it’s easier for some Christians to think of the world without Christ than the world without Bach or the Beatles or Bono.” (xviii). They point out that it may be true that the world likes Jesus but not the church while the church likes the church often more than they like Jesus. That one stung!

The thing I am struck by first with this book is how focused it is. They are laser-beam focused on giving a fresh, biblical view of Jesus Christ and how living in connection with him should reorient our lives in everything. I am appreciative that they aren’t trying to draw us to themselves but to Christ. This book isn’t some new fad spirituality but a real appeal to scripture.

When I read their claim that this book would present Jesus with a “razor-sharp” and  “cut-glass clarity” I started thumbing through its pages for scripture references. I didn’t see very many of the stock (John 3:16)’s in the text. So I flipped to the end notes. There were nearly 500 scripture references in there for a 179 page book! This is a book you will read and absolutely need to have your Bible open while you work through it. Sad to sad many Christian books don’t require that of the reader.

I will be writing more about this book this week. If you want to read more right now, have a look at the links at the bottom of this post over at Frank Viola’s blog.