a heavenly problem

August 11, 2008

More and more I think that we have a heavenly problem in the reformed and evangelical churches today. It’s heavenly in scale (acknowledging my one lecturer who, one day when I called a certain systematic theologians systematic system of theology “one hell of a system”, corrected me and said that it’s “one heaven of a system” [OK, it sounds much better in Afrikaans]), but the problem is also about heaven.

I’m looking through Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy at the moment. He tell the story on page 45 of the Protestant minister who spent 15 minutes on the radio explaining that “forgiveness of sins, involves no change at all in the heart and personality of the one forgiven”. He was stressing the well-known Reformed pillar of sola gratia, by grace alone.

I remember my young 17 year old theological mind first struggling with this when I once confronted one of my fellow Christians brothers, and fellow EE3 trainee, about something in his life. (No, I really did this in a nice way). He started using the language of EE3 to defend himself! Since he was saved by grace alone, God will forgive him the thing he was doing (which I can’t even remember what it was). Suddenly, the EE3 system, and with that a lot or reformed theology, broke down for me. Because he was supposed to be thankful for what Jesus did and therefore change his lifestyle. But I started asking the obvious question: And if someone get saved and then isn’t thankful for this? Because onviously this couldn’t be undone?

My next memory of my struggle with this is much less complex. I read the Bible, the the Bible talks a hell of a lot (with apologies to Dr Veldsman, my lecturer from the above mentioned systematic theology class) about how I should live. So, if the Bible talk about what I should do, now, here on earth, and believe that the God about whom the Bible is telling is real, then maybe I should just do it!

So, I get to the second point why I think we have a heavenly problem: Well, it’s simple, we built everything around heaven, and now we have a problem. You see, if the question is whether I can get into heaven by kissing the popes feet (another set of apologies is in order at this stage, I am aware that the RCC has changed a lot after the Reformation), then I’ll answer: No, sola gratia, sola fidei, sola Christi (only grace, only faith, only Christ). But now we’ve become so good at providing this answer, that we go on giving it after the pope is not requesting any kisses anymore!

Maybe we should put heaven back into it’s place, as a footnote to our theology. Now, for the serious theologians who want to deliver critique, let me say up front, I’m not saying that eschatology is a footnore to our theology, just that the heaven (and specifically the heaven hell thing after you die) should be a footnote to our theology. Kind of like I’d wanna say: “OK, so life don’t stop when you kick the bucket, we clear on that? Good! Now: so you say you believe in God? You agree that then doing things God’s way is best? You do? OK, so lets go search for that, cause the Bible has a lot more to say on that than on who’s going to heaven and who not!”

OK, so tomorrow I might say it much more nuanced, but this is tonight, and I’m posting this. Comments?

9 Responses to “a heavenly problem”

  1. Tiaan Says:

    Ja…soos ek altyd sê: in plaas van om te vra: Waarnatoe gaan jy as jy vanaand doodgaan? Moet ons vra: Waarnatoe gaan jy as jy môre nog leef?

  2. Stephen Says:

    I wonder though if many in contemporary evangelicalism (especially the American variety that has been widely transported)have confused sola gratia with ‘easy believism’. ‘Grace alone’ is just one aspect of a rich atonement – a faliure to place it within that rich context leads to easy believism and the problem you mention above.

  3. cobus Says:

    It’s possible. I assume what you call ‘easy believism’ is similar to Bonhoeffer’s ‘cheap grace’? But maybe there is an inherent problem with 4 pillars that make no mention of a way of life. These 4 pillars are used to addressed the question of how to get out of this life into the good next one, and something seem to be inherently missing from that. I would agree that there is many who hold sola gratia who also live life in the way of Jesus, but maybe laying larger stress on the way is closer to the gospels.

  4. Johann Weber Says:

    Oraait mense, ek is nou nie ‘n groot teoloog nie en hier is ‘n paar woorde wat ek nie verstaan nie. Maar hier is my standpunt:

    Ek glo dat ons nie uit eie werke en dade kan salig word nie, dit is hoekom ek dink dat die geloof ‘n geskenk is en dat ons deur die genade van God van ons sondes vrygespreek word. Maar nou die tweede stap, dit beteken nie ons kan nou verder doen en erger sondig omdat ons nou vry voel nie. Ons is dit so min of meer aan hom verskuldig om ten minste probeer om geestelik te groei en die sondes wat ons gepleeg het te vermy, al kry ons dit nie altyd reg nie.

  5. Cobus Says:

    Die vraag waarmee Luther gesit is was hoe kom mens in die hemel. Daai plek waarheen mens gaan na jy moeg is, in sy opinie. As dit die vraag was, dan stem ek met hom saam, en my jou saam. Wat van ons oor twyfel is of dit regtig die vraag is waaroor die Bybel so sterk praat. En as die vraag anders is… dan sal die dinge waarop ons die baie klem dalk ook anders moet wees.

  6. Stephen Says:

    The solas were developed at a time when soteriology was the hot topic – in the same way the Nicene Creed was developed with Christology as the hot topic. Hence we shouldn’t expect the solas to address life now because they weren’t trying to do that. Maybe its time for someone to write the 3/4/5? Pillars of Christian living today:)

  7. Cobus Says:

    Or maybe we should rather have Christian communities who decide upon the pillars of Christian living for this community, which will differ from community to community, and which is not the work of some expert…

  8. Miss Eagle Says:

    In a sense, I think we should just forget about heaven. We have enough trouble understanding the earth we live with and on and the people whom we share it with – and that is in the here and now. So just imagine what we haven’t a clue about with regard to heaven. You see – it is all rather simple. Two commandments: Love God, Love each other. The hard part – and a lifetime doesn’t seem enough time to get it right – is putting it into practice. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but the practice keeps me flat out – concerned and busy. So what I don’t know or understand about heaven can wait until I get there!

    Blessings and bliss

    PS: I have synchroblogged too over at The Eagle’s Nest at http://eaglesplace.blogspot.com

  9. WICK Says:

    I’m not sure about relegating Heaven to more of a “footnote”, and especially not “forget about heaven”. I think, rather, we need a better understanding of the now and coming Kingdom of God. With that renewed understanding, I think it could possibly be one of the most important things the Church is working towards this very moment.

    It seems Jesus spoke of it quite a bit. And I doubt Jesus’ dying/resurrection happened just so that we would all “get along down here a bit better”.


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