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?