Eschatology: Resurrection and Life after Death

I’ll be tackling this rather intense topic tonight and likely failing to hold it down and get it under control! Following the event I will post more resources.

Informational Link: What Does It Mean to Survive Death?

Google+ Event Page


Quote of the Day – Judging the Experience of Others

Since I’ve been talking about Seventh-day Adventists starting yesterday, due to the date, I thought I’d use an Ellen G. White quote. A friend called my attention to this today in a phone conversation.

Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing.

So frail, so ignorant, so liable to misconception is human nature, that each should be careful in the estimate he places upon another. We little know the bearing of our acts upon the experience of others. What we do or say may seem to us of little moment, when, could our eyes be opened, we should see that upon it depended the most important results for good or for evil. (Ministry of Healing, 483, emphasis mine)

I should note that I have found it much easier to appreciate Ellen White as a writer since I left the SDA church and quit trying to read her as a prophetess. While I think in many cases she was off the mark, she also was quite frequently very insightful.

Resource Links for Eschatology Future and Present

Some Eschatology Sources

This is strictly a links post, giving links to the resources I’ll be referencing tonight.

First some of my own resources:

Essays posted today on the Energion Discussion Network related to the Great Disappointment:

Some other recent posts from the Energion Discussion Network:

Books referenced tonight or at other times in the series:

  • Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide by Edward W. H. Vick
    This is the primary guide for this initial portion of my study. I am using it to help us look at definitions and map out the territory before we go into verse by verse studies of various passages.
  • The Journey to the Undiscovered Country by William Powell Tuck
    One of our primary resources on life after death.
  • From Inspiration to Understanding: Reading the Bible Seriously and Faithfully by Edward W. H. Vick
    This is the more serious, 355 page discussion of inspiration. If you’re serious about studying what inspiration and authority are and looking at what those definitions mean for how we read the Bible, take the time to read this. I obviously also like my own book When People Speak for God, but if it had been published after From Inspiration to Understanding instead of before, it would have had dozens of footnotes to it.
  • History and Christian Faith by Edward W. H. Vick
    “God acting in history” is a phrase that evokes many questions of definition. This little book  will help you explore that idea and how it reflects in many areas.
  • The Adventists’ Dilemma by Edward W. H. Vick
    What does it mean to say that Jesus is coming soon, if anything? This book examines the idea of a literal return of Jesus “soon” in a detailed way.
  • Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God by Bruce Epperly
    Process theology placed on a lower shelf. Bruce Epperly doesn’t shy away from application, but talks about how we should live with a God who is directly involved and impacted by the world.

Adventists, Other Christians, and The Great Disappointment

Substantially changing beliefs have been a defining characteristic of my life. That may be hard to comprehend. It’s even hard to write in a grammatical form. This admission makes some people uncomfortable. Why should they listen to me now, if I have already changed what I may have believed and advocated decades, years, or even months ago?

I can definitely understand the question. We seek certainty and safety. It’s thoroughly bred into us. Around the caveman campfire, the Saber Tooth Tiger fundamentalist was king. He knew what to do with that spear. He didn’t dither about whether to put out a side of meat, reach out his hand and say “nice kitty,” or kill the tiger.

But certainty also is dangerous, both when it is not justified and when circumstances change. Thus I embrace passionate action and enough uncertainty to make me willing to change my mind.

The largest single change was when I left the denomination I grew up in, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and became first unchurched, and then finally a United Methodist. There are those who find that change mind-boggling. Others find it obvious, as though anyone with adequate intelligence would have made the move.

Even in that dramatic change in my life I remained convinced of the value of the people whose views I was rejecting. I became an ex-SDA. There are a few SDAs who consider that horrifying. I have left the truth. I have become an apostate. I am now working for the enemy.

Let those who are not SDAs not rise up to cast the first stone. The condemnation from the SDA side meets its match on the other in those who say, “See! Just like those cultists! They can’t accept that you’ve come over to an orthodox community!” There’s an ironic twist to this accusation from folks who generally believe they have all the truth, are never wrong, and thus SDAs are cultists, especially because SDAs are, well, intolerant.

Last night in an interview I mentioned that it was a good thing God could work with people who are wrong. That way God can work with me. If you think God is working with you because you have everything right—I suspect you’re wrong about that! But I still believe God is working with and likely through you.

I’m an un-angry ex-SDA. I affirm the work of my former denomination in many areas while at the same time I differ, sometimes substantially, with that church in matters of doctrines. Differing in matters of doctrine is, I believe, good cause to find fellowship elsewhere. It is not good cause to belittle and condemn. Many mainliners find it very easy to condemn SDAs for views they, the mainliners, don’t even comprehend. I have lost count of the times someone has told me that they really don’t like SDAs because they have such incredibly false doctrines, then when I ask them just which doctrine they find so wrong, they fall back on, “Well, they’re a cult.”

And that leads me to Adventists and The Great Disappointment. There’s a great deal of detail around this event in Adventist history. There was a lesser disappointment before the “great” one. Prophetic interpretation was adjusted as people moved on. This happens frequently in many, many groups. This occurred before there was a Seventh-day Adventist Church as such, but SDAs grew out of the Millerite movement and the responses to this great disappointment.

When and what was this great disappointment? October 22, 1844. The expectation was that Jesus would return in glory and take His children home.

It didn’t happen. The day passed uneventfully.

Some Adventists came to believe that the date was right, but the event was different. This interpretation is one of the key elements of the reason why I am no longer an SDA myself. Yes, I can list specific doctrines and the interpretation of Daniel 8:14 is one of them. A rather minor one, that is. I could co-exist in a church with people who are wrong about how to interpret Daniel 8:14. Come to think of it, I manage to hang around a church in which I would be surprised if anyone could name the general topic addressed in Daniel 8.

It’s easy for mainline Christians to point fingers at those who name times for the coming of Jesus or who express excessive certainty about the end-times, life after death, or prophetic interpretation. After all, we have the perfect solution: Ignore those issues. Maybe nobody will notice.

On the other hand, the people who have been out on a limb, taken the plunge, made the hard call, and lived with the result may have something to say to us as well. That’s where I see SDAs and also other Adventist groups. They may have been disappointed. I may disagree with some of their interpretations even after the disappointment, but they’re still engaged with the topic.

And so I’m going to do a few things. Starting tomorrow I’m going to publish some articles by SDA authors, folks who are published by my company Energion Publications, specifically about the Great Disappointment and 1844. What might we learn from the experiences of the SDA church? Are we making any of the same mistakes as we read scripture? They felt they were faithful to scripture. We (and they) know they were wrong at the time. But do we carry on some of the same mistakes?

Join me Thursday night for a discussion on my weekly video study and then watch here and on the Energion Publications News blog for links as the remaining articles are published. The introductory article is already posted.

Eating from My Garden

On the scale of cosmic events, this is somewhat less significant than the proverbial one beat of a butterfly wing, but today I ate something from my garden for the first time. It wasn’t planned. I had to thin my radishes, so I saved them and added some of the tops to my salad. I have some more so will use them in a few other things.

Here’s the picture:

radish topsYes, distinctly non-earth shattering. But nonetheless a nice moment for me. The last time I put in my own garden I was about 14 years old.  Hopefully the remaining plants will be able to grow large and juicy in the space I provided for them.

Eschatology: Future and Present

Some Eschatology SourcesOn Thursday night I’m going to do two things: 1) Present some material related to chapter 6 of Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide (titled “Eschatology Future and Present”), and 2) Discuss October 22 as the anniversary of the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844, as it is recalled in Adventism. On Thursday I will also kick off publication of some articles by Energion authors on that event and its implications for how we study the Bible generally and eschatology in particular. I’ll provide links to that material here.

Here are the links for the event. Below the YouTube viewer, I will post a couple of questions to consider relating to Thursday night’s study.

Google+ Event Page


In the study questions (page 67 of the book), Dr. Vick asks:

(3)     We cannot construct a theology without making assumptions. With what assumptions would you organise your beliefs? Which of the assumptions suggested in the chapter would you be in agreement, and which would you reject? [emphasis mine]

9781938434105sThe latter part of this question will be hard to answer without the book, but consider the first line. Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to comment here or to bring your comments to the study on Thursday night. If you enter the comments via the Q&A app, they can become part of the study.

For some perhaps even more provocative suggestions, the following questions come from page 65, and might help in feeling out your way on assumptions.

What can I believe and what can I not believe? What are the implications of the answers I give to the question? This question then ramifies into more precise formulations.

What can I not believe about how things happen in the system of an ordered cosmos?
What can I not believe about how historical reports come to be written?
What can I not believe about the reliability of human testimony as an avenue to knowledge, whether given verbally or in writing?
What can I not believe about the capacity of a being with human limitations to foretell the future?
What can I not believe about the supernatural?
What can I not believe about claims that the supernatural causes events to take place within the cosmos? (p. 65)

I’m sure that as you consider these questions, you’ll quickly see their implications for how you might read scripture. One can be open on some of these, certainly. But thinking about how you would approach the question can nonetheless be critical.

What Is Biblical Literacy?

We complain about it, write about it, claim it’s important or even critical, design programs to create it, but what is it?

I don’t mean that none of us know what we mean when we say “biblically literate” or “biblically illiterate,” but do we all mean the same thing? I don’t think we do, and that creates problems in communication.

Between age10 and 14 I attended a school that was extremely serious about Bible study. We had study guides that took us through the entire text of scripture, asking questions as we went. We memorized substantial portions of scripture, such as the entire Sermon on the Mount and Psalm 119. We also memorized selections of texts on various topics, such as four texts on the Sabbath and the state of he dead. (We were SDA, so these were considered important.)

I greatly value the knowledge I gained in this way, but when I was done, was I biblically literate?

This depends, of course, on what one means by biblically literate. Here are some definitions I’ve heard (or experienced):

  1. A person who is acquainted with the key scriptures of his or her specific denomination or group. This type of literacy was provided for me by those “4 text” groups on particular doctrines. I could give a Bible study on any of the major Seventh-day Adventist doctrines as long as you didn’t ask me about context.
  2. One who has a general knowledge of where things are located in scripture.
  3. One who vigorously affirms a particular high view of inspiration.
  4. One who is acquainted with the various higher critical methodologies.
  5. One who knows the original languages.
  6. One who knows the related history and literature along with the Bible story.
  7. One who can place any particular story into the broader story of scripture.

(No, I didn’t plan to make that seven. It just happened.)

When I refer to “experiencing” a definition, I mean that I’ve seen someone tacitly dismiss someone else as knowledgeable because they lack one of these elements. I’ve encountrred this attitude about every one of these points. “If he or she doesn’t know x, the person is biblically illiterate.”

I have encountered this with regard to creation. When someone discovers that I accept the theory of evolution, they will suggest that I am unacquainted with Genesis 1 & 2. I am very acquainted with those chapters. In fact, I had to memorize them as one of those long passages in school. Memorizing them does not mean that I will interpret them the same way others do.

I fell into the trap myself recently. I was listening to Deanna Thompson respond to her award for book of the year from the Academy of Parish Clergy for her commentary on Deuteronomy in the Belief series. She confessed that she did not read Hebrew. My initial reaction was to think that it wasn’t really possible for someone to contribute to the interpretation of Deuteronomy (of all things!) without reading Hebrew. Yet right within her brief remarks accepting the award, she expressed some rather profound understanding. I mentally took it back and was glad I had only thought it internally.

This experience does not make me think that learning Hebrew is unimportant. It just makes me think more carefully about what I expect. I have no problem with the value of most of these benchmarks of knowledge. I think they’re important. But what is it that I want the average person in the pew to know? What about my church leaders? Pastors (if we make a distinction)? Seminary professors?

My own definition would be close to #7. I think hearing the overall story of scripture is critical to everything else. Fit the passage into a broad view of the whole. Of course, this type of knowledge might well look superficial to others.

My suggestion would be simply that we pay attention to what type of biblical literacy a person has, if any. Far too many people in the church could really claim none of these elements. We should work on that. But we should also recognize other approaches and what kind of knowledge those other approaches support.

Seven Marks: Excursus on Change

nt church books9781631990465mOne of the most interesting and troubling things I’ve found about myself and my church (any of the churches of which I’ve been a member!) is the number of things we know we should do and even decide we will do, but which never get done. Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is certainly ecclesiology, but is it shelf ecclesiology (that’s nice) or is it practical ecclesiology (let’s do that)?

In this case I can’t point fingers. In my personal life I need to get more exercise and lose a significant amount of weight. How long have I known this? Well, I’m the son of a doctor who was medical director of a health conditioning center when I was in my teens. And yes, he knew about these things before that time and after that time, and he taught them to me. I cannot claim that I didn’t know what the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle and excessive food intake (biblical gluttony, no?) would be. While I’m working on reforming this now, I do so slowly and under constant temptation to avoid the needed change. It’s not that I’m tempted to do useless things. In fact, I’m tempted to work, and for me work involves being in front of a computer. So one good thing tempts me away from another one. But that doesn’t make it right. I know I should get more exercise. I know I should eat less. Making those changes so that they are a fundamental part of my new normal is very difficult.

Romans 7 anyone? I know many Arminians see Romans 7 as a description of our pre-Christ experience. I see it as very descriptive of what I and many Christians live every day. The problem comes in when we make Romans 7 into a continuous, hopeless loop about everything. Yes, we all have our Romans 7 experiences, but we’re invited into Romans 8. Not that we’ll live at “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25) at all times and on all subjects.

It’s easy to make excuses. I’m very busy. It’s hard building up a small publishing company. I have a lot of work to do. I’m very healthy, taking no medications and very rarely missing work. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I’m a vegetarian, for heaven’s sake! (Ice cream, sweets, lots of butter, bread—they’ll do it even to a vegetarian!)

But no matter how many excuses I produce, I know this: I need to change.

There are many reasons why we don’t change, and many excuses for why we can ignore things that we hear.

  1. We find some fault with the messenger. The wrong person is making the suggestion, so it can’t really be right.
  2. We nit-pick the message. There’s something in there that won’t work in our situation, so we discard everything new and go back to what we were doing.
  3. We are change-weary. We’ve tried to make changes so many times and have failed. Why should we try yet another thing?
  4. We don’t see our present problems. We’re so used to the way things are and the level of success we’re having, that we think that’s precisely what should be going on.
  5. Other people are much worse off than we are. The church down the street is so inward-looking. By comparison, we’re outgoing, gospel-oriented, and on fire for missions. (This is like my “I don’t smoke” excuse. I’m better than the person who’s killing himself with cigarettes.)
  6. This change is going to cause problems. Usually this means that the leadership is afraid of losing control.
  7. I don’t have enough guidance. Where is the calendar, worksheet, study guides, long term plan, etc.?

I could go on, but we’ll stop at seven. Nice number!

I think, nonetheless, that our bottom line is fear. We are surviving the way we are, but will we survive after we change? The pastor wonders if he’ll lose members. The members wonder if they’ll be happy with the new church service on Sunday morning. The education team wonders if anyone will attend Sunday School. Everyone wonders whether they’ll be annoying their neighbors. And while we might not admit it, we wonder whether we’ll be happy ourselves. So we stay the same.

One of the great fears is that we will lose control. This has been the bane of the church from very early times, I think. We’re very much afraid of the movement of the Spirit because the Spirit is not under our management. Not that we don’t try!

In Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations, the 12th habit Ruth Fletcher mentions is Choosing (p. 123). Here’s a key quote:

Transforming congregations learn to choose and choose again. They don’t have to get it right the first time around. They can gain insight from any action they take and that insight will aid them opting to take the next step into the future. Transforming congregations acknowledge that when they act with courage, some people may decide to leave, but they would rather decide to do something than to remain lukewarm about everything. (p. 126)

Bruce Epperly comes at this from another angle in Transforming Acts:

The spiritual leaders acknowledged that they couldn’t do everything. They confessed that the task of sharing God’s word left no time for taking care of domestic issues. They needed partners in ministry: so they prayerfully chose a group of people to insure that everyone had a share in the community’s resources. They let go of control, and let go of power, so that human needs could be met.

In ways that are still countercultural, they relinquished the power of the purse for a greater good, the well-being of the whole people of God. They recognized that within the body of Christ, everyone  has a role – their spiritual leadership of the community did not lead to micromanaging or power plays, or a sense of spiritual superiority, but a vision of shared responsibility. Perhaps, their selfless  leadership inspired the Apostle Paul’s vision of the multi-gifted body of Christ in which the well-being of one shapes the health of the whole body and the whole body, operating effectively, provides nurture and support for each constituent part. (pp. 67, 68)

Giving up control and choosing to act. When we have acted, we choose to learn from that action and act again.

What has impressed me about the church, not to mention my own life, is what a difference we could make if we simply acted on the things we already know are right. Yes, new information is good, but we have a tendency to collect the information and fail to perform the actions. There are many controversial things. But if we laid those aside and simply acted on what we know to be right, what might happen?

I doubt that church would like like the church in America at this moment.

What Does It Mean to Survive Death?

9781938434099sIn my Eschatology study last Thursday (Oct. 15, 2015) I tried to answer an audience question. Here it is:

Is the sense of the presence of Jesus today dependent on the historical Jesus surviving death? Or, is it more like the presence of a departed parent that lingers after death?

And here’s the video, set to the point where I discussed the question.

I’m not terribly satisfied with my answer. What’s more, I am never satisfied with my answer to this and similar questions. What’s even yet more, I doubt I will ever be satisfied.

I’m sure some will find this surprising. I can certainly talk about heaven in a very present and real sense. I claim that I do not cross my fingers during the Apostles’ Creed when I come to “resurrection of the dead.” On the other hand, those who see life after death more as the presence in our memories as someone after death seem to think this is quite adequate. For me, it is not. Well, it might be.

A common modern view of life after death sees this as a simple result of our unwillingness to admit that we are truly bound by time and destined to come to an end in the sense in which we live now. Belief in the afterlife is a way to avoid this end. We don’t want to be something that exists in the memories of others or who impacts the universe through the echoes of what we were and did in our physical lives. Thus we imagine an afterlife.

There is another possibility, one that was mentioned in a recent video interview I conducted with Dr. David Moffett-Moore. I believe he was quoting someone else, but I’ll credit him for the moment. (I haven’t located the precise portion of the interview.) He said we could be seen as spiritual beings having a physical experience rather than physical beings who have spiritual experiences. I want to consider the possibility that the reason many of us see some sort of survival is not that we are carrying out wish fulfilment, but rather that we detect the echoes of this other reality. The reason we sense that the person isn’t gone is that in that spiritual sense, they are not.

And that leads automatically to what “that spiritual sense” might be. And there the problem gets complicated. Just how do you talk about something for which we have only distant echoes? Plato’s cave and the shadows seem easy by comparison. Then there is 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived ….”

What we tend to do with this, however, is to take what we have already and make what no human heart has conceived be more of what we already have. We have our physical life, our comforts, our friends, and so forth, so in this other realm we will have more of those things. More people, better relationships with them, more stuff (or less need for stuff, but more satisfaction), a bigger, better place. It would be just like moving to the mansion down the road, the one we couldn’t possibly afford, only much, much more! Bigger! Better!

But what if what we can’t conceive is something we can’t conceive? I don’t mean that the mansion we can’t afford, but can have when we get to heaven, is so large we can’t imagine it that large. What if the concept “mansion” is simply the wrong one? What if no matter how we conceive of that mansion in size, splendor, comfort, or anything else, we’re no closer, because it’s simply the wrong thing to be imagining?

Here are some questions I tend to hear when talking about this: But is it real? Is heaven a place? Is it just imaginary?

And here’s the problem with our language. If I say you’re going to live in a new house, but it’s really not something you can understand, you just don’t have the concepts, you’re likely to turn to the most likely alternative: It’s imaginary; it doesn’t exist. So in order to make heaven truly inviting and special, I’m asked to affirm that it is real—just as real as my house that I can see through my office window. Just as real, but better. Well, if that’s the “real” then I can’t possibly tell you that.

We really can’t conceptualize it. On the one hand I don’t want to limit it to the chemical processes of memory inside physical bodies alone. On the other, I don’t want it to be some place else in three-dimensional space, like a fine housing development out in space somewhere. I think we get echoes from it in our minds and spirits, and we have to tie those echoes to something we can conceive, but that doesn’t mean the concepts we form are the whole story.

And I’m very dissatisfied with my answer, but it’s the only one I have. With it, I live in continuous hope.

(Let me recommend the book whose cover I show at the top of this post: The Journey to the Undiscovered Country. Bill Tuck spends some time with the various concepts he finds and looks at the echoes as they occur in scripture.)


Eschatology: Eschatology and the Quest

Some Eschatology SourcesTaken from chapter 5 of Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide by Edward W. H. Vick. You can find out more about this study on the Google+ Event page.


This study is from chapter 5 of the book Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide by Edward W. H. Vick. This will be some very basic background, discussing the quest for the historical Jesus and how it has impacted our understanding of Christian eschatology.

We will also discuss (again!) the critical issue of the way in which we read and interpret scripture and how that will impact our understanding of eschatology, which draws on such a wide variety of sources.

Or watch here: