I Want to Go to Heaven, but I’m Not Going to Stay There

Last night I finished N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. When I was writing the blog entry Joe Klein, Rick Warren, and Heaven I came across a review of the book and it piqued my curiosity. Based on my reading of Wright, I realised that I had fallen into the same misconception as Joe Klein.

Both Klein and I were writing from the presumption that dying and going to heaven (or not) is for eternity. It’s not that the New Testament teaches this, but only that it has become presumed in much of Western Christianity, from which I built my theology and Klein has used as his straw man. Wright demonstrates that the New Testament is much more concerned with the Resurrection. He emphasises the centrality of Jesus’ Resurrection (having long been one of the most vocal scholars  in the battle against liberalism and the mythologising of Gospel)  and clarifies how death is simply the way station on the on the road to our own resurrections.

As an Orthodox Christian, I don’t entirely agree with Wright’s view of the saints in heaven, but it is closer than most Protestant perspectives. He is mostly concerned with distinguishing his view from the Roman Church. At times he refers to ideas that have been preserved in Orthodoxy and lost in the West.

In the last part of the book, Wright explains how he sees this theology of the Resurrection as it affects the role of the Church today. While Wright eschews the liberalism of the Social Gospel, as an American Christian, I have not had the same view as Wright regarding the role of the State, particularly in the welfare of the individual or in the intervention with business or the free market in effecting social justice. Unlike some Amazon (and other online retailer) reviewers, I don’t think that this makes Wright a neo-Marxist or neo-socialist. Rather, I think those reviews substantiate Wright’s view that conservative Christians in the US have tied conservative theology and conservative economics so closely together that to challenge any assumption of the latter is to lose any credentials as a proponent of the former.

I think it is good that Bishop of Durham and highest ranking evangelical in the Church of England has challenged some of the presumptions of evangelical American Christianity. Most Americans get very defensive about any challenge to anything American, especially by Europeans. This may be because most European challenges to most things American are based in nonsense rather than good theology. Tom Wright is not talking nonsense. This is not wishy-washy Emerging Church neo-liberal evangelicalism.

This is a book which focuses first on personal and cosmic eschatology. It is not a pop-theology revelation of The Revelation. It is a look at what the New Testament and the early Church viewed as the hope for the Christian, the essence of the Gospel. Wright’s view is that if we are hoping for life after death we are too short-sighted. We have to re-focus on life after life after death and this will change the way we look at ourselves and our place in the world.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Every chapter in it is almost worth the entire price. It is so good that I have ordered copies of it for a couple of friends. Even though I haven’t ordered a copy for you, you need to go out and get it anyway.

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Joe Klein, Rick Warren, and Heaven

Time magazine political columnist Joe Klein doesn’t like Rick Warren. Why? Because Rick Warren thinks he’s going to hell.

Warren didn’t pick out Klein specifically. No, he just had the audacity to say that Jews are going to hell. He wasn’t preaching a sermon entitled, “All Jews are going to hell” or writing a book called “The Hell Driven Jewish Life”. Someone just asked him point-blank whether Jews are going to hell and he gave an honest answer. It’s not like he thinks Jews are especially going to hell. He just thinks that the only way to heaven is through Jesus.

Klein even gets silly, assuming that also sort of people fit into this category:

Indeed, if Jews–and all other non born-again Christians–homosexuals, feminists, and anyone who has either had an abortion, performed an abortion or reluctantly agrees that it’s none of our business who has abortions…if all those people are going to hell, then heaven’s got to be about as interesting as linoleum.

In fact, neither Rick Warren nor most evangelicals say homosexuals, feminists, or the variety of people Klein characterises in relationship to abortion, are going to hell. But what Klein wants to do is take the focus off of Jesus. That’s the real issue.

Regardless of sexuality, or sexual politics, no one gets in except through Jesus. It’s so basic to the Gospel that all these peripheral issues aren’t even mentioned by Jesus. It’s that whole the way, the truth, the life thing.

Even Jews are welcome, Joe. Jesus first disciples were Jews. Jesus Himself was a Jew. It’s just Jewishness itself is meaningless when it comes to getting into heaven, even if it is believing in that One Jew that makes the difference.

It is also interesting that Klein thinks heaven will need homosexuals, feminists, and people who have had, performed, or politically approved of abortions to avoid being boring. It seems Klein thinks heaven is about entertainment – some sort of extension of Hollywood. I suppose I can see where with that presupposition, and the prominence of homosexuals and feminist in the entertainment industry, he doesn’t see how the Big Heavenly Show can keep everyone’s attention for eternity.

There will be a Big Heavenly Show, with one Big (Bright Morning) Star. We’ve even see previews, and frankly I don’t think God cares that Klein would not be impressed. He would probably find it as interesting as linoleum:

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

“ Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“ Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Unmixed Religion and Politics

I was talking to an evangelical Christian woman yesterday and mentioned that I had watched the Vice Presidential debate in the wee hours of Friday morning. She asked who I was supporting in the election. I told her I wanted to vote for Palin and would take McCain since he was part of the ticket.

I could tell from the look on her face that she wasn’t impressed. She asked if I didn’t like Obama. I said that his only policy view of any substance was his support for killing as many babies as possible by removing any federal restrictions on abortion funding. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell she wasn’t impressed.

What a different culture this is. If she had been an American with the same evangelical theology, I would have been shocked that not only was she not supporting the Republican ticket, but that she wasn’t pro-life. It reminded me of the first time I visited the UK and met an evangelical who was a socialist. I had never imagined the possiblity that a person could be both.

Just like Brits are surprised that Americans can mix religion and politics, as an American I still find it surprising that so many Brits can’t. This is a very compartmentalised society. That being said, the compartment containing religion is usually very small, if not being loaned out to some other interest. There seems to be very little awareness that beliefs underpin worldviews which inform actions.

McCain and Rick Warren

I saw some of John McCain’s interview with Rick Warren last night. I have to say that I was quite impressed.

I know that he supports embryonic stem cell research, and I’m not sure how he can reconcile that with his unhesitating view that the right to human rights begins at conception. But given that Obama is entirely in support of a woman’s right to choose murder, I have to go with McCain.

Otherwise I thought he answered well. Even though I’ve only seen clips of Obama’s performance, all the news reports indicated that McCain gave much more direct answers throughout.

The only question is whether McCain’s forthright approach and his answers on other issues will resonate with enough evangelical voters to motivate them to vote.

Warren has not made an endorsement. It’s not that I think a pastor (regardless of how famous) should make an endorsement. Rather it is that it isn’t obvious that he’s supporting McCain. Seems like a no-brainer.

Huck Not Out

While he is clearly trailing, and I don’t think he will get the nomination – especially as the media have already nominated McCain – Huckabee showed last night that he’s not Hucka-been just yet. Sadly I have to agree with the pundits that he is working himself into position for the VP nod. But the good news is McCain will be the oldest President if elected. That gives Mike a shot at the top spot before ’12 or ’16.

I was looking at the exit poll data from Missouri – always noted as a bellweather state. Huckabee was favourite candidate of Protestants generally. He was the overwhelming favourite amongst small city and rural voters (38% as opposed to 26% for McCain). He was by far the favourite amongst the “very conservative” (41% to 17%). He was the favourite of voters under 30 (35% to 27%). Not surprisingly, he was the choice of those absolutely opposed to abortion (40% to 29%). He was the choice for those voters who said what mattered most was for a candidate to share their values (41% to 21%). Amongst those who called themselves “born again”, Huckabee doubled McCain’s vote (44% to 22%). In all these categories, Romney falls somewhere in the middle.

If McCain wants to motivate and mobilise the vote, he needs Huckabee. This is especially true if Obama gets the Democratic nomination. Even though his voting record is more liberal, Obama hasn’t built up the negative feeling that Hillary has.

As I noted in a comments to the previous post, I stopped watching BBC coverage after while and switched to SkyNews. After the insightful comments of comments of Christopher Hitchens, the Beeb didn’t have much time for Huck. They didn’t even carry his speech live. They were much too enamored with Clinton and Obama. To be fair to Hitchens (even if he doesn’t feel obligated to be fair), he did note that for all the talk of Obama being the first black president, he is only half-black and that half wasn’t descended from forced migration to the US (as he refers to the Peculiar Institution). Thus he shares nothing more than skin tone with the vast majority of African-Americans.

The Matter of Belief

The results of the latest Harris Poll on The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans has been released. Bearing in mind the margins of error (a term which Harris doesn’t like), belief is up generally over 2005. This includes belief in the Deity of Jesus (72%), the Virgin Birth (60%), the Resurrection (70%), miracles (79%), angels (74%), heaven (75%) and hell (62%).

The British press were quick to express their incredulity that more Americans believe in the Devil (62%) than believe in Darwinism (42%). I don’t know why they seem so surprised. Every poll that has ever been taken shows the same thing. But the blinders of materialism are fixed firmly to the British mind. Seeing is believing. If God hasn’t conformed to a personal list of criteria, then He can’t possibly exist. A recent MORI polls indicated that 40% of British teenagers do not believe in God at all. From my own experience, I think the number is higher.

Reuters noted the Harris Poll “is the latest survey to highlight America’s deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.” In other words, enlightened Europeans know better. Americans are backward.

But looking at the Harris poll itself, there were a few surprises for me. I did not realise that Christians are either Catholic, Protestant, or Born-Again. These are the Harris categories of respondents. I’m guessing the latter two categories mean liberal Protestants and evangelical Protestants.

It would appear that 97% of evangelicals believe in God. This is very interesting, because I’ve never met a person who considers themselves “born-again” who doesn’t believe in God. How does that work exactly? Only 96% believe that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Once again, I’m not sure what to make of the other 4%. This drops to 89% of evangelicals who believe in the Virgin Birth.

There was also some indication of the ignorance of some American Christians about their own faith. Only 88% of evangelicals thought that all or most of the Old Testament is the Word of God. However, only 33% thought the Torah is the Word of God, even though the Jewish Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament. At the same time, 9% thought most or all of the Qur’an (or “Koran” as spelled by Harris) is the Word of God.  This is a higher percentage than amongst Catholics and liberal Protestants.