Heaven now or later?

moneySystematic Christian theology contains debates over when Jesus will return and if and when he will establish his Kingdom on earth to reign as the perfect ruler in a perfect kingdom. This is called “eschatology” and I have some cool diagrams here showing the various types schemes Christians have creatively generated. Also I posted here how various groups have used end-time thinking to deal with their lots in life.

Besides these systematic end-times speculations, Christians also debate on whether to be of-this-world (Christian activists, liberation theology …) or out-of-this world (Amish and others) [see here for some verses]. Of course most believers fall between these extremes if they even think about it at all since most believer are cultural, cafeteria Christians.  BTW, does anyone know of the systematic theological term for this issue?

Tom Rees reviews an interesting article that shows that Italian Catholics want the benefits of heaven now, while Dutch Calvinists would rather wait for a greater gain. The study uses Atheists as a control.   So my wonderings are: Did theology seeped into nominal Christians, or did the mood of the land seeped into their theology? Or, is it true that theology sneaks into culture over time and affects even nominal Christians?  For certainly all these Italians and Dutch folks aren’t conscious of their theology.

Question for readers: If you had to choose, would you be a Dutch Calvinist or a Catholic Italian? 🙂




Filed under Philosophy & Religion

13 responses to “Heaven now or later?

  1. Back before I dropped religion, it was my view that either the second coming had already happened or it was never going to happen. It seemed clear that the apostles expected it to be within their lifetimes.

    On that $5 now or $6 next week, I would probably wait till next week.

  2. rautakyy

    The Lutheran church does not deem people who made a suicide as unavoidably going into hell as the Catholic church seems to think. The right to take ones own life is a very old tradition of nations north of the Alps, while in many of the countries, that have the cultural heritage of the Roman imperial slave society. If a slave kills himself, it is an economical setback to the owner. High born Romans could kill themselves to save face, but everyone else in the Roman empire was expected to cling on to their miserable slave’s lives to the end. In Germanic countries and beyond slavery was different and not as vital part of the economy and the society was more egalitarian, so killing oneself was an individual choise.

    To me it seems, that the modern application of religious dogma is very much a result of ancient cultural heritage of ethics.

    Calvinists are the result of the highly commercial and capitalistic culture of the Swiss bankers and the Ducth merchant companies and wool processing centres, and Catholics are the products of ancient slave owning culture of the Roman empire. Neither appeals to my Norse/”Lutheran”/Atheistic heritage.

  3. @ rautakyy:
    Interesting. Yes, I think culture feeds the theology more than folks want to admit.

  4. I’m speaking at the level of hypothetical truth: Assuming that the claims of the Bible and Christianity are true, how should your questions be answered?

    “Did theology seeped into nominal Christians, or did the mood of the land seeped into their theology? Or, is it true that theology sneaks into culture over time and affects even nominal Christians?” – Yes; ideas and attitudes flow both ways, usually without any conscious decision or awareness. Christianity, in my estimation, is relational and incarnational. Although God certainly calls humans, instructs humans, guides humans, etc. God is also affected by humans and humanity. In the incarnation, God took on the form of humanity and was affected and shaped by hunger, thirst, pain, grief and all kinds of human emotions. As we look at Christian theology, then, it should follow this same pattern. Theology informs and shapes a culture, but it is also informed by and shaped by the culture in which it is ensconced. God created all people good, and the characteristics and personalities of individuals and cultures can be a window into the various facets of God’s character (when they haven’t been twisted by selfishness). So, as Christianity passes through various cultures, each culture has a voice in revealing who God is and how He acts and relates to us.

    Do I want to live in this world or out of this world? Again, yes. In seminary, we were taught that the Kingdom of God was an already/not yet Kingdom. That is to say that it is currently breaking into the world, even as its final consumation lies in the future. When Christians start to emphasize the Kingdom’s nature as already having been accomplished (salvation is about prosperity and comfort, and has nothing to do with beliefs) or as yet to be accomplished (be happy oh slave for your expected reward), then we run into serious theological problems; just like when Christians emphasize only Jesus’ human nature or divine nature.

    The shape of Christianity is a paradoxical holding of multiple seeming contradictions together, in balance and in unresolved tension. God is 1 and 3; Jesus was human and divine; the Kingdom is already and not yet; we are saved by grace and by works; we must hold to the Bible, but loosely; God is transcendent and immanent; God gives dignity and priority to both the individual and the community; the Bible gives laws and then enjoins us to break them. The whole cast of Christianity seems designed to force us to admit the inherent uncertainty of reality, force us to live in that tension, and forces us to trust a God who has the perspective to hold us safely in the midst of this chaos. (At least, that seems to me to have been God’s intent; though this is seems often ignored in popular Christianity.)

    I have never read a technical theology that really addresses folk Christianity or nominal Christians.

  5. @ jonathan:

    You said,

    Christianity, in my estimation, is relational and incarnational.

    Yes, by googling “relational incarnational” we can see lots of other Christians who love that same sound byte package. You are a good consumer.

    When you say

    God is also affected by humans

    , I guess that puts you into a Christian camp that does not think God is unchanging.

    Note to readers: jonathan is a Nazarene seminary student – they hold a Governmental Theory of atonement, I think, but I am not sure of their other various doctrines.

    Jonathan, I will rarely respond with this sort of in-house Christian talk in a comment thread — it is not talking to me. I don’t assume the Bible is true by any means. So if you really want to talk to me, you’ll have to find common ground. You seem to be witnessing.

  6. Wasn’t trying to “witness” per se; I was attempting to answer your questions honestly from my perspective; which is obviously a Christian one. I’m sorry if I offended, I was not aware that you were looking specifically for responses from an atheistic perspective.

    I believe that God’s love is ever faithful, and that His nature is unchanging; I believe that affectability is an integral part of love; and, therefore, God cannot love if He cannot be affected. So, if that’s the camp you’re talking about, then yes, that’s where I am.

    I was a relational theologian before being a relational theologian was cool 🙂

    If you’re interested in what Nazarenes belief, I’d be happy to oblige; short answer is that we fall in line with Evangelical Free Methodists, the Wesleyan denomination, and, broadly, Methodists.

    Again, not proselytizing, just responding to the specific points you raised in your comment.

  7. @Jonathan Pelton,

    I am interested in the various twists in theology not in their truth value, because I don’t think they have propositional truth value, but in how they work for the believer. Why one believer would embrace one theology over an other, to me, points more to the mechanics of their psyche.

    So I must admit, I had not heard of “relational theology”, which led met to read about “Open Theism”. So I thank you for the intro. caught me up on some of “Open Theism”.

    But again, remember, I am interested in these sort of things primarily on how you use them to make your life work for you — not because I am the least interested in any god speculations.

    You see, many people will read the title of a blog and just react to the title without reading the content. Did you read Tom Rees’ article? This post is about the sociology of religion — it is not about any particular belief system, but about how religion works.

    I actually don’t have any more interest in Nazarenes beliefs then I do in the details of Harry Potter books — both are fabricated. But the category of “Relational Theology” was a fun new information for me. Thanx.

    Can you see how thinking about the sociology of religion would better help you understand the varieties of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus out there? Because of course you wouldn’t REALLY care about the truth of each sects claims since you reject them categorically.

  8. Sabio,
    I appreciate your thoughtful response;
    If you want to know “how they[beliefs] work for the believer. Why one believer would embrace one theology over an other,” then I would be a good case study. One major endeavor in my life right now is to assemble my own thoughts and beliefs into one coherent whole, in which all the disparate parts integrate into one another, work with one another and do a reasonably good job at explaining the world as it is. It may not be possible, and if you are correct, it definitely isn’t possible, but . . .

    By the way, my spin on relational theology is different than most; most relational theology focuses on the idea that God affects and is affected by His creation. I like to take that a step further and, using the doctrine of the Trinity, state that reality is, by nature, relational, and that it is impossible to accurately understand God, Scripture, or any of reality without taking that relational nature into account. So, I should maybe stop calling myself a relational theologian, since that term is used for something else; but I don’t know what else to call it.

    “Can you see how thinking about the sociology of religion would better help you understand the varieties of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus out there? ” Yes, I’ve already studied Hinduism, not very in depth, but some; Mormonism to a great depth, and I’m familiar with the major tenets of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and to some extent Jehovah’s Witness. I’m also familiar with most of the major varieties of Christianity: Calvinism, Lutheranism, Wesleyanism, Anabaptist, Pentecostalism, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox. I have great respect for Hinduism and especially Buddhism; and I believe that there are great truths to be learned in both; (their theology is masterful, though I don’t agree with it). I also think that there are really good examples and great wisdom in Islam, though I find their theology to be lacking (just my personal opinion).

    “Because of course you wouldn’t REALLY care about the truth of each sects claims since you reject them categorically.”
    “I actually don’t have any more interest in Nazarenes beliefs then I do in the details of Harry Potter books— both are fabricated.”
    I believe the correct cliche for this would be “the pot calling the kettle black.”

  9. (1) On Bias: Changing your Thoughts would hurt you
    One of the major obstacles you and I will have, Jonathan, is that you sound like you are building a life that is financially committed to your religion. You are going to seminary probably with some intent to make money off of theology. Of course, you’d phrase it much more differently, but that is what it amounts to. Thus, your mind will inevitably protect dearly your theology, whether you think it is or not.

    I, on the other hand, could become a Christian again tomorrow and it would not affect my life in a negative way at all — in fact, it would probably make my life much easier and possibly more prosperous since I live in a Christian dominated culture. So you see, the conversation will always suffer hugely.

    I could be wrong. Maybe you could change your mind, give up your faith, become a Buddhist or an Atheist and stop seminary and pursue another carrier and your wife and family would not mind at all.

    (2) The Variety in other Religions:
    Are you aware that Buddhism has tons of sects that hold radically different opinions on issues from each other? Are you aware of the same with Hinduism? Do you understand that they split apart and differ for similar reasons your religion does? Have you ever tried to understand religion at that level?

    (3) Systematized Theology:
    You said you are trying to “assemble my own thoughts and beliefs into one coherent whole.” I know what that means in science and medicine and engineering and such. We take out ideas and test them to see if they are coherent and accurate. In religion, since there is not test, it is not better than a fiction writer trying to write a plot that people are willing to find entertaining.

    Meaningful systematizing, must declare its methods. For most Christians, they are trying to make their beliefs consistent with their interpretation of Bible verses. Yawn. Sorry — just want to be honest.

    BTW, I didn’t understand your last paragraph.

  10. PS, Jonathan. Here is a quote from my side bar:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
    Upton Sinclair (author, 1935)

  11. I make no money off of either of my degrees and I have no intention of making money off of my degrees; I believe that education is worthy enough end in and of itself, I will use my degrees, but I probably won’t ever make money off them.

    The gist of my last paragraph is that you criticize me for categorically rejecting others’ beliefs; even as you categorically reject my beliefs and the beliefs of billions of other people.

    Yes, I am aware that Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism, like Christianity and just about every other religion in the world, are divided into many different sects with, sometimes, wildly different beliefs.

    I did not realize that an in depth and detailed knowledge of Hinduism and Buddhism was a pre-requisite to meaningful conversation with you.

    By the way, I should probably clarify with you: how should I be reading your tone? What impressions of your mood would I get if we were having this conversation face to face?

  12. @ Jonathan,
    You are married with a young child, correct?
    Does your wife have a great job?
    What do you do for a living?

    Yes, I categorically reject any theory which is based on the belief is spirits, ghosts, demons and fuzzy things like that. Well, unless someone has empirical evidence.

    I did not criticize you for rejecting other beliefs — where did you see that? I probably was hinting at criticizing you for possibly rejecting others for the same reasons you reject their beliefs. But we haven’t explored that yet.

    No, understanding why other faiths splinter and how their various theologies serves them would HELP our discussion (not a prerequisite — your sarcasm and frustration was noted). The more background you have in religion (your professed speciality), the more useful it would be to discuss things deeply. Probably dragging you out of your familiar parochial theology circles and discussing religions in which you are not invested, could help you see principles so we can have common ground. That is the strategy.

    Not sure how you should read my tone — but generally folks like me, but I can ask piercing questions. I like to quickly get to points of differences — I do not like wasting typing time on the internet. I shoot for understanding quickly.

    Hope that helps. I probably should set up a new post to discuss something. This thread is pretty long. May I ask your other academic background? — ? Sciences, Math, research?

  13. I am married with one child,
    My wife has a job that support us if we don’t mind living very tightly, I also work so that we don’t have to.
    I work the IT helpdesk for a local company.

    “Can you see how thinking about the sociology of religion would better help you understand the varieties of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus out there? Because of course you wouldn’t REALLY care about the truth of each sects claims since you reject them categorically.” I took this as criticism.

    “I probably was hinting at criticizing you for possibly rejecting others for the same reasons you reject their beliefs.” I’m not sure I understand this sentence.

    Religion fascinates me, I would consider Christian Theology to be my specialty, though I would not consider myself an expert. I am familiar with other religions, in basically the ways I described above. I don’t at all mind delving into the intricacies of religious thought, especially if I have a knowledgable guide.

    As for your tone; I had been tempted to hear a dirrissive, contemptuous, and dismissive tone in your words. I understand, however, how difficult it is to convey tone in writing, and thought it would be a good idea to check.

    As an example, you said “Probably dragging you out of your familiar parochial theology circles . . .” the way I hear that sentence is that you are assuming that I am only familiar with parochial theological circles (which in itself is a subjective judgment about those circles), that my thought is immature and inbred, and that I don’t have contact with the outside intellectual world. Additionally, the word “drag” has connotations of power and attitude. To drag something, you must have power over it; generally, when you drag something, you hold that something in some measure of contempt; and, generally, that something is resisting you in some way, but its resistance is impotent. So, your use of that word brings all of those connotations into the conversation.

    I say all this not to say that you were intending to use that word in that way or say those things; your last reply assures me that you weren’t. Rather, I wanted to explain why I hear what I hear. Simply knowing that you don’t mean what I thought you might mean helps me to take your words in a better way.

    As for my academic background; I have a liberal arts degree, so I have the general classes in math and sciences that all lib arts majors have, and I generally excelled in math, the sciences, philosophy, and all such classes. After that, I am neither old enough nor bright enough to have gained any kind of specialty or expertise in more than one subject.

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