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Many of us believe in an afterlife, but we don’t always know what that means. J.P. Moreland explores the different arguments for life after death.
Is There Evidence for Life After Death?
While there is widespread interest in life after death, many today believe either that there is no such thing or that, even if the afterlife is real, given that there is no evidence either way, one is free to believe anything one wants about the afterlife if such belief is personally helpful. As philosopher John Hick pointed out more than 25 years ago, “This considerable decline within society as a whole, accompanied by a lesser decline within the churches, of the belief in personal immortality clearly reflects the assumption within our culture that we should only believe in what we experience, plus what the accredited sciences certify to us.”1 In response to this problem, let’s get clear on what the Bible teaches about the afterlife, and then see what kind of case can be made on its behalf.
Throughout history, Christianity has correctly been understood to teach that the human soul, while not by nature immortal, never ceases to be after it is created. Upon death, it enters a disembodied intermediate state, however incomplete and unnatural this state may be, and eventually it is reunited with a resurrected body.
There are two main rivals to the classic disembodied intermediate state position. First, the recreation position claims that at death the person ceases to exist and is recreated out of nothing at the final resurrection. Biblical statements to the effect that one is immediately with Christ at death are construed in terms of how things seem to the deceased person (it will seem that we are with Christ right after we die because, obviously, we cannot be aware of things during the period in which we cease to exist). However, clear biblical statements that to die is to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23) should be interpreted according to their literal sense. Moreover, the reality and activity of those in the intermediate state is often described in Scripture (Isaiah 14:9-10, Hebrews 12:23, Revelation 6:9-11). Further, the appearance in Scripture of deceased people is best taken as temporary embodiment of already existing people and not as a temporary creation of human beings out of nothing for a short period of time (e.g., Matthew 17:3). Finally, the Old Testament warnings against necromancy (communicating with the dead, see 1 Samuel 28) presuppose a conscious intermediate state.
Second, there is the soul sleep view according to which persons in the intermediate state are unconscious. This positions falls victim to several points: (1) Numerous texts clearly describe a conscious intermediate state (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10). (2) Death is described as gain for believers precisely because the next moment involves conscious enjoyment of Christ (Philippians 1:23). Why would death itself, as opposed to the final resurrection, be described as gain if soul sleep were true? (3) First Thessalonians 5:10 says that Christ died so that whether awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. This verse makes no sense if being asleep means being unconscious. (4) In ancient cultures, being asleep was used to describe the dead as they appear to those remaining, and those cultures also affirmed the conscious existence of the dead in another realm.
Given that the Bible teaches that at death one passes through a conscious intermediate state awaiting a resurrected body when Christ returns, is there a case for life after death? The answer is yes, and though I must be brief, it is important to have the skeleton of such a case before us, even if I cannot add meat to those bones here.
Two Empirical Arguments for Life After Death
The case for immortality consists in empirical and non-empirical arguments. There are two empirical arguments: Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) and the resurrection of Jesus. A sufficient body of evidence exists for the view that people have died, left their bodies, had various experiences, and returned to their bodies. I had a student whose grandfather had one of these experiences. Immediately after dying, he watched as two doctors, one older and one younger, tried to bring him back to life. The younger doctor, however, gave up prematurely and when the man “woke up,” he began to cuss out the younger doctor for giving up too quickly!
Attempts to explain NDE’s naturalistically fail, especially in those cases where the disembodied person gained knowledge about things miles away (e.g., conversations of family members). One case involved a woman who, as her soul departed, saw things on the roof of the hospital that no one could have known about. One must be cautious about theological interpretations of NDE’s, but their reality is well established. Some argue that, even if true, NDE’s only provide evidence for temporary existence beyond death. Strictly speaking, this is correct. However, if biological death does not bring the cessation of consciousness at death, it is hard to see what could do so after death.
Obviously, I cannot undertake here a defense of Jesus’ resurrection. Suffice it to say that if Jesus rose from the dead, this qualifies Him to speak about life after death because His resurrection 1) provides evidence that He was the Son of God and 2) means that He has returned from the afterlife, recounting it for us.
Non-empirical Theistic-Dependent Arguments for Life After Death
The non-empirical arguments divide into theistic-dependent and theistic-independent ones. The former assumes the existence of the God of traditional theism and therewith argues for immortality. So understood, the case is beyond reasonable doubt. Three such theistic-dependent arguments are especially important. The first is two-pronged and argues from the image of God and the love of God. Given that humans have tremendous value as image bearers, and given that God is a preserver of that which is highly valuable, then God is a preserver of persons. Moreover, given that God loves His image bearers and has a project of bringing them to full maturity and fellowship with Himself, God will sustain humans to continue this love affair and His important project on their behalf.
The second argument from Divine justice asserts that in this life, goods and evils, rewards and punishments, are not evenly distributed. If God is infinitely just, He must rectify these inequities, and an afterlife is thus required.
Finally, there is the argument from biblical revelation: It can be established that the Bible is the truthful word of God,2 and it affirms life after death. To be an argument, rational considerations must be marshaled on behalf of the Bible’s divine status. This cannot be affirmed fideistically.
In part two of this article, I will explain the non-empirical theistic-independent arguments, as well as provide a final assessment of the case for life after death.
1. John H. Hick, Death & Eternal Life (Harper & Row, 1980), p. 92.
2. See K.A. Kitchen’s On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003) and F.F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Eerdmans, 2003).
In part one of this article, I reviewed a few of the arguments for life after death, namely, the two empirical arguments (Near Death Experiences and Jesus’ resurrection) and the three non-empirical theistic dependent arguments (the image of God/love of God, divine justice, and biblical revelation).
In part two, I will continue to make the case for life after death by going over the non-empirical theistic-independent arguments, followed by an assessment of all these cases together.
A Non-Empirical Theistic-Independent Argument: The Desire for an Afterlife
Two non-theistic dependent arguments exist for immortality. The first is the argument from desire advanced by Thomas Aquinas and C. S. Lewis:
1. The desire for life after death is a natural desire.
2. Every natural desire corresponds to some real state of affairs that can fulfill it.
3. Therefore, the desire for life after death corresponds to some real state of affairs — namely, life after death — that fulfills it.
Critics claim that the desire for immortality is nothing but an expression of ethical egoism, that people do not universally desire it and, even when they do, it is a learned, not a natural desire, and that even if it is a natural desire, sometimes such desires are frustrated. While adequate responses exist for these rebuttals, they weaken the force of the argument, though it is hard to say precisely how much.
A Non-Empirical Theistic-Independent Argument: Consciousness and the Soul
The second argument claims that property and substance dualism1 are true and this supports belief in life after death in two ways:
1. It makes disembodied existence and personal identity in the afterlife intelligible and …
2. It provides evidence for the existence of God and against naturalism because naturalism requires the emergence of mental entities from pure matter (naturalistic depictions of matter do not attribute to it mental potentiality).
This is a case of something coming into existence from nothing and the reality of finite mental entities is best explained by the existence of a primitive, brute Mind. This, in turn, provides grounds for re-introducing the theistic dependent arguments for life after death.
The argument for property dualism claims that however much mental and physical states are causally related, they are not the same. Consciousness (for example, various sensations, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, acts of will), is constituted by distinctively mental properties and can in no way be described using physical predicates. Once one gets an accurate description of consciousness, it becomes clear that mental states are not identical to physical states.
Mental states are characterized by their intrinsic, subjective, inner, private, qualitative feel, made present to a subject by first person introspection. Mental states like pains have an intrinsic, raw conscious feel. There is a “what-it-is-like” to a pain. Most, if not all mental states have intentionality, i.e., they are of or about things, but of-ness is not a physical attribute and no purely physical state has intentionality. Mental states are inner, private, and known by first person, direct introspection.
Those methods of knowing about a physical property of a physical entity are available to everyone else, including ways of knowing about the physical attributes in one’s brain. But a subject has a way of knowing about his mental properties/states not available to others — through introspection. For these and other reasons, it is clear that consciousness is genuinely mental and not physical.
Quite often, when a theory as a whole is well established, its credibility permeates each of its individual parts, thereby justifying them in a sort of piggy back relationship.
The case for a substance soul is too detailed to discuss here, but one argument is worth noting: The unity of conscious experience provides evidence for a substantial, immaterial ego. Consider one’s awareness of a complex fact, say, one’s own visual field consisting of awareness of several objects at once, including a number of different surface areas of each object. Now one may claim that such a unified awareness of one’s visual field consists in the fact that there are a number of different physical parts of the brain each of which is aware only of a specific part and not the whole of the complex fact. However, this will not work, because it cannot account for the fact that there is a single, unitary awareness of the entire visual field. Only a single, uncomposed mental substance can account for the unity of one’s visual field or, indeed, the unity of consciousness in general.
Final Assessment of the Case
While these two arguments provide some grounds for belief in an afterlife, it must be admitted that they are far from conclusive. At the end of the day, the justification of belief in life after death is largely theistic dependent, though the empirical arguments — at least evidence from NDE’s, since it is a matter of dispute whether historical arguments for Jesus’ resurrection presuppose theism or not — and the non-theistic arguments provide some presumption in its favor.
Is this an unfortunate conclusion? Not at all.
Quite often, when a theory as a whole is well established, its credibility permeates each of its individual parts, thereby justifying them in a sort of piggy back relationship. For example, certain parts of quantum theory (that matter can be depicted as either a particle or a wave) would be irrational to believe were we asked to assess them on their own. But those same topics become quite reasonable if they are part of a larger theory for which there is solid justification.
Similarly, while there is some evidence for an afterlife that does not depend on there being a God, it is not conclusive. Still, belief in the afterlife is beyond reasonable doubt when it is judged as part of a broader theory — Christianity — for which there is solid justification (from arguments for God’s existence and the historical reliability of the New Testament). So our conclusion regarding the justification for belief in life after death fits a pattern one frequently finds in one’s intellectual life.
1. I treat these terms in more detail on page 232f in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2003), a volume I co-authored with William Lane Craig. Here are some brief definitions from this work (emphasis in the original):
According to property dualism (also called property-event dualism), there are some physical substances that have only physical properties. A billiard ball is hard and round. Further, there are no mental substances. But there is one material substance that has both physical and mental properties — the brain. When one experiences pain, there is a certain physical property possessed by the brain (a C-fiber stimulation with chemical and electrical properties) and there is a certain mental property possessed by the brain (the pain itself with its felt quality). …
Substance dualism, on the other hand, holds that the brain is a physical object that has physical properties and the mind or soul is a mental substance that has mental properties. When one is in pain, the brain has certain physical (e.g., electrical, chemical) properties, and the soul or self has certain mental properties (the conscious awareness of the pain). The soul is the possessor of its experiences. It stands behind, over and above them and remains the same throughout one’s life. The soul and the brain can interact with each other, but they are different things with different properties. Since the soul is not to be identified with any part of the brain or with any particular mental experience, then the soul may be able to survive the destruction of the body.
J.P. Moreland is
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and director
Dec. 20, 2005 — Vast majorities of Americans believe in heaven and think they’re headed there. But elbow room won’t be a problem: About eight in 10 believers envision heaven as a place where people exist only spiritually, not physically.
89% in this ABC News poll believe in heaven, which is consistent with data going back 30 years. Among believers, 85% think they’ll personally go there — mainly in spirit, since 78% say it’s a place where people exist only spiritually.
Who gets in is another matter. Among people who believe in heaven, one in four thinks access is limited to Christians. More than a third of Protestants feel that way, and this view peaks at 55% among Protestants who describe themselves as very religious.
Among all adults, 79% are Christians, 14% have no religion, and the rest, 5%, are non-Christians. Among Christian groups, Catholics account for 21% of adults; evangelical Protestants, 19%; and non-evangelical Protestants, 13%.
There are fewer differences among religious groups on the question of whether heaven is a physical or spiritual place. Belief that it’s a physical place peaks at 22% among Protestants who describe themselves as very religious.
As noted, people without a religion are the least likely to believe in heaven (51% do, 46% don’t), followed by people who describe themselves as not religious (72% of them do believe, 26% don’t). Non-religious people who do believe in heaven are slightly less likely than others to think they’ll personally go there, but it’s a still high 77%.
Belief in Heaven
If Believe, Think They Will Go
If Believe, Spiritual Only
Have No Religion
*Sample Too Small
Another way to look at views on heaven is among all Americans, rather than just those who believe in heaven. Among all Americans, 75% think they’ll go to heaven. The rest include 5% who believe in heaven but don’t think they’ll get there; 9% who believe but aren’t sure they’ll get in; and 10% who don’t believe in heaven.
Christians View Heaven as Exclusive
Similarly, among all Americans, 21% think that only people who are Christians can go to heaven. Among the rest, 60% think both Christians and non-Christians can get in, 7% are unsure and 10% don’t believe.
There’s a difference between the sexes: 80% of women think they’re going to heaven, compared with 69% of men. That’s both because men are slightly less apt to believe in heaven in the first place, and among those who do believe, slightly less apt to think they’re headed there.
But it’s religion, again, that seems to be the driving force in the difference between the sexes: Women are 12 points more likely than men to describe themselves as religious, and being religious helps fuel belief in heaven, and the expectation of getting there.
Question: Do you believe it’s a place where people exist physically or only spiritually? (or both)
[KH: a proof there is a lack of teaching in resurrection even in evangelical churches]
What is the Rapture?
It describes an
event in the future when Jesus Christ will in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor
15:51), change all believers (living and dead) to immortal, giving them a
resurrected body, and catching them up to meet the Lord in the air. People say
the word ‘Rapture’ isn’t in the Bible, and this is misleading. The term
‘Rapture’ comes from the Latin word for the event. This term has been coined
for the event rather than the actual Greek word in the text. The Greek word is
harpazo. It means to snatch or catch away, used of Paul in being caught up to
The controversial issue today is to when the event will take place in relation to the time of the second coming and seven year tribulation. Of course the point is meaningless for those that don’t believe in a literal 7 year tribulation, but for those of us that do, it is a very import issue. Evangelicals believe in a literal 7 year tribulation, and a literal return of Jesus Christ. Less agree on a literal 1000 year Millenium after the return of Christ, but our viewpoint in EndTimes.org is that they are both literal, and future events. As will be shown, EndTimes.org teaches a Pretribulation rapture, a literal 7 year tribulation, the return of Jesus Christ, and a literal 1000 year Millennial reign of Christ.
An overview of the different Rapture positions
* Pretrib - The rapture will take place before the 7 year tribulation starts
* Midtrib - The rapture will take place at the mid point 3 1/2 years into the tribulation
* Prewrath - The rapture will take place during the second half, and before the Day of the Lord (Distinguishes some judgments to be directly from God)
* Posttrib - The rapture will take place at the end of the 7 year tribulation, at the second coming of Christ.
Key passages and supporting themes
* John 14:6
* 1 Thess 4:16-17
* 1 Cor 15:51
* Rev 3:10
* 1 Thess 5:9
Certain questions related to the Rapture issue can be asked about the purpose of God during the tribulation and Day of the Lord. The following passages bring out these questions.
* Gen 18:24-25
Worldwide Judgment - The Flood/Sodom and
* The Bride symbolism - examine this from a traditional and historical view. Rev 19 talks about the Bride getting ready, already being in heaven.
* The Feasts time table
* Day and Night people
* Who is the judgement on? Night people. Earth dwellers. Unbelievers.
* The Restrainer - The day of the lord can’t start until the restrainer is removed
* Rapture vs Second Coming - a comparison
* Rapture as a means of sociological changes in the Endtimes
Gospel of John 14:1 “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
So what did Jesus mean by this? Was He unconcerned with the timing of this event? Did He get confused about the timing? How could He promise to come again to take certain believers back to a place that He was going to prepare in His fathers house, knowing that the next time He came to earth would be to set up His kingdom on earth? It makes perfect sense in light of a pretrib rapture, when the Lord will come first for His bride, the church, bringing us back to the fathers house.
1 Thess 4:16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
5:7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Corinthians 15:51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Revelation 3:10 ‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth. 11 ‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown. 12 ‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. 13 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Genesis - Noah and
6:1 - 13 Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. 14 “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; ... 17 Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days; and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.
Interesting that the only other case in man’s history when God judged the world was in the flood, and in this case the righteous were removed, and the unbelievers judged. You might even say that Noah and his family met the Lord in the air. (I’m not saying that the experience of Noah foreshadowed the rapture, but just that it is an interesting parallel.) This is not the exact kind of deliverance that adherents to the pretrib rapture are expecting, but it is certainly true that Noah and his family were not left to go through the flood, but were removed from the point of contact.
18:22 Then the men
turned away from there and went toward
make the same argument if left to debate whether or not Christians would go
through the tribulation? Certainly if the righteous are to be killed during the
tribulation, (Rev. 6:9, 20:4) I think he would voice the same concern. There
weren’t even ten righteous found there in
Note: The teaching about God’s dealings with man in the past isn’t an absolute proof of how He will act in the future, but it is a valid point for study, and does support the pretrib viewpoint.
Now we request you,
brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering
together to Him, 2 that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be
disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the
effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you,
for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of
lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts
himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his
seat in the
He who restrains is the Holy Spirit, since the church is not usually called ‘he’, nor does the church have the ultimate power outside of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God will stop working in the restraining way that He is now. This doesn’t mean that He is no longer on the earth, since He is omnipresent. Just as the Spirit of God worked differently during the OT than He did in the Church age, He will work in a completely different way during the tribulation. Currently, He is restraining Satan from doing whatever He likes. Even the angels currently play a major role in keeping the devil from breaking loose. Look at Daniel 12...
12:1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.
Now the big question. If the restraining power of the Holy Spirit is to be removed, how can the church still be on the earth? The church can not exist without the power of the Holy Spirit, nor does God say that it ever will exist in this way. In this way it could be said that the church also restrains the effects of total satanic control over the world, in that we exercise a godly dominion over the earth, which partially thwarts the enemy, or restrains him. For those that would say that the church will be here during the tribulation, it’s interesting to note that we have knowledge of some key events during the tribulation, and would not keep quiet were we to see these things come to pass. This means that there would be a huge religious movement against the Antichrist, and this is not predicted in the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible predicts apostasy.
With the church gone, the restraining influence will be gone. So whether you see it as the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit & church, either way the church must be gone for this prophecy to make sense.
Rapture vs Second Coming
The Rapture as a means of sociological changes in the Endtimes
* Why would people agree to things like the mark of the beast? Could it be because millions of people are missing?
* Why would
countries like the
When will it happen?
We don’t know when, and we are specifically told not that man can’t know the day or hour. People that set dates are not to be believed, since the Bible specifically tells us that no man knows. However, we are not told to live as if we had all kinds of time. On the contrary, we are taught to live as if it would be today. Why? Not only because we acknowledge that we are not part of the darkness, and will escape the judgment, but because it is the way we should live, in obedience and appreciation for what God has done for us. Therefore, it is right to study the subject, and it is right to look at the events around us to see if the signs that Jesus warned of are present. We should not fall into the trap of reading everything into scripture. Far better to try to see if things can possibly NOT fit into our expectation for Endtimes events, or eschatological model. Lots of circumstantial evidence (many coincidences) will rightly lead us to healthy concern that the times may be near. This is what endtimes.org will do as we look at current events. We should have a healthy concern today that the Endtimes are near, and begin to do as Peter said in 2 Pet 3:11
3:11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Who will go?
during the church age will be part of the resurrection at the rapture. It seems
from Daniel that the OT saints (believers) will receive their resurrected
bodies at the second coming of Christ, when the purging of
Since the positions
and conclusions in Endtimes.org are in line with the Dispensational System of
Theology, or point of view, the terms need to be explained. There is no need to
fear these terms. They describe some simple concepts related to our
understanding of the Old Testament Covenants and how God will develop His
kingdom program. Even if you have negative feelings about the term
Dispensationalism, please go through the following brief explanation of what it
is. It could be that it has never been clearly explained. Dispensationalism has
influenced the doctrinal beliefs of many churches, including the Baptist
church, the Bible churches, and many non-denominational Evangelical churches.
You may even be Dispensational in your thinking although not be calling
yourself a Dispensationalist. Christian is always a better term, but terms like
Dispensationalist helps to define where we are coming from when it comes to our
views on Endtimes and the present and future
* A Dispensation - The system by which anything is administered. In Christian terms, looking back, it refers to a period in history whereby God dealt with man in a specific way. (Conscience, Law, Grace)
* Dispensationalism - A system of theology that sees God working with man in different ways during different dispensations. While ‘Dispensations’ are not ages, but stewardships, or administrations, we tend to see them now as ages since we look back on specific time periods when they were in force.
* Dispensationalism is distinguished by three key principles.
1 - A clear
distinction between God’s program for
2 - A consistent and regular use of a literal principle of interpretation
3 - The understanding of the purpose of God as His own glory rather than the salvation of mankind.
Ok, what does this mean in layman’s terms. Read on.
What about the Dispensations?
The key to Dispensationalism is not in the definition or recognition of a specific number of dispensations. This is a misunderstanding of the opponents of Dispensationalism. Almost all theologians will recognize that God worked differently through the Law than He did through Grace. That is not to say that salvation was attained in a different manner, but that the responsibilities given to man by God were different during the period of the giving of the Law up to the cross, just as they were different for Adam and Eve. The Jews were to show their true faith by doing what God had commanded, even though they couldn’t keep the moral Law. That’s what the sacrifices were for. When the apostle Paul said that as to the Law he was blameless, he didn’t mean that he never sinned, but that he obeyed God by following the guidelines of the Law when he did sin, and animal sacrifices were offered for his sins by the priests in the temple. Salvation came not by keeping the law, but by seeing it’s true purpose in exposing sin, and turning to God for salvation. The Jews weren’t saved based on how well they kept the law, as that would be salvation by works. They were saved through faith in God, and the work of Christ on the cross was counted for them, even though it hadn’t happened yet.
will define three key dispensations, (1) The Mosaic Law, (2) The present age of
Grace, and (3) the future
A greater breakdown of specific dispensations is possible, giving most traditional Dispensationalists seven recognizable dispensations.
1. Innocence - Adam
2. Conscience - After man sinned, up to the flood
3. Government - After the flood, man allowed to eat meat, death penalty instituted
4. Promise - Abraham up to Moses and the giving of the Law
5. Law - Moses to the cross
6. Grace - The
cross to the
While not everyone needs to agree on this breakdown, the point from the Dispensationalists view is that God is working with man in a progressive way. At each stage man has failed to be obedient to the responsibilities set forth by God. The method of salvation, justification by faith alone, never changes through the time periods. The responsibilities God gives to man does change. The Jews were to be obedient to the Law if they wished God’s blessing of Land. If they were disobedient, they would be scattered. However, God promises to always bring them back to the land promised to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant. After the cross, believers no longer need the Law, which pointed to Christ as the one that would take away sin through his perfect sacrifice. We are under a new Law, the Law of Grace. We have more revelation about God, and are no longer required to keep ceremonial laws given to the Jews. The moral law is always in effect as a guide, but we are no longer condemned by it, since we have a savior that has overcome for us.
making a distinction between these time periods is not what makes someone
Dispensational. Recognizing the progressive nature, and seeing the church as
part of Plan A and not Plan B is what makes someone Dispensational.
Dispensationalists see a clear distinction between God’s program for
So what is the key to Dispensationalism?
The literal method
of interpretation is the key. Using the literal method of interpreting the
biblical covenants and prophecy leads to a specific set of core beliefs about
God’s kingdom program, and what the future will hold for ethnic
seventieth week prophecy specifically refers to the purging of the nation
* Some of the warnings
in Matthew 24 are directed at the Jews, and not the Church (since God will be
finishing His plan with national
* A Pretribulation
* Premillennialism - A literal 1000 year Millennial Kingdom, where Christ returns before the Millennium starts. Revelation 20 doesn’t give us a reason to interpret the 1000 years as symbolic. Also, Dispensationalists see the promised literal reign of Christ in the OT. Note the chronological order of events between Revelation 19-21.
Charles Ryrie in
his book ‘Dispensationalism’ points out that some Christians have actually
called Dispensationalism heretical. Actually it is people that use words like
‘heretical’ for non essential doctrinal beliefs that are the ones that cause
division in the Church. Whether a person believes in a literal future
The History of Dispensationalism
While the opponents
of Dispensationalism will point out that as a system of theology it is
relatively new, it is notable that there is evidence from the early church
writers that there was clearly an understanding that God dealt with His people
differently in progressive dispensations, and that
* Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165)
* Iranaeus (A.D. 130-200)
* Clement of
* Augustine (A.D. 354-430)
Of the above Ryrie says “It is not suggested nor should it be inferred that these early Church Fathers were dispensationalists in the modern sense of the word. But it is true that some of them enunciated principles which later developed into Dispensationalism, and it may be rightly said that they held primitive or early dispensational concepts.” With this understanding, the following have written in support of some or all dispensational principles.
Some Dispensational writers
* Pierre Poiret (1646-1719)
* John Edwards (1637-1716)
* Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
* John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)
* C.I. Scofield (1843-1921)
* Lewis Sperry Chafer
* Charles Ryrie
* Dwight Pentecost
* John Walvoord
* Chafer Theological Seminary
* Grace Theological Seminary
* Masters Seminary
* Moody Bible Institute
* Talbot Theological Seminary
* Western Conservative Baptist Seminary
In 1980, I was 13 years old, and someone had given me a copy of Hal Lindsey’s mega-selling The Late Great Planet Earth to read. The Soviets were in Afghanistan, the American hostages were in Tehran, I had become fixated on the fear of nuclear war and — suddenly, thanks to Late Great, the chaos all made sense. There was no need to be afraid. This was all part of God’s plan. Accept Jesus as your personal savior, and you wouldn’t have to suffer through the worst of what was to come, for you would be spirited away in the Rapture. And if you didn’t — well, too bad for you when the Antichrist comes knocking.
The premillenial Rapture is the belief, held by many Protestant Christians, that believers will, “in the twinkling of an eye,” be taken body and soul into heaven to meet Jesus Christ — this, just as the world is on the brink of seven years of unprecedented suffering and strife, preceding the Second Coming and the end of history. If you think the end of the world is upon us, it’s easy to see why believing you won’t have to suffer the worst of it would be calming. On the other hand, you might exchange one set of fears for another. When I was in Late Great’s grip, I would wake up every morning in a mild state of panic, wondering if the Rapture had happened while you were sleeping, and I’d been … left behind!
I don’t believe in the premillenial Rapture anymore, but it’s easy to see why so many people want to. For Christians and others whose religious beliefs predict an apocalyptic final act (even Islam and the New Age have their own versions), these days are unusually anxious. It isn’t difficult to find in today’s headlines — wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, plagues, religious strife and technology run amok — evidence for the belief that history is quickening toward some sort of climax.
No wonder, then, that the same sensational theological teachings that excited believers in the 1970s and earlier are more popular than ever. The Left Behind fiction series, whose title refers to those who weren’t raptured before the Apocalypse, may well be the best-selling Christian books of all time, not counting the Bible.
Given the amount of popular publicity given to the Rapture and its attendant doctrines, it may surprise (and disappoint) many Christians to learn that this set of beliefs, generally called “dispensationalism,” is not explicitly taught by the Bible, nor has ever been widely held by Christians.
In fact, neither
Roman Catholicism nor Eastern Orthodoxy, which together include most of the
world’s Christians who live now and who have ever lived, profess
dispensationalist eschatology (which means the study of the End Times). The
Rapture is also alien to the historical Protestant confessions (as this story
from a Baptist newspaper makes clear). Martin Luther had never heard of such a
thing, nor had John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, or any other Protestant divine
until a pair of 19th-century British small-sect pastors developed the notion
apparently independent of each other. One of the men, John Nelson Darby,
traveled widely in
Given world events,
particularly in the Middle East and
“I began to see so many Catholics taken in by this Left Behind stuff, because they’ve had no religious instruction in eschatology,” Thigpen tells NRO. “In so many parishes the homilies are like, ‘Love your neighbor, be nice.’ If priests never get around to talking about who Jesus is, there’s no way they’re ever going to get around to talking about the Second Coming.”
Though he writes
from a Catholic perspective, Thigpen, an ex-Pentecostal and former editor of
Charisma magazine, takes care to demonstrate in the book how none of the
leaders of the Reformation believed in the Rapture. He says the “historical
myopia” of American culture leaves people vulnerable to those who can exploit
ignorance of the past with convincing presentations of vivid theologies.
“In the early days,
the Puritans thought the
Eschatalogically-focused expressions of faith have swelled in popularity during times of social distress and dislocation, such as after the Civil War, and during the period of rapid industrialization and immigration. There was another great surge of it following World War II, says Thigpen, and again in the 1970s, as a reaction to countercultural upheaval. The dispensationalist apologetic The Late Great Planet Earth was the best-selling nonfiction book of the decade, and though he has never apologized for his erroneous predictions in that book, author Hal Lindsey continues to be considered by many an authority on Biblical prophecy. Being a dispensationalist evangelist means never having to say you’re sorry.
Why should any of
this matter? As I wrote this past summer, apocalyptic beliefs dictate the
behavior of many true believers. American dispensationalists were early non-Jewish
supporters of Zionism, believing that the ingathering of diaspora Jews to their
Biblical homeland was a necessary precursor for the return of Christ. Though
many Evangelicals and other Christians support
“When times look tough and threatening, perhaps people find a comfort in believing in the Rapture, that God will help them escape events before they become too bad,” Thigpen says. “Ideas have consequences. One, the Rapture doctrine ignores the redemptive power of suffering, which is a powerful Christian theme. Two, the Bible also shows that God chastises His people as well as their enemies; believers share in suffering as well. Three, if people wrongly believe Christians won’t be around for the persecution that Scripture tells us will precede the Second Coming, they won’t prepare themselves spiritually or otherwise.”
Just because Catholicism doesn’t teach the Rapture or focus on end-times prophecy doesn’t mean the Catholic world has escaped popular apocalypticism. The particularly Catholic version comes as a mania for apocalypse-centered apparitions and private revelations claimed by contemporary visionaries. The Rapture Trap writes of the spiritual danger of uncritically accepting such claims, and offers discernment guidelines drawn from Catholicism’s conservative tradition.
“What we’re dealing with are people who are scared and confused by what’s going on in the world today, and who aren’t getting the information they need to separate what’s real from what’s vain and even harmful speculation,” Thigpen says. “As Christians, we believe Jesus is coming back, and we have to be ready for that to happen at any moment. But this game of ‘plug the headline into the Scripture verse,’ or into the latest message from a supposed apparition, is a losing proposition.”
Could this little
calf born last month in
heifer story begins on the
To Jews who adhere to ancient tradition, whose number include religious Israeli nationalists, the long-awaited Messiah will return to become the king of Israel and high priest of a rebuilt Temple, which can only be on Temple Mount. For Christian fundamentalists, Jesus Christ’s return at the height of the battle of Armageddon, in which forces of the Antichrist clash in Israel with a 200 million-man army from the East, will require a Third Temple from which the Lord will begin a millennial reign. And for Muslims, an Antichrist figure called the Dajal will be a Jew who will lead an all-encompassing war against Islam, which will culminate in the return of Jesus (as a Muslim prophet), the Kaaba, or Sacred Rock in Mecca, transporting itself to Jerusalem, and final judgment in the valley just below the Noble Sanctuary.
“What happens at that one spot, more than anywhere else, quickens expectations of the End in three religions. And at that spot, the danger of provoking catastrophe is greatest,” writes Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg in The End of Days, his 2000 book about the apocalyptic struggle over the Temple Mount.
So how does the
calf recently born in
In 1996, thanks in
part to a cattle-breeding program set up in
As it turned out, during the three years of waiting for the heifer to reach the ritually mandated age of sacrifice, white hairs popped out on the tip of her tail. This bovine was, alas, not divine. But now there’s a successor, and rabbis who have examined her have declared her ritually acceptable (though she will not be ready for sacrifice for three years). She arrives at a time when Israel is fighting a war for survival with the Palestinians, who are almost entirely Muslim, and a time in which Islam and the West appear to be girding for battle with each other, as Islamic tradition predicts will be the state of the world before the Final Judgment.
“These kinds of
circumstances are exactly what people are waiting for,” says Richard Landes, a
Landes says there
is immense anger among Israelis, both religious and secular, at the ingratitude
of Muslims, whom the conquering Israeli army allowed to occupy and control the
This is something the Israeli security forces have long been vigilant against. But with their attentions drawn elsewhere by the war with the Palestinians, it’s possible that a radical group could slip the net. And it’s possible that religious extremists elements within the Israeli army could help them.
“This idea is
nothing to laugh at,” says novelist Robert Stone, whose novel Damascus Gate
centers around a similar conspiracy. “There have been at least four actual
plots to clear the space where the
Timothy Weber, dean
of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in
“It really does
play into the longstanding scenario that dispensationalists have believed would
happen in the End: a growing disdain for
belief in particular prophetic visions — Jewish, Christian, or Islamic — makes
the art of political compromise impossible when it comes to
Put another way: You don’t have to believe that a rust-colored calf could bring about the end of the world — or that 72 black-eyed virgins await the pious Islamic suicide bomber in paradise — but there are many people who do, and are prepared to act on that belief. This is a stubborn reality that eludes many of us in the modern, secular West, particularly those who work in the media, and who are therefore responsible for reporting and explaining the world to the masses.
“Sometimes you look
at religion events and you want to laugh out loud, because they’re so bizarre,”
says Terry Mattingly, a syndicated religion columnist and scholar of media and
“Since September 11, we have all been brought to the point of recognizing the pervasive power of religions to shape all kinds of events,” Weber adds. “We are dealing with ancient religious convictions and memories, and they are driving forces in the modern world. The secular press just doesn’t get it, but it seems to me there’s no other way to understand this.”
By Peter Chattaway
A death-row inmate
In both cases, the publisher of the end-times thrillers complied.
Other readers are snapping up the books from more traditional sources—bookstores, discount chains, websites—at the phenomenal rate of 1.5 million copies per month.
End-times books always create, and cash in on, a sense of urgency. The Left Behind industry—books, movies, clothes, even a race car—is becoming the most successful end-times phenomenon yet, not only because it is riding a wave of millennial interest but because of some first-class marketing and compelling storytelling by Jerry Jenkins, the principal writer.
But the Left Behind craze is just the latest incursion of an evangelical end-times subculture that has simmered beneath the surface of mainstream pop culture for at least three decades.
Although the books will provide millions of non-Christians a close encounter with evangelical faith, they are based on beliefs about the end of the world that are of fairly recent origin and are widely disputed even among conservative Christians.
“Left Behind,” the first book, became a publishing juggernaut after its 1995 debut. The series has sold more than 30 million copies. The two most recent volumes, “The Indwelling” and “The Mark,” topped the New York Times bestseller list.
the first book, Tyndale House in
It started with a novel, written by Jenkins to follow an end-times outline offered by Tim LaHaye, a fixture in the evangelical world. LaHaye and Jenkins since have produced eight books of a total 12 planned, with Jesus set to return in the final book, “Glorious Appearing,” out in 2004.
The storyline features a rapture in which millions of God-fearing people are zapped instantly into heaven, the rise of a Romanian Antichrist, and use of a computer-chip implant as the mark of the Beast. The central characters, left behind after the rapture, get a second chance at salvation. The books move chronologically from the rapture through seven years of tribulation leading up to the return of Christ.
Although the books have brought Christianity to the attention of millions, the problem is, whose version of Christianity?
The end-times scenario of Left Behind has drawn divergent reactions from Christians. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and United Methodists generally think Jesus will return and judge everyone immediately, then reign forever. Leaders in these denominations argue that the notion of non-believers left behind for seven years is wrong, a misreading of the Book of Revelation, which is a difficult, symbolic text.
“Certain Presbyterian churches have had seminars to debunk it,” said Dan Balow, marketing director of Tyndale. “Then some Baptists and conservative evangelicals go in the opposite direction. They embrace it and don’t treat it like the fiction it is.”
Belief in the rapture is so pervasive among evangelicals—who pride themselves in their literal interpretation of the Bible—that many don’t realize it is a relatively recent doctrine with little basis in the Scriptures.
Most articles on the Left Behind series have said it is based on the Book of Revelation, but that is only partly true. The worldview reflected in these books and films can be traced back to the teachings of John Nelson Darby, a former Anglo-Irish priest who founded the Plymouth Brethren sect in the 19th century and whose views were popularized on this continent by the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909.
Darby tried to synthesize the Bible’s many prophetic passages into an interpretative scheme he called dispensationalism. He believed that world history, past and future, was divided into distinct eras, or dispensations, and that God had a different way of dealing with humanity in each of them.
Like a number of Christians, Darby was a premillennialist—that is, he believed the world would have to endure seven years of great suffering before Jesus could return and reign over the earth in person during the millennium. However, it was Darby who introduced the rapture—based on the prediction in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that believers will “meet the Lord in the air.” Before the seven years of suffering could begin, Darby believed Jesus would scoop up all the true believers and take them to heaven, so they could avoid the horrors of the Antichrist’s reign.
Darby’s views were not widely accepted at first. Most Christians, following the lead of Saint Augustine, were either amillennialists—that is, they believed the millennium should be understood as a metaphor for the age of the church—or postmillennialists, who believed that it was up to Christians to perfect the world and thus usher in the millennium themselves. According to these views, Jesus would return after the millennium had already taken place.
In more recent years, Christians who refuse to get sidetracked by this debate have quipped that they are “panmillennialists”—that is, they believe it will all “pan out” in the end.
In the late 19th century, most evangelicals were postmillennialists, and it was this belief in the need for social transformation that fueled their efforts to abolish slavery and win the rights of women. But by the early 20th century, they were growing discouraged. True reform was difficult if not impossible. Missionaries overseas met with resistance. Churches back home turned to more liberal interpretations of the Bible. The Christianization of the world seemed increasingly unlikely. In the 1920s, fundamentalists were pushed even further to the margins of society, following the public relations disasters of Prohibition and the Scopes trial.
The idea that God would remove all the true believers and then exact his judgment on the rest of the world appealed to an increasingly marginalized community.
Instead of saving
the world, some evangelicals began to get involved in activities that would
bring the world closer to its end. Dispensationalists believed that the Jews
would return to
And when the world went through the massive social, spiritual, political and economic upheavals of the late 1960s, Hal Lindsey popularized dispensationalism once again in a book called “The Late Great Planet Earth,” which came out in 1970 and became one of the hottest books of the decade, selling more than 18 million copies. A film based on that book and narrated by Orson Welles was produced in the late 1970s.
In both book and film, Lindsey strongly hinted that he expected the rapture to take place sometime in the 1980s. Despite the fact that none of “The Late Great Planet Earth’s” dire predictions for the 1980s came true, Lindsey is still regarded as an expert on prophecy in some circles.
The worldview of
dispensationalism has had all sorts of political and social consequences. Many
evangelicals are suspicious of peace talks, especially in the
To the unbeliever, the end-times industry is no doubt funny, if perhaps creepy. Yet the people who tell these stories in book, music and film want to be taken seriously, and Left Behind is their most earnest effort yet. They know that book and box office sales translate to cultural clout, something evangelicals crave.
Although these writers and filmmakers claim their first goal is to win souls, some people will ask if these artists are selling their own.
The kind of end-times worldview promoted by Left Behind raises significant moral questions, according to Baptist ethicist David Gushee. He points out that the Left Behind series capitalizes on “the most passionately held fears and suspicions of a certain strain of American evangelical Christianity.”
It is a worldview, warns Gushee, that is built on “anti-internationalism, anti-United Nations, anti-pacifism, anti-multilateralism, anti-ecumenism, anti-Catholicism (and) conspiracy-theory thinking.”
Such a worldview “remains a distressing aspect of one branch of conservative evangelical Christianity,” he said. “Its presence in this wildly popular series can only encourage and reinforce that way of thinking.”
“These things are starting to hit with amazing regularity,” Robertson said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Robertson, a former GOP presidential candidate and host of the “700 Club” daily Christian TV show, noted, “If you read back in the Bible, the letter of the apostle Paul to the church of Thessalonia, he said that in the latter days before the end of the age that the Earth would be caught up in what he called the birth pangs of a new order. And for anybody who knows what it’s like to have a wife going into labor, you know how these labor pains begin to hit. I don’t have any special word that says this is that, but it could be suspiciously like that.”
“What was called the blessed hope of the Bible is that one day Jesus Christ would come back again, start a whole new era, that this world order that we know would change into something that would be wonderful that we’d call the millennium,” he continued. “And before that good time comes there will be some difficult days and there will be likened to what a woman goes through in labor just before she brings forth a child.”
When asked if the world was approaching that moment, Robertson said, “It’s possible. I don’t have any special revelation to say it is but the Bible does indicate such a time will happen in the end of time. And could this be it? It might be.”
Hurricane Katrina left more than 1,200 people dead in the
On Dec. 26, an estimated 275,000 people lost their lives
from a tsunami sparked by an undersea earthquake in the
Some New Testament verses often cited by Christians regarding signs of the end of this present age before the return of Jesus to Earth include:
# “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:7-8)
# “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;” (Luke 21:25).
Robertson isn’t the only one raising the End Times issue, as author and WorldNetDaily columnist Hal Lindsey has weighed in.
“It seems clear that the prophetic times I have been
expecting for decades have finally arrived. And even worse, it appears that the
As WND reported last month, Robertson suggested the assassination of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
“We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,” he said, though he later backed away from the suggestion of assassination, stating he was taken out of context.
Robertson revisited his concerns about Chavez today, telling CNN, “The truth is, this man is setting up a Marxist-type dictatorship in Venezuela, he’s trying to spread Marxism throughout South America, he’s negotiating with the Iranians to get nuclear material and he also sent 1.2 million dollars in cash to Osama bin Laden right after 9-11.”
“I’ve written him. I apologized and I said I will be praying
for him, but one day we will be staring at nuclear weapons and it won’t be
[Hurricane] Katrina facing
When asked where he got the information about cash going from Chavez to bin Laden, Robertson said it was from “sources,” though WND has previously reported on the connection.
“That’s what I was told,” Robertson said. “And I know he sent a warm, congratulatory letter to Carlos the Jackal. He’s a friend of Moammar Gadhafi. He’s made common cause with these people who are considered terrorists.”
The U.S. Geological Survey has reported 13 aftershocks
following Friday’s 7.6-magnitude earthquake in
According to the
Though aftershocks are a normal part of earthquake activity, the number and severity following Friday’s quake are unusual. WorldNetDaily reviewed the NEIC’s earthquake data since March of this year and learned that only two remotely similar examples could be found.
Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 2, six quakes hit the
According to the NEIC, earthquakes of 5.5 magnitude or larger are generally considered a big earthquake.
The three largest-magnitude earthquakes recorded in recent
history include a 9.5-magnitude quake in
Additionally, the U.S. Geological Survey data indicates earthquake occurrences are increasing. In 2000, there were 22,256 recorded earthquakes worldwide. That number has steadily increased to 31,199 earthquakes in 2004.
FOR UNDERSTANDABLE REASONS, Christians of an orthodox stripe tend to grow suspicious when the conversation turns to dispensing with elements of the faith that may have overstayed their welcome. We’ve been led down that primrose path before: You start with bright talk about paring down the Christian apple to its essential core, and the next thing you know you’re peeling fruit with John Shelby Spong, stripping away not only bleeding statues and miraculous medals, but the doctrine of the Trinity and that whole difficult business of the Resurrection besides.
Still, it’s hard to imagine that more than a few cranks and old-timers will actually miss the almost-doctrine of Limbo, which the Catholic Church may soon consign to theological oblivion, releasing its unbaptized inhabitants into the merciful hands of the Deity. Not necessarily into heaven, mind you: being the Author of the universe, God may do what He likes with them. But given His reputation for mercy, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll be joining Hitler, Caligula, and the casting directors responsible for Andie McDowell’s career in the warmer precincts of the next life.
Not, of course, that the Church has ever definitively consigned any human being to hell, Judas included—which is why the notion of a neatly-defined limbo reserved for a neatly-defined segment of humanity was so misguided in the first place. The concept of a semi-blessed realm where the unbaptized frolicked, in ignorance of the even greater blessings denied them, was a well-intentioned theory at its inception, and a welcome alternative to the rather harsher hellfire hypothesis advanced—with, one hopes, a trace of regret—by Saint Augustine, among others. But it ultimately reflected an unwarranted degree of presumption about the afterlife, its geography, and its population distribution.
There’s a reason that Limbo made its most effective
appearances in Dante and
A greater degree of agnosticism about the shape of things to come, then, and a greater humility about theology’s ability to predict the disposition of individual souls, is one of the more welcome developments in Catholic teaching over the last century or so. Particularly under Popes John Paul and Benedict, the Church’s emphasis has shifted away from declaring confidently who will and won’t be consigned to perdition, and toward a more modest mixture of fear and hope concerning the next life—fear that souls will be lost eternally (and zeal for their conversion), but hope as well that in the providence of God there may yet be salvation for those who never experience Christian baptism.
There is one difficulty with this development, however, which is that it too often shades into two characteristically modern mistakes—the Panglossian Christianity that denies the reality of sin and the possibility of damnation, and the widespread conceit that a more spiritually mature humanity ought to concern itself entirely with things of this world, and leave death, and its aftermath, out of the picture entirely. The latter error used to manifest itself in utopian follies like Communism, but of late it’s primarily visible in the gnostic theism of writers like Elaine Pagels and Karen Armstrong, for whom religion is about the journey, not the destination, and for whom the hope of eternity is only interesting insofar as it makes people behave better here on Earth.
In the quest for this-world enlightenment and loss-of-ego, Armstrong wrote a few years ago, ideas of an afterlife may be “beneficial” if kept safely in perspective—”but all too often, the quest for immortality becomes profoundly unreligious.” In her preferred form of Christianity, Paul’s “eye-hath-not-seen” exhortation is reinterpreted as a call to this-world-only religiosity, and the whole Christian idea is reshaped along more eastern lines, with less emphasis on the horror of death and the hope of resurrection, and more on “the discovery of a sacred realm of peace in the depths of one’s own self.”
Yet death remains—obdurate, inevitable, unmoved by “sacred realms of peace” or anywhere else we might hide from its remorseless advance. And to treat the Christian hope of eternity as a means to another end, whether enlightenment or inner peace or good works or the loss of the ego, is to muddle means and ends beyond recognition. Death isn’t “beneficial” to our spiritual quest, it’s a reason for our spiritual quest—the horror at the heart of being, and the end of all the ends there are.
Reflecting recently on the death of his mother, Susan Sontag, the journalist David Rieff noted that “there are those who can reconcile themselves to death and those who can’t.” His mother was one of the latter. She “feared extinction above all else, was in anguish over its imminence,” Rieff writes; “I am not interested in quality of life!” she cried, when the doctors suggested that a life-prolonging treatment might not be in her best interests.
Orthodox Christianity, unlike its gnostic and Buddhist
reincarnations, refuses to pretend that this desire for life is somehow
spiritually immature, let alone “profoundly unreligious.” Sontag’s cry, like
Job’s before it, is the question to which Christ’s resurrection is the answer,
the hallmark of a fallen world that Christians believe their savior died to
redeem. Death isn’t a development to be reconciled with, but an enemy that God
has overcome, so that we can say with
If Limbo told us too much about death and the afterlife, presuming knowledge that no Christian should claim, then a religion that brackets the question of eternity tells us too little. Somewhere between the schematized afterlife of the scholastics and the too-sophisticated-by-half spirituality of today lies the truth—that what comes after death is a mystery that no eye hath seen, but that it’s the most important mystery there is.
Ross Douthat is an associate editor at the Atlantic Monthly.
Is the national ID card the next step toward the imposition of the biblical “mark of the beast” Christians believe will be required to buy and sell during the Last Days?
That’s the contention of a growing group of believers who are working to turn back the approval of the Real ID Act by Congress last year. Public Law 109-13 requires the national ID portion of the plan go into effect by May 2008.
“There is a prophecy in the Bible that foretells a time when every person will be required to have a mark or a number, without which he or she will not be able to participate in the economy,” states the Christian website NoNationalID.com. “The prophecy is 2,000 years old, but it has been impossible for it to come to pass until now. With the invention of the computer and the Internet, this prophecy of buying and selling, using a number, can now be implemented at any time. Has the time for the fulfillment of this prophecy arrived?”
The site asks visitors to sign an online petition vowing not to vote for any candidate who does not commit to repealing the Real ID Act.
The goal, states the site, which is sponsored by Endtime Ministries, is to get 100,000 signatures on the petition.
On the site is a link to purchase a DVD entitled “666 – How Close? Will the National ID Become the Mark of the Beast?”
Americans choosing not to carry a national ID, the site warns, will be prohibited from driving a car, boarding a plane, train or bus, entering any federal building, opening a bank account, or possibly from holding a job.
“This is probably our last chance to head off the mechanism before it is actually implemented as the mark,” states the site in the FAQ section. “It truly may be now or never.”
The Real ID Act requires states to participate in a federal data-sharing program when issuing driver’s licenses, making those licenses de facto national ID cards.
Touted as a tool of the war on terrorism, the ID card provision of the law, which also includes border-security measures, has attracted the most negative attention.
After May 11, 2008, “a federal agency may not accept, for any official purpose, a driver’s license or identification card issued by a State to any person unless the State is meeting the requirements” specified in the Real ID Act. While states can issue non-federal ID cards, they would not be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration for travel purposes, grounding those who don’t carry federally approved cards.
The data required to be included in each card are, among other things, the person’s full legal name, date of birth, gender, driver’s license number, a digital photo, the person’s address and machine-readable technology so the information can be ready easily by government or banking personnel.
Each state must agree to share the data on the cards with every other state.
Supporters of the law say it does not require a “national” ID card because each state issues its own cards, not the federal government. But detractors note the cards are virtual national IDs since the federal law has dictated what data must be included and that each state must share its database with the others.
The New Hampshire Senate yesterday voted to reject a bill to rebel against the Real ID system and not participate in a pilot program for which the state had been tapped. The state House of Representatives passed the measure last month, but the Senate instead voted to study the driver’s license requirements.
U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is urging his home state to give Real ID a try, saying it’s needed to keep terrorists and illegal aliens from entering the country.
According to the Manchester Union Leader, Gregg argues that
Groups opposed to the Real ID Act are making strange bedfellows, with Christians like those running NoNationalID.com fighting on the same side with the American Civil Liberties Union, which sponsors the website RealNightmare.org.
The ACLU site decries the fact that a motor vehicles department staff person will be required to ask for immigration-status papers from those applying for driver’s licenses.
“REAL ID will inevitably cause discrimination against
“Based on past experience when similar requirements were imposed on employers, widespread discrimination resulted against citizens who ‘looked’ or ‘sounded’ foreign.”
The civil-liberties group also slams a requirement of the law that some immigrants be issued a temporary “tier-two” license that has a prominent expiration date.
The National Conference of State Legislatures is equally opposed to the Real ID Act, saying, “Federal legislators and rule makers are negating state driver’s license security efforts, imposing difficult-to-comply-with mandates and limiting their flexibility to address new concerns as they arise. In other words, decades of state experience is being substituted for a ‘command and control regime’ from a level of government that has no driver’s license regulatory experience.”
Endtime Ministries’ Irvin Baxter, a radio host, believes the national ID is a precursor to the forced embedding of radio-frequency chips under the skin.
Baxter told the
‘Left Behind’ Theology is ‘Nuts’
[KH: This NT professor is obviously liberal. She didn’t even read Revelation carefully.]
Rossing, a professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology
Left Behind: Eternal Forces, the new Christian video game based off of
the best-selling book series, invites players to “command your forces through
intense battles across a breathtaking authentic depiction of
“Ads for the game online show gun-wielding soldiers marching here in New York City, helicopters floating overhead and people being killed all accompanied by the music of ‘Amazing Grace,’” Rossing noted.
“Is this how ‘God’s Unfinished Future’ is about to end – right here in
“No,” she replied, “I think this theology is nuts and that we must say ‘no’ to the ‘Left Behind’ fictional version.”
Rossing claims that the death of life, the end-times, is taking place now under a culture of excessive materialism which she identifies as the “disease of more.”
Rossing quoted at length an October 2005 column by Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist and former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan. The column, titled “A Separate Peace,” suggested that the world’s people may be living at “the end of something.”
In the article, Noonan said that she and some friends were discussing the sheer number of things that parents buy for teenage girls – bags, earrings, and shoes. Some describe it as affluence, but Noonan said “it’s also the fear that parents have that we are at the end of something and that they want their kids to have good memories.”
The columnist wrote of an unnoticed sense that the “wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley is coming off the tracks and it won’t be fixed anytime soon.” She speculated that those who were not conscious of this sense just kept life moving, but those who realized that something was out of line, maintained the line of thinking of “I’ve got mine; you get yours.”
The violent story of Armageddon is “encroaching on a cavalier ‘use it or lose it’ activity,” Rossing explained. The text of militant prophecy stems from “people who do not care about peace.”
“It’s a story about how the planet wants to be decimated,” she added. “As Christians, that cannot be our message.”
Having touched on the ecological and empirical trends of American culture today, Rossing asked stimulating questions and offered greater insight into the current state of the world.
She posed the question “What for us is the end of the world?”
In Latin, the word “apocalypse” means “an unveiling.” If “pulling back
the curtain” reveals something, what curtain did Hurricane Katrina pull back? “Whether
the accelerating melting of Greenland’s ice, the war in
The theological conference made a case for reclaiming the Bible and explained the apocalypse as a diagnosis of the sickness of our world. Likening the Bible to a doctor, Rossing said it is “giving us a tough diagnosis right now” and “a vision for healing and hope.”
She explained that the ecological crisis is not framed so much in guilt or sin, but in finding others as well as ourselves to be resistant to sin – moreover to an illness which we need healing.
In her recent publication, Rossing asserted that today’s end–times
writings look at prophecy that was invented less than two hundred years ago
and, by now, is a dominant American view. The Bible does not provide a clear
depiction of worldwide violence and disaster in the
However, the Book of Revelation, she admonished, should not be shied away from. In fact, Revelation is a crucial text for helping us see God’s life in our world. Rossing said that the central message of the Book of Revelation is that “God’s will is not to destroy our world but to heal it.”
[KH: prominent liberal liberation theology, lots of heresy]
NEW YORK – A prominent German theologian urged Christians to rethink their expectations of “the final judgment,” reasoning that western Christianity and all of society has been instilled with images of a world-ending apocalypse centered on vengeance for evil-doers and unbelievers.
“The images we use are certainly apocalyptical. But are they Christian?
No,” said Jürgen Moltmann at the 37th Trinity Institute national theological
conference held this week. The emeritus professor of systematic theology at
During his presentation at the three-day conference which concluded Wednesday, Moltmann spoke on “The Final Judgment: Sunrise of Christ’s Liberating Justice”
Those who anticipate the end of the world live in the long evening of death and anticipate the final night, Moltmann said, rather than living in the hope of the resurrection and anticipating the final morning. They claim a “glorious end” to the earth rather than anticipating the “beginning of eternal liveliness” on earth.
“To put it in simple terms Jesus is not dead, Jesus is alive in all eternity,” the German theologian said. “Deliverance from evil in the big new life is the beginning of a universal, and the living God of all things – this is the beginning already.”
Moltmann said Christians are now called to join the risen Christ in his protest so that everyone can see that this life is worth living now, rather than marking time in anticipation of future glory.
“It is not just speculation about the future, an extrapolation of the present or the past, but an anticipation of the coming of God,” he said, according to the Episcopal News Service. “A calling to change the present. This is prophecy.”
Referring to 2 Corinthians 5:17, Moltmann urged Christians to pray and open their eyes for the Word of God, remembering we are not the former beings but that we will do new things.
“The main signs of Christianity are the coming and the death and resurrection of Christ,” he commented. “This is the one sign which we have to interpret our lives and world history.”
Moltmann said it is imperative to counter the world’s friend-or-foe attitude by “considering everyone whom we meet” to be a believer because God believes in them and Christ died for them “as well as us.”
Christians must remember that Christ “took sides with the victims and redeemed the perpetrators from their violence,” Moltmann said. He noted that Christ healed sinners and loved everyone – victim and perpetrator alike – and bore the sins of the world, suffering when humans suffer.
“We must carry the memory of Christ otherwise none of us will be able to recognize him” when He comes again, he said.
“The perpetrators of evil will afterwards experience the justice that puts things for right,” he said. “They will thereby be transformed in as much as they will be relieved or be forgiven with the victims. They will be saved by the crucified Christ who comes to them together with their victims.” [KH: universalism]
This judgment is not about reward and punishment but “the victory of God’s creative justice” and the transformation of the world. “God who guarantees this justice is guaranteed from the cross,” said Moltmann.
Living against death is therefore the meaning of the resurrection of life in death.
“The victims [will] stand there together with the perpetrators and the perpetrators with the victims … the rich with the poor, the violent with the helpless, the martyrs with their murderers,” he said. Therefore, we are to see every human being embraced by the mercy and sovereignty of God – “whoever they are, God loves them, Christ died for them and the Holy Spirit is working in their lives,” he added. [KH: again universalism]
In his presentation, Moltmann used the T.S. Eliot quote “the end is in the beginning” to illustrate that in every end there is a new beginning hidden. “If you search, the new beginning will find you. You must look for it and never give up.”
In line with the conference title, “God’s Unfinished Future: Why It Matters Now,” Moltmann said if God’s future truly stands as unfinished, “He will react to what we are doing and I’m looking forward to seeing that. If there is a plan which is executed in world history, there can be no more miracles anymore.”
The Trinity Institute’s 37th national theological conference was held at