OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

Life After Death

Okay, I’ve lurked for a bit and now I am going to throw something open. What does the emerging church think about the possiblity of life after death? All "scientific" evidence appears to point to the simple fact that when we are dead we are dead and that is it. However, the existence of an afterlife has been a central tenet of Christian thinking forever.

I guess my questions for discussion are these:

  • Is there an afterlife?
  • How is an afterlife concieved if it does exist?
  • What do we think of heaven and hell and by extention judgement?
  • If the afterlife exists, what is the point of this life?
  • If you are going for a universalist or psuedo universalist interuptation (ie we all or most of us get into heaven) then what is the point of this life? Why doesn’t God just take us straight there….
  • If there isn’t what does this mean to Christianity?
  • Does the lack of an after-life actually make Christianity purer - ie no reward makes action to do good
I hope this will be an extremely productive discussion. It’s such an important issue to consider.
No votes yet


Re: Life After Death

Dear Newdawnfades,

I am not sure to which ‘scientific’ research you are referring to when you say that science suggests that there is no afterlife. I always get suspicious when people try to either prove, or disprove the existence of God or things related to that in some sort of scientific way. I think this is a very modern (not to say outdated) approach. Postmodernism understands more and more the fact that there are truths in this world that cannot just be grasped by science.  It goes without saying that I think christians that try to ‘prove’ the existence of God in modern scientific ways are ‘outdated’ also.

Re: Life After Death

I think that many Christians exist in a problematic relationship with postmodernism. They seem to accept it in some cases, but exclude the full clout of it otherwise. Some of this is because it is being used as a buzzword and not fully understood.

Post modernism as defined by Lyotard is suspicion towards metanarratives, that is totalising stories that rank the remainder of reality. This includes all the narratives of socialism, liberalism, the enlightenment/scientism and indeed, Christianity and all other religions. For others it means an essentially anti-foundationalist and anti-essentialist account of the world. That is, because of semiotics and the nature of language, the world is utterly liquid, we cannot pin down concepts well enough, particularly in the absence of governing narratives which define truth and falsehood. Unfortunately, religion in general and Christianity in particular, rests on a series of essentialist and foundationalist assumptions about the world: the existence of God, the divinity of Christ etc etc. These can most probably be never really compatible with a postmodern worldview. Additionally postmodern suspicions towards the exclusion of The Other (in Christianity’s view clearly Atheism) might not allow for it to be postmodern.

Forgive me for going off topic a bit, but postmodernism and religion is my specialism.

(personal note: I do see postmodernism as providing certain opportunities of the church, often in deconstructing others superious narratives to show them just as unfounded as the Christian one is in their view. Yet sometimes it seems like Christians aren’t postmodern enough to really embrace it.)

Re: Life After Death

I am not sure I agree that Christianity depends upon some foundationalist or essentialist assumptions.  What makes assumptions foundationalist is the belief that there is a base-level indubitablity - a level at which claims are assumed to be undeniable by "any reasonable person."

Christianity need not rely on any such claims.  We ought, rather, rely on claims that we make to which our lives together bear witness and provide "proof."

Steve Heyduck 

Pastor, First United Methodist Church of McGregor, Texas 

Re: Life After Death

It’s a good question. Thanks for posting it. There are likely to be several different lines of response to this in the emerging church. I’ll summarize my own views, but it will be interesting to hear what others think.

I think that the Bible essentially regards death as an end to personal existence: death is death, the destruction of the body, the returning of the essence of life to the God who gave it in the first place. Certainly the Old Testament view is that the place of the dead (Sheol) is barely distinguishable from non-existence. What mattters is the continuation of the group - the family, tribe or nation. In that respect, I suppose you could say that this accords rather well with the modern materialist position.

The belief in personal resurrection became important in the intertestamental period in particular when Jews faced death because of their loyalty to the God of Israel. The Maccabean martyrs are the leading example, but Daniel 12:2-3 should probably also be understood against this background.

I think we have something rather similar to this in the New Testament. Jesus suffers at the hands of the enemies of YHWH and is raised in vindication, exalted to the right hand of the Father as Lord above every human authority. Those who follow on this path out of loyalty to the God of Israel revealed in Jesus have the same hope of vindication, the prospect of being raised and reigning with Christ during the age to come. I think that this, broadly speaking, is where we get our popular notion of going to heaven when we die from, but I believe it may be a mistake to apply the idea so widely.

So I do not personally expect to ‘go to heaven when I die’. However, it seems that alongside belief in the personal resurrection of those who suffer out of loyalty to the God of Israel, there has also emerged - or become clarified - a belief in the resurrection of all the dead, followed by a final judgment, as part of the renewal of creation. It is the dead who are raised, not the relative few who are with God because they suffered and were killed for the sake of Christ. We die and stay dead until we are raised from the dead. I appreciate paulchen’s comments about postmodern attitudes towards science, but it still seems to me helpful to shift the emphasis away from the individualistic belief in going to heaven when we die to the much broader theme of the recreation of heaven and earth.

Have a look at ‘Bishop abolishes heaven and the soul’. 

Re: Life After Death

I do not believe that God would create beings that have the ability to understand their own mortality but not provide a means of allowing them to live forever.

That god would be an abomination.

I believe the God of the bible has shown that if we trust in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins then we will live forever - if that was not the case then christians are the most pitiful of people (as Paul says).

Re: Life After Death

John, Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is not that Christians must ‘live forever’ but that if Christ has not been raised, their faith is in vain, their trust in God is pointless, they are still in their sins and, therefore, subject to judgment (1 Cor. 15:17).

My view is that the implicit context for this argument is an eschatological narrative about the suffering and vindication of the ‘Son of man’ - the Christ and those in him. But even if we take this in more general terms, I think we have to say that the final prospect is not that believers go to heaven when they die, but that there will be a new creation, free of suffering, wickedness and death, into which God has descended to take up his dwelling in the midst of renewed humanity. As John conceives of it, the renewal of creation will be preceded by a judgment of the dead - and those whose names are found in the book of life will presumably be part of that new creation (Rev. 20:11-21:4). So it’s fine to talk about life beyond death, but I think that biblically the conceptual framework for this is the remaking of creation not the departure of individual souls to be with God when they die.

Re: Life After Death

The article - ‘Bishop abolishes heaven and the soul’ - has been abolished! (Divine intervention maybe?)

The NT parallels with OT resurrection theology are to be found mainly in Revelation 20 - which is a somewhat debatable ground for a developed theology of resurrection.

In Luke 23:43, Jesus says to the dying thief "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Of course, he could have meant "in a 1000 years", if with God a day is like a 1000 years. I tend to believe that he meant at the same time as Jesus - though Jesus himself, presumably, delayed entrance to heaven for 24 hours or so.

My belief is, like Andrew, that when we die, we die. But I also believe that simultaneous with death, those who die believing in Jesus are given immediate conscious experience of his presence. I don’t think there is a time-lapse experience, or ‘soul-sleep’ as an intermediate state between death and resurrection.  I take Luke 23:43 to mean this. ‘Falling asleep’ in 1 Corinthians 15 is a euphemism for death, not a theology of delay.

Since I seem to be taking a lot of funerals at the moment, these issues have some pastoral importance to the concerns of relatives and those close to the deceased. In the light of passages like those above, I don’t take the view that when we view the dead body, or contemplate the coffin with the body inside, or think about the departed loved one, we are thinking about extinction - albeit temporary.

Christ’s own resurrection also suggests to me that there are resurrection bodies in ‘heaven’. (You could take something like this from Revelation 20:4-6, but I think it needs to be approached with caution, and not necessarily understood as literal history in advance: more a passing nod at the OT context to which Andrew refers).

There’s so much of interest on this site - always something to distract attention. I’d be interested to receive a response to my thoughts on the trinity and mission on the thread attached to paulchen’s post. 

Re: Life After Death

Shame about the missing article. It looks like you have to pay to access the Times archive.

I don’t think Jesus meant that the thief would be raised ‘in a 1000 years’. There may be important Old Testament resonances in the ‘paradise’ motif that bring the ‘resurrection’ of Israel into view. But, as you are well aware, I have argued for a ‘first resurrection’ of the martyrs - of suffering faithful ‘Israel’ - as part of the eschatological crisis of the end of the age of temple-based Judaism. Christ is the firstfruits of that resurrection. He and others have been raised to the right hand of God in vindication of their trust in God in the face of death. If the thief represents repentant Israel, it would be entirely consistent with this argument to suggest that Jesus draws him into the scope of this hope of vindication.

Incidentally, I would put Paul’s expressed desire to depart and be with Christ in the same category (Phil. 1:23). The immediate prospect of resurrection is linked closely to the possibility of sharing in the sufferings of Christ, ‘becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Phil. 3:10-11; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:2-3, 6-9). This apocalyptic suffering-death-resurrection paradigm is the exception to the general Jewish (and I would suggest New Testament) belief in a resurrection of all the dead at the eschaton.

Re: Life After Death

No, I didn’t think the thief would be raised in a 1000 years either - that was a kind of joke.

I don’t really see how the thief could suddenly become a martyr, who would qualify for the ‘first resurrection’; I think he should wait his turn along with all the rest of us, who will populate cemeteries, railway lines, canals, woodlands, mountains (or wherever else bodies are buried or ashes scattered) until "the rest of the dead" are raised 1000 years later. (Also a kind of joke - though I enjoy A.Wainwright’s black humour in warning future fell-walkers on the summit of Haystacks that the dark clinker stuck in the soles of their boots could be a bit of him - his ashes were scattered there).

That’s if you take Revelation 20 literally as history in advance - which I don’t. I take it all as metaphor - using pre NT development of resurrection theology as a warehouse for plundering metaphors. It makes better sense that way - to me, of course!

Also, I think at some stage our theology of resurrection should be in dialogue with the pastoral concerns of the people of God. Not that the one should distort the other - but as in other areas of pastoral concern (eg divorce and remarriage, women in church leadership etc) - a closer look at what seem to be ‘obvious’ statements of scripture yield surprisingly different interpretations.

the nature of light

anyone who claims that current scientific research disproves the existence of G-d and/or life after death needs to catch up on 100 years of scientific thinking. as many are discovering, quantum physics has much in common with the spiritual/non-materialist outlook - for more on this, I’d recommend the wonderful Dancing Wu Li Masters and The Tao of Physics.

As Bono sung, heaven "is a place that has to believed to be seen" and as with so much else of the Kingdom, flips logic and current culture & values on their head. the requirement of faith will always present a fundamental stumbling block to the materialistic mind, that believes only in that which can be measured. after all, science still wrestles with the nature of light, consciousness or even reality for that matter. how much more the nature of G-d or the life after?

1 Corinthians 2:8-10 reminds us the no mind has conceived what G-d has prepared for those who love Him. such is our hope…

God of the quantum gaps

mutant, I have never understood the argument that quantum physics provides grounds for believing in God and life after death. I agree wholeheartedly that science cannot disprove these things, but surely quantum physics, for all its weirdness, is ultimately as materialist as Newtonian physics and reinforced concrete. I don’t see that the argument is compatible with classical theism, which does not allow for any ontological confusion between God and his creation. I just don’t think we need a God of the quantum gaps. This does not rule out the analogical value of non-intuitive physics for speaking about the spiritual realm, nor does it rule out wonder and worship as we contemplate the complexity of the universe; but a biblical theology is bound to be wary of pantheism.

If we are right to conceive of the eschaton as new creation rather than heaven, I presume that would entail an absolute discontinuity between now and then, between this creation and the new creation. The new creation is not dependent in any way on the physics of the present creation.

our G-d defies measurement

Andrew, i’m in agreement with you here. rather than suggesting that quantum physics can/could in any way prove the existence of G-d and/or an after-life, i was underlining the error inherent in peoples thinking who suggest that a belief in God is incongruent with science -  namely, if science as yet cannot grasp the nature of light or consciousness, how can we expect to measure and hence prove, the existence of God. i disagree with the writer of The Tao of Physics in that I am a christian and not a hindu or taoist - i therefore agree with you about the difference between G-d and the creation of G-d and that as christians, we are not pantheists.

for me, quantum physics reminds me that the mind of G-d is more creative & "wierd" in the quantum sense, than we can imagine, if we take the Universe as a work of art that expresses aspects of the creators mind & heart.

Re: our G-d defies measurement

"In Luke 23:43, Jesus says to the dying thief "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.""

If Christ didn’t mean what he said and the average man in the street cannot take that to mean what it says then the bible and God are hogwash and garbage.

God is a God for the average person not the highly intellectual.

He favours the simple, poor in spirit etc.

 When he says something its best to take it as it is not to try to write a theisis on it and twist it all around.

The thief went to be with Christ that same day - he was not talking about Israel or 1000 years .

I wonder who heard him say that or maybe he told the disciples after he rose from the dead.

One thing I find frustrating is that the bible is very non-specific about so many issues - so I really don’t blame people from debating these things.

Jesus and the scriptures

OK, a few points in response.

I’m sure the man dying on the Roman cross next to Jesus would not have been deaf to the simple message of personal comfort and hope in Jesus’ words. But if he was, as many suspect, not simply a thief but an insurgent, a freedom fighter, someone who had fought against Rome, the enemy and oppressor of Israel, he may well have appreciated the implicit assurance that God would forgive repentant Israel, which is unquestionably a central theme of the gospels.

Who is your ‘average man in the street’? Which street? When? I would have thought that the average man in the street today would actually have a lot of trouble understanding much of the Bible. But what about the average man walking the streets of Jerusalem in the first century, who heard the scriptures read in the synagogue, recited in the home, every day, every week, throughout his life? I imagine he would have been very attuned to the biblical echoes in Jesus’ words. Jesus’ teaching is dense with such allusions - not least his cry of abandonment from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Why should his words to the man hanging next to him, which he may well have meant others to hear, have been any different?

This is not about being ‘highly intellectual’. It is about respecting who Jesus was and the historical context in which he originally spoke and acted. If Jesus was truly man, then he was a first century Jew, who thought and spoke like a first century Jew; he was regarded as a man who thought deeply about the scriptures; he was a theologian; he was a prophet who struggled with the condition and fate of Israel; and he was God’s anointed, who through his suffering would save his people from their sins. It makes complete sense to suggest that on the cross he might have been thinking of Israel. You can forget the 1000 years.

Re: our G-d defies measurement


I think reminders to keep it simple and not over analyze are important. I also notice that there are far more guests than users on this site. I suspect that for many of them this is not a so much a place to work out theology but more a view into what the emerging church looks like. Minority voices should be heard (I’m not at all sure you are a minority ) because they give a clearer picture of the community. I also think it is valuable to consider that there will be evangelical theology that remains as new theology is shaped.

I don’t believe that the lines of thinking that the heavy hitting contributors to this site use would occur to the average Joe. Much of what they say and think comes from a long process of higher education and books that aren’t passed around in most social circles. (That is not a slam boys) I agree with you that this is not necessary to understand God or the bible. The bible speaks volumes of truth to average men in the streets every day. It is true that the average man of today does not possess the same knowledge of scripture as the Jews of Jesus’ time but I don’t know of any reason to believe that they were not spoon fed doctrine in the same manner as the church of today. I wonder if they were any better at interpreting scriptures than we are. It doesn’t seem that the majority of them were either capable of or willing to change their expectations of the Messiah.

Re: our G-d defies measurement

For me, Quantum mechanics is important as it allows God to interact with the universe without ‘breaking the rules’ of the universe. Strict Newtonian mechanics and the clockwork universe was a major contributor to Deism.

It may seem a minor point, but I think not ‘breaking the rules’ of the universe is an important part of God respecting his creation, including us. He does not ride roughshod over our will, or the integrity of the universe. This deep respect is mirrored in the kenosis of God in Jesus, influencing the world only in the most subtle way.

p.s. I don’t think you can easily seperate God from creation. Genesis 1 says nothing about Creation Ex Nihilo as classically understood. Rather, it describes a birthing process with uncanny accuracy. This leads to a panentheistic persepective, as God is not identical with the universe but he intimately indwells it and is in fact the ground of the universe.


In terms of the Life after Death discussion. If the “new creation” were to be discontinuous with everything else, this would be in contrast with everything we have learned about the way God does things. He does not ‘zap’ new things into being; everything is achieved with full respect with what existed previously, molding and differentiating to create complexity, and redeeming to get rid of error rather than throwing away and starting from scratch. To me, this continual progressive creation and co-creation with his creatures is the most profound window that we have into the ‘soul’ of God. All his other attributes can be seen to stream out of his conserving and transforming creative will. The whole narrative of the Bible revolves around creative and redemptive acts that follow this model.

I don’t know what will happen to the universe when it comes to maturity as the new creation, but I think a change in the laws of physics is probably easier than a whole new creation (took this one 15 billion years to get here!). Also, the universe is his precious child and he cares about it even after we came along! It is very anthrocentric (read un-postmodern :-) )to think otherwise. It would be unlike him to dump it like so much trash.

The following paragraph is rated PG - Physicist’s Guidance recommended ;-)
Many physicists do not regard our physical laws as necessary within our universe. Recent models suggest, due to the super light speed ‘inflation’ immediately after the big bang, that this local ‘universe’ may be a pocket in a far larger universe with entirely different laws. If we have to move somewhere else, maybe the ‘new heaven’ and ‘new earth’ is just a wormhole away :-) Who knows whether even entropy is necessary, though since I don’t believe that the universe is a closed system, entropy is not really an issue anyway, and anything Maxwell’s demon can do, our God can do better!

G rating returns

I know the above seems a little out of place in this discussion, but I believe in all areas of study informing each other where possible. I don’t believe in ‘proving’ God, but as the personality of God is imprinted on the very fabric of the universe, it should be no surprise that the Sciences can teach us things about God that theology in isolation can not deduce.

Re: Life After Death

The practitioners of science may get the laurels and the big bucks, but the philosophers of science set the limits. Quine, Davidson, McDowell, and now Nelson Goodman are the writers I’ve studied—none of them to the point of exhausting their material, but all of them sufficiently to feel confident about their contributions.

It is incoherent to appeal to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle or the quirks of quantum mechanics as a justification to let one’s imagination run wild. Things that cannot be proved also prove nothing. No serious philosopher of science employs metaphysics, understood as a two-layered world—classically, matter and spirit.

So long as Christianity is satisfied with a theology relying on metaphysics— of Plato, Aristotle, and even as recently as the early empiricists and certainly Romantics such as Hegel—exists in an intellectual vacuum jar. The pre-scientific revolution (and even post-Galileo/Newton) conceptions of “consciousness” and “mind” create more confusion than they resolve.

The topic of life after death is absolutely critical to the possibility of human progress. So long as people believe God blesses and preserves those who die in warfare, we shall have war. So long as people believe there is a life to come, the reckless disregard for the privilege of living will continue.

My interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ teachings is that the life lived in service to others is more fully a realization of humanity than any other kind of life. My faith is that when each of us comes to die, we must in that instant relive our lives, so that our final moment echoes the determinations we have made lifelong. The grief we feel when we lose a loved one requires ministrations of hope and courage. In addition, we celebrate the meaning of our loved one’s life by sharing our sense of how hard or easy death was for that person.

To be sure, such ideas as these are heretical, but I find them more expressive of what I have learned from Jesus’ example than the unfortunate theologies of immortality and resurrection grounded in the Greek mysteries and neo-Platonism. Nietzsche’s "a Platonism for the people" critique is ignored at our peril.

Re: Our G-d defies measurement

Sojouner - Regarding your straw man

It is incoherent to appeal to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle or the quirks of quantum mechanics as a justification to let one’s imagination run wild”.

I was not aware anyone needed any justification to let their imagination run wild :-). When I last checked, an understanding of why quantum waveforms collapse was still an open area in philosphy, and I would be keen for a philosopher with sufficient imagination to make more progress in this area. It seems that much of this progress will instead be up to experimental scientists than pure philosophers.

I believe in a God of whole science, not a God of the gaps. Therefore, if the foundation of the universe turns out to be an balance between randomness and order, echoing the fine balance between chaos and order that is seen in organic life and all creativity as we understand it, then this suggests something about the inherant nature of the universe and its possible relationship to a creative God as posited by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

God appears to be intimately related to the very fabric of the universe, and does not require the door of indeterminate quantum collapse to interact with the it. However, as previously stated, it does suggest something interesting about God if this is in fact the way that God chooses to interact with the universe. The suggestion that God chooses to use this method of interaction would be even stronger if quantum collapse and consciousness were seen to be related. Unfortunately, an explanation for the experience of consciousness is similarly not very advanced, so we just don’t know yet.

Roger ‘Blackhole’ Penrose suggested a connection between the two areas in the 1990’s. I am not at all up to date on philosophy of science, but when I last checked Penrose was still required reading. I am aware of the arguments against his views, and am personally not sold on his theories, but I have not previously heard his type of speculation described as ‘incoherent’, though you are welcome to hold that opinion if you wish.

Just out of interest, if anyone is interested in some recent quantum/mind research, here is a list of places to have a look (I can not vouch for any of it):

If there have been any recent developments regarding any of these issues, please tell me about them.

No serious philosopher of science employs metaphysics, understood as a two-layered world – classically, matter and spirit.”

You may like to read up on modern philosophy of religion and theology. Many of them (I won’t over state the case and say ‘all the serious ones’) can avoid dualism without being forced into materialism or physicalism. Modern theology has come a long way from the type of belief caracaturised by the [url=”www.venganza.org/“]Flying Spaghetti Monster[/url] (fun site). Belief that the limits of our scientific knowledge about the universe should not be confused with the actual limits of the universe does not imply belief in a two-layered world.

Trying to use reason and experience to understand what it beyond the bounds of science is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. To put what science can’t know out of bounds of all reason seems to be the modern-day equivalent of labelling the edge of the map “Here There Be Monsters”.

So long as Christianity is satisfied with a theology relying on metaphysics…”

Please read some of the illuminating articles about narrative theology. This is now becoming central to our understanding of faith, though I’m still learning about it. The metaphysical discussion we are having now is generally accepted to be peripheral.

So long as people believe there is a life to come, the reckless disregard for the privilege of living will continue.”

I’m afraid that old critique died with WWI, and was buried by WWII and Stalinism. The profligate destruction of life of other species also seems to me to be more motivated by corporate greed than faith in the afterlife, with a few exceptions.

Regarding your positive suggestions about the meaning of life and death

Thank you for your description of what it means to be a fully realised human. It is very worthy of promotion on its own merits, and does not require the disproving of other viewpoints before it can be recommended. Unfortunately, this ‘slave morality’ is the focus of most of Neitzche’s criticisms, but I guess he can’t get it right all the time!

I love Neitzche’s writing and find his critiques enlightening. However, when presented with an anti-thesis to a thesis, I don’t accept that I am limited to an ‘either/or’ choice. I can assure you that his criticisms, along with your description of a fully realised human being are incorporated into the syn-thesis that is my belief system.

Re: Our G-d defies measurement

Thanks for your reply. I thought I was setup for notification when a reply posted, but that did not happen. So I shall look into it.

"I agree with Penrose that in this respect, understanding is essential, and it is just this aspect of actual mathematical thought that machines cannot share with us. Beyond that, his entire drive is to nail down this conviction by showing that mathematical thought cannot even be re-represented in mechanical terms, as a result of the Gödel theorem. In my view, instead of increasing this conviction, this effort raises more questions than it answers and leads into dead-end dialectics. Here are some reasons."


What you call my "strawman" I’d prefer to call my "how to write/preach for fun and profit-man."

The quote above is from a review of Penrose’s book on mind. Its critique is as good an example as I have at hand for some problems with using paradox or what cannot be proved as an excuse for imagination run wild.

I am interested in a link or two to your comment re: philosophy of religion and theology, "Many of them…can avoid dualism…."

I have just come away from my first skim of David Ray Griffin’s interpretation of Whiteheadian-Hartshorne process philosophy applied to religious interests. While I have become familiar with my hopes flagging, sometimes they evaporate, as with the type of response of Griffin’s resolution by declaration: (my caricature) "Here are the issues. This system of thought resolves those." Not to my satisfaction, needless to say. No wonder he’s gone on to lecturing about the American Whitehouse conspiracy to allow the 9/11 disaster.

While I find references to "postmodern" theology problematic (wouldn’t it be great if we knew what succeeding generations will call our time), the task of a non-dualist Christian theology is the path that interests me. Where do you suggest I begin.

Re: Our G-d defies measurement

PS. In my liberal Christian tradition, the ‘naturalizing’ of God (and that is how your recent references strike me) has a long and spotty tradition. The disjunct between the creator God and the intelligent design God has proved irreconcilable. I wonder how you deal with that tension.

John McDowell’s Mind and World, which I had the pleasure of studying a year ago, offers a new approach to naturalism by borrowing and modifying substantially Aristotle’s concept of second nature. In sum, I understand second nature as the results of sociality that permit a ‘quantum’ leap from mere animal (as Heidegger puts it, “poor in world;” not McDowell’s choice of illustration, however) to human being as inherently worlded.

I was thinking “incoherence” in much the same terms as Gödel’s incompleteness theorem; the more something is pushed, the more its comprehensiveness shrinks. However, when I asked an informed logician about his statement that the system of logic is “complete,” he explained that the elementary level he was teaching is correctly so described, as are three or more levels beyond that. It is only at a higher level that Gödel’s “incompleteness” fits. This remains, of course, an exciting arena for those mathematic logicians who can function there.

For an average guy like me, it offers a caution about reliance on levels. If in logic what is incomplete at a high level does not have consequences at the lower levels, what does that imply, say, for a reliance on simplicity as a guide in our searches.

I hear that interesting things are happening in non-traditional logic where the rule of contradiction does not hold. The reply to "It either is or it is not," is "That depends." However, as with the abundance of abstract mathematical systems that as yet have no confirmed relationship to the natural world, a divorce from empiricism lets one’s imagination run wild.

Re: Our G-d defies measurement

I am not trying to naturalise God, rather claiming that he is the base of nature. He transcends nature, but the imminence of God is evidenced throughout nature. I do not think the term ‘creative God’ is ideal is it still preserves the subject/object dichotomy; I might prefer the term ‘birthing, nurturing God’, but that has other connotations that just don’t feel right to me yet. Any ideas anyone? I do not like the idea of ‘Intelligent Design’ as it is commonly used to characterise a God unnaturally interfering with nature in such a way that the interference is an evidence of God’s existence. I’m not sure that I feel the tension you are refering to.

I am not familiar with John McDowell’s writing - I’ll have to put that book on my list.

In my description of how I deal with contradictions that I see in the world, I was not suggesting the use of higher level mathematical logics etc. I was merely refering to Hegel’s model of development, his logic of dialectics (thesis + anti-thesis -> syn-thesis). When I see substantial evidence for one point of view seemingly contradicted by substantial evidence for another point of view, I tend to see the contradiction as a current limitation of my mental models rather than throw out either set of evidence. I find it interesting how the ancient Greek disagreement of atomism vs. flux endured for over 2000 years, only to be resolved in the synthesis of quantum mechanics. If the Greeks had to wait 2000 years, I can live with a little bit of seeming contradiction in my mind for a short time. :-)

ps. Sorry newdawnfades for getting so far off your topic!

Re: Our G-d defies measurement


I asked about the tension because I see it the way Kant saw it 200+ years ago. The God of the Bible is the creator. All attempts to identify nature with God are versions of the intelligent design god. That is, if one identifies natural law (and the vagaries of that open another long chain of conundrums) with evidence of divine activity, such a divinity is at the disposal of natural law, not the origin of it.

The resolution proposed by process theologians—John Cobb, for certain, and Schubert Ogden, I think—is a conception of a limited God. In my very limited acquaintance, such an idea is coming across like the proverbial lead balloon.

I believe it ultimately reduces to a doctrine of revelation. And such a doctrine relies on faith. We need not be embarrassed by faith, so long as it’s not an excuse to let our imagination run wild.

The McDowell interests me particularly because he struggles to justify what remains worthwhile in Kant (and Aristotle). Contemporary philosophy of science makes room for theology by admitting that science, itself, is a particularistic point of view.

As Hegel and most other comprehensive thinkers have realized, ‘it’s all a matter of where you begin,’ for even evidence requires belief. And that’s always arbitrary, as the "turtles all the way down" story reminds us.

Re: Our G-d defies measurement

I understand you here to be discounting any idea of a limited God.  I would agree with those who say God must be limited.  These questions illustrate some ways in which I believe God is limited (even if only by his own choice):

1. Can Jesus return for the Final Judgement on the clouds and with the archangels trumpet on July 4, 1976?

2. Can God lie?

3. Can God create a rock so big he can’t lift it?

4. Can God condemn someone to hell who comes to him in faith in Jesus?

5. Can God love sin?

6. Can God allow a creature to make a decision that affects nature or that creature’s soul?


Re: Our G-d defies measurement

Sojourner - I think I need to explain myself in relation to a few points.

All attempts to identify nature with God…

Here lies the essential difference between pantheism and Christian panentheism, as I understand it. I have not been able to read much from the important theologians that advance this theory, and I know I differ in some respects from what I have read, so what follows is not representative of any one except me.

Nature is not identified with God. According to the Jewish narrative of zimzum, God withdrew himself from a part of himself, making a space for something ‘other’. This other is not made out of a different ‘substance’, so no dualism is introduced. I believe that, being derived from God, the universe is still imbued with the pattern of God. Nature or natural law is a reflection or outworking of the pattern or personality of God but is not under God’s conscious (or trans-conscious) control. As humans, we are used to not being in direct control of all our bodily processes, but this was a decision God needed to make to allow for the existence of a radical other.

Nature is not identified with God, and God is not contained by nature. This makes perfect sense to me, as a mother is not contained by the foetus, but neither is the foetus identified with the mother. It is much more than just part of the mother, if it can still be called part of the mother.

…if one identifies natural law with evidence of divine activity, such a divinity is at the disposal of natural law, not the origin of it.

Although some panentheists do suggest that natural law is a part of divine activity, God is certainly not constrained by this habitual activity. I think that it reflects God, but is not God’s direct activity. God actively relates to the universe far beyond the sustainaing of natural law, but also respects the universe’s integrity. God is by no means at the disposal of natural law.

Regarding process theology, I personally don’t mind the idea of a God relating to the universe in a limited way, for the sake of respecting and preserving the other. I am only cursorily familiar with process theology, but I do not see that it that limits God beyond the boundaries imposed by logical necessity. I would rather contend that the classical God, being entirely immutable and therefore unable to truly relate, is limiting. Process theology elevates God to at least a truly personal being if not a trans-personal being through inter-relatedness. Some of the other general criticisms against process theology seem to amount to “Your God cannot make a circle with four corners” type criticism. The fact that many people want their God to put round pegs into square holes is more a commentary on contemporary Christianity than process theology.

Just out of interest, the original advocate of process-philosophy in a Christian context, Hartshorne, was a panentheist.

I agree that where you end up is very much related to where you begin. That is why faith is a journey, and theology is best located in a narrative (which I admit has so far been lacking in my discussion of this issue). However, it does not reduce to a matter of faith or revelation unless you choose to ignore how the theology works in the real world and you ignore evidence and learning in other areas of endeavor. In this case it is no longer true faith, which I believe necessarily is related to the whole world, but simply crude dogmatism.

I would also like to echo sheyduck’s comment:

I am not sure I agree that Christianity depends upon some foundationalist or essentialist assumptions. … We ought, rather, rely on claims that we make to which our lives together bear witness and provide “proof.”

It is the truth that we live in the world that is the true foundation of Christianity, not some model used to make sense of how things work. For me, panentheism is simply a working model in which to understand God and structure all my current knowledge. The models that the ancient Greeks created, that served as the basis of all science and theology, lasted 2000 years before they needed radical updating, although they evolved over time. I expect panentheism to have to evolve, and maybe eventually be disposed of. However, if it contributes to the development of practical theology and maybe other disciplines, then it has been a good thing, even if it has never been the Truth.

Re: Our G-d defies measurement

I have only just started looking at theology again after a hiatus of many years. Although many more traditional theologians have various ways of getting rid of problems associated with dualism, panentheism seems to be the order of the day in disolving the dichotomies. From my research, Moltmann is a very respected theologian and an advocate of panentheism. Clayton goes even further with his grounding of the universe in God.

A working definition of panentheism is “the view that the world is within God, though God is at the same time more than the world.” by Clayton in The Panentheistic Turn in Christian Theology

This should be enough to get you started.

If I can quote a recent comment by clipon:

The earth is Gods first incarnation.

God is not out there but God is here. The world is Gods body but the world is not God. God is imminent - with in and under the whole of creation - and God is Trasncendent as well.

Although clipon does not mention panentheism in his comment, it seems to be an accurate representation of what panentheism means for theology

Re: Life After Death

Above I wrote, "Things that cannot be proved also prove nothing." It seems, according to my philosophy of science professor this evening, that I was again in over my head.

The distinction he requires is between deductive and inductive arguments. Only deductive (logical) arguments earn the status in philosophy these days of "proof." Inductive arguments are strong or weak, highly corroborated (have a high probability) or have little corroboration.

So my sentence depends for its validity and usefulness on what sort of ‘things’ I had in mind. And since when I wrote it, I had everything in mind, that cannot be allowed to stand without objection.

Sorry. Umm. Never mind.

Re: Life After Death

Just a couple of short comments:

Sojourner -

Thank you for this extremely stimulating discussion. Your statement made perfect sense to me. If you put it in pure logic terms I guess it would read ‘a speculation can not be used as an antecedent in a logical deduction to obtain a proof’ unless you add the speculation to your axiomatic structure. But your phrasing put it much more succinctly :-) . I’m not a professional philosopher, so I didn’t even notice there was any problem.

Regarding logical problems, I said “thesis + anti-thesis -> syn-thesis”. As ‘+’ commonly refers to ‘or’ while I meant ‘and’, I should have written something like “thesis /\ anti-theis” but on second thoughts, that looks even more confusing … what about “thesis . anti-thesis”?

Personally, I think metaphysics has as much to do with inductive argument as logical deduction. I also think imagination (even the wild type!) and hope are the most important ingredients in the whole mix if we are to obtain a metaphysics which will move us forward in all areas of endeavour and which can be used in a narrative for a community that strives to create a worthwhile future.

Chris -

Some of those are really interesting questions! Do you want to kick off discussion of any of them in particular?

Re: Life After Death

I’m not really trying to start up a discussion on any of those questions.  I just saw a "God has no limits" statement that I wanted to address.  I believe God is, in fact, limited by his own identity, by his own character, and by his own will.  If there is someone who really disagrees with this, then I guess the issue of God and limits would be worth getting into.

Re: Life After Death

…being derived from God, the universe is still imbued with the pattern of God. Nature or natural law is a reflection or outworking of the pattern or personality of God but is not under God’s conscious (or trans-conscious) control. As humans, we are used to not being in direct control of all our bodily processes, but this was a decision God needed to make to allow for the existence of a radical other.”

richard (and Chris),

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I have turned to the study of philosophy in recent years to inform my interests in theology, but I find little opportunity to discuss (even in philosophy of religion) what may be contemporary theological consequences.

At the moment, I am finding as many issues with monism as with dualism. It seems we remain at the mercy of the Parmenidean/Platonic argument, try as we might to avoid it.

I cannot contest your enthusiasm for panentheism – yet. My copy of Griffin’s “Reenchantment” (a term I initially encountered in the study of McDowell) arrived only yesterday. Glancing at the index, I see he prefers panexperientialsm to panentheism, as he’s a non-supernaturalist of the process theology stripe.

The philosophers I am being introduced to (nominalists or at least sympathetic) are bothered most by reification into universals, but it is the issue of the one and the many (and I don’t yet know how or if that is just another version of permanence and change) that interests me. A lifetime ago, it seems anyhow, I satisfied myself that issues of “something rather than nothing” could be resolved with “there is (put as dogmatically as possible) always something.” Heidegger’s long struggle with “nothingness” seems to have eventuated into an identity of Being and nothingness. Derrida interprets that in terms of Being sorta having gotten itself lost (I don’t know to what degree zimzum played a role for him there, and I have not kept up with his recent work.)

So far what I do not find helpful are the distinctions of subject/object (Husserl cured me there), inner/outer (McDowell manages his reenchantment without it) and like/as (here my hero Ricoeur finds room for his Hegelian Aufhebung but has not convinced me. So I expect he would find your reliance on “patterns” and “reflections” honorable. But I still have a cough leftover from a lifetime of smoke and mirrors.)

As for a limited God, it is not that I personally find that impossible (and Chris most of the questions you pose are the kind the current linguistic turn in philosophy has managed with Russell’s theory of types, whose purpose I understand but whose consequences for language remain vague) but except for this BBS, and maybe out at Claremont (California) School of Theology, hold almost no interest for anyone else. Hence the "lead balloon" image. So I struggle on.

Re: Life After Death

One more PS. The following is one of the conclusions that PF Strawson (in "The Bounds of Sense") reaches in his critical commentary on Kant’s first Critique. It is the direction I am going with my MA thesis. My hope is to confirm Stanley Cavell’s conclusion that Ralph Waldo Emerson was a first rate philosopher. I shall compare Strawson/Kant’s views of the philosopher with Cavell/Emerson’s and then compare both with Nelson Goodman. Wish me luck.

Until then, it is the following indication of a holism that I find consistent with McDowell’s rehabilitation of Kant and is my preference to panentheism as well as (but I’ve only skimmed him) Griffin’s non-supernatural process theology. (As mentioned earlier, I’m in over my head.)

"Once transcendental idealism has been laid aside, there is no obstacle to accepting Nature or the world-whole itself - empirically unconditioned existence, all-embracing reality - as the object of such an attitude. How could inquiring human reason find a more appropriate object for its admiring and humbly emulative devotion than that which is at once the inexhaustible topic of its questions and the source of its endlessly provisional answers ? For human reason itself is part of Nature. In a few paragraphs towards the end of the Dialectic (A 699-701/B 727-9 231) Kant seems even to show some sympathy with this conception, or with a part of it; though any fully developed view of this kind, such as Spinoza’s, would certainly be alien to his thought and perhaps morally repulsive to  him. If only in respect of economy, such a conception may perhaps be judged superior to Kant’s "as if theology"; but the saving (of the super-sensible) is not, of course, one that an upholder of transcendental idealism can make. It must finally be said, setting aside transcendental idealism, that it is hard, from the point of view of the interests of reason, to see anything in the thought of an extra-mundane world-directing intelligence which contains the "therefore for every wherefore" but the pardonable indulgence of a kind of fatigue of reason, a temporary reversion to a primitive and comforting model.xxx"

Re: Life After Death

Sojourner - I just have a few questions

At the moment, I am finding as many issues with monism as with dualism. It seems we remain at the mercy of the Parmenidean/Platonic argument, try as we might to avoid it.

By this do you mean that we can not escape from the concept of permanent substances in order to allow for God? I thought that the model of the relational God from process-theology and possibly other theologies adequately dealt with that issue. Can you explain this issue further from your perspective?

But I still have a cough leftover from a lifetime of smoke and mirrors.

Me too (not a long lifetime, but still enough). That is why I don’t take metaphysics too seriously as refering to actuality. As I said, I think about it more as a scientific theory, something to give knowledge structure and to inform future learning. I guess this perspecive on metaphysics is the postmodern in me spurning authoritative metanarratives :-). Even if it is still smoke and mirrors, I don’t take much of it in. It is certainly not foundational.

I also think that metaphysics tends to slide into the testability of physics, so deductive truth is often just inductive hypotheses dressed up. This means that much of metaphysics often turns out to be testable, which slowly gets rid of the smoke, maybe a little bit during each generation.

Metaphysics also should be tested in terms of individual, community, and environmental transformation for the better as the result of the adoption of that metaphysics. I don’t think theoretical philsophy should be seperate from practical philsophy except for short periods of development. If a metaphysics produces negative results, then either it or the narrative in which it is embedded is wrong. I think this should clear some of the more dangerous aspects of metaphysics.

I would be interested in your thought on the appropriateness of these inductive methods that I think can test metaphysics.

Re: Life After Death


While I’ve been at this for a long time now, I’ve only caught up with some of the recent developments during my last four years back in the classroom as a half-time student. A lot has happened since my last time in academia.

If you ever get around to the McDowell, he explains how we’ve tried every conceivable way to think straight, and the evidence always outruns us. So he does the equivalent of the logical maneuver of a reductio: what happens when we assume the opposite? What he arrives at is that while our world may not be rational (as Aristotle and the Schoolmen assumed) it is conceptualized. That is, we do not stand over against it and impose concepts on it. It’s mutual and reciprocal. To be ‘worlded’ as we humans are is to have a ‘second’ nature.

All he retains from platonist dualism is the mathematics of it and resists what he calls ‘rampant’ platonism which is supernatural realism.

All he retains of Parmenides’ monism is that since we belong here, we ought to be able to understand what’s going on.

But no satisfactory resolution or replacement of those positions (including that of antirepresentationalism [Rorty is now in the literature department at Stanford, having resigned his status as a philosopher — being president of the national professional association can do that to a guy — and satisfied with fiction rather than fact] and the new metaphysics of ‘possible world philosophy’) has yet reached my reading list.

I think we’re on the way toward a major confluence of the Anglo-American analytic styles and Continental phenomenological styles — if only the politicians can keep us from blowing each other off the Earth while the necessary thinking gets done.

I am a student member of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. At their annual convention in 2004 one workshop was on McDowell. This year there was none. I don’t know if that means McDowell has met his match (I don’t read the journals.) or whether the folks at the U of Colorado (Denver, I think) couldn’t make it this year.

Re: Life After Death

There is a question to be asked here first. Is this an area that scientific research can touch? Science is really about experimentation and measuring results. The events that occur after death are not measurable by normal scientific methods. This reminds me of that popular show the X-files. Scully was always looking for a scientific explanation while Mulder was open to "extreme possibilites". The bible points to a God of "extreme possiblites" not a God limited by science and the laws of science, if he was he would not be God.

Personally i dont believe in an "afterlife" but i do believe in life after death. Get your head round that one!

Re: Life After Death

I don’t believe in afterlife. As for the explaination of Jesus words concerning the theif on the cross…  They don’t prove the afterlife, they only prove that Jesus believed in afterlife.  I’m sure he also thought the earth was flat. That doesn’t make him dumb, it just means that he lived in the 1st century and was subject to the culture and information available at the time he lived.  That doesn’t make me less likely to adopt his views about life.  Today, we still don’t have all the answers, but we can be pretty sure there isn’t a heaven above us or a hell below us. 

Danutz http://danutz.blogspot.com

Re: Life After Death

It seems to me that you yourself are "subject to the culture and information available" at the time you live.  I’m curious…how can we be "pretty sure" there isn’t an afterlife?  That there is no heaven or hell?

Re: Life After Death

Danutz, I think you rather miss the point. It’s entirely reasonable to think that Jesus’ views about life after death were culturally conditioned and to reject them for that reason. But the issue for Jesus was not whether when you die, you live on in an afterlife. The issue was whether God would vindicate the course that he had taken in giving up his life out of the conviction that he was doing what God had called him to do. Without the resurrection there would be no vindication - Jesus would be just one more failed messianic pretender, and we would all be idiots to follow him.

So you can dismiss his beliefs, but if you do you risk making him a figure of no consequence and faith in him a matter of no consequence (cf. 1 Cor. 15:17). It is absurd to reduce him to the level of wise religious teacher. He was fundamentally an eschatological figure.

In fact, resurrection is conceptually quite different to the idea of ‘life after death’. The basic belief in scripture is that God will eventually renew the whole of creation, heaven and earth - that is the extent of his commitment to what he has made. The resurrection of Jesus to new life is an anticipation of that, a confirmation of the hope, and opens up the possibility of being part of that renewal of creation now.

Re: Life After Death

All good points of discussion. Thanks for commenting.

1. Yep, I’m definately subject to my culture and the information available to me.  We all are in that boat together.  I say I’m "pretty sure" because that is OUR collective "best understanding" given the information we all have available. 

2. I don’t reject Jesus’ views.  I accept them as my own. But I understand the context of the words attributed to him and therefore I have to filter that through the information I have about the general world view of his time.

You said… "without the resurrection there would be no vindication"

Why does there need to be vindication?  Theological ideas will come and go, but the power of Jesus is his words not myths or legends or even factual events.  Other "messianic pretenders" failed because their words didn’t hold up over time.  They usually focused on a vision of a political overthrow of the oppressive Roman Empire.  But Jesus had a different concept of how to deal with evil.  They failed because their message failed. Jesus prevailed because his message works!

If you really need vindication here it is… EVERY time someone turns the other cheek he is vindicated.  EVERY time someone cares for the poor he is vindicated.  EVERY time someone gives their life for the life of another he is vindicated. 

Gandhi vindicated Jesus by accepted his words and living them out to the point that he overturned evil practices on 3 continents.  Martin Luther King Jr. vindicated Jesus by hearing his words and living them out to effect change in America.  We all vindicate him every time we prove his theories to be correct. Every time someone promotes the fundamentalist theology as the key to understanding Jesus then his life, message, death and resurrection are wasted.  I would suggest that ignoring his message and focusing on mystical fairy tale ideas of life after death or cosmic punishment and atonement is what could overshadow Jesus and make him a figure of no consequence.

Danutz http://danutz.blogspot.com

Re: Life After Death

I would suggest that ignoring his message and focusing on mystical fairy tale ideas of life after death or cosmic punishment and atonement is what could overshadow Jesus and make him a figure of no consequence.

Undoubtedly there is some force to what you say. But I don’t think you’re being entirely fair in your argument.

i) To focus on what you call the ‘fairy tale ideas’ does not mean that we cannot at the same time pay attention to the message. I would argue that they are, in fact, inseparable. Jesus must be understood as more than just a universal symbolic figure who represents certain ideas or values: he is an actor, and his actions and their consequences must lie at the core of his significance; they must be allowed to provide the historical and eschatological framework for the interpretation of the ‘message’.

ii) To call the resurrection a ‘mystical fairy tale’ is, to my mind, highly tendentious and suggests that you have not understood its significance. In biblical thinking this is not a matter of magic or superstition - it has to do fundamentally with the nature and purpose of God. You can dismiss belief in a God who is committed to the renewal of creation, the defeat of evil and death. But that is a matter of theology, not of superstition. Jesus reveals a God who is concerned about something far more profound and far-reaching than individual ethical behaviour, no matter how noble and selfless it might be. He is a creator God who will recreate, a suffering God who will embrace the fragility and wickedness of humanity in order to overcome it and bring newness of life. Anything less than that is surely subchristian.

Why not take Jesus on his own terms rather than feel obliged to filter the account through the mesh of your modernist presuppositions? The resurrection is not an optional extra biblically: it is definitive for the redefinition of the people of God that we find in the New Testament. Wouldn’t it be more honest to claim allegiance to an alternative set of ethical-religious principles, some other more modern faith, than to twist the only historical account of Jesus’ significance that we have to suit your own outlook?

Re: Life After Death

I understand your point because I spent many years with the same views, but it wasn’t until I let go of the supernatural aspects of the Bible that I finally found the truth of Christianity as a call to action. 

Before changing my own theology, my views about God could have been summarized as: If I believe this particular event happened or if I adopt a certain theological interpretation of scripture then I’ll go to heaven and I’ll be blessed.  This theology leads to Christianity as a spectator sport.  I’m not suggesting that no one from the pre-modern school of Christianity could live an action oriented lifestyle, but I do suggest that the traditional T.U.L.I.P. type theology has become a serious deterrent.

I think when people hear a non-literal interpretation of any biblical story they immediately presume that “non-literal” or “metaphorical” means FALSE or less than true.  Instead I see a non-literal reading of the resurrection or other biblical stories as “MORE THAN TRUE”.  Would the story of the prodigal son be any more “true” if it were historically accurate with actual people?  I don’t think so.  The meaning would be the same because the truth lies in the metaphor.  The story of the resurrection or any other supernatural story is there to emphasize the importance of the words and convey a deeper meaning.  In this case there are many meanings.  One meaning is to highlight the importance of continuing to live the life of Jesus and becoming his metaphorical body as we keep him alive in us.

The reality is that without keeping Jesus’ vision alive in us then neither of our theological views would amount to anything.  I think we can probably agree on that point.

I admit that I used the term “fairy tale” to make a dramatic point. I don’t necessarily reject a physical resurrection. I wasn’t there and don’t claim to know. I suggest that believing an event to have happened or believing a particular interpretation of that story is not the point of Jesus’ life.  The truth contained in Jesus’ message is TRUE because it works and the historical accuracy of certain biblical stories does NOT add or subtract from the truth.  The truth of Jesus death and resurrection stories is that Jesus backed up his call to non-resistance of evil by not resisting their attempt to kill him.  He lived out his words in dramatic fashion. The cross is the ultimate form of turning the other cheek.  I agree with you that it was critical that he acted out his words and he definitely did. 

On a final note, I think I hear in your response that you feel I might see Jesus words as a mere call to “good behavior”.  I definitely do NOT agree with that narrow reading of his words.  His vision of a coming kingdom is a call for a dramatic rebirth of all creation turning from a self-centered nature of pride to an “other-centered” nature of humility and compassion.  That is a drastic vision that will not happen if we only adopt a theology of “say a prayer and go to heaven” hoping only for justification in an after-life.

I hope you don’t really think the "only historical account of Jesus’ significance" was his death and resurrection.  That would be a waste of a profound life and message.

Re: Life After Death

I agree that traditional forms of theology have tended to reduce Christian faith to a spectator sport. But I would argue that the answer to this is not to metaphorize the resurrection on the grounds that it encourages an other-worldliness, a lack of interest in the sort of action that you are rightly concerned about, but to understand the resurrection as constitutive for the renewal of the people of God on creational terms - ie. precisely oriented towards an all-embracing and very practical missional interest in this world.

Would the story of the prodigal son be any more “true” if it were historically accurate with actual people?

No, but I’m not sure that really gets at the heart of the problem. On the one hand, the interpretive challenge posed by the parable of the son, to my mind, is: what is it actually about? Is it a universal parable of love and acceptance - or is it an eschatological parable of the repentance and restoration of sinful Israel? If it’s the latter, then again we have to take into account a particular narrative thrust to Jesus’ teaching. On the other, it is presented as a story that Jesus told and it clearly conforms to the genre of parable - its truth is communicated analogically, not literally. But on what literary basis do you draw the conclusion that the resurrection was also a parable or metaphor? Is the resurrection more like the parable of the son in the way it is narrated or more like the crucifixion story? The story doesn’t begin, ‘the kingdom of God is like a man who was executed and came to life again…’.

The truth of Jesus death and resurrection stories is that Jesus backed up his call to non-resistance of evil by not resisting their attempt to kill him.

But why doesn’t the New Testament interpret the events in this way? Because they were simple-minded, superstitious, unsophisticated, pre-scientific people? But there is no precedent for the assumption that it requires belief in a resurrection in order to drive home the moral value that it is good not to resist evil. The writers of the New Testament and Jesus himself had a very different set of issues in mind: judgment on Israel, sacrificial death on behalf of the nation, the raising of Christ to the right hand of the Father, and so on. It seems to me that your approach simply allegorizes the texts: you pump out their original meaning and pump in your own preferred meaning.

I hope you don’t really think the "only historical account of Jesus’ significance" was his death and resurrection.  That would be a waste of a profound life and message.

No, what I meant here is that the Gospels are the only historical account of Jesus’s significance that we have - and that they give considerable emphasis to the resurrection as a realistic and determinative event. Sorry for the ambiguity. I believe that Jesus inaugurated a movement of repentance and renewal in Israel that culminated in his death and resurrection. I believe the whole ‘narrative’ is important, not just the universal singularity of his death and resurrection.

Re: Life After Death

I feel the emphasis on the supernatural by early Christians in the New Testament is there for 2 main reasons:

1) Because they believed in the supernatural and used it to explain everything that happened including floods, famine, earth quakes, prosperity, failure, victory or defeat in war. It would have been extremely odd if the Christians in generations after him told these stories and didn’t give Jesus supernatural qualities like virgin birth or physical resurrection.

2) They were an infant religion competing with many mature religions all claiming infinite truth and the supernatural was the main source of proof for validity.  In this way the supernatural was an important part in preserving the message of Jesus. We needed it and I’m glad it is in there, but it doesn’t mean that we have to accept it at face value today. We can separate the man from the myth and still see Jesus as the way to personal, social, global, and universal salvation.

We are definitely not the first nor last to have this debate and I don’t really expect or even want to change your mind. What I do hope to accomplish is to get the more fundamentalist types (I guess that is you but I’ll not place you in that box if you prefer) and liberal (I hate that box but I probably fit) types to look beyond their own interpretations and realize the bigger picture. We need to work together to proclaim Jesus’ message of radical personal and social change without turning off the world with our internal fighting. To answer the original questions of this thread, I think the post-modern or emerging church will need to move beyond the conservative vs. liberal theological debates on afterlife and other theological ideas and find common ground for following Jesus. I think the emerging church stance would be to embrace discussion and look for ways to progress beyond debate.

One thing you should realize is that postmodern is not “anti-modern”. It is “beyond” the modern (non-literal) understanding where fundamentalism was a rejection of modernity. Post modernity has absorbed and understands modernity and now moves to the next place.  I think it is difficult for fundamentalists to move beyond modernism because it never grasped it or considered it.  It is hard to just leapfrog over it without loosing something in the jump.  Often the message ends up sounding like an outdated parent saying the word “groovy” or “hip” to his kid in the year 2005 in an attempt to be up to date.  This is why the church seems so out of place today. I think you should at least listen more closely again to my more modern views of theology even if you don’t intend to stay there, it may help you move beyond it. If not the risk you take is sounding just like those goofball TV evangelists to the rest of the post modern world.

Re: Life After Death

Wow, it’s weird being labelled a ‘fundamentalist’ - even if it’s at my discretion! I guess what this discussion illustrates is a sort of post-conservative - post-liberal convergence, which could be very fruitful, and I certainly think that we should work at it. It seems to me that at the moment, at the current stage of the debate, reading the biblical narrative together provides a key framework for pursuing common ground. I appreciate your comments.

What I find somewhat unconvincing about your first point is that supernatural events like ‘virgin birth’ and ‘resurrection’ in the New Testament do not appear to have been inserted merely to satisfy some sort of primitive expectation about what constitutes a significant religious occurrence. The resurrection, in particular, is too closely integrated into the narrative about Israel, into Israel’s self-understanding, to make sense in those terms. That’s not an argument for its having literally happened, necessarily, but I do think that the liberal (and very modern) history-of-religions critique does not really understand what it is critiquing. We’ll never get the questions of truthfulness right if we don’t get the questions of meaning more or less right.

This is a rather personal question. I suggested above that biblically speaking resurrection, which is a very different order of ‘supernatural’ event to the feeding of the 5000 or the raising of Lazarus, for example, is a statement about the nature of God. If you believe in God, what stops you including in that belief the hope that the God who made this creation is able and willing to renew this creation, make things new again - not as a matter of metaphor but as an ultimate hope? It is this which, biblically, seems to me to ground any ‘message of radical personal and social change’ in the reality of God and not merely in human ethics - which is not to say that I didn’t hear your previous statements:

His vision of a coming kingdom is a call for a dramatic rebirth of all creation turning from a self-centered nature of pride to an "other-centered" nature of humility and compassion.  That is a drastic vision that will not happen if we only adopt a theology of "say a prayer and go to heaven" hoping only for justification in an after-life.

I agree with that whole-heartedly - I have not been arguing for resurrection as an escapist option for believers. For those who suffered - for the Son of man and those in him - it was a (literal?) vindication of their extreme and very difficult faith. But for the rest of us it is, as you say, a ‘call for a dramatic rebirth of all creation…’. I’m sure we both sound to each other equally misguided, but it seems to me that in this sort of rhetoric we are not so far apart.

Re: Life After Death

I, personally, am confused by the "liberal" and recently popular (Spong, et al) view of God.  It seems to me that this view goes hand in hand with the demythologizing of the Bible.  The view I mean is that God is the "source of all being" and not a person who is jealous and angry, loving and finds pleasure in creation (though I have no problem saying that God is beyond our language).  In this way, Jesus is a man who is especially in tune with that source, namely love. 

I find it confusing because these same still see Jesus as an enlightened person for his time and culture; a time and culture which was indeed Jewish but was being infiltrated by Roman and Greek thought.  He must have been aware of competing views.  Still, he not only stuck with a personal image of God but focused on God’s relational qualities: as a Father to children and one that was seeking to adopt some more. 

In the midst of all those competing views, Jesus offered a truth about God.  After all, he was trying to point us all in that direction.  Love as a concept does not seem able to fulfill the role of the loving Father that Jesus was talking about and was part of the salvation he was offering and was asking Israel to offer to the nations.

I certainly take the cross as a historical reality.  The resurrection seems very, very likely considering the result.  As for the rest, I take it on faith and point to it for comfort.  We’ll find out if it’s "true" somewhere down the line.  The point of it all is to trust in the god of Jesus, who is God of gods, enough to follow in Jesus steps here and now and into eternity.  Not to "get into heaven."  I can say that even though I was raised with TULIP engrained into my head.  It seems to me that it is that hope, namely new creation/vindication/eternal life that keeps us on the path.

Re: Life After Death

Why would anyone write a gospel of Jesus and not have it line up with the prophecy that everyone was familiar with? They all had read the prophecies so why not line up their gospels with those texts. I could describe here why I think that these events were added as supporting elements. Keep in mind that I don’t (nor does Marcus Borg) suggest malicious fraud in the manipulation of Biblical text. It is just the fact that these writings crystallized over decades (maybe even as much as a century).  If you haven’t read Borg, then feel free to get the info straight from him because he will do a better job than me. I really regret even mentioning these ideas on this forum, because I think this level of detail undermines the intent of the original post. The important thing here is to think about how the emerging church will understand the life after death debate.

We should see that definitive answers are not the solution.  As the emerging church evolves we will grow comfortable living and serving together without all the answers. We will grow to evaluate theology by the results it has on our own ability to love and show compassion as individuals and as communities. We will embrace the story for its beauty and truth not for its historical accuracy or scientific proof.

In the emerging church people will read books by authors with opposing views just so we can understand them and learn to love them.  In the process we will learn something about ourselves. Try it…I dare you!  That is how the depolarization of our society begins and our church emerges.  I was once a bible-thumping, fundamentalist, conservative, republican but fortunately Jesus saves!  Hell is not the only thing to be saved from and Heaven is not the only reward.

New thread

I have branched this discussion to a new thread on scripture and the supernatual.

Re: Life After Death

The reason I visited this forum is because I’m looking for evidence of life after death. Isn’t that what the post was for? I can’t believe there is so much posting off topic in such an important discussion. Have any of you (that posted off topic) considered that some people are in the later stages of life or who may be terminally ill and are looking for answers? It’s fine to have other discussions but make a new thread.

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