Post-Election Theology

Well, that was surprising. There were probably some pretty awkward Thanksgiving dinners this year.

fullsizerenderIn the weeks since the election results there has been a massive insurgence of emotion, no matter what side one is on. And what’s further, the separations of opinion are more manifest than ever. Heartbreakingly, there are nearly daily news stories about advocates of either side of the political divide being harassed and discriminated against. Without question, the majority of which are minority people groups.

This video chronicles just a handful of the incidents:

 

There is an issue on my mind in the midst of this disunity that I feel necessary to ruminate upon.

We do not agree with one another and we are scared of each others opinions.

During his live show on election night, Stephen Colbert closed with a sobering monologue once it was apparent that Donald Trump would become the president-elect.

Colbert has never hidden his bias as a comedian in his harsh criticism of Trump, so if that’s enough to turn you off from gleaning any insight from him, it demonstrates the very reason I am writing this post.

America is more divided than ever; proven by Pew Research statistics that Colbert highlighted, revealing that “More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them ‘afraid,’ while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party,” and also “More than 4 in 10 Democrats and Republicans say the other party’s policies are so misguided that they pose a threat to the nation.”

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And this was before the election.

It is obvious that whether you are happy/delighted or sad/petrified that Trump will be the leader of the free world, we all have deep seated paranoia about our fellow Americans.

From what I see, a post-election theology must be done in a way that respects the ‘other.’

This does not mean that you must agree with the perceived reality of why someone is upset, but it does mean validating that they do feel that way. It means truly listening.

Now, I am the first of anyone to be extremely frustrated with this approach when it appears that many peoples’ civil rights are in danger with a coming Trump presidency. This is a significant barrier for those on the progressive side of politics – when the Trump campaign was contingent upon racially and misogynistically charged rhetoric and sentiments, attempting to ‘reach out’ to the other side of the aisle feels to many like normalizing ‘hate speech.’

One example is the fact that Trump’s administration is already putting together plans for a Muslim registry. To me, this is eerily similar to steps leading to the Japanese internment camps during WWII, and dare I say, the registries and gold stars utilized by Nazi Germany to categorize Jews, thus I have fear over the precedence this sets to discriminate based on religion. Yet to someone who agrees with Trump’s initiatives, Muslims pose a threat of terrorism, and the threat of potential danger to the safety of the nation takes priority (I have discussed this topic previously, so please check it out if you’re interested).

How can this be talked about when the opposing viewpoints see one another as deeply dangerous?

We have fear over the opinions of each other, and we need to work to find a way to explain our fears. But there’s another layer to the problem.

Our emotions are based on a perceived reality of fact, and as it has been starkly revealed in this election cycle, we can often hardly find consensus on even the truth of a fact. So much so, the flood of fake news on Facebook out performed real news articles leading to election day.

What’s more, it’s becoming more and more difficult to know the difference, or we are getting worse at detecting falsehood.

A recent study has discovered that 80% of middle school students thought that ads were real news stories, as well as the fact that “many high school students couldn’t tell a real and fake news source apart on Facebook.”

This is why, from a Christian viewpoint, ethics is absolutely critical right now. Regardless of agreement on a set political facts, the core mantras of Christian moral ethics must transcend the arguments of the moment.

Right?

Except something has changed dramatically.

Whether you believe Hillary Clinton to be a worse vehicle for morality than Donald Trump, it cannot be denied that Trump has demonstrated a litany of ethically unsettling conduct from a Christian perspective.

He’s on record advocating some disturbing foreign policy. Like casually encouraging war crimes by insisting that the only way to effectively deal with terrorists is to “take out their families,” intends to bring back interrogation torture that is “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” and supporting increasingly invasive and extensive NSA surveillance on Americans.

We haven’t even gotten to his personal behavior. While I do not think it’s always accurate to judge someone’s fitness for office by their lifestyle choices, there are unquestionably upsetting things he has said and done. From the now infamous accidental recording of Trump bragging about sexual assault, to the time that he mocked a disabled reporter on stage (which apparently 83% of Americans were bothered by, yet he got elected anyway).

Not to mention his racially prejudiced insinuations towards African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims, which apparently influenced voters in his favor.

No matter how you cut it, Trump poses significantly questionable moral judgments to the office of the presidency, both as a world leader and in his personal life.

Exit polls show that 58% of Protestants, 52% Catholics, and 81% of white evangelicals (all self-identified) voted for Trump.

How could Christians come out in droves to vote for this kind of figure? Did the majority of Christians really not like Clinton that much?

No doubt the positions of the candidates on abortion was a critical factor for many Christian voters, which is absolutely an important issue. Although Trump has shifted his stance multiple times (including saying that the mother should be “punished”), he has promised to appoint conservative supreme court justices.

But pro-lifers seem to have ‘sold their soul to the devil,’ according to a Christian writer and pro-life advocate:

Pro-lifers have overtly set aside their concern for morals now that political goals are at stake. They have wed their own fate to the embodiment of the pornographic and sexually permissive culture they decry. They have admitted the misogyny of Donald Trump into an ecosystem suffused with the care and respect for women.

When pro-life surrogates mitigate the badness of Trump’s sexual exploits and assaults, their claims to support women alongside the fetus become nothing more than clanging gongs and crashing cymbals. They reduce their own public efforts to the same strategy that marks their presidential candidate: words, words, words.

From this standpoint, in the compromise for Trump’s ‘promise’ to advance pro-life ideals, the broader fight for female dignity is diluted. The pro-life camp has lost significant ground in appealing to an argument of respect for women when the president that they have elected is a sexual predator.

Even though it is not uncharacteristic for Christians to lean Republican in every election, something about this years results is uncharacteristic.

Not long ago, the moral pedigree of a politician’s personal life was the deciding factor for Christians, but Trump has changed all that.

There has been a nearly 180 degree reversal of “virtue” based voting for Christians displayed in statistics done this year compared to 2011:

In 2011 and again just ahead of the election, PRRI asked Americans whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life.

Back in 2011, consistent with the “values voter” brand’s insistence on the importance of personal character, only 30% of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement.

But this year, 72% of white evangelicals now say they believe a candidate can build a kind of moral wall between his private and public life.

In a shocking reversal, white evangelicals have gone from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.

Today, in fact, they are more likely than Americans who claim no religious affiliation at all to say such a moral bifurcation is possible.

That’s a flip from 30% to 72% of white evangelical Protestants justifying their vote for Trump.

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The 2016 election has altered the way that many Christians vote, and has proved that ideology often trumps ethics.

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Even a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russel Moore, argued that white evangelicals have simply adopted “a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”

Certainly, it is not fair to brush every Christian that voted for Trump to personally brandish his most inflammatory views, or that they praise his outrageous behaviors.

But it does mean that they could stomach them.

If you watched the clip of Stephen Colbert that I referred to earlier, you would have noticed him make a profound observation:

So how did our politics get so poisonous? I think it’s because we overdosed – especially this year. We drank too much of the poison. You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side.

And it tastes kind of good. And you like how it feels. And there’s a gentle high to the condemnation. Right? And you know you’re right… Right?

You know you’re right.

That’s some powerful theology from a late-night talk-show host.

Being a Christian means that one’s values and ethics are radically contrary to the kingdom of the world, and politics makes it so easy to give in to judgment and hate. Following Christ demands that we love the ‘other’ despite our differences. And that, for me, includes Trump voters. I will admit that I was crushed by the election results because the Trump campaign has been structured and fortified by ‘othering’ outsiders. But it is no better for me to do the same thing to them.

We are called to something unique as articulated in Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The specific theological implications of this verse as applied to our current political context are messy and complicated, and as such, it should challenge and encourage us at every turn.

But most of all, it should fundamentally critique our own ethical models to be more like Christ, and that’s in regards to every ‘other.’

Prophetic voices in scripture and history, from Elijah, Isaiah, and Deborah to the early martyrs Perpetua & Felicity, as well as theologians like Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, Jr – even Jesus himself; each had the confidence to speak truth to power during complex times. I hope that for the next four years, while I am in seminary and Trump is in the white house, my post-election theology can articulate my convictions adequately.

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Apocalypse 2016

I’m glad that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the presidential nominees.

*gasp*

Let me clarify – I say this not because either candidate is necessarily good for the country, but because this election has revealed so many ideological, moral, and existential crises that need to be grappled with.

Temporarily setting aside the die-hard supporters, whether you are republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, white, black, religious, humanist, millennial, baby-boomer, cat, or dog, there is at least one significant reason you are discontent with what is happening right now politically. I’m half-joking in my list of dichotomies, but there is a very striking and startling truth to the division that exists in the social realm nowadays. I do not think that this is a novel phenomena isolated to our present context, as there has been countless times of more drastic contention in American history (*cough* the Civil War *cough* the Revolutionary War *cough*). But ask anyone: they almost definitely have an opinion about Trump and an opinion about Hillary, and ask anyone else, and they’ll tell you the opposite.

I’ve waited a while before writing anything directly related to the presidential election since the primaries because it felt as though the narratives about Trump and Clinton were shifting so rapidly that any particular topic that I addressed would have been here and gone in a matter of days.

So why write now?

Well, it’s a reluctant (hey) decision but now that three tortuous debates have finally come to pass, as well as election day being less than three weeks away, I felt an urgency to say my piece in the midst of the clatter. Thus, I do not suspect my thoughts really to change anyone’s mind at this point; it’s too late for that. Yet it’s not too late to reflect on the theological ramifications of this election.

Quite obviously, the issue that has dominated the news cycle is Donald Trump’s remarks concerning sexual assault (yes, what he has said and the allegations describe sexual advances without CONSENT). There’s a lot of rhetoric and unknowns, but this has illuminated something striking.

Quickly, before dipping too deep into the rhetoric myself, the conduct of Trump in response to these 10+ allegations has been really quite remarkable, ranging from flat out denial to saying that at least one of the women wasn’t attractive enough for it to have been a possibility. Yikes.

However, Clinton is not a bystander in this cluster-frick. She is utilizing these scandals to great avail in her campaign strategy, including having ads already made following the second debate after mentioning the Miss Universe contestant who was harassed by Trump. Is Clinton defending these women out of the goodness of her heart? Maybe, but it sure is working to rise in the polls. Certainly, it could be a sincere tactic, and I personally perceive it as such (she herself is a woman after all), but it is still a tactic and method of manipulation.

My point is this: how ironically fitting is this election?

The first female major party presidential candidate, who has a reputation of being a hawkish b*tch, and is the definition of an “insider,” and on the other side of the spectrum we have one of the most flamboyantly masculine, strongman politicians in recent history who is the definition of an “outsider.”

There could not have been a more perfect example than what happened in the last debate.

As Clinton was arguing in the midst of her rehearsed policies and proposals concerning Social Security, she quipped that the contribution of the wealthy will go up, including Trump’s as long as “he can’t figure out how to get out of it.” Trump immediately leans into the mic, interrupts, and says, “Such a nasty woman.”

Um. Wow.

Since all this has gone down, I’ve seen multiple angles spun by various articles on the “Christian” response to all this.

Should Christians vote for the lesser of two-evils? Should Christians vote for a third-party? Should Christians vote on policy alone? Should Christians not vote and “remember that God is in control?” Should Christians vote for a giant meteor?

The last one is tempting, but I have some thoughts about these kinds of articles.

First, voting for a third-party is a legitimate ethical dilemma. Does one vote for a candidate that closely reflects your convictions, or does that jeopardize the outcome in such a way that a candidate that represents what is contrary to your views gains an advantage? That’s a moral quandary that each person must wrestle with on their own.

Second, voting “on policy alone,” as I have read, argues that even though you maybe cannot stand the temperament and behavior of Trump or Clinton, at least their policies align with what you believe to be effective and moral. Here’s the problem: you cannot separate a politician’s policy from the politician. What I mean is this, every decision that a politician makes concerning civil action is directly tied to his or her own behavior. If we were talking about the temperament of Trump, you have to be alright with the fact that he has apparent sexist and racist tendencies, and a short fuse demonstrated by his Twitter feed. If we are talking about Clinton, you have to sit with the reality that she is tied to special interest groups, and will do anything to protect her privacy as evidenced by her email scandal.

These facts will affect their governance.  Now the question is, which is worse?

Third, and the most well meaning, is the perspective that we don’t need to worry because God is in control. Well… I hate to be devil’s advocate, but I will anyway. Of course, I believe that “God is in control” in the sense that God has an ultimate trajectory to restore creation and humanity with “a new heaven and a new earth,” a reality glimpsed in the Resurrection of Jesus.

What do we do in the mean time? We are here now. And there are a lot of bad things happening. I’ve written about this paradox before, known in theological studies as the “already-not yet.” We are able to enter into a life-changing relationship with Christ and be transformed, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.” But at the same time, this world is a dark place.

When things are difficult and complicated in the social and political realm, saying that “God is in control” as a means to opt-out neglects the fact that we have a responsibility right now to reflect Christ, and my personal opinion is that responsibility includes political awareness, and maybe even participation.

I’m afraid that I’m just going to go there.

Further, this kind of, quite honestly, escapist thinking seriously forgets the problem of evil, or ‘theodicy.’ More precisely, if God is omnipotent and all-loving, why is there evil and innocent suffering in the world? What purpose does it serve? If it’s God’s glory – a contrast demonstrating “how good” good is compared to evil – that’s some pretty sadistic glory.

I have opened a can of worms that cannot really be closed, nor should it be. Christians must must must grapple with this issue because one’s image of God is dramatically impacted by this fact. For instance, how do we do theology in light of the Holocaust? One cannot ignore the theological problems it has created to simply say that “God is in control.” Was God in control as literally millions of Jews and others were murdered? Let me leave you with this: The extent of human free-agency might be debated in Christian circles, but one cannot use God’s sovereignty as a free-pass to ignore consequential social realities.

Finally, my last point (I promise) is this.

Picking the “lesser of two-evils” is the only option.

My view is that Christ-followers are called to be radically contrary to the ways of the world. Governing authority, which must enact coercive, ‘power-over’ methods to maintain rule, will never be able to align with the kind of sacrificial, ‘power-under’ teachings and action of Jesus, which we are called to emulate.

Here is an example from my own musings. As I have learned more and more about President Obama, I have come to respect him greatly. My response to many of the things he says, advocates, and contends is “heck yeah!” One particular incident was his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast this last year, and truly, it was practically one of the best sermons I had ever heard. But for as much as I have come to admire the President, one the issues that truly devastates and infuriates me is the extent to which the Obama administration has utilized drone strikes, leading to thousands of deaths (with large numbers of civilian causalities) in the Middle East. This use of violent force, with no legal declaration of war (as if it really matters), goes so extremely contrary to my ethics as a Christian.

Politics is a compromise. It always has been and always will be.

Either one can vote in the slightest accordance with one’s values in the slightest effort to forward a just society, or if you don’t vote it comes with the ramification of allowing whatever happens to happen. THAT is the choice between “two-evils.”

So pick your poison: activism or apathy.

‘Spiral Dynamics’

Why can’t we understand each other?

This question echoes in our minds after seemingly every contentious intellectual, religious, political, and ethical discussion nowadays. For instance, from my own context, I hear often from fellow investigators about the conflict and arduousness one experiences when reconsidering some of his or her perspectives, particularly when an idea might be in contradiction with thoughts they have grown up believing. Parties on both sides of an argument frequently end up frustrated, confused, and everyone leaves wondering:

Are we even speaking the same language?

Now, some of the tension I am describing might have to do with political, religious, theological, and generational differences, but even if we to put all those differences aside, this gets more challenging for people of faith. Our world is shaped and categorized by dualities, so how do we live in the midst of them? And further, how can we all be Christians but have such drastically dissimilar perceptions of the world?

Which might beg the question: Is there is only one, strict way to live a Christian life?

Jesus did indicate that “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and few find it.” This certainly makes the Christian life strict in the sense that if we are truly attempting to shape our lives based on the example of Jesus, his life and deeds demonstrate the gate to be narrow indeed. Yet at the same time, we all vary in our experiences of life. How do we follow Christ’s call for his disciples to advance the Realm of God when the methods, visions, and purpose of that endeavor seems to shift based on one’s presuppositions of the world, which then influences how each of us interprets what it means to follow Christ?

Questions upon questions.

Maybe we are thinking in entirely different states of consciousness.

My struggle with this topic is fueled by a podcast that will do more to explain this topic than I ever could. The Liturgists Podcast is an exploration into the complicated and messy elements of Christianity, attempting to view issues through the lenses of science, art, and faith. Hosted by ‘Science Mike’ and Michael Gungor, the show strives to bring honest discussion to some of the most controversial matters for Christians in hopes of providing solidarity to those seeking a Christ-centered faith, but also live in the midst of doubt. I would highly recommend the podcast in general, yet for my purposes, the specific episode that has truly changed the way that I think about presuppositions and discipleship is their conversation on spiral dynamics.

As they explain, ‘spiral dynamics’ is a psychological model to help decipher not only the broader history of human consciousness development, but also pinpoint one’s personal consciousness expansion. And in the podcast, they stress the reality that this model is simply a tool, thus it has bears no claims on being a dogmatic declaration of fact. It is to be held with open hands. Therefore, the intention in utilizing this model is to attempt to provide a measure of clarity and insight to the incredibly complex condition of human consciousness.

Now, this is might start sounding weird and maybe even boring, so hang with me.

The method in which this model demonstrates changes is in stages, or more technically, “v-memes” (value memes), which are like a parameter for a set of memes. These ‘memes’ are similar to genes, but specifically related to psychological development. For instance, while a gene might be the fact that people who have blue eyes are more likely to produce babies that have blue eyes, an example of a ‘meme’ is the psychological imprint that men who hold open doors for women might have a better chance to reproduce.

Obviously that is a bit of an archaic (and maybe sexist) demonstration, but you get the point – a meme is a psychological belief that is in someway adopted to one’s personal belief system, whether it is truly effective or not. Now think of that system, which is made up of all these individual memes, as the parameter for sets of memes – which is termed a v-meme (so the example used could maybe be in the undoubtedly effective “how to have sex with a woman” v-meme).

As a way of classification in spiral dynamics these v-memes are categorized by color, and the first color is BEIGE.

This set of value memes are centered around the very basic instincts of survival: food, sex, shelter. The pursuit for warmth and safety. So not only can you see this on a historical level in human development of primitive persons, but also every infant is born into the world as BEIGE. A baby’s consciousness does not concern itself with existential thoughts about existence; infants simply live in the present and strive for basic needs.

While it might seem as if we as a species have moved passed this v-meme, an interesting point about spiral dynamics is that as we achieve each shift of reality, the possession of that consciousness actually never truly leaves us. For example, we all will always have BEIGE in us – if someone enters the room with a gun, you will turn BEIGE. The survival instinct kicks in, the limbic part of your brain turns on, and you experience ‘fight or flight.’ Thus, as I describe each of the v-memes, not only is it incorrect to assume you lose them as one progresses, but also it is a mistake to think that further advanced v-memes are better than previous v-memes. Instead, consider each category as an equally informative piece to the picture of human consciousness development.

The second v-meme is PURPLE.

As more primitive humans began to hunt in groups, we as predators could begin taking down larger prey, and in turn, allowed us to form communities. With this new found communal life, we created cultural identities of tribalism. And with that tribal mentality, when we began more advanced food production in the form of farming, if the rains would not come our only explanation is that there are some unknown forces at work. Thus, the PURPLE mindset heavily relies upon tribalism and mysticism. Additionally, in a tribal community, it wasn’t the chieftain that was most respected and revered – it was the medicine man or high priest.

How can this be seen in human consciousness today? Why do we paint our faces and scream at the top of our lungs at sporting events? There is no reason other than “I am a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ fan.” And it can also be seen in the way that children live in a fantasy world of imaginary creatures, friends, and worlds. This description of PURPLE is in no way meant to be derogatory. Loyalty to tribe, family, and culture, as well as the awe of the world that is inherent to the PURPLE v-meme are incredibly important parts of what it means to be a human being.

Third is RED.

Sooner or later, the biggest and the strongest in tribal communities realized that all it takes in order to gain total domination of others is to be the meanest and the toughest. If you are the strongest, you get to be in control and get what you want. RED is the “survival of the fittest,” thus characterizing not only early leaders of civilizations, but also the temperaments of monarchies, imperialism, and dictatorships. Certainly, we see such aggressive attitudes even in politicians today, and often, the kind of action by a zealous few has brought significant strides to societies and movements throughout history.

Even further, RED represents individualism in a profound way. Entering RED means you are saying that “I am my own person, I can do what I want.” That is an important trait for people to encounter. It doesn’t necessarily require a violent uprising, but a RED, rebellious attitude breaks one free to experience his or her own identity. Toddlers can be pretty RED. Teenagers can be RED. Adults can be RED. For example, in the podcast ‘Science Mike’ sees a pop-star like Katy Perry as producing ‘RED‘ records for a ‘PURPLE‘ audience, which call out for individualism, rebellion, and empowerment. Again, these can all be good things, as well as show a vital part of human nature.

On a broader scale, while beneficial for some, RED individuals caused many to feel unrepresented and unprotected. Therefore, BLUE emerges.

When people were tired of being pushed around by RED leaders, a move towards appealing to a higher authority leveled the playing field for the larger community. For instance, when the Ten Commandments came down from Mount Sinai, very specific rule was established. BLUE is the color of law and order, administration, and religiosity. No longer is the highest power some RED king – instead, everyone answers to the Ten Commandments, or the Pax Romana, or the Constitution.

BLUE can be seen in many realms today. Most mainline Christian churches are BLUE. The Republican party is mostly BLUE. This state of consciousness brings stability to societies and religions based on the notion that truths and laws come from a higher power. Most societies themselves rely on a BLUE foundation. But inherent to that, adherence to the law is pivotal to this color. If you don’t follow the rules, you are punished. But if you do follow the rules, you are rewarded. It is easy to see how this has been adapted to religion, especially Christianity. And while BLUE certainly is more orderly, organized, and pious than many of the other colors, it is framed and motivated on guilt. A perspective of BLUE can be seen in an argument for the absolute authority of Scripture – one might hold to a literal interpretation of Scripture because that’s what it says.  Or BLUE can be glimpsed in a Federalist treatment of the Constitution – always appealing to “what the Founders intended.” So really, there is no questioning these things because this is the way it is.

But what if someone disagrees with absolute authority? What if they want the evidence? What if they want proof to their beliefs? The next to arrive on the scene is ORANGE.

Being the color of modernity, the scientific method, and really encapsulated by Enlightenment era thinking, ORANGE seeks for objectivity. No longer is truth or authority taken at face value – it must be evaluated and judged according to its merit. That is, the level of quantifiability, measurability, and repeatability of something determines its value and veracity. More concrete examples of ORANGE types of thinking can be seen in American ideals like capitalism, independence, and ingenuity.

In fact, I would argue that if a color could characterize the principles of the Founding Fathers it would most certainly be ORANGE. They challenged the ‘RED/BLUE‘ rule of Great Britain and instead ventured for a government centered around a person’s individual freedom and merit. And the Founders themselves were vocal about Enlightenment style ideas and argued for a society that was concerned with fairness. Now, it can be debated whether they were truly successful or sincere to those ideals, but the fact remains that they were guided by principles of modernity.

By now it shouldn’t be difficult to recognize a rhythm in the development of v-memes, specifically how each v-meme is answered by a countering/inverted v-meme. And if you look even closer, when a v-meme is more individualistic, it is countered by one that is communal, and vice versa:

BEIGE (Individualistic) -> PURPLE (Communal) -> RED (Individualistic)-> BLUE (Communal)-> ORANGE (Individualistic)

What’s next? That would be GREEN.

In response to the individualism and evaluating nature of ORANGE, a new kind of outlook emerges. After reaching ORANGE and judging the validity of everything, one might realize, “My perspective on the world is only one perspective, and my experiences only capture life from my point of view.” Once that is realized, other ideas, thoughts, and views have inherent value because they offer an altered lens. Not only is my way of thinking not the only way, but more so than that, that does not make my framework necessarily wrong, just different. Every voice has value and every person’s experience is important. Therefore, GREEN is the essence of political movements of the 1960s and onwards, arguing for acceptance, rights, and value to minority groups that have been degraded.

Immediately, one can see the shift GREEN makes towards communal thinking after a particularly individualistic ORANGE. And in someways, how ORANGE represented modernism, GREEN typifies post-modernism. That is, at a certain point, when every voice has meaning, what is meaningful anymore? ‘Science Mike’ gave another interesting example for this by describing how the Occupy Wall Street movement (which prided itself on valuing as many voices as possible) had gathered to make a document for their cause, but were unable to create anything substantial. They thought they had settled on at least proclaiming that the movement was non-violent, yet actually took it back because they didn’t want to alienate anyone who did believe in that kind of principle. Thus, while GREEN certainly entered a new era of validation and respect, it did usher in a distinctly post-modern flavor.

So, all of these colors together are known as the first tier, which are all historically and psychologically verifiable. And while I have already pointed out the alternations between these v-memes in terms of individualism and communal centers, the interactions do not end there. And in fact, they come into conflict quite easily.

For instance, earlier v-memes look ahead at later v-memes with fear because entering something new brings fear of regression. So BLUE looks at ORANGE with apprehension and anxiety for fear that it could return to RED because ORANGE is challenging its moral fabric, and all BLUE can think about is the instability and chaos of RED that it left behind (which can often make BLUE turn RED in the process). But on the other hand, further advanced v-memes look back with disgust. Thus, ironically, while GREEN values all voices, it looks at PURPLE and BLUE and shakes its head in repugnance. It can’t believe in the stagnation and close-mindedness of earlier stages, but ends up becoming close-minded itself.

I’m sure that you have already attempted to designate yourself to a color, analyzing your own day-to-day thoughts and figuring out which color you most align with – I sure did. But in the Liturgist Podcast, they actually expound on the necessity of understanding that you don’t have your own v-meme. Instead, you have a highest achieved v-meme. That is, as your conciseness grows, you enter new v-memes yet you never truly leave the others behind, but you do have v-memes that you tend to gravitate towards once you have experienced them. So while it might be tempting to say, “I’m ORANGE!”, it’s really more accurate to regard that as your preferred v-meme.

Except what if you look at all these colors and recognize your entrance into each of them, but you feel like you don’t belong? All the v-memes certainly have advantages, yet with each stage, they all seem to carry significant problems. Part of that certainly might just be inherent to the complexity of human consciousness, however for a Christ-follower, it feels like there should be more.

Now this is where ‘Science Mike’ and Michael Gungor begin to venture into somewhat uncharted territory (which ‘Science Mike’ is hesitant about because he is a pretty ORANGE influenced individual – just look at his name). They explain this part of spiral dynamics is more contentious because it hasn’t been proven, which is the beginning of a second tier of colors, starting with YELLOW.

This new color looks at all the other colors and recognizes the values and significance to each mindset, while also acknowledging the very real weaknesses to each. So YELLOW never feels at home in any of the colors. As soon as something begins to make sense in the realm of BLUE, it is immediately challenged by a thought from GREEN, but then even a PURPLE idea makes sense, except an ORANGE perception conflicts with that, etc.

Further, YELLOW hates conflict, and will even chameleon itself to appear as various colors in appropriate contexts to avoid dispute. And at the heart of that, this color lives in a sense of idiosyncrasy, epitomized in the feeling and question: “Am I the only one who thinks like this?”

And what makes YELLOW unique is that it can hold up the value statements of multiple perspectives simultaneously without reverting to relativism. More specifically, each color can say something very true but remain fundamentally different because they are genuine expressions from separate contexts. Now that might sound awfully GREEN, and in fact, ‘Science Mike’ is not quite convinced about the existence of YELLOW because it could just be a more developed GREEN.

The figure of philosophy that best encapsulates comprehending the subjective nature of truth characterized by YELLOW is Søren Kierkegaard. And for Kierkegaard, truth can only be subjective because existing presumes thinking. In Existentialism: An Introduction, Kevin Aho explains Kierkegaard’s thought on this matter as such:

Interpreting truth this way allows Kierkegaard to undermine the traditional view of the self as a disinterested mind… This is because prior to detached reflection, I exist, that is, I am already choosing a particular kind of life and carrying the burden of responsibility in becoming the person I am. Thus, “the real subject,” says Kierkegaard, “is not the cognitive subject… the real subject is the ethically existing subject.” Given this account, my existential commitments are always prior to thought or reason. After all, “I must (first) exist in order to think.” On this view, whether a belief is rational or objectively true is irrelevant. What matters is the intensity and passion of my commitments because they alone belong to my existence. But for Kierkegaard, this exposes the “paradoxical character” of subjective truth; it is a truth grounded in anguish because it is objectively uncertain and unintelligible to others.

Thank you for letting me indulge in a deep dive into the fascinating enigma that is Kierkegaard. But what his existentialist philosophy espouses gives great insight into the individualistic, subjective, depressed, as well as paradoxical nature of YELLOW.

All that said, I find more nuance and profound perspectives by designating YELLOW as a concept because, for me, a YELLOW standpoint appears to answer the relativism of GREEN, materializing itself as something new.

Yet YELLOW, as mentioned, is still a individualistic and self-absorbed perspective in many ways. The last hypothetical color responds to that: TURQUOISE. What if ‘YELLOWs’ could build a community that, rather than isolating themselves, turned outward to other colors? Instead of conflict between colors, constantly arguing about the “right way” of perceiving the world, would it be possible to validate, encourage, and love everyone right where they are? What does this look like? One way to conceptualize this mode of living could be the kind of Church that the Apostle Paul imagined:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

The context to which Paul spoke this was a time of great division, concerning the questions of participation in traditional Jewish rites and customs for Gentiles, particularly circumcision. Further, there were questions in the early church about the function of spiritual gifts – were some better than others?

Paul made the point that Jews and Gentiles are a part of one covenant, and Gentiles have been graciously grafted into that covenant through Jesus (does this passage mean that the Church has replaced and superseded Israel? My answer is “no,” but that discussion is for another day). Thus, God’s gracious covenant transcends all social, racial, and cultural barriers. And in regards to spiritual gifts, Paul contended that every member is important precisely because of their differences, and thus brings value to the Body as a person.

When we appropriate this to spiral dynamics, a TURQUOISE mindset attempts this inclusive and validating approach. This, to me, is a useful conception of the role of the Church in the world that rings true to the disposition that Paul and Jesus advocated.

And for Christ, what does a TURQUOISE community demonstrate? Markers of the Kingdom/Realm of God. Over and over again, in the Gospels Jesus highlights that the exclusive nature of the Kingdom is in reality inclusive. That is, those who will find the hardest time entering the Realm are those who have attitudes that prioritize one’s position over that of another’s. How about the passage about the rich man? Or what about when Jesus says the innocence of a child is in accordance with the Kingdom? These and other examples, as well as the characteristics of Jesus ministry at its core display that the dispositions of God’s Realm demands those which are willing to lower their guard, to sacrifice for the “other,” and to value others for who they are – period. Disagreements and discussions can be wonderful tools of productivity, and believe me, I’m not arguing that we all need to believe the same things, but when abused, these conflicts can create disastrous division and discord.

A perfect and horrible example is Jewish-Christian relations. Since the 1960s, amazing and constructive strides have been made to bridge the divide between Jews and Christians, but this era of hospitality is undoubtedly unique in the history of Christian perceptions and treatment of Jews (and there’s still a long way to go). The actions of Nazi Germany to exterminate the Jewish race was an ideology that grew from not only political reasons, but also the fertile soil of anti-Judaic Christian theology that had long demonized and scapegoated Jews for centuries as “murderers of God,” charged with ‘deicide.’ This includes theology from early church fathers, creeds from church councils, and even figures such as Martin Luther (just read the first paragraph of the preface to this book on page xi). And this “teaching of contempt” was utilized by German nationalist Christians to bolster their racial fallacies and enact one of the most horrific deeds in history. Post-Shoah (Holocaust) theological developments have realized the need of the Church to take responsibility and repent for such complicity, often characterized in the mantra that all Christian theology must now be performed in the presence of the “burning children of Auschwitz.”

I go to the lengths of explaining this situation for the fact that it demonstrates the usefulness that spiral dynamics provides in showing that the Church NEEDS to recognize, validate, and learn from the “other.” More precisely, we as a Church must foster something like a TURQUOISE standpoint in order to legitimately discover our mistakes and love those who are different than us. If we do not, we will forever be in the cycle of conflict between colors, and perpetuate similar nightmares to the ones in our history.

By sincerely valuing another person/persons and their viewpoints, only then can we have discussions with others and instead of saying, “Are we even speaking the same language?” we can say “I understand.”

I perceive this aspect of discipleship to be vital, and spiral dynamics illuminates a helpful way of conceptualizing this in a very real way in today’s context. Certainly, a idilic and utopian state is impossible in a world that is broken and plagued with sin. But did that stop Jesus from proclaiming a central theme to his ministry, which is that “The Kingdom of God has come near“? This is the reality that we live, known theologically as the “already-but not yet.” Meaning, Jesus enacted a truly new stage of eschatology, but as anyone who looks around at the pain of humanity, God’s promises to redeem all of creation have not been completed. While it might not be our role as Christ-followers to actually usher in the Realm of God, it is certainly our role to be markers of that transformation. After all, if you are in Christ, you are a new creation.

 

 

Sons & Daughters of Abraham: Did Christ Die For Muslims, Too?

I have been working on this piece for a few weeks, taking time to contemplate and critically analyze the ideas I wanted to present in an organized and sincere manner, but the horrifying incident in Orlando has brought new urgency and revived purpose to my writing on Christian-Muslim relations.

Foremost, I cannot even come close to adequately expressing enough solidarity with the victims of this outrageous evil. Thus, my topic of conversation takes an altered lens, one that is still grieving the loss of precious life and therefore making the issue all the more real, immediate, and necessary.

The shooting in Orlando was carried out by an American-Muslim man, Omar Mateen, who declared allegiance to ISIS by calling 911 and even a TV station during the attack before ultimately killing at least 49 people (and wounding many more) at Pulse, a gay night club. It is doubtful that he received any foreign instruction, but rather acted alone after becoming ‘extremist’ through inspirations of radical Islamic ideologies on the Internet.

In the aftermath of this absolutely saddening event, there has been a eruption of frustratingly familiar and popularly polarizing agendas put forth.

The left says guns are the problem, the right says Islamic immigration is the problem.

Not only that, but that fact that the assault was directed towards the LGBTQ community adds another politicized element to the tragedy. Which, certainly requires the Church to take a long, hard look at its engagement in relationship to LGBTQ when a pastor of a church dares to insist that “the only tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.”

That needs to be denounced as evil. And more so, the Church needs to be the very first responders of solidarity, compassion, and love for those who suffer great injustice – no matter who they are.

But in terms of fixing the problem of mass shootings, you can go to whatever news outlet you prefer and hear the ‘correct’ perspective about what will do the most to prevent these incidents. While I do believe changes must be made because standing by and doing nothing is a political choice with significant consequences, I am not going to argue here for my own personal perspectives about the proper course of legislative action.

Instead, I want to go deeper: I want to look at Christianity’s relationship with Islam through a Christocentric lens in order to facilitate a constructive and reconciliatory dialogue with Islam.

As vindication for my intentions, I will share that my own research has found that the ideologies of extremist Islamic groups do not reflect the views of Islam as a whole. When one talks about Islam and terrorist groups, it must be recognized that they are different things. To put it another way, in my mind, misconstruing ISIS and other terrorist coalitions to represent views of Islam in general is similar to considering nationalistic German Protestantism of Nazi Germany or the KKK to accurately reflect orthodox Christianity. These extreme movements considered themselves Christian in nature and in cause, so it is irresponsible for Christians now to conflate terrorist organizations and Islam as synonymous.

Extremism can exist in any context, culture, and time. As Christ followers we need to rebuke it as Jesus rebuked Satan himself, yet we need to reject the inclusion of innocents to systematic evil as well.

I understand that there is a great amount of worry and fear in relation to terrorist threats. It is a scary world that we live in, but to be brutally honest, the imminence of that danger is grossly exaggerated because there are far more likely ways to be killed, including being crushed by your own furniture. I do not mean to be dismissive, especially in light of the recent event in Orlando, except I do think that it is unhealthy to fixate oneself on such an improbable danger. Even more so, we as Christians are specifically called to live without fear, and by following Christ that reality is to be presented as a fact:

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:17-18, NIV)

As Christians, “in this world we are like Jesus.” Fostering a fear of worldly threats was not a part of Christ’s agenda, therefore it should not be in ours either. How can we accurately demonstrate the perfect love of Christ when we are more concerned about our own well-being than advancing the Kingdom of God?

Of course, this does not mean radicalized Islamic ideologies do not exist. When it comes to Islam specifically, and in terms of its history as a religion, it can be argued that it has perpetuated a long heritage of warfare, starting with Muhammad himself. But the realization of this prominence of violence in the history of Islam has caused a split in Islamic perspectives. A former Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi, explains that there are now ‘three-prongs’ as a result to this:

Muslims are coming to a three-prong fork in the road where they’re being confronted with the reality of violence in Islam, and they can either react to that violence by ignoring it and becoming nominal Muslims, abhorring it and becoming apostates or embracing it and becoming radicalized. We’re seeing all three of those groups grow: radical Muslims, nominal Muslims and Muslim apostates who are leaving Islam because they’re interacting, they’re encountering the violent reality of Islam.

This ties precisely to the reason that this needs to be talked about. Christian unawareness of development in Islamic thought has resulted in an ignorance to the fact that while some Muslims become extremist, many are rejecting this notion and seeing it for the evil that it is. Further, Christians are not the only group that are threatened by terrorism. In fact, Muslim Americans feel intimidated by radical organizations virtually just as much as other Americans.

In light of this need for distinctions, my primary theological investigation is trying to make sense of how we as Christ-followers should interact, dialogue, challenge (and be challenged by) Islamic thought.

But where do we start?

Can Christians really talk about Islam? That is, can Christians make definitive and objective statements in regards to soteriological and social practices of Islam adequately when we are not familiar with Islamic theology/philosophy in the same way we are acquainted with Christian theology? Christians, Jews, and Muslims all claim to share heritage to Abraham, but does the overlap end there? Further, even if one determines that the faiths take divergent (and perhaps irreconcilable) trajectories, what is the Christ-centered manner in which to deal with these differences?

That was a mind dump of some really convoluted and entangled questions that I have been wrestling with for some time. Just like most topics that I’ve felt drawn to consider, this one is such that I can only skim the vast sea of factors involved, so I am going to do my best to zero in on what is the most conducive for this piece.

Similarly to the quite dark history of the Church’s dealing with the”Jewish Question,” the corresponding confounded disposition that many Christian dealings with Islam perpetuate still maintains a strong foothold in mainstream Christian thought. What I want to attempt (which will certainly only scratch the surface) is not necessarily to make the determination if Christianity and Islam are contradictory faiths because I do not think that I, nor most of Christian theology has done enough collaborative work to make such a definitive demand.

I am not saying that I believe Islam and Christianity are equivalent interactions with God, but I will say that there are truly compelling arguments to explore the possibility of affiliations between Christian and Islamic theologies. For instance, Wolfhart Pannenberg contended viable theological frameworks for such notions:

The OT history nowhere suggests that the God who addressed himself to Abraham and his successors was totally unknown to all others. (190, “The Revelation of God in Systematic Theology, Volume 1)

Of course, my own faith weighs the ontological and epistemological necessity of Jesus Christ as the epicenter of God’s revelation and salvation action, and nearly every Christian has memorized Jesus’ own words in regards to this matter:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NIV)

But what does all that really mean? Do we literally need to say the sinners prayer in order to be saved, or does that limit the action of Christ reaching His beloved?

The spectrum as to the degree of which and how these factors are required for salvation is definitely still debated (and please, see my three part senior seminar paper on the destiny of the unevangelized if you interested in seeing how I have dealt with this issue at much, much greater length).

My point is that ‘wider hope theories’ alone do enough to show that considering Muslims as potentially a part of God’s elect is neither heretical nor unreasonable (if this is an issue that either fascinates you or irks you, there is a brilliantly balanced and practical book by John Sanders titled No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized that goes deep into evaluating the validity of wider hope theories, which propose more inclusive stances of soteriology). However, since such inclusive salvation models are certainly not widely accepted and require a much larger discussion, I want to address a different kind of question.

Instead – and actually quite comparable to my writing on the Church’s responsibility (at the very least) to LGBTQ – how do we as Christians live with a Christ-like disposition towards a people group we do not agree with? How do we respond when certain sects express their hatred for us, or possibly even more importantly, how do we respond when Christians espouse hatred for them? What steps need to be taken in order to foster a dialogue, which in turn could enable healing as well as a productive conversation?

In this case, how do we create space for constructive relationship with our fellow sons and daughters of Abraham?

One productive step that I see as integral is an attempt at gaining mutual understanding and respect, with no ulterior motives. Inter-religious dialogue is a vastly underrated and underdeveloped field of Christian theology that has allowed devastating results. I myself am guilty of the fact that when one focuses on theology, it tends to naturally gravitate upon issues and topics that relate to one’s immediate reality. Thus, if you are not consistently interacting with ideas or persons of different faiths, one’s knowledge concerning divergent religions is inevitably lacking. So I am certainly included in my proceeding critiques and challenges to Christian-Islamic relations. And that’s part of the reason that I feel drawn to discuss and highlight this fact.

Some of these damaging effects have real-life consequences. One prominent controversy occurred a few months ago, sending waves through Christian university culture. In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at Wheaton University, responded to the growing anti-Islamic sentiments that she saw around her by posting a picture of herself online wearing a traditional hijab, expressing her solidarity with Muslim women living in terror states. But she also shared her own perspective that Christians and Muslims share the same God:

I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

Shortly after this, Wheaton put her on an administrative suspension for violating and contradicting their core belief statements, despite being a tenured professor. The resulting social media storm raged wildly. People took sides and brought harsh criticism to both parties. Eventually, Wheaton and Dr. Hawkins came to a “mutual agreement” to part ways.

This assuredly is not the only time this kind of thing has happened. What is apparent from this particular event is that productive and respectful discussions concerning Islamic and Christian theology are rare.

How do we address this?

A convicting point to me, is recognizing that I have such a limited knowledge of Islamic thought and I need to listen more than I speak. More specifically, I think most Christians are unequipped to engage thoughtfully and critically with this issue without resorting to knee-jerk reactions. Whether it is holding to a harsh restrictivist stance or advocating all-encompassing universalism, I observe both as ignoring vital truths about God’s action in the world, especially in relation to a religion that claims such a comparable history and lineage as Islam does to Christianity. In addition, when Christians come off as ‘having all the answers’ without sincerely listening to divergent perspectives, it continues to harbor disrespect and misunderstanding. The similarities and differences should be engaged rather than shirked.

Part of finding mutual understanding includes accepting criticism from other parties. I see hearing out Islamic critiques of Christian theology as incredibly important to fostering a real dialogue. For instance, many Islamic thinkers offer some intriguing and biting arguments concerning the Trinity. Joshua Ralston, a professor of Muslim-Christian relations at the University of Edinburgh, elaborates that the absolute “oneness” of God, tawhid, is the center point to Islamic theology, and more than that, it carries significance beyond numerical; it describes how there is none like God and he is the undiluted source of all creation:

Tawhid also has practical, political, legal and social implications for Muslims. How you live, what you eat, how you pray, how you respond to evil and disappointment is all to be filtered through the recognition that there is no God but God.

Thus, the presence of the Incarnation, the Trinity, and other seemingly polytheistic notions in Christian theology trouble Islamic thinkers. For them, how can God be unchanging and truly the only God if he has split Himself into three?

I personally do not have a sufficient response in an Islamic context, but for me, this kind of critique is a perfect opportunity to learn something from Islamic theology about the encompassing and unfathomable nature that God has in being the only true divine being, the absolute source of life. Certainly, I would be happy to offer my own perspective about the Trinity if asked, but my primary focus should be on sincerely listening and learning what I can from a perspective that I am unfamiliar with because, personally, that is how I see the most effective way that I can demonstrate Christ’s character.

That doesn’t mean I have to agree, but it does mean that I have to listen.

The title of this post might have been a little misleading if you were hoping for a detailed theological investigation of the inclusion of Islam in God’s redemptive promises. But that’s the whole point – it shouldn’t matter whether they are actually saved or not in terms of guiding our behavior as Christ-followers.

If we want to talk about the soteriological possibilities between Islam and Christianity, that’s fantastic, yet it has to be a level playing field where Islamic thought is given as much air time as Christian thought. But honestly, that is all somewhat beside the point; in terms of determining how we are supposed to act as Christians towards Muslims, the example of Jesus Christ is painfully clear.

Returning to where we left off in Scripture at 1 John 14, our purpose as disciples is solidified:

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:19-21, NIV)

Our role is to show our brothers and sisters of Abraham that they are worth dying for. What matters is how we treat Muslims (and everyone for that fact) like Jesus did; we are supposed to agree with His ultimate Yes in sacrificing His life for an undeserving and sinful humanity by emulating that love for others. Including those who might disrespect us, hate us, or even wish us harm, and conversely, including those whom we have disrespected, hated, or wished harm.

‘Eye for an Eye’: Capital Punishment & Christianity

After taking a break from writing on political discourse for a while, in my time away there’s one particular issue that seems to keep coming up in circumstances around me so I feel pressed to address it. It’s something that I have wanted to deal with for some time, but knew it would take dedicated time, thought, and discernment as it is a heavy and heart-wrenching topic no matter what direction one leans.

Capital punishment is always a controversy in American politics. Not a season goes by that the constitutional legitimacy of such a judiciary act isn’t questioned or, on the other hand, advocated for. There is always consistently opposing perspectives to the death penalty seemingly at all times, thus feeling like an endless debate.

My initial instinct in the time that I have dwelled on this matter is that it is far more complicated than many might recognize (which should be the case anyways because we are talking about executing people). There are layers and layers to the argument that need to be addressed in order to properly understand and then evaluate the issue.

On a practical level, is it legally just? Is it effective for reducing other crimes? Is it economically efficient? How often are those on death row actually exonerated? These are just a few of the simply logistical aspects of determining its legitimacy as a judicial order.

But if you have read any of my previous musings, you can guess what is coming next as the primary consideration.

How does one evaluate capital punishment through a Christocentric lens? Should Christians advocate or condemn executions? What does Jesus Himself advocate?

To start, understanding the history of capital punishment in the United States should be the first attempt before forming a solid opinion on its justifiability. This chart from a capital punishment awareness group gives massive amounts of information regarding the death penalty, so I will try to highlight a handful of the most significant points for our discussion. Since 1976, when state and federal ordered executions were reinstated (after initially being deemed unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1972 as “arbitrary punishment”) 1,436 people have been executed as of May 12, 2016. 31 states continue to enact capital punishment, while 19 have banned the practice.

I highly encourage you to look at the entire graph, but some of the more controversial information shows that in terms of race, the statistics cannot hide the fact that minorities are more likely to be considered for the death penalty.

For instance, there have been 31 executions for interracial murders of a white defendant for a black victim, compared to a staggering 297 executions of a black defendant for a white victim. Some might contend that that kind of information is a reflection of criminal reality; which would imply that black people commit either more crime or more egregious crime, particularly against white people.

Now this is an argument that has been perpetuated for a long time, so I cannot make a definitive statement by any means, but I do feel inclined to share my personal opinion. Such a massive difference in interracial murders charged with the death penalty where 90% of the defendants are black is just too large of a number to associate only as circumstantial. To me, that kind of a disproportionate percentage shows significant enough causation pointing to a persistent institutional racism within the justice system. I thus find it unnerving that the most definitive act of punishment possible appears to be easily subject to prejudice.

Not only that, but capital punishment might be executing innocent people as well.

Researchers conclusion on investigating the percentage of inmates who are exonerated while on death row are at the very least 4.1% of death penalty cases. That’s a disturbing margin of error in these life or death scenarios. Almost more surprising, capital punishment supporters are not actually very concerned with this according to the Pew Research Center, as 63% of advocates admit that there is some risk to putting the innocent to death by using capital punishment.

A little different angle that is also upsetting is the economic cost of capital punishment.

For example, in Kansas, the average death penalty case costs $400,000, whereas when capital punishment is not sought the case costs only $100,000 (an increase of 400%). Or take California, in which it was shown that the death penalty has cost the state over $4 billion since 1976. Another instance is Maryland; the average death penalty case costs $3 million, totaling $186 million from 1976-1999, and after all that only five executions have been actually carried out. Lastly, a study of North Carolina found that it costs $2.17 million more than the cost of life imprisonment to pursue the death penalty.

But the high cost to tax payers is worth it, right? The strictly rational standpoint to be in favor of capital punishment is that it reduces crime.

Well, it seems the data on that doesn’t support that perspective. In 2014, an FBI crime study demonstrated that the South has the highest murder rates in the country by far and also carries out 80% of executions. While at the same time, the Northeast only enacts 1% of the death penalty on a national scale yet has the very lowest murder rate. Additionally, on an academic side, 88% of experts in the criminological field reject the notion that capital punishment is effective as a deterrent to crime in general.

If capital punishment is so expensive, maintains real hazards to minorities and the innocent, and appears to be negligible at best to preventing further crime, why do we do it? If more Americans knew what it really cost, the risks, and its ineffectiveness, would they still be in favor? Or, is there a stronger reason for its support?

Gallup Poll showed that about 60% of Americans endorse the death penalty – why?

Simply put: Vengeance.

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Believe it or not, this graph from Vox, adapted by a survey from Gallup, gives the perspective that out of every other argument, ‘Old Testament retribution’ is the foremost propeller for capital punishment advocacy. The Pew research study that was mentioned earlier goes even further to show that support of the death penalty is particularly strong among white Christians:

Among religious groups, sizable majorities of white evangelical Protestants (71%), white mainline Protestants (66%) and white Catholics (63%) favor the death penalty. But those who are religiously unaffiliated are divided (48% favor, 45% oppose).

Is this a biblical and Christ-centered standpoint to have?

First off, I am in no way trying to down play the seriousness of the absolute evil that human beings are capable of committing. Horrific crimes are a reality and I have no right in respect to victims of tragedy to insist that criminal behavior should not be dealt with harshly.

But justice and vengeance are two different things.

I want to challenge what appears to be a more mainstream Christian standpoint of “an eye for an eye” mentality with what I believe to be the only way to properly approach this issue: by sincerely looking at the overarching picture of our role as Christians demonstrated in Scripture, rather than cherry-picking context specific verses. Overall, we are to be centered, anchored, and hinged upon the example of Christ.

Sure, the Old Testament legitimately gave commands to maintain fairness and justice in extremely strict measures at the time:

If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth. (Exodus 21:22-27, NIV)

In some ways this kind of retribution still makes sense today, especially by many current legal standards; you must pay back what you have dealt to another, including your life. So while “an eye for an eye” is continued to be recited, what about the other commands in the same passage?

Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death… Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property. (Exodus 21:17, 20-21, NIV)

I do not really hear those verses paraded very often… Are they still valid if “an eye for an eye” is still valid?

We are slowly entering a much large discussion about evaluating the variance of authority between passages of Scripture. There are many who take a ‘black and white’ approach to inerrancy and the absolute literal nature of the Bible, which has the implication that all words in Scripture have equal authority. But that is not the only way to read Scripture. To address this properly would take at least ten blog posts, so I’m going to do my best to explain this issue within our specific discussion, so I hope you give me grace if you find my perspective lacking because in reality, one’s view of inerrancy is shaped by views on free-will, determinism, God’s character, historical criticism, and much more.

In terms of the commands in Exodus 21, first one must look at the particular context and history surrounding the passage before simply applying it to one’s own context. Israel had escaped Egypt, been in the wilderness for 40 years, struggled with worshipping pagan idols, and were just becoming a cohesive society again. So they quite desperately needed guidance. Thus, God acted in a particular context and met Israel where they were – Moses comes down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and measures to maintain order in a chaotic environment. These rules were sharp in retribution for illegal behavior because that is what Israel needed. They were constantly influenced by foreign and pagan cultures, so God’s new commands at this time were radical and society changing.

Therefore, to consider these kinds of Old Testament rules as if they carry the same weight as they did then without acknowledging and evaluating the context is a disservice to the encompassing and evolving nature of God’s covenantal history with humanity. This may seem radical to some, but to me, I believe we must recognize that fact that when society changes, God too changes His tactics to most effectively intersect and interact with His creation. This is not to dispute God’s unchangeable character, but rather it is similar to how a parent must connect with each of his or her children in distinct and specific ways in order to do the most to love and benefit that particular child.

This evaluating of God’s action in the world through the witness of Scripture is perplexing when the involvement seems ambiguous, but in our discussion, we actually have a surprisingly stark and obvious statement of covenantal evolution.

What did Jesus say about “an eye for an eye”? He addressed it directly:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42, NIV)

Now, I have brought up this passage before in my consideration of non-violence, which is a topic that I perceive it to be speaking to more precisely, yet when the original audience heard Jesus say this, their thoughts would have zeroed in on Exodus 21. For one thing, during the first century, the way in which the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) was shared and understood was an oral tradition. That is, written copies were few and handled by high-ranking priests alone, so the only way lay-people could know God’s Word was by hearing it aloud and memorizing it. Therefore, when the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount heard the words “an eye for an eye,” it would have immediately brought to mind the commands from God delivered by Moses. And Jesus was challenging them.

Was Christ contradicting God? If one can only comprehend the authority of Scripture in a literal fashion, perhaps that’s the only way it can be read. But if one can see how God alters tactics to adequately and effectively impact His beloved in new contexts, we can perceive that Christ sets a new standard for Christian living. A standard that rejects retribution as the primary instinct for His followers, which is to be curbed with grace and love for other people. This is Christ meeting us were we are at and adapting to humanity’s ever changing cultures, providing a novel lifestyle that moves to advance and demonstrate the Kingdom of God.

Of course, I do not think this means we shouldn’t uphold laws and harsh judicial punishments for horrific crimes, but Christ ushers a particular mindset for Christians to uphold. And in this specific example, capital punishment does not seem to align with Christ’s alteration of “an eye for an eye.” Instead of demanding vengeance, we are to recognize that Christ died for the sake of all people. We all deserve death – every single one of us. Jesus’ action on the cross demonstrates that we are all “dead to sin.” But it is precisely because of His willingness to go to death that every person’s worth is displayed, and thus only by His grace we are “alive in Christ.”

What kind of example do Christians exhibit when we are more likely to be in favor of the death penalty than someone who is religiously unaffiliated? What does it say when we are more likely to encourage vengeance instead of advocating forgiveness? Are we called to resurrect Old Testament retribution, or bring to life New Testament grace?

This is by no means the easy path. But following Christ is not the easy path. The power of forgiveness brings to mind a song by Delta Spirit. Heavily influenced by the story-telling manner of Bob Dylan, the lead singer, Matthew Logan Vasquez weaves “The Ballad of Vitaly” after hearing a tragic story on the news.

Pete, a Swissman, working double shifts in an air traffic control tower in Russia dozed off leading to the collision of two planes in midair. On that plane was the wife and two children of Vitaly, all killed. So filled with rage, Vitaly stormed the home of the air traffic controller with pictures of his family in hand, but Pete couldn’t handle the confrontation and pushed Vitaly, causing the photos to fall to the ground. With the sight of the pictures of the ones most dear to him on the ground, Vitaly stabs Pete without control. Yet Pete was a father of three himself. In the wake of the aftermath, the government pardons Vitaly, with many consoling and commending him for the justice that he enacted. But Vitaly, now alone and wracked with guilt, took his own life.

Vasquez cuts deep to the truth of such tragedy:

He was alone, killed a father of 3
No deed that he did could make him complete
It could have been different if only Pete said
“I’m sorry for killin’ the few joys you had”

But now there’s nothin’ for Vitaly to do
But step off a cliff or hang in the noose
Robbed of forgiveness that he could’ve gave
There’s no man left to save

When we withhold forgiveness, even from those who deserve it the least, we are taking God’s place. The only role that we are to play as Christ followers is to agree with Christ’s all-encompassing action on the cross that every person has value, no matter what they have done.

Are we to decide who is beyond redemption?

Redemption Day: ‘Eschatological Evangelism’ & the Intermediate State – Parts VI & VII

I’m feeling a little self-conscious that my posts for this topic are beginning to appear as if it’s as grandiose as the Star Wars saga… I suppose that’s the consequence of converting a 40 page paper into a series of blog posts. But if you’ve made it this far, I’m flattered! Hopefully, this last section is much more digestible in terms of comprehensibility and practicality for understanding the possible functions of the intermediate state, with a final recapitulation of eschatological evangelism as a viable theological concept (if that sentence made no sense whatsoever, you can catch up here and here).

In addition, while I have alluded to some assistance that C.S. Lewis’ fiction lends in conceptualizing the possibilities of responding to Christ after death through his illustrations in The Last Battle, Lewis demonstrated even further imaginative realities to the potential purpose of the intermediate state in his compelling narrative The Great Divorce. I used this text extensively in my own comprehension and postulations, as I found Lewis’ always unique and provocative approach massively enriching to the dialogue.

I hope that you found this series of my ramblings intriguing or encouraging, or even frightening or frustrating. Any reaction is good! I simply desire to make people think deeply about how one’s own faith plays out in their life and in the world. Whether you agree with me or not, I do not intend to convey that I have a cornerstone on truth; all I can do is offer an opinion that strives towards knowing God more wholly.

Yet at the same time, I want the theological implications of pronouncing one’s allegiance to Christ to be humbling, as it necessitates responsible and critical engagement with Scripture that is inevitably demanding. Because for me, making that commitment means sincerely examining if my life, words, and thoughts are centered on Christ’s own life, words and thoughts. And thus, my argument is that on Redemption Day one’s response to unequivocal servanthood will be and should be the most difficult choice one ever makes.

With that, here is the final entry.

 

 

VI. Function of the Intermediate State Leading to Eschatological Evangelism

As mentioned, there are really just two conceptions of the intermediate state. The first, is a period of strictly waiting and a type of ‘sleep state.’ The second reflects more of a purgatorial realm of character and disposition testing.[1] Therefore, the task at hand is to determine whether sleep state and purgatorial components are mutually exclusive to this concept.

A. Sleep State

  1. Scriptural Evidence

Scripture, including some of the passages that have been examined, sometimes display the condition of those present in the intermediate state to be in some form of unconsciousness. Such as 1Thessalonians 4:13-17, which describes the dead as being the first to rise at the Second Coming of Christ, but that they are currently “asleep.” Or in Revelation 6:9-11, where the martyred souls are told to “rest a little longer,” implying that they were already ‘resting,’ as well as the fact that their anticipation involves some type of respite until Judgment Day. So at the very least, what can be confirmed from these texts is that the intermediate state’s function involves waiting and a type of somnolent condition to its residents. But does that necessitate the absence of a purgatorial operation as well? That is still to be discerned.

  1. Objections Against Purgatorial Realm

Notable biblical scholar N.T. Wright concludes that any form of purging or a purgatorial realm after death is ruled out from the function of the intermediate state. He sees this resurgence of “mythology” as Christians and non-Christians, rather than being destined for heaven or hell, as they should be, are grouped together in an “uneasy huddle in the middle.”[2] This then allows them to continue on “whatever ‘journey’ they have been on up until then” and will then eventually accept God’s salvation, but Wright sees this as problematic. First, it downplays the significance and magnitude of sin, which “liberalism” does not see as requiring punishment.[3] Second, he observes this resurgence of purgatory to be based on a misguided “control belief” corresponding to the one that was engaged earlier – that heaven is the ultimate goal. Wright insists that it is not, except highlighting a different emphasis; being pure for heaven is not our final destiny, but rather that we will receive new bodies at the Resurrection free from any flaw or fault and live on the restored earth.[4] This is the ultimate goal for which Christians should be focused upon.

This point is also tied to Wright’s primary objection to a purgatorial intermediate state: “Death itself gets rid of all that is still sinful… There is nothing then left to purge.”[5] For Wright, the end of sinful natures is at death, as those who accept Christ are already justified, and the sanctification process simply is death. And to go along with that, Wright insists that the concept of purgatory should be retired because he reads Paul as implying the present life itself functions as purgatory.[6] It is here and now that we must endure trials and testing as a means to reach our home, not after death.

B. Purgatorial

In light of the objections to a purgatorial function of the intermediate state, the evidence seems to favor a strict ‘sleep state’ operation, but it will be seen if these objections are truly valid and what other scholars have to say. To begin, the Scripture passages, 1Thessalonians 4:13-17 and Revelation 6:9-11, mentioned earlier do not entirely rule out a purgatorial function being present in the middle state. For one thing, even though souls in the intermediate state might be “resting” or “asleep,” the fact that they often cry out or even respond to and accompany Christ out of their realm shows that those who are waiting are not necessarily docile.[7] Using terms for ‘sleep’ could simply imply an ethereal type of existence in which residents are not capable of ‘waking’ or leaving on their own until they are called to the Resurrection.

  1. Theological Need of Sanctification

While Wright appears to put forth a compelling case, other scholars are driven by the conviction of the justifying power of grace but also see the need of divine sanctification in order to stand before God. Jerry Walls explains it this way:

Those who see salvation in forensic, legal terms emphasize that there is no condemnation for those in Christ and reject purgatory on the grounds that it undermines this claim. But for those who conceive salvation primarily in terms of real moral and spiritual transformation, freedom from condemnation is only the beginning of salvation, crucial as it is.[8]

Overemphasizing justification by faith too much perhaps ignores and overwhelms the also paramount sanctification that is required in order to be with God. As Walls said, it is not that justification is not crucial, it is just that the doctrine has lumped sanctification along with it, when in reality it appears to be a separate event that still is essential in coming to fruition.

  1. Properties of Sin & Death

Wright’s argument against this stipulation is that the event of death completes sanctification. But this causes some problems. Foremost, Wright’s view seems to cohere sin and flesh too tightly together. The primary reason this presents a vexed concern is that Romans 6 clearly displays that we are “dead to sin and alive in Christ,” and thus Jesus has conquered all condemnation. And so this passage gives a case that Christ’s work on the cross has already removed the curse and we live free from all sin, but obviously our fleshly tendencies remain. What Christian has not or does not sin? Consequently, Christ has gained victory over sin and death, but we live in an “already-not yet” reality of that fact. We can partake of salvation in our relationship to Jesus now, but the full consummation of this promise is still to come.

  1. The Unevangelized & Infant Destiny

Finally, how does death sanctify the unevangelized? Wright’s conception of the intermediate state does not coincide with eschatological evangelism. Obviously, accommodating to this concept is not an intention, but his construction of an intermediate state reveals restrictivst properties, as the only people who will enter the intermediate state and heaven are Christians, based solely on their explicit faith in Christ now.[9]

More specifically, what of babies who die in infancy? Ironically, restrictivists often presume that they just automatically go to heaven, while the unevangelized are quite deserving of hell. It is exactly this kind of thinking that impels wider hope theories to emerge. Eschatological evangelism presents a much better answer to this question as Scripture constantly reminds us that children are the standard for those who enter the Kingdom.[10] Eschatological evangelism allows a plausible answer in that these infants, with their ‘child-like’ implicit faith could (if not also the most likely to) respond positively to Christ at Judgment Day as they often posses a kind of faith marked by the sincerest honesty.[11]

And thus another issue arises: infants must not stay infants forever after death. They must ‘grow up’ somehow. Clark Pinnock offers the suggestion that the intermediate state in its purgatorial and character building properties could be a place for these infants to mature after death.[12] Whether this necessitates the intermediate state to be purgatorial rather than a sleep state is not absolute, but to develop and mature a person demands much more than just ‘sleep.’

C. The Great Divorce

But how should one visualize a character building and sanctifying type of an intermediate state? What kind of disposition testing could there be?

  1. Benefit of Narrative

C.S. Lewis again lended invaluable insight to this discussion of the after life in the musings of his work The Great Divorce. It is a narrative imagining an intriguing picture of heaven and hell, as well as an intermediate state. By no means intended to assert a definitive theological argument, Lewis simply intended the text to be a creative exploration of life after death.[13] Despite this qualifier, this book conveys inventive and fruitful assistance by not only imagining the intermediate state, but also merging it with eschatological evangelism.

The story begins with a man traveling on a bus that periodically flies passengers from the “city,” latter designated as hell, to the outskirts of what appears to be Paradise. Once in these outskirts, the man’s and the passengers’ unusual physicality is revealed once arriving in the outskirts, appearing as “ghosts” and in that way are somewhat ‘unconscious.’[14] After they arrive, the ghosts encounter angelic beings that test their internal dispositions and character. Some respond well to this and some do not; the choice is clearly their own to make, but they are also obviously influenced by their past decisions and lifestyles from when they were alive. What is also evident is that this character testing has nothing to do with punishment (although the physical properties and geography of paradise seem to be rather harsh to the physiques of the ghosts), and instead the purpose of this maturing process is to find those who have sincere implicit faith and help them recognize their willingness to give up their former selves.

  1. The Ultimate Decision

This is the heart of The Great Divorce. While the separation of the realms of heaven, hell, and the intermediate state themselves do not seem very far apart, as one can take a bus between them to and fro (yet it is later seen that these physical dimensions are deceiving), Lewis was trying to demonstrate that we will all have to decide where to be forever, and then the ‘divorce’ will be immeasurable. We cannot hold onto evil or ourselves in any way; we must reject everything and everything entirely if we want to follow Christ. For Lewis’ intention was that the nature of this ultimate choice we must finally make will be between the most radical of alternatives.[15] Once again with this emphasis on choice, in The Problem of Pain, Lewis illuminated that it is quite possible that “hell is locked from the inside.”[16]

D. Is There a Middle Ground?

In appreciation of the arguments of both a sleep state and a purgatorial realm, it still appears that justification and sanctification need separate occurrences, and death itself does not come across as substantiating the requirements of full sanctification. How then does one reconcile the prominent Protestant axiom of justification by faith and the purgatorial need of divine sanctification? How do we conceptualize these into the intermediate state?

  1. ‘Already-Not Yet’

Maybe it cannot be done; perhaps the best we can accomplish is to maintain the priority of both themes. As shown already, Romans 6 contains strong elements of the fact that we are free from sin, but also from a look at our present state it is obvious that we are not free from fleshly tendencies. It is this tension of ‘already-not yet’ that is a reality that must be endured in multiple capacities.

In the particular category of this actuality, we live in God’s promises and salvation through relationship now, but also need to realize that there could be a sanctification process yet to come in the intermediate state, which then leads to the final consummation of our salvation at Judgment Day. This possibility also permits for a period of maturing for all people, both those who have heard of Christ and those who have not, which could include maturing processes in multiple capacities, such as character building and perhaps even further development for those who die with disabilities or as adolescents. These operations then culminate with everyone meeting Christ and each are faced with the choice of self or servant.

VII. Recapitulation of Eschatological Evangelism & the Intermediate State

A. Bridging Two Concepts

By linking theological impulses of eschatological evangelism and Scriptural testimony of an intermediate state what is allowed is an expression of the sequences after death that consolidates and organizes many of the factors at hand. In addition, this pairing provides equilibrium to the interaction between theological experiential truth and Scriptural truth, encouraging a ‘check and balance’ style cooperation that is so crucial to well-rounded hermeneutics. Moreover, the style of bridging that is being attempted is attempting to meet in the middle. In other words, this ‘bridge’ (a theological and Scriptural conception of events leading to Judgment Day) is reached by coming from two directions at once: 1) eschatological evangelism and 2) the intermediate state. It is by building from these two sides that the bridge is constructed.

  1. Not a Conclusion

It is through this interface that the notions of eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state are able to support and corroborate one another to form a coherent conceptualization of life after death. This is not in any way a suggestion of an unequivocal conclusion to the question, “what happens after we die,” but instead this paper contends these positions to provide the best possible framework and answer to the events following death in light of the numerous elements involved. And the framework that is produced is also meant to provide a constructive dialogue for addressing significant roadblocks that are existent for many in conversing and embracing Christian faith, most prominently the destiny of the unevangelized.

  1. Innumerable Factors

Further, the innumerable amount of factors connected to this discourse can hardly be named or managed, as Lewis demonstrated near the end of The Great Divorce even the nature of time, space, and physical properties could have entirely different realities than we are able to comprehend from our finite perspective.[17] Thus, eschatological evangelism joined with the intermediate state does not insist a definitive answer to the impossible question of the afterlife; in contrast it does the impressive task of taking into consideration the vast factors involved, and in the most sensible and consistent manner of any other theory, saying, “how about this?” The structure for life after death that eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state present is certainly not the only possible conception, but it is the best one.

B. A Picture of Life After Death

  1. “What Happens After We Die?”

If this pairing of notions does indeed describe the best illustration of life after death, then “what happens after we die?” Eschatological evangelism in tandem with the intermediate state contends that all people will wait for the Resurrection in an intermediate state after death, and it is possible that their internal dispositions could be tested. This maturing process would sharpen those who have genuine implicit faith by pointing them in a direction of selflessness, or conversely, harden those who do not have sincerity in their seeking and would prefer to hang onto their pride by maintaining a focus upon themselves.

When Redemption Day arrives, we will all be ‘caught up’ with Christ. In this encounter we are given a perfect presentation of the Gospel, for just being in the presence of Jesus Christ on that Day will unquestionably illuminate Him in His truest form. It will be our internal dispositions and implicit faith combined with our external fruits of the Spirit and explicit faith that will influence our response to Christ on the Day of Judgment.

  1. “Thy Will Be Done”

This choice will not be easy. God’s universally salvific will means that God is always for us. More so, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the ultimate ‘yes’ to humanity, while also consigning the ontological exclusivity and epistemological necessity for salvation to His name. Thus, Judgment Day will be the opportunity for every person to make an explicit response; by bending a knee to Christ we issue more of a reflection of us judging God instead of God judging us.

Often being accused of being a ‘hopeful universalist,’ Karl Barth felt and explored the tension between God’s universal salvific will and Christ’s finality, and he elucidated the result of this reality skillfully. Barth interpreted God’s universal salvific will as salvation being made free for all, but Christ’s exclusivity causes salvation to require everything. In light of the cross, it is a person rejecting God that produces the outcome of damnation, not the other way around.[18]

Therefore, it will be our choice to make when we all will rise out of the ground and meet Jesus in the air. Lewis echoes this conclusion that without self-choice there would be no hell, and that those who seek will find what they are searching for: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”[19]

 

 

[1] This conception excludes the Catholic purgatory notion of a punishment-for-sin based function, making the purgatorial operation of the intermediate state strictly related to a sanctification process.

[2] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the    Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 167.

[3] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 168.

[4] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 168-169.

[5] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 170.

[6] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 170.

[7] Revelation 6:9-11, 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6 (ESV)

[8] Jerry L. Walls, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 54.

[9] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 170.

[10] Matthew 18:3, Matthew 19:14 (ESV)

[11] Beilby, “Destiny of the Unevangelized.”

[12] Clark Pinnock, “Response to Zachary J. Hayes: The Purgatorial View.” In Four Views on Hell, ed. William V. Crockett, 129. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Publishing, 1996.

[13] C.S. Lewis, preface to The Great Divorce: A Dream (New York: HarperCollins/HarperOne, 2001), x.

[14] Lewis, The Great Divorce, 20-21.

[15] Walls, Purgatory, 168.

[16] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 127.

[17] Lewis, The Great Divorce, 140-141.

[18] Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Is Victor!: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Salvation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1976), 62.

[19] Lewis, The Great Divorce, 75.

Redemption Day: ‘Eschatological Evangelism’ & the Intermediate State – Parts IV & V

I want to continue the analysis of eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state by publishing the next portion of my endeavor into this rabbit hole. I hope that you find it somewhat challenging, as I myself found an investigation into this foreign and mystical biblical topic of the ‘intermediate state’ to be confusing and perplexing.

I actually looked up ‘rabbit hole’ in the dictionary and I feel it encapsulates the feelings I have towards such convoluted theological ideas as this to be quite apt as it is “used to refer to a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself.”

But I think it is vitally important for maintaining a healthy and robust faith to be consistently tested with strange and alien perspectives that help focus one’s reliance on Christ, Scripture, and prayer as one searches for a greater and more intense knowledge of our Creator and Redeemer, and in turn, how we are to emulate that in the world.

With my first section of inquiry, the focus was on the theologically viable nature of eschatological evangelism (if you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here). And now, in the second installment of my senior seminar pursuit, I bring Scriptural insight to the discussion. After all, my educational experiences in developing responsible hermeneutics and interpretation has opened my eyes to the understanding that Scripture is the vehicle that moves us towards knowing who God is, our role in the world, and God’s interaction with us.

What makes the possibility of eschatological evangelism tangible as a theory?

IV. The Intermediate State

The concept of an intermediate state after death leading to Judgment Day is a doctrine that seems rather strange and mystical since it is not often discussed outside of scholarly inquiry. The more popular view that one’s eternal destiny materializes in either being sent straight to heaven or hell immediately after death is actually misguided. Whether they know it or not, an intermediate state is supposed to be the mainstream orthodox view of both Protestants and Catholics.[1] This doctrine is critical to the teachings of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the Apostle John, as well as an integral part of the magnitude of Christ’s death and resurrection. By investigating the key New Testament passages that describe this mysterious and intriguing notion, more elements towards the credibility of the events after death according to eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state will come into place.

A. Key New Testament Passages

  1. Jesus

To begin, Jesus Himself makes an offhand comment that no one has made it to heaven yet in His dialogue with Nicodemus: “No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”[2] Jesus thus confirms that there is ‘something else’ first before eternal destiny. This remark is implicit evidence for an intermediate state for the fact that no person has ascended into heaven except for Christ.[3]

However, this might appear inconsistent with another mention of life after death from Christ. In Luke’s stirring description of the Passion, Jesus proclaims to the criminal beside Him while on the cross that the man’s faith has assured his placement in “Paradise,” in the infamous words: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”[4] Understandably, this appears to be an objection to the fact that we go to an intermediate state immediately after death, or at least that there are perhaps exceptions.

Now, there are a couple ways of approaching this passage. One option is to go the route of insisting that Christ’s use of “today” did not mean today in temporal terms. That is, “today” could be interpreted to imply that the criminal’s perception of the arrival of Judgment Day and heaven will seem like is was just one day, when in reality it could have been centuries. Yet there are problems with this. To just take God outside of time actually puts perspectives in a problematic fashion. More precisely, if God is atemporal and subsequently we will also experience time atemporally after death, it puts us somewhat in the same dimension of time as God, and thus in a sense allows humans to experience time as God. Honestly, this places God and humans too close together in terms of knowledge for this paper. Additionally, as we will later see to be the case, souls that are waiting in the intermediate state are ‘waiting’ in some conception of the term, and aware of it. While it is not unreasonable to argue a position that insists a different experience of time in relation to this passage, to effectively maintain any ground on this stance would require a much longer discussion.

Therefore, a better alternative for elucidation of this passage for our purposes is to examine the term “in Paradise,” or παραδείσῳ in Greek.[5] What is this term intended to denote? Is it heaven or something else? The intriguing point about this usage is that there is a much more common word for heaven in the Greek New Testament, οὐρανῷ, and Luke’s Gospel uses it much more frequently to denote the place of final salvation.[6] In addition, the term for “Paradise” is only used a handful of times in the Greek New Testament, and the most significant passage is utilized by Paul to describe his visions of a man who was “caught up into Paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know…”[7] This spiritual place after death, “Paradise,” appears to be a realm in which God and Christ are present, but that does not necessarily imply that it is heaven itself.[8]

  1. Paul

As already hinted above, Paul is one of the best sources for information regarding the intermediate state since he was teaching new Christians, and they often asked him questions concerning the afterlife. There are three primary passages of importance: 1) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 2) 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, and 3) 2 Corinthians 5:10. In the first excerpt Paul speaks of those who are alive during the Second Coming of Christ, which then necessitates the existence of an intermediate state:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.[9]

This passage clearly states that the dead are “asleep,” and that they will rise to be with God at the Second Coming of Jesus. It is plain then that the dead do not go to their eternal destiny immediately following death, but remain somewhere waiting for the Day of Glory.[10]

The second crucial piece from Paul is from 2 Corinthians 5:6-8:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

The second portion of this passage describes an existence in which we have no body, which can be no other than the realm that comes after death.[11] We will receive new bodies at the Resurrection, thus this bodiless state must be before that time.

The third text from Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:10, is actually a couple verses subsequent to the last one examined, and does more to describe Judgment Day in light of the idea of the intermediate state that Paul just described:

For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”[12]

After Paul mentions a time when we will have no body in verse 6-8, he then follows up with this passage in verse 10 that gives a picture of Judgment – a possible linking of the intermediate state and eschatological evangelism. Heaven or hell is not the immediate location of one after death, but there is place of anticipation prior, which leads to the Judgment of all people who will stand before Jesus Christ.[13] Thus, after the intermediate state, all will encounter Christ and account for their actions. And for those who do not know Christ, what else could be a clearer presentation of the Gospel than being in the presence of Jesus Himself?

  1. John

Finally, the Apostle John also reports the existence of an intermediate state in Revelation 6:9-11:

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.[14]

The spiritual realm is faintly revealed to John when he sees the souls of martyrs waiting for the Consummation “under the altar,” who are quite obviously not in heaven but are being told to “rest a little longer” in another place.[15] It is evident from this passage that eternal destinies are not sealed immediately after death, but instead there is a realm of anticipation leading to Second Coming of Christ and Judgment Day.

B. Christ’s Descent into Hades

Thus, it is clear that numerous passages in the New Testament confirm the existence of a middle realm after death, yet the passages in Scripture that most clearly present evidence to the biblical testimony of an intermediate state are Christ descending into hades. But first, it must be relayed that there is a common misunderstanding of the term ‘hades,’ as many consider it to either denote or include hell in its definition. In reality, it is a word that is much more narrow in meaning, that has been mistakenly used to umbrella the spiritual territories of both hell and the intermediate state.[16] When in fact they are separate terms; ghenna used most often to convey hell, and hades to designate a more middle realm, like the intermediate state. Accordingly, Christ’s descent into hades should be understood to be a visitation of the realm of the dead, not the realm of the damned.

  1. 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6

While the nature of this intermediate state is debated, the consensus since the Reformation period is that through Christ’s descent into the realm of dead, He experienced the middle state or at least some aspect of it at the time between His death and resurrection.[17] The excerpts that recount this mystifying event are 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6, which describe Jesus proclaiming to the spirits in “prison”:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water… For this is why the Gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.[18]

These peculiar passages prove that the dead are not at their final resting place, but are in fact waiting in an intermediate period. And quite apparently, some are able to respond to Christ in this intermediate period, showing that one’s autonomy and decisions are not necessarily finished after death.[19] This fact gives great support to the possibility of people being able to respond positively to the Gospel after death, as well as providing endorsement to the viability of eschatological evangelism.

  1. “Those Who Seek Find”

As to the persons that are mentioned in these verses, there is still debate. Why single out Noah’s generation? There are multiple ways of elucidating this question, but the most consistent with the significance of eschatological evangelism in relation to the intermediate state is that this generation was considered to be the most abandoned of sinners, individuals that had been excluded from any hope whatsoever.[20] What is then being emphasized here is that those who respond positively to Christ might be some of the most unlikely candidates that will receive salvation from our perspectives. But Christ sought them out and He will continue to reach out to those who desire Him, even after death.

C.S. Lewis alludes to this possibility often in many of his works; it is obvious that even though Christ will accept all who want to know Him, it will be at the price of everything. Lewis encapsulates the heart of these paradoxical themes:

All that are in Hell, choose it. Without self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.[21]

  1. Christ’s Victory Over Death

There is still more 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6 says concerning the intermediate state. Next, it demonstrates the vast magnitude of authority inherent in the conquering of death by Jesus Christ. Not only is the power of His death and resurrection to be applied to the living, but also for those who have already died and remain in the intermediate state.[22] The love of God and the jurisdiction of Jesus cannot be contained by death, rather this proves that this divine love is timeless; Christ is alive and He truly “holds the keys to death and hades.”[23]

This reality of Christ’s victory over death and having authority in every spiritual realm, a type of “harrowing of hell,” strongly supports the possibility of at least some being able to accept the Gospel after death.[24] Investigating the intermediate state and eschatological evangelism simply scratches the surface of what God is capable of after death, our finite minds cannot grasp the incredible scope of how God’s love and power reaches across life and death.

  1. Terminology

The final important issue initiated by 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6 pertains to its terminology. What does the term “prison” exactly mean? Is it an intermediate state or hell? While the term for “prison” in Greek, φυλακῇ, can denote a place of penal punishment, it can also mean something more neutral, such as a location providing security or custody.[25] Thus, this term can be applied to all who are in the waiting period, whether they are good or bad. Even if this term designates some kind of penal import, it does not necessitate that this “prison” is meant to designate hell, nor does it damage the neutrality of an intermediate state, but instead it adds to the possibility of a more purgatorial function to this realm, which will be discussed later on.

The other term of importance is the use of “was preached;” εὐηγγελίσθη in Greek.[26] Does this in fact refer to preaching the Gospel? As strange as it might seem, it does indeed; εὐηγγελίσθη is the usual Greek New Testament word for teaching and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.[27] What this implies is that it was a declaration of Christ’s atoning salvific work that was being proclaimed and offered to those waiting in the intermediate state, allowing them too to participate in Christ’s victory over death.[28] This fact has substantial significance, for if Christ proclaimed the Gospel when He descended to hades, what is to stop Him from presenting the Gospel when the dead rise at Judgment Day?

V. Objections to Eschatological Evangelism & the Intermediate State

Now that we have accomplished an analysis of both eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state, the task still remains to coalesce these two concepts in a way that supports and compliments one another for a vision of life after death. It has already been seen that the two doctrines overlap implicitly in many ways, but one of the clearest ways to assist in seeing how they hearten each other is to encounter and address the various possible objections against these topics. By engaging these disagreements it will be shown how eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state preserve a tenable argument both theologically and Scripturally.

A. Immediate Judgment At Death

  1. Hebrews 9:27

The first objection to be dealt with, and the most frequently debated, is the assumption that our destinies are determined immediately after death and no decisions can be made following death. The typical reasoning for this is that Hebrews 9:27 asserts this as fact:

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes Judgment…[29]

While it is understandable that many might read this verse as indicating that ultimate Judgment occurs immediately after death, it in no way implies that this is the only interpretation. But rather, this kind of statement is ambiguous in regards to when exactly after death this Judgment transpires. From what is written, Judgment happening after death could be in a few seconds or it could be in a few centuries. What the author of Hebrews is trying to convey is that Judgment will happen for all people after death, but says nothing about excluding what happens in between; namely, an intermediate state.[30] In fact, the following verse 28 says that Christ will appear a second time, “for those who eagerly await Him.”[31] In light of the many passages reviewed concerning the intermediate state, Christ often includes those in the intermediate state among those who are waiting for Him to return.

In regards to the portion of the objection that claims decisions cannot be made after death, it can be found that the driving force behind this argument stems from an unquestioned dogma since Augustine; one that insists that God owes us nothing and it is a gracious gift if one has an opportunity to accept the Gospel in this life.[32] What these objectors neglect is what this paper started with – recognizing the imperative “two theological axioms” of God’s universal salvific will and Christ’s finality. If one rejects either of those two realities, the conversation is moot. God’s universal salvific will is not wishful hyperbole, but sincere longing to be in loving relationship with His creation. Thus, God’s salvific will must be universal, and with the evidence of an intermediate state, decisions after death cannot be ruled out in the absence of specific Scriptural precedence.

  1. Neglect of Eschatology

Proof texting verses, such as Hebrews 9:27, contributes to creating false assumptions that reinforce the misguided idea of being judged immediately following death. This susceptibility shows a clear transition away from the reality of the prominence of eschatology in Scripture. John Sanders shows this to be the case in his quoting of Thomas Field’s ‘Andover Theory of Future Probation’: “We have neglected the eschatology of Scripture and made death the Judgment, and death the coming of Christ.”[33] Hebrews 9:27 does not intend to shift Judgment Day to be a subjective event that occurs at every person’s death, but instead confirms that this glorious and terrifying Day will come to pass. Additionally, this displays part of the reason why specifying this view as eschatological evangelism is necessary, as it plainly bears the import that this event focuses on Redemption Day.

B. Condemnation by Nature, Not Explicit Rejection of Christ

  1. The Problem of Original Sin

The next contention is by far the most difficult for eschatological evangelism and a middle state to answer. The argument is that the depravity of human nature is warrant enough to condemn one to separation from God, and by waiting until Judgment Day for everyone to have knowledge of and to explicitly reject Christ as the final decision is inconsistent with what Scripture contends concerning the gravity of original corporate sin in Adam. This assertion has some validity because some passages could show that explicit rejection alone is not the only path to reprobation.[34]

  1. The ‘New Adam’

A possible response to this objection is that while it is true we are corporately implicated in Adam’s original sin, it is also true that the ‘new Adam’ liberates us.[35] In other words, the cross has conquered the condemnation spoke of in Romans 3; therefore no one is under that condemnation since Christ has removed it.[36] Consequently, what remains to be dealt with is the Day of Judgment, at which our destinies are determined by our response and relationship to Christ.

While the theme of the depravity of human nature is strong throughout Scripture, the reality that Christ has succeeded in conquering the curse of sin is just as intense. Besides, even if it is fair for God to condemn, that does not mean that in His love He would not seek another salvation. But since He has made salvation realized, the choice is now ours to make. Christ’s death for our depraved sinful natures was the ultimate ‘yes’ to humanity, thus we have the option when we meet Him in the air to either rule in our selfish desires, or to give our entire selves as servants. Choosing Christ over oneself is the most difficult and imperative choice there is.

C. Christ Does Not Preach to Spirits

  1. Different Interpretation of 1 Peter 2:18-20 and 4:6

Another common confrontation to specifically an intermediate state, and then in turn eschatological evangelism, is advocacy for a different interpretation of the key passage to Christ’s descent into hades, 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6. Rather than Christ actually preaching to spirits, some insist that the purpose of the text was exhorting believers to preserve in their witness, for if unbelievers were given an opportunity at death for salvation there would be no point to endure suffering now.[37] This argument also reaches over into a broader challenge to eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state in that if it is feasible for decisions to be made after death, what is the purpose of Christian life now?

  1. Critique of “Control Belief”

The specific interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6 is entirely dependent on the reader; if one wants to skip past the obvious intentions of Paul in these verses, ignore the clear terminology of Christ actually preaching the Gospel, as well as go against significant biblical scholarship, it is up to him or her. But this inquiry stems from a more serious “control belief.”[38] More specifically, this objection arises from a typically restrictivst view that maintains a rather shallow perception concerning the actual purpose of salvation. For them, gaining salvation appears to be about following a correct prescription that is set out for them, and the goal is all that is important: live this way, believe this, and you will get the reward of heaven.

Contrary to this, as has already been discussed, a more complete picture of salvation is that it is about relationship – including now and after death. Jesus is alive now, and we can participate in the actualization of His salvation here in our present lives. In addition, it shows a much more mature perception of the Christian life that despite suffering there are plenty of other wonderful reasons to endure in faith.[39] Without a doubt Christian living is not easy, yet Scripture insists that it is truly worth the trials, and a significant portion of its purpose is to live the most enriching and refining life possible, both presently and after death.[40]

D. Removes Motivation for Missions

Somewhat connected to the last objection, this one also deals with the purpose and justification of actions in the light of eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state. If people will have the chance to respond to the Gospel at Judgment Day, why attempt sharing it now?

  1. The Kingdom of God Now

First, seeing the purpose of missions as getting more people into heaven derives itself from a rather skewed perspective, one quite homogenous to the objection concerning the purpose of Christian living. This is shown by the fact that this argument ignores an aspect to spreading the Gospel is also about spreading the Kingdom of God now, not just having more people in heaven. More so, God commanded us to do it.[41] We were charged with this task and it could have to do with God’s actions with humanity often centered on His desire to cultivate relationship and cooperation with His creation.[42]

  1. Relationship Now

Second, as was shown in the previous objection, having Christ in your life is rewarding. Why not share that with people now? If salvation can be best described as being relational, there should be a strong motivation for this actualizing of salvation to begin sooner rather than later. The capability for all people to be in relationship with the Creator of the universe should be motivation enough for missions.

  1. Assistance of Explicit Faith

Third, eschatological evangelism’s opening for a chance to respond at Judgment Day will not be an easy decision to make. As demonstrated, implicit faith could have a significant role in assisting someone to accept Christ when he or she meets Him in the air, but why not do missions to share explicit faith and increase the likelihood that someone would respond positively? Obviously, whether someone will accept Christ at the Judgment Seat is entirely up to each individual, yet we as Christians are urged to help and encourage one another in each other’s faith.[43]

E. What is the Intermediate State?

  1. Sleeping or Purging?

The final objection operates more as a transition to the next portion of this paper, which deliberates the question, quite simply, what is the intermediate state? We have seen Scriptural evidence for its existence, but what is it and what is its function? The reason that often causes people to reject or ignore the concept of a middle state is that it bears too much resemblance to purgatory, or on the other hand, not enough. And in turn, one’s construction of an intermediate state is often modeled in opposition to purgatory, or conversely, against a sleep state. Can there be a middle ground?

 

 

[1] N. T. Wright, For All the Saints?: Remembering the Christian Departed (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub, 2003), 20.

[2] John 3:13 (ESV)

[3] Herbert Mortimer Luckock, The Intermediate State between Death and Judgment: Being a Sequel to After Death (London: Longmans, Green, 1904), 19.

[4] Luke 23:43 (ESV)

[5] Luke 23:43 (SBL Greek New Testament)

[6] Luke 6:23, “Your reward is great in οὐρανῷ,” Luke 10:20, “Rejoice that your names are written in οὐρανῷ,” Luke 18:22, “Give all you have to the poor, and you will have treasure in οὐρανῷ; and come, follow me.” (Paraphrased) (ESV)

[7] 2 Corinthians 12:3 (ESV)

[8] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 39-40.

[9] 1 Thess. 4:13-17 (ESV)

[10] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 20-21.

[11] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 21.

[12] 2 Cor. 5:10 (ESV)

[13] Joseph H Leckie, The World to Come and Final Destiny (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1922), 93.

[14] Rev. 6:9-11 (ESV)

[15] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 22.

[16] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 35.

[17] Catherine Ella Laufer, Hell’s Destruction: an Exploration of Christ’s Descent to the Dead (Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2013), 130.

[18] 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6 (ESV)

[19] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 140.

[20] Sanders, No Other Name, 187-188.

[21] Lewis, The Great Divorce, 75.

[22] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 140.

[23] Revelation 1:18 (ESV)

[24] Laufer, Hell’s Destruction, 131.

[25] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 140.

[26] 1 Peter 4:6 (SBLGNT)

[27] Sanders, No Other Name, 187.

[28] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 145.

[29] Hebrews 9:27 (ESV)

[30] Luckock, The Intermediate State, 22.

[31] Hebrews 9:28 (ESV)

[32] Sanders, No Other Name, 209.

[33] Sanders, No Other Name, 190.

[34] John 3:18, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already” (Paraphrased, emphasis added), Romans 3:19, “The whole world may be held accountable to God.” (ESV)

[35] 1 Corinthians 15:22 (ESV)

[36] Sanders, No Other Name, 208.

[37] Sanders, No Other Name, 207.

[38] Sanders, No Other Name, 31. “Control belief” of course refers to one’s stances and opinions on crucial issues such as faith, salvation, Christology, epistemology, predestination, etc. These can vary within one denomination, or even between individual Calvinists and Arminians, but they influence much of one’s hermeneutic and interpretation processes of Scripture and theology.

[39] Sanders, No Other Name, 207-208.

[40] 2 Corinthians 9:9, “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully,” 2 Timothy 2:11-13, “If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful” (ESV) – This passage has some intriguing insights for what has been discussed already. It clearly shows that if we are willing to give our life to Christ, He will reward us with eternal life, but it will cost us our lives. More so, it gives emphasis on the importance of explicit acceptance of Christ, while also highlighting the fact that God does not give up on us, rather we give up on God.

[41] Matthew 28:19, “The Great Commission” (ESV)

[42] Beilby, “Nature of Salvation.”

[43] 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Encourage and build each other up.” ESV)

Redemption Day: ‘Eschatological Evangelism’ & the Intermediate State – Parts I, II, & III

And now for something a little different. A guest contributor:

Me in college.

I thought I would offer some unusual and perhaps unfamiliar theology that isn’t directly related to politics now that I have gotten a few articles under my belt. There is some writing that I did during my undergrad that has been incredibly influential to not only my theological development but my thought in general, especially in terms of argumentation and writing structure. Inevitably, it is somewhat esoteric and filled with jargon since it was written for an upper-level theology class, but I really do hope that you find it intriguing. I’m starting with the first three parts of my seven-part senior seminar paper, and then I will post the following sections soon.

Just as a preface, the topic of the class was soteriology, or the study of salvation. Consequently, we touched on many issues, including annihilationism, inclusivism, universalism, and restrictivism (more ‘isms’ than I could keep track of). But the element contingent to all these that I found staggeringly complex and challenging was the destiny of the ‘unevangelized.’ That is, what happens to those who have never heard of Christ after they die? Do they go to heaven or hell? How can God, who claims to be loving, never allow the opportunity of relationship to some of His creation? Scripture doesn’t give a clear answer, so I endeavored to explore this issue further.

I should be up front right away; all the ideas of which I contend are almost strictly postulation. Thus, they are in no way meant to be dogmatic. My instructor specifically wanted me to write from the stance of argumentation and persuasion. So while I do sincerely believe the conclusions that I come to, they are not the crux upon which I hinge my faith. Christ’s words are the center; everything else is secondary and must be tested against those words. So, I could be very wrong. But I found this search impacting my personal faith and picture of God more than any other topic I have studied. It drastically helped me toward comprehending the incomprehensible love and interaction of God in our lives, to the point of death on a cross, and never forgetting about a single one of His children.

Therefore, without any further adieu, here it is.

 

 

Well meet me, Jesus, meet me. Meet me in the middle of the air. And if these wings don’t fail me, I will meet you anywhere. There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.[1]

What happens after we die? What does Johnny Cash foreshadow in his fateful hymn by ‘meeting Jesus in the air,’ and that “there ain’t no grave can hold my body down?”

So what really happens after we die? Moreover, what if you have not heard the Gospel before you die, or some sort of distortion of the Gospel? If people are not able to respond to Christ’s grace in this life, can it occur after death? Is it possible for a type of ‘postmortem’ or ‘eschatological’ evangelism to be coherently postulated? While Scripture gives us clues to the events of the after life, we are left to piece much of it together ourselves.

Eschatological evangelism on Redemption Day is a viable possibility as a final step towards salvation or reprobation, but it is not strong enough on its own; what produces a view that is the best contender to envisage events following death, both Scripturally and theologically, is joining eschatological evangelism with the concept of an intermediate state leading to Judgment Day. Just as early church patriarchs bridged concepts in order to formulate doctrines as a measure to make sense of unclear elements within Scripture, such as the Trinity, in the same way eschatological evangelism paired to the intermediate state allows for the most coherent conjecture to the question, “what happens after we die?”

I. Introduction

A. Methodology

The method this paper will take is to present a systematic case for the validity of the events following death according to eschatological evangelism and the intermediate state. To do this, the stage needs to be set, so to speak.

  • The first section will consist of consolidating and presenting the reasons why this rationalization even needs to be discussed.
  • Second, the parameters of eschatological evangelism will be sketched in order to stabilize the argument as having a theological and rational basis, and in turn why it requires to be bridged with another concept.
  • Third, the supplementary bridging concept, an intermediate state, will be explained and examined through looking at key passages of Scripture.
  • Fourth, the questions and objections to eschatological evangelism in conjunction with the intermediate state will be addressed and considered.
  • Fifth, the function of this intermediate state will be investigated, specifically whether it operates as a ‘sleep state’ or a purgatorial realm.
  • And finally, in light of all that has been presented and discussed, it will be demonstrated how eschatological evangelism in unison with the intermediate state can be coherently conceptualized.

B. Terminology

Furthermore, simply to clarify and make a point, the view to be argued will utilize the term ‘eschatological’ evangelism as opposed to ‘postmortem’ evangelism. The reason being that eschatological evangelism implies the significance that this event happens or culminates on Judgment Day, whereas postmortem evangelism could be confused with a strictly Roman Catholic belief that Christ encounters every person at the moment of death. Now, we may begin this endeavor, and as C.S. Lewis would remark: “further up and further in.”[2]

II. Theological Realities

A. “Two Theological Axioms”

Why do we need to discuss the possibility of eschatological evangelism? There are a number of factors that necessitate this dialogue – imperative theological realties that demand attention. These factors produce what are termed “wider hope” theories. That is, approaches that question the validity of restrictivism and universalism.[3] The problems with these views are that restrictivism downplays Scripture’s insistence that salvation is for all people, while universalism goes too far by disregarding that salvation is only accessed through the name of Jesus Christ.

  1. God’s Universal Salvific Will and the Finality/Exclusivity of Christ

Thus, the truths that wider hope theories insist to be paramount to the destiny of the unevanglized are 1) God’s universal salvific will and 2) the finality and exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ. However, this paper would extend these theological realities to all people as will later be seen. These verities are proved throughout Scripture, but the most straightforward and comprehensible example is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whosever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.[4]

It is all there, and it is evident from this passage and others that Scripture insists maintaining a balance of these “two theological axioms.”[5] God has unlimited love and salvation for His creation, and only Christ has accomplished this task.

  1. Problems

But how can this promise be fulfilled? Even just in this verse there contains complications, like the phrase “whosoever believes in Him.” What constitutes executing this operation? What of those who have no opportunity to accept Christ? Not only that, but Scripture presents a bleak picture pertaining to humanity’s position unaided by Christ; all people “are without excuse” in regard to the fact that general revelation is insufficient for salvation.[6] The awareness of something greater, such as there being a God, is only basis for misunderstanding God rather than understanding, which makes everyone unexcused and remaining in sin.[7]

In light of these realities, it seems that some sort of explicit response and acceptance of Jesus Christ is required in order to gain salvation from sin. Thus, this paper sees not only the exclusivity/finality of Christ as paramount for access to salvation, but that He is epistemologically necessary as well. Therefore, this factor paired with the fact that millions (perhaps billions) of people die with no knowledge of the Gospel makes the promise of John 3:16 appear not only false, but impossible.

B. Response of Eschatological Evangelism

The wider hope theory that best addresses these circumstances is eschatological evangelism. Like other wider hope initiatives it resists restrictivism by contending the gravity of God’s universal salvific will, and in turn asserts that this salvation is then universally accessible. Yet at the same time it does not succumb to universalism, as eschatological evangelism upholds the ontological exclusivity and epistemological necessity of Jesus Christ as the means to salvation.

  1. Claims of John 3:16

By cohering with both God’s universal salvific will and the finality of Jesus as central convictions to the destiny of the unevangelized, eschatological evangelism attempts to address these two axioms that appear John 3:16, as well as conjecture an independent grace opportunity in the destiny for all people. More specifically, the view this paper contends is that at Redemption Day all people, Christian and non-Christian, will be met by Jesus Christ and thus be presented with the Gospel in its fullest and truest form, allowing a decision as the final culminating step to salvation or reprobation. This allows universally accessible salvation to all, as well as recognizing the reality of damnation and separation; both themes that are clear in John 3:16, and undeniably present throughout Scripture. Beyond that, eschatological evangelism addresses the seemingly unfair condemning properties of general revelation as demonstrated in Romans 1:20, and instead of rejecting them, it accepts them. The fact that all “are without excuse” is true, and so everyone will be brought to make a choice at the Judgment Seat that will be extremely difficult: God or me.

III. Parameters of Eschatological Evangelism

So now that the ‘why’ as to the necessity of eschatological evangelism has been conveyed, now to the ‘how.’ How can this view be argued reasonably? What are the most important issues to this idea? While there are many factors to be considered and dealt with in a discussion of this magnitude, there are three primary concerns that get to the heart of eschatological evangelism, including 1) the role of implicit faith, 2) the role of explicit faith, and 3) whether eschatological evangelism is a ‘second chance.’

A. Role of Implicit Faith

  1. Inclusivism: ‘Believers’ vs. Christians

Implicit faith is a concept that is perhaps best articulated by inclusivism, another wider hope theory. Inclusivism approaches implicit faith with two premises, that Christ is indeed ontologically necessary for salvation, but that knowledge of this fact is not explicitly epistemologically necessary.[8] How inclusivists explain this is that Scripture does not specifically measure the amount of knowledge that is required to gain salvation. Instead, there is a difference between ‘believers’ and Christians. In other words, Christians have explicit faith, but ‘believers’ have a faith that is going in a positive direction towards God, that if sincere, has saving properties.[9] The most convincing manner in which this is argued is through the salvation of Old Testament patriarchs, who almost certainly attained salvation but did not have explicit knowledge of Christ.[10] The point of this example is that God is not bound by social structures; God recognizes sincere faith no matter the context it is in.

  1. Problems of Implicit Faith

This proposal of implicit faith by inclusivism has some serious value and detriment. One of the primary points at which this conception falls short is its view of the function of general revelation because in order for implicit faith to be have salvific qualities, so too does general revelation need to provide salvific efficacy. Yet as already discussed, Scripture is clear that general revelation does not itself save, but damn.[11] Consequently, it continues to appear that a kind of explicit response is necessary to change this condition.

  1. Value of Implicit Faith

On the other hand, implicit faith provides some aid to eschatological evangelism as well. That is, implicit faith having salvific significance grants the possibility that people with genuine seeking faith have a capability to accept Christ at Judgment even if they do not know Him. The importance of implicit faith displays the feasible magnitude that internal dispositions have in making this decision to follow Christ despite a lack of prior explicit knowledge.

B. Role of Explicit Faith

  1. Relational Salvation

Now that the pros and cons of implicit faith have been analyzed, the implication of explicit faith naturally follows. The most constructive way to understand how explicit faith is structured and how it is utilized by eschatological evangelism is to actually take a step back and look at the big picture. What is salvation? While this might first appear to expand the argument almost infinitely, doing this helps zero in on why the explicit knowledge and response to Christ carries the gravity it does. So, what is salvation? – In a word, it is relational.[12]

Gaining salvation is not categorized by completing a checklist of beliefs or deeds, but rather what God desires is relationship with His creation. This relationship is a process that has no specific requirements other than what an organic relationship needs in order to thrive. And this is the core of what allows a covenant to function similarly to a relationship; two partners that cultivate, are bound, and have a responsibility to maintain the connection between each other. These partners are God and humanity. Thus, there is a difference between explicit belief and explicit relationship.[13] It is explicit relationship that is necessary of us by God for salvation, and just like any relationship there are some stipulations and mutual understanding that is needed in order for it to survive.

  1. Internal and External

How is this type of salvific relationship manifested? It is a combination of internal and external faith. Both implicit faith and explicit faith have value. As an example, my relationship with my wife is demonstrated by my external actions and behaviors to her, but also my internal disposition and commitment. How is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ any different? Salvific relationship is then categorized by a disposition of the heart in addition to evident fruits of the Spirit. If this is the manifestation of gaining salvation and maintaining salvation, how do we make sense of these somewhat divergent elements into the concept of eschatological evangelism?

  1. The Last Battle

The best way of illustrating this interaction of implicit and explicit faith working together is C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, in which Lewis paints an illuminating picture of his perspectives about what could happen after death. The passage of primary importance is the death of Emeth, a ‘pagan’ ruler, who has faithfully worshiped Tash his whole life. But after he dies and confronts Aslan at the end of time, to whom many individuals’ response was of dissent, Emeth felt reverence and fear. Aslan then proclaims that everything that Emeth had done for Tash he had actually done for Aslan without knowing it.[14] This quite believable scenario accounts and describes what is central and essential to eschatological evangelism.

While this excerpt seems on its face to be a type of inclusivism, particularly in that it appears to show Emeth’s implicit faith to be salvific, more so it reflects a combination of both implicit and explicit faith working in tandem. It is Emeth’s implicit, genuinely seeking faith throughout his life that assisted him in opening his eyes to see Aslan for who he truly was, but at the same time Emeth made an explicit response of respect and submission. This picture has other valuable aspects not only because Lewis’ allegory supports the interaction between internal and external faith, but also that it occurs on Judgment Day, as well as the fact that Emeth was in a way ‘presented’ with the true Gospel. Through meeting Aslan, Emeth was given the clearest and truest impression of what the Gospel is: Christ. But was Emeth’s choice a ‘second chance?’

C. Second Chance?

Doubtlessly the most challenged notion of eschatological evangelism is that it seems to allow for a second chance after death. Allowing a second chance in the after life to accept Christ comes across as unfair to many; it makes right decisions that are made now appear insignificant. This motivation is understandable, but also misguided as will later be explained.

  1. Three Approaches

While a second chance approach might be true for some proponents of eschatological evangelism, it is not the case here. The reason for this is that there are basically three different variations to formulating how eschatological evangelism functions: 1) only the unevangelized hear the true Gospel after death and get a second chance, 2) all people hear the true Gospel after death and get a second chance, or 3) all people hear the true Gospel and their response is simply a final step of salvation.[15]

The first two clearly fall under the category of a second chance, bringing problematic ramifications that impact whether there is any true significance of this life. If people can live their lives without consequence because they will have a free and easy opportunity to accept Christ after death, why even attempt to live like Christ?

  1. Final Step

The third option attempts to reconcile this dilemma. It concedes that indeed choices in this life are consequential, but that those choices will come to a culminating conclusion when Christ meets them on the Judgment Day. Therefore, this variation of eschatological evangelism is not a second chance but the denouement action of autonomy.

The way this is worked out is that all people will experience the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as to eliminate any distortion or lack of knowledge, thus also addressing the different types of unevangelized people groups: 1) those who have never heard the Gospel, 2) infants, 3) the mentally disabled, and 4) those who have heard a perversion of the true Gospel.[16] By then witnessing the truest form of the Gospel, the choice made will be impacted by the decisions and actions that were made in this life. As discussed, it is the combination of both one’s internal disposition (implicit faith) and external fruits (explicit faith) that will guide their response.

This version of eschatological evangelism also resists the notion of a second chance in that this choice may not necessarily be easy to make. In fact, there is a significant chance that the selection of Christ at Judgment Day will be incredibly difficult. Why would the decision to be selfless be any easier after we die than it is now? Genuinely following and emulating Jesus in this life is already extremely demanding (see the Sermon on the Mount).[17] Lewis presents a similar rendition to eschatological evangelism as a culminating decision in The Last Battle. When Emeth is ‘presented’ with the true Gospel by seeing Aslan, his decision to submit was influenced by his past decisions in his life, but at the same time it was his decision that appeared not to be easy. Many other characters responded negatively to meeting Aslan, but for those who accepted him what was clearly required of them was to sacrifice their autonomy in response to the King.[18]

In being confronted by Christ after death and given the opportunity to follow Him or reject Him, this costing-all decision could also be perceived as being “better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven.”[19] Saying ‘yes’ to Christ means saying ‘no’ to everything else.[20] And it is also Lewis that argues in his work The Problem of Pain that the gravity of choosing between God and oneself inevitably results from this immeasurably pivotal and onerous decision, in which denying Christ could be the easy option:

I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked from the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man “wishes” to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.[21]

D. What’s Next?

  1. Scriptural Verification

Now that the nuisances of eschatological evangelism have been elucidated, some significant questions persist. How does one conceptualize and argue this view from Scripture? While eschatological evangelism is driven by theological impulses and realities, it still requires more. Positing eschatological evangelism as a possible alternative to the question of life after death demonstrates valuable and hopeful discourse on this topic, but without definite Scriptural correlation it remains somewhat unconvincing. The reason for this is that theology and Scripture constantly need to verify one another, testing one with the other to illuminate and maintain truth.

How can one present the best possible argument that supports eschatological evangelism? For starters, the remaining questions about this view need to come to the surface. From a Scriptural standpoint, how could eschatological evangelism happen? When does it happen? Why should it be on Judgment Day? And perhaps to encompass these questions, simply, how can there be a Scriptural basis to apply Lewis’ story of Emeth to reality?

  1. Need of Bridging Concepts

The tactic for how these questions can be answered by Scripture is bridging concepts. In other words, piecing together consistent truths evident in Scripture that appear disorganized formed essential doctrines, such as the Trinity (God appears as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit throughout, but the word ‘Trinity’ is never mentioned in Scripture). Quite similarly this needs to be done for the events leading to Redemption Day.

The bridging concept that enables the most coherencies to discuss the events of the afterlife is eschatological evangelism paired with the intermediate state after death. Exploring the intermediate state allows new light to be shed on the likelihood of eschatological evangelism, as a means of assisting to construct the best view of the afterlife that is both theologically and Scripturally sound.

 

 

[1] Johnny Cash, Ain’t No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down) (In American Recordings VI: Ain’t No Grave. Lost Highway Records. 2010).

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Collier Books, 1970), 171.

[3] John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Eugene, Ore: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 131.

[4] John 3:16 (English Standard Version)

[5] Sanders, No Other Name, 27.

[6] Rom. 1:20 (ESV)

[7] Donald G. Bloesch, The Future of Evangelical Christianity: A Call for Unity and Diversity (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 121.

[8] Sanders, No Other Name, 233.

[9] Sanders, No Other Name, 228, 231.

[10] Sanders, No Other Name, 217-224, 264-265. Discussing this topic goes beyond the scope that this paper can accomplish, but this issue shows the importance of eschatological evangelism as well. Even though OT patriarchs knew of a coming messiah, how would they have had an opportunity to respond to the Gospel unless it was after death or at Judgment Day? While there could be a possible rejection to this conclusion based on Paul’s assertions that Jews will be included in salvation despite their lack of commitment to Christ through the analogy of the olive tree (Rom. 11:17-24), it could be contended that eschatological evangelism does not down play the fact that their continued faith in Yahweh (implicit faith) is incredibly significant for salvation. Their Jewishness is not what is in question, simply the sincerity of their faith when they meet Christ – just like everyone else.

[11] Rom. 1:20, “All are without excuse,” Rom. 2:1, “Judging others condemns yourself.” (Paraphrased) (ESV)

[12] Jim Beilby, “Nature of Salvation” (Lecture, Theology Seminar from Bethel         University, Saint Paul, MN, September 11, 2104).

[13] Beilby, “Nature of Salvation.”

[14] Lewis, The Last Battle, 164-165.

[15] Jim Beilby, “Eschatological Evangelism” (Lecture, Theology Seminar from Bethel University, Saint Paul, MN, October 21, 2014).

[16] Jim Beilby, “Destiny of the Unevangelized” (Lecture, Theology Seminar from Bethel    University, Saint Paul, MN, September 18, 2014).

[17] Matthew 5-7 (ESV)

[18] Lewis, The Last Battle, 136-148.

[19] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce: A Dream (New York: HarperCollins/HarperOne, 2001), 71.

[20] Matt. 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (ESV)

[21] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 127-128.

Theocracy: Ted Cruz & Dominionism

A lot of people might not like this piece. I really hope that you can perceive my intentions in that I do not mean for this to be a personal attack of any sort. All I want to do is point out my own personal perspective in light of some theological concerns that I carry. That said, whenever someone picks out a particular presidential candidate to critique, the backlash against him or her is inevitable. So I’m going to own up to it right away. I am probably going to say some things that will get me into trouble with some people, but I perceive that many important discussions often require disagreement, growing pains, and even controversy.

I want to look at the world through a Christological lens as best as I can, and for me, that means sincerely evaluating political ideologies. I do not mean to convey the sense that if you disagree with me that you are ignorant or deluded; I myself am consistently found to be misinformed and unaware of such complicated matters. All I hope and intend to do is clearly show some facts and theological insights to those who might be open to hearing what I believe to be important to illuminate as the presidential election draws ever nearer.

I want to talk about Ted Cruz. The Texas republican senator has been a significant candidate throughout the nomination race, and he seems to be the only real challenger to the Donald. Although, just the other day, he is mathematically eliminated from being elected without going to a contested republican convention. And the Indiana primary is really the last ‘make it or break it’ moment for the Cruz campaign. But even if his chances of becoming president are slim, the ideas that he propounds are common among those that identify with more conservative Christian positions. Not only that, he campaigns on the platform that he is the voice of the Evangelical movement in American politics. Many see him as the ideal model for conservative principles, as well as a champion for Christian values. Plus, the only other option is Donald Trump. And Trump’s statements appear outrageous to many Christians, so Cruz seems like an ok bet.

Right?

When one looks closer, many of Cruz’s stances could be more extreme than some might realize. If you disagree with that, that is your prerogative, but I feel the need to share aspects of his policies that surprised me. I want to start our discussion purely from political perspectives and then move to theological concerns later on. He takes firm stances on social issues such as:

  • Abortion: Cruz argues that it should never be allowed, even in cases of rape and incest (this is an impossibly divisive issue; that cannot be understated. So I want to be sensitive to those that take this matter very personally. I myself, as a man, feel as though I cannot offer a wholly rounded opinion because I am not a woman, but I do want to express how, like so many other topics, the dialogue needs to be open to the perspectives that have been harmed on either side of the aisle. And my point is, I’m not sure if Cruz’s hardline stance is providing that kind of respect and understanding).
  • Immigration and border security: Trump isn’t the only one who wants to build a wall.
  • Foreign policy: First order against ISIS? Carpet bombing Iraq AND Syria.
  • A flat 10% tax rate for everyone: Check out this interactive graph game from Vox that shows what it would take to actually balance both Trump’s and Cruz’s tax plans – spoiler: the article explains that in order to make up for Cruz’s $8.6 trillion (with a ‘T’) cut to spending over the next decade:
  • The US can no longer fund improvements to transportation, infrastructure, help veterans, fund research into technology and science, explore and research space, operate a justice system, fund the FBI, protect the environment, maintain relations with other countries — oh, and it can’t keep the majority of the military.

  • Denies climate change outright (if you are skeptical about climate change, I encourage you to check out my previous post): This video explains how many climate change deniers like Ted Cruz are sometimes conflating satellite data to fit their own perspectives.

And that’s not to mention his positions on gay rights, capital punishment, eliminating the IRS, tax breaks for the rich, and more. But even if you disagree with me and see his stances more favorably, his actual behavior and posture during his time in the senate is also troubling to me. There are multiple ways to look at his unwavering agendas. One way is to see that he is standing up for what he believes no matter the consequences or the enemies he makes, staying true to his personal values at any cost. And a lot of people might like that.

But there’s another way to look at it. Like the last article shows, it’s not the problem that Cruz has strong principles – it’s that his principles take the highest priority, which is then detrimental to the collaborative and compromising nature necessary to politics and democracy. That is, when things do not go his way, instead of figuring out a way to move forward, he blames his fellow republicans for their lack of integrity. But if everyone always did what Ted Cruz does, nothing would get done. It’s fine and often good to have robust opinions, but when you are instrumental in allowing the government shutdown to prove a point (by reading “Green Eggs and Ham” as your filibuster to Obamacare), to me, that’s not doing the job that you were appointed to do; that’s the actions of an ideologue.

All that said, these are not the reasons I wanted to write this. We can argue about the practicality and effectiveness of particular political positions until we’re blue in the face.

I want to talk about theology. Specifically, Ted Cruz’s theology.

I might add some clarification because my goal is not to imply that you cannot vote for a candidate who does not share your own personal faith or doctrines. A politician’s religious beliefs do not necessarily determine their value as a leader. Certainly that isn’t the sole factor one should consider when casting a ballot.

But my personal views on politics are determined by considering issues from a Christ-like perspective. And Ted Cruz claims the same.

The main source of information that I have is this article by Frank Schaeffer & Fredrick Clarkson, who then cite John Fea often. The article itself is a little confusing and split into two parts, so I will do my best to summarize and elucidate its main points.

The first section is by Schaeffer, simply explaining the framework for a specific brand of fundamentalism that went on to later influence Cruz:

  • “Reconstructionism,” “Dominionism,” or “Theononism” is a form of American fundamentalist thought that seeks to ‘reconstruct/dominion-ize ‘ the fallen culture and society around Christianity by seeking to
  • Apply ‘the whole Word of God’ to all aspects of human life: “It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own.”

  • This movement was forwarded by the Chalcedon Foundation starting around the 1960s, and they argued contrary to the more typical “New Testament Christian” values by advocating for more strict doctrines, validated through holding a stringent view of inerrancy to Scripture. As a result, many Old Testament laws were still binding, such as capital punishment for homosexuals. Schaeffer points out the similarities of this type of fundamentalism is comparable to an American version of right-wing Muslim attempts to impose Sharia (Islamic) law on both believers and non-believers.
  • According to the leader of this sect, Rousas Rushdoony, in his 1973 work, The Institutes of Biblical Law, he reinterpreted ‘salvation’ in Scripture to mean more about politics than an individual’s destination after death. Thus Jesus’ claim that “My kingdom is not of this world” in John 18:36 is no longer a simple and stark statement, but allows for a doctrine of theocracy.
  • Therefore, all nations must obey “God’s laws” to receive “God’s blessings,” and this political “salvation” actually reverses the results of the Fall, ushering in the Kingdom of God. But in order to do this, coercion must be used by the faithful to forcefully stop non-believers from disobeying “God’s laws.”

In the second section of the article, Clarkson shows how Dominionism has now pervaded itself into the mainstream of some Evangelical politics, and one of the torch bearers is Ted Cruz:

  • Citing a Washington Post commentary by John Fea, “Ted Cruz’s Campaign is Fueled by a Dominionist Vision for America,” Clarkson explains that Fea looked at years of journalism to analyze the politics and theology of Ted Cruz. He candidly shares that Cruz is largely motivated by the “seven mountain dominionist” movement, being perhaps one of the most openly theocratic candidates to ever run for president by clothing Dominionist ideals in the claims that religious freedom is under attack. Cruz himself appeals to this assault on his campaign trail:
  • I believe that 2016 is going to be a religious-liberty election… As these threats grow darker and darker and darker, they are waking people up here in Texas and all across this country.

  • Clarkson then goes on to expound on the more subtle definitions within Dominionism. The term itself was first popularized by researchers, including Clarkson himself, in the 1990s to help describe political ambitions of certain members of the Christian Right who believed they were called by a biblical mandate to control all worldly institutions and establishments during the time before Christ returns. But Clarkson admits that this impulse by such Christian conservatives certainly predated their coining of the word Dominionism.
  • There are two main schools of thought in terms of Dominionism: the first stream is Christian Reconstructionism founded by Rushdoony, which was discussed earlier, forwarding the notion that not simply do Christians (more specifically, Christians with the correct beliefs) need to command society, but they must uphold and enact Old Testament law as well.
  • The second rendering is closely linked to the ideas of the Pentecostal New Apostolic Reformation denomination, which passionately champions Christians to “reclaim the seven mountains of culture,” categorized as “government, religion, media, family, business, education, and arts and entertainment,” the name of which comes from Isaiah 2:2: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

Thus, Clarkson and Fea demonstrate in the last section that these ideas are far from fringe in the form of the Cruz family:

  • The religious and political vision of Ted Cruz and his father, Rafael, have been paraded often, and to the point that Rafael Cruz was compelled to insist that “We are not talking about theocracy.” But they continue to foster close ties with David Barton, a fundamentalist republican preacher that insists America is an anointed Christian nation that has fallen away from God and must obey Him to avoid punishment and gain blessings, with the ultimate goal of advancing the coming of the Kingdom through political control.
  • Even more intriguing, Fea writes that if anyone has seen Cruz speak, he himself references the incredible influence that his father has had on him. And his father, has also preached at great length concerning his son, Ted. During a sermon in 2012 at New Beginnings Church in Bedford, TX, Rafael Cruz considered his son’s campaign to be a direct actualization of biblical prophecy.
  • Going on, Rafael proclaimed that God would consecrate Christian “kings” to preside over the “end-time transfer of wealth” from the wicked to the righteous. Following this, the Pastor of New Beginnings, Larry Huch, declared Ted Cruz’s assignment to the senate to be a clear sign that he is one of these “kings.” Each of these men argue that this “transfer of wealth of the end-times” will relieve true Christians of financial woes so that nothing impedes their accession to political power and prowess, allowing them to build a Christian civilization; once it is in place, Jesus will return.

So. What does one do with this?

On the one hand, if one begins with the premise advanced by Rushdoony, that salvation is more about politics than a relationship with Christ, then I’m not sure much of a productive discussion can take place. If you are in that place personally, finding a pull between allegiance to your country over your allegiance to Christ, I sincerely hope and pray that you can see that gaining political power is not the picture that Christ demonstrates in the Gospel through his rejection of coercive action, loving the marginalized, and refusing political power. I say this because I can clearly see that while some Christians are often imperceptive to this fact, society is not. Society sees much of Christianity as power-hungry, intolerant, ignorant, and selfish.

I do no see this critique as  an attack of religious freedom as Ted Cruz would claim, but rather it is a just evaluation concerning the short falls of those who claim to follow Christ. And it should make us reflect, including myself.

Again, this is not meant to be a condemnation of personal opinions of those who find political satisfaction in Cruz’s policies or ambitions as a leader. But my hope is that a criticism of the actual goals and the theological impulses that drive Cruz’s pursuits would make one stop and consider if this is truly what you believe to be a Christian’s purpose.

I have mentioned it before, but Greg Boyd’s book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, is an excellent expression of the fact that Christ represents a revolutionary difference between what power is for the world vs. what power is for the Kingdom of God. The world elevates coercion, force, violence, and wrath. The kingdom of God elevates kindness, servitude, solidarity, sacrifice, mercy, grace, and love.

Which one looks like what Ted Cruz is talking about, and which one looks like what Christ talked about? I wrote this in my first post, but I want to say it again because I feel that it expresses my reaction to Cruz’s proclamations succinctly:

Jesus’ mission was never a theocracy, so why should it be ours?

Attempting to See the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Through a Christological Lens

As I have become more familiar with politics in the recent years I’ve come across many topics that I really have had no previous understanding or basis from which to interpret these concerns, let alone comprehend the intricate and convoluted histories/motives surrounding them. Certainly one in particular that has continued to perplex as well as sadden me is the conflicts between Israel and Palestine. This is a political issue that appears to be a constant tension of foreign affairs, never ceasing to bring controversy. And for significant reason – the violence between these nations is bloody and vengeful.

Some of my interest in creating a discourse around this is because it often gets brought into the spotlight as a hotly contested topic among politicians and Christians, even discussed at presidential debates. Yet, if anyone is like me, I have no idea who’s right.

On the Republican side, there is almost unequivocal alignment with Israel (except Donald Trump, actually). While on the Democratic side, it’s a bit more varied but with a general consensus in respecting each party as a sovereign nation, yet even then, Bernie Sanders broke the usual sentiment of prioritizing American alliance with Israel by insisting that their attacks have also been disproportionate.

But who really is to blame? Who started it? Who kept it going? Does it matter? What is considered to be truly ‘just’ in warfare that never ceases? And what lines then must be crossed to justify such acts of retribution? Can these measures actually bring peace? All culminating in the question for me: what is a Christo-centric response to this and other violent foreign affairs?

 

First, I am in no way equipped to present a detailed and insightful history of the conflicts between Israel and Palestine. I highly encourage you to check out this video from Vox that explains the long and painful history in this region during the last century. My personal perspective is that it fairly and unbiasedly presents the historical facts regarding the interactions between these two nations in the last century, but one might disagree with me and that is completely his or her prerogative if one finds more fault with one nation over the other. I myself found it helpful and hope that sharing it will assist others as well.

Additionally, there is an intense documentary on Netflix right now called The Green Prince that shows the absolutely convoluted and deceptive nature of diplomacy (and lack there of) in Israel and Palestine, all told from the perspective of the son of a Palestinian revolutionist who then became a spy for the Israeli government, as well as the viewpoint of his Israeli handler. I mention this because the film conveys the murky and potent political circumstances in the region quite well, giving evidence to the fact that the situation is anything but simple.

 

I begin then with a preface that I see as the only real way for dealing with a discussion from a Christ-centered focus with such complication and blame-shifting: Not only must one be sensitive to the position of Israel and identify with their tragedies, we must also validate the stance of Palestine in respecting their claims of injustice. To me, when there are two parties that insist that they are being violated, both perspectives need to be taken seriously on an equal basis. Only then can a productive conversation take place that sincerely intends to bring respect and peace in the midst of divergent positions. I say this not only from a diplomatic perspective, but also a biblical/Christ centered perspective as I will later contend.

In addition, there is a deep religious element to this conflict that cannot be ignored. Israel obviously feels entitled to the land because it is holy to them and holds great significance to their heritage and culture as Jews. But the Palestinians feel the same way, but since they are Muslim it is for different reasons. I feel the need to address this facet of the argument because it seems as though many American Evangelicals have a vested interest in who gets the land for religious reasons as well, and more precisely, eschatological reasons.

The first and more obvious religious component that I see affecting Christians’ opinions about the warfare in Israel-Palestine is that fact that one side of the conflict is perpetuated by Muslims. But I am not going to dwell on this, you all will have to check back soon for a larger discussion that I hope to write concerning ‘Islamaphobia’ in the minds of Christians in the United States despite the proclamation of 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love drives out all fear” (to be continued…).

 

What I do want to focus on is the deeper, eschatological constituent. There is a large division of the church that believes Jews reclaiming Israel for themselves is a key event in the progression of the end-times. Now, while many Christians might not buy into this movement known as “Christian Zionism,” there really is a large population of Christians forwarding this ideology.

Is it correct?

For many, including myself, understanding what Scripture really submits in terms of Christ’s return is not easy to grasp and it can feel overwhelming not knowing what to believe. Without getting too deep into eschatology, this brand of apocalyptic theology that is most often talked about in traditional evangelical circles (literal ‘rapture’ before the tribulation, literal anti-christ with the mark of the beast, Jews reclaiming Israel, etc.) is quite honestly only one perspective to a multifaceted and inconclusive debate.

After taking a course on eschatology during my undergrad, the only thing I learned for sure is that we practically know nothing.

There’s so many possibilities in relation to the events of Christ’s return, including, but definitely not limited to, the tribulation could have occurred during the Roman Empire, the tribulation could be happening right now, we might never actually be ‘raptured’ to heaven but simply swept up in Christ’s presence only to remain on earth, Israel’s return to their land might not be literal but more figurative language (which fits with the typically hyperbolic statements of apocalyptic literature), and other such approaches to themes in Revelation.

Therefore, when it comes to eschatology and other ‘speculative’ realms of theology, to construct those beliefs as being dogmatic and uncompromising is dangerous territory, especially when it begins to impact political issues that are negatively effecting the lives of people groups right now. Thus for me, more broadly, when I look at the character of Christ in the narrative of Scripture from the biblical authors, it is clear that forwarding Redemption Day is the last thing on a list of priorities to concern Christians:

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night… But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 8-10, NIV)

Not only are we to be aware and awake in our faith, my opinion about the purpose of being aware of the end times is to act in that faith to build each other up right now instead of focusing on ‘the next sign.’ Thus, I find Christian Zionism to be especially troubling and suspicious if it involves displacing an entire people group to advance one’s own eschatology, ignoring the call to be Christ-like at the present (which doesn’t really sound like “putting on faith and love as a breastplate”). To me, when dealing with such a conjectural division of theology as eschatology, when that stance appears to contradict the behaviors that Christ encouraged, that is a problem.

 

Moving on, I believe that Scripture encourages mutual respect of other people and nations (DESPITE the social context) to be a life practice inherent in the teachings of the New Testament, and more specifically demonstrated in parables such as the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ lesson on loving your neighbor in this way was a contextually complex issue, for the relationship of Jews and Samaritans was divisive, and is actually quite comparable to that between Israel and Palestine now. Jews hated Samaritans. Jews saw these outsiders as impure, heathens, and invasive to the Jewish way of life. Therefore, Jesus was making the point that even the most reviled people group are your neighbor, whom we are instructed to love, respect, and serve. And in this particular political scenario, I see this as showing the need for Christians to advocate and to strive for a diplomatic and peaceful approach at all times.

Obviously, this is much more complicated when your “neighbor” is bombing your city streets on a daily basis.

The Gospel truly demonstrates a paradox of simplicity and impossibility in the way Christians must deal with living in the world. We are to love our enemies, but we live in a world of conflict. At least for me, this taps into a greater question that I never stop struggling with: I cannot put my mind at ease when justifying war or retribution as I am striving to live like Christ. I am not sure if it is ever vindicated because I find Christ’s words at the Sermon on the Mount about the upheaval of both Old Testament and worldly principles to be too profound:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also… “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-48, NIV)

Did you catch that?

We are to be perfect (this is not to say that we will always be perfect, but a core discipline of Christianity is to strive in every way based on the example Christ set). And ‘perfect’ really appears to include loving those who might truly and actually hate you. I have a hard time reconciling the notion that Jesus was serious about everything that He said during His time on earth except the command to “not resist an evil person” and “to love your enemies” (those are optional especially when American liberty is threatened, I guess).

Also, in response to a common counter to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, many contend that Jesus’ flowery words must be offset by God’s justice and truth. I do believe God to be just, but I have the sense that those who might argue for “God’s justice to be done” are conveniently equating that justice to be in one’s own favor. That is, one’s own view of what justice should be might not in fact be God’s actual just action. What is God’s encompassing action? It’s Jesus on the cross.

My personal perspective is that our primary role as Christ-followers is not to judge others, but to only judge ourselves in light of the justice that we were spared by God’s grace. Judging others is not in our job description – forgiveness is. When we judge others contrary to the supremely necessary point that every person has unsurpassable worth that Jesus died for, we are taking God’s place and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Consequently, God demonstrates mercy, and the best picture of that mercy is in the form of Jesus. So to me, Jesus’ flowery language begins to look a lot more like God’s justice.

 

Returning to the practicality of Jesus’ words, I am not saying that non-violence is smart or rational. It is the opposite. It is a very dumb idea by the world’s standards. Why do you think Jesus was/is so controversial?

Yet – how can one advocate actual pacifism in light of horrible atrocities committed throughout history? As evidenced by the Nazi concentration camps, the Rwandan genocide, the Apartheid, and countless other incidents, should Christians encourage military intervention in such cases of absolute evil?

I’m not sure if I can ever answer with absolute certainty.

In fact, one of the theologians I most admire, Karl Barth, who I believe offered one of the most comprehensive Christo-centric modes of Christian thought in Church history, he too lived within the tension of this issue while witnessing the horrors of Nazi Germany firsthand:

… if there can be any question of a just war, if we can describe this undertaking and participation in it as commanded, then it can only be with the same, and indeed with even stricter reserve and caution than have been found to be necessary in relation to such things as suicide, abortion, capital punishment etc. War is to be set in this category, nor is there any point in concealing the fact that the soldier, i.e., the fighting civilian, stands in direct proximity to the executioner. At any rate, it is only in this extreme zone, and in conjunction with other human acts which come dangerously near to murder, that military action can in certain instances be regarded as approved and commanded rather than prohibited. (Church Dogmatics, III/4, p.8)

Thus, recognizing the fact that a very, very thin line separates military action from murder, Barth found himself in the uncomfortable and paradoxical middle ground of being a “practical pacifist”:

… In conformity with the New Testament, one can be pacifist not in principle but only in practice. But let everyone consider very carefully whether, being called to discipleship, it is possible to avoid – or permissible to neglect – becoming a practical pacifist! (III/4, p. 20)

This phrasing of “practical pacifism” actually carries somewhat of a double meaning (and dialectical – but what’s new when you’re dealing with Barth?) in the way Barth spoke two points at once: ‘practicality’ in pacifism says “yes” to justice in times of great cruelty, but also “yes” to actually living out that pacifism when it is the most difficult, not just holding to “theoretical pacifism.”

I, like Barth, do not have a satisfactory answer to the reality of the horrific conflict in the world while at the same time choosing to make the words of Christ the center and guide of my own life in regards to non-violence, especially if it is measured by any worldly standard of rationale.

But we do not live by the world’s standards.

Being a pacifist will not be an American or nationalistic solution to anything, nor is it an effective mode to advance the successes of a nation. But that is not what Christians are called to; we are to further the Kingdom of God by bravely demonstrating the character of Christ.

How can we sincerely do that when, instead of advocating for forgiveness in the midst of conflict, we are more interested in assigning blame? How much more could Christians do to help facilitate peace if we stood in solidarity with everyone who has been wronged? And for me, that is the approach I feel convicted to hold in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That’s not a comfortable or easy position.

But I do not think Christians are allowed to be comfortable. We live in an “already but not yet” reality: yes it is true that Christ has come and His truth in our lives is real right now, but an all encompassing redemption of the world is still to arrive. And Christ makes it obvious that by following him, we are being counter-cultural and revolutionary. Yet here we are – we are in the world and Jesus made it clear that we are going to stand out. In light of that, all I can really conclude is that if we are actually following the Prince of Peace, we must make every effort to be peace-makers.