Monday, November 26, 2018

Avoiding Hell is not the Point of Being a Christian,

Image result for personal experience of God

A discussion on Victor Repppert's Dangerous Idea Blog [1] led to this exchange:

Blogger Hugo Pelland said...

Joe, of course your version is the best ;)And the fact that you say in your next comment that you "disagree that belief in after life means degrading this life. At least shouldn't and doesn't have to." goes to support it.

 my response:
 Hugo I appreciate your discussion. I've been seeking to do a blog piece for weeks on an idea I got while watching a thing by N.T. Wright on Youtube, The basic statement he made that first stimulated me was "being a Christian is not about avoiding hell." I guess I'm having a hard time starting for two reasons: first because to me it's very obvious. Secondly it's too big as a  subject, the meaning of religious faith particularly my own, so I guess you are helping me break it down.

Blogger Hugo Pelland 

However, you have to admit that a blissful afterlife, conditional on how we behave in this one, necessarily means that the 'how' we behave matters more than the general wellbeing of all humans. It's the same as me, as an Atheist, admitting that if there's no afterlife, there's no punishment for horrible crimes committed by people who don't get caught.

Notice he doesn't even question the premise that eternal security is the point of being a Christian. He continues to argue about the effect of that belief. I will deal with that in the next issue, in this one I will talk about the basic issue   eternal security is a side effect not the point of being saved.

Me again:

I would not say after life is about how we behave; that's a works oriented view. I wouldn't say being   a Christian is about securing for oneself a good  afterlife. I know a lot of Christian piety has been based upon that assumption but not much real theology has been.

Hugo's comment implies an exclusivity understanding of Christian faith. That would require a protracted discussion and I know a lot of Christians disagree with me but I think there is an escape clause in Romans 2:7-16."Their hearts may excuse them."

7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.[2]

Rather than saying that being a Christian  is about avoiding hell I would say it's about knowing God.Avoiding hell is a beneficial side effect that comes with Christian faith but it's not the point.

I can't find the video of N.T. Wright that started me thinking on this topic so here is a quote from him in written form:

We should remember especially that the use of the word ‘heaven’ to denote the ultimate goal of the * redeemed, though hugely emphasized by medieval piety, mystery plays, and the like, and still almost universal at a popular level, is severely misleading and does not begin to do justice to the Christian hope. I am repeatedly frustrated by how hard it is to get this point through the thick wall of traditional thought and language that most Christians put up. ‘Going to heaven when you die’ is The main goal is to be bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. [3]

For Wright the point is to achieve Christ-likeness, I say it's to know God, is there really a contradiction there? It may be a difference in focus, but I don't think it's a real difference. God renovates our spirits by pouring  into our hearts (Rm 5:1) his own Holy Spirit and growing in us fruit of peace, righteousness, joy, love and so on. That is all about growing Christ-like but the point of doing that is to know God. The final result is we know for entirety and we spend eternity with God and not in  hell so it all ties in, I think the real point of all of it is knowing God.

When I speak of knowing God I do not mean that as a euphemistic way of saying we will be with God in heaven although of course I think we will be.  I refer to a process in this life that begins with a born again experience and contuse  along  lines of personal growth and spiritual understanding; these are gained both from intellectual study of scripture and theological writings,  and actual experiential encounter with  the power and presence of God in prayer, O think sensing the presence of god is a very important and real part of this process.

From time to time one finds even Christian commentators rejecting this sort of experiential based Knowledge as not Biblical but it is is Biblical, the Bible places this sort of personal knowledge of God at the heart of Christianity (no pun intended). The prophet Jeremiah tells us:

“I will put my law in their minds    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,    and they will be my people.34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’because they will all know me,    from the least of them to the greatest,”declares the Lord. [Jer 31:33-34][4]

The new covenant is predicated upon personal (in heart = experiential) knowledge. The author of the Johannine epistles tells us "whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love."(1 John 4:8). The wrod for "to Know" here is  ginosko"  

Strong's Greek: 1097. γινώσκω 

1097 ginṓskō – properly, to know, especially through personal experience (first-hand acquaintance). 1097 /ginṓskō("experientially know") is used for example in Lk 1:34, "And Mary [a virgin] said to the angel, 'How will this be since I do not know(1097 /ginṓskō = sexual intimacy) a man?'"[5]
I once did an extensive study of that word I know from that study there is a strong implication of personal experiential basis for the word. If  it is  reasonable to assume that the author of the Epistle (Elder John?) had an understanding of Jeremiah and would not have contradicted the passage sighted above then we can assume that the two two passages fit together, Thus the basis for the new convenient is personal experience and knowledge of God. Now does that mean one has to have been a drug addict and God came down in a could of light and worked a miracle that converted us? No. What does personal mean? Does it mean  dramatic?,Entertaining? No it means meaningful  to me.

J,P. Holding, internet apologist is my friend and a fellow member of the Cadre the little apologetic group I started years ago. He doesn't like the dramatic testimony  thing,He wrote a thing against it I told him he had a dramatic testimony. He said "I do?"  "all I did was read books." I said  "that's dramatic and exciting to me," It's not entertainment value I'm getting at here but the experiential aspect  of realization: the extent to which one "get's real" with God so to speak.

In this life we can;t just sit back and experience our relationship with God in an ivory tower unaffected by our relationships with others. How we treat others is an expression of the love God puts in our hearts. If we are not motivated to share that love with others it must be because we are not allowing it to touch us experimentally. That might indicate that the extent to which we are willing to seek social justice and work for pace and the welfare of others is indicative of the state of our own depth of spirit or shallowness thereof.

[1] Hugo Pelland,  Comment, "If There is No Life After This One, Does Our Life Here Matter More?" Dangerous Idea Blog November 20, 2018)

[2] Romans 2:7-16, New International Version

[3] N.T. Wright, "Rethinkig The Tradition" NTWrightPage, 2018

*This article was originally published  in For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed.  London: SPCK; Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse. 2003, 20-46. for N.T. Wrioght video of similar content see:NT Wright "is not the Christian hope:"

[4] NIV
[5] Definition is from Strong's concordance. The sexual connotation is just an example of personal experience the word is not exclusively sexual in nature,

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Good post. I agree.