Tag Archives: eschatology

Book Review: Heaven on Earth: God’s Call to Community in the Book of Revelation, by Michael Battle

Heaven on EarthIn Heaven on Earth: God’s Call to Community in the Book of Revelation, Michael Battle unconvincingly attempts to harmonize the messages of Origen, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others, with what he refers to as John’s “speculative” (105) vision of heaven and earth in the book of Revelation. Ultimately, this is a book about universalism and a realized eschatology (60, 82) living in community in an utterly selfless way to create heaven on earth. Battle argues that heaven is not some distant place in regards to space and/or time, but is in his words “an uninhibited God” (7), “where God is present” (19), and “the joy derived from interdependent persons who adore someone greater than themselves—God” (21); however, demonstrating the inconsistency found in his work, he also says it is a place we “go to” (171) that will be “everyone’s final destination and reward” (31). While he often redefines heaven in such a way that fits his argument on any given page with no regard to inconsistencies, taken in its totality, it appears that Tutu’s Ubuntu theology, “A person is a person through other persons” (135), is really Battle’s epitome of heaven on earth. (So enamored with Tutu, Battle writes as if South Africa’s example is going to save the world, all while ignoring rampant racism therein with a flip-flop of its past racial hierarchy.)

 

ORIGEN AND UNIVERSALISM:

Heavily influenced by and in agreement with Origen’s speculation about heaven and the origin of creation found in Origen’s De principiis, Battle believes everyone always existed with God before creation and that “God has given us earth to practice heaven again” (88) after having fallen from heaven due to selfish desires—earth, according to Orgien, was basically created because there needed to be a place to land from the fall. Battle continues, “On earth we are given a soul which is the ‘sliding middle’ in which choices are made. If we wish to attain transformation back into spirit, the soul must choose communal existence as opposed to individualism” (88). Yes, we must choose community, but not for the reasons found in Origen’s speculations. Whereas Battle thinks, “[Origen’s] genius is to show us that heaven can only be found in community” (90), I think it’s more appropriate to say that heaven exists as community—it certainly may not be found in just any community.

A further point of inconsistency: If this were true—if earth was created as temporary place to practicing being better in order to get back to a state of unity with God in heaven, thereafter eliminating the need and place of earth—I’m not sure why Battle found it necessary to include the following akin to ying yang philosophy: “heaven is unintelligible apart from earth; and earth is unintelligible apart from heaven. In other words, we need both of them to know each of them” (111–112). Perhaps he finds this to be a temporary necessity?

In an endnote from chapter eleven, Battle writes, “Origen uses an illustration of a student of geometry for hierarchy of souls (Princ. 1.4.1). Death does not finally decide the fate of the soul, which may turn into a demon or an angel. This ascent and descent goes on uninterruptedly until the final apokatastasis when all creatures, even the devil, will be saved” (187, n.7). Yes, the devil/Satan being saved is the only way Origen’s speculation could possibly come to fruition, and it appears Battle believes the devil will be saved. This is, however, an enormous monkey wrench even for Origen. While De principiis certainly implies the possibility, Origen never explicitly states that Satan will be saved. When pressed, Origen only goes so far as to concede its possibility while also stating, “Even one who has lost his mind cannot say this” (see Jennifer L. Heckart, “Sympathy for the Devil? Origen and the End,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 60, no. 3–4. 2007: 57). Pressing further, Lisa R. Holliday writes, “By considering the devil within Origen’s stance on volition and the nature of the soul, it is clear that while the devil technically retained the possibility of salvation, he did not wish to attain it, due to the degree to which he pursued his own desires” (Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved?: Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon,” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1. 2009:1). The fact that even the Catholic Church deemed Origen a heretic for centuries is not mentioned in Battle’s argument, nor are the weightier points of De principiis that would likely cause many readers to stop reading Battle’s work altogether. While later absolved, Origen’s teachings on this subject were not.

It is my opinion that Origen did not really believe that Satan would be saved, and found himself in quite a quandary: to fully admit Satan could be saved would contradict Scripture and would have Origin deemed a heretic, which, as already noted, eventually happened posthumously simply based on his implications; but to flatly deny the possibility of Satan’s restoration would nullify his entire argument in De principiis. (Scholars often find themselves with this sort of conflict when confronted with compelling evidence contrary to their work, as if being academically honest and changing one’s position thereby negates one’s position and ability in scholarship. To be closed to correction and change is not very academic or scholarly at all, but the academy is strange and defensive thing.)

I hope Battle would be open to criticism and evidentiary change, but the following example of how Battle simply dismisses pushback with, “In any event,” leaves me doubtful:

Realized eschatology has gained some currency among biblical scholars in the United States. These tend to base their arguments, again, on the reordering of the Gospel material which then can be made to show that Jesus was a sort of Cynic teacher of social reform. My view, however, is based more on the notion that I attribute to Care Waynick, the Episcopal bishop of Indianapolis. Bishop Waynick heard that I was writing this book and offered me this insight: “[Jesus] said repeatedly that ‘the kingdom is among you.’” A critic could easily say that neither the bishop nor I seem to be aware that the passage we are referring to is unique in the Synoptic Gospels, occurring only in Luke 17:20–21: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom is among you [within you; entos hymon].” This passage has been much controverted, especially in the context of saying that Luke constructed his own version of realized eschatology. The sharp criticism comes: If one were to assume that Jesus made the statement in the passage and meant by it that there was no future coming of the kingdom, then how is the material that follows (Luke 17:22–37) to be read? Did Jesus also make the other, numerous, futuristic statements in the Gospels?

In any event, I am one of those people like Bishop Waynick who believe that Jesus did more than say the kingdom is among us—he actually came among us. In addition, not only did he come among us, he is still here. Those like Bishop Waynick and myself practice this presence regularly through the Eucharist and caring for the least in society. (82)

 

KINGDOM LIVING (HEAVEN ON EARTH?):

Battle rightly encourages his reader to be what many of us simply refer to as active citizens of the kingdom of God. Though not yet in its fullness, we are called to be witnesses to a real kingdom right now, not to coop our Christian identity into nationalism or focus merely on our personal salvation as if it could be disconnected from love of neighbor, which is very much a part of being a disciple of Jesus and kingdom citizen. He points out some proper concerns, such as, “We seem more eager to argue over passages of Scripture pertaining to sexuality than passages such as Matthew 5:38–45” (62), but he does tend to focus on communal care and acceptance of all people as they are to the exclusion of anything else we may find entailing a God-honoring life. The only sins Battle appears to be concerned with are racism, violence, and concern for oneself (individualism) to the exclusion of others. He certainly misconstrues the reason Jesus hung out with “sinners”:

Do not seek your personal salvation—in doing that we end up like those religious hypocrites that irritated Jesus the most. In fact, Jesus doesn’t get angry at those who seem to be most worthy of our anger—those who embezzle money (the tax collectors) and those who commit sexual sin (prostitutes and adulterers). These were Jesus’ best friends; he required from them conversion and fidelity. He became angry at the religious folk who sought only their personal salvation. (151)

Jesus wasn’t in the business of finding people deep in sin, becoming best buds, and telling them it’s all okay; he was changed lives by pointing them back to the way God intended us to be because he loved them. Nor was Jesus angry with people who wanted to be “personally saved,” though he did chastise folks for ignoring and oppressing others for selfish gain. To not be concerned about one’s relationship with God is, in fact, not honoring God.

 

CONCLUSION:

All in all, this book does not have as much to do with community in the book of Revelation as it does with an overly repetitive, argumentative soapbox against white, Western, fundamental, individualistic, liberal and conservative straw men with no introspection or self-criticism to be found. Here Battle should have listened to his own words: “Labels of conservative and liberal theologies only obfuscate arguments” (36). While reading this work was quite tedious and not at all recommended, I hope what I have read is simply the result of much frustration over the lack of love for one’s neighbor Battle sees and experiences on earth as it is now.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition, by Edward William Fudge

The Fire That ConsumesRegardless of where one is with his or her doctrine of hell, The library of any serious theologian and student of the Bible should contain Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (Third Edition). Originally published in 1982 after being commissioned to study and publish what the Bible says about hell and final punishment, The Fire That Consumes presents Fudge’s findings and convictions about annihilationism and conditional immortality (conditionalism) over and against the prevailing “traditional” view of unending conscious torment and the increasingly popular view of universalism. The second edition was an edited and abridged version published in the UK in 1994, but this “fully updated, revised, and expanded edition” was published in 2011 after decades of conversation and debate.

Fully addressing Scripture, the Apocrypha, many extant historical texts, and notable philosophers and theologians throughout history, Fudge evaluates and refutes the traditional view of hell, noting its origins lie not in Scripture but in an accepted assumption of Plato’s view of the inherently immortal soul. Promulgated by Tertullian, Augustine, and Calvin, each presuming the arguments of the former (again, going back to Plato), hell as a place of unending conscious torment has been squarely and unquestionably set in both Catholic and Protestant traditions. Fudge rightly considers Scripture first, noting no mention of an inherent immortal soul therein. To the contrary, “death” and “destruction” await the enemies of God and “eternal life” (immortality) is a “gift” to those with God. While fully articulating the argument that the Bible presents hell as a place of all-consuming fire (total destruction or annihilation) rather than a place of a purgation or never-ending conscious torment, Fudge finds it unnecessary to dwell on specific durations, levels, and severities of punishment beyond what is made known in Scripture, seeing that those paths necessarily revel in speculation.

Fudge writes with a pastoral and humble heart not often found in this kind of literature. While disagreeing and arguing against theologians both past and present, he will often recognize one’s heart for God and positive contributions when pointing out foundational, logical, and theological flaws. After the arduous journey that has brought him to this point (more about this in Hell: A Final Word and the movie “Hell and Mr. Fudge”), it is encouraging to see the continued grace and mercy Fudge extends to attackers who place him and his position, as well as those in agreement therewith, in the heretical sandbox, as if on par with denying the resurrection or divinity of Jesus. God bless Fudge and his persistence.

 

Not too many years ago I found myself questioning my tradition when I found no mention in Scripture of the kind of hell passed on to me; rather, I found over and over the utter destruction of God’s enemies. I felt as though I had experienced a complete paradigm shift in reality. Over thirty years of learning, preaching, and teaching that hell is a place of unimaginable pain and suffering that never ever ends doesn’t easily lend itself to an overnight shift in belief; but there I was, confronted with Scripture countering my previously held beliefs about hell and the character of God in both, his love and justice. So, I found myself with a soft conclusion of hell being the eventual total destruction of God’s enemies while remaining open to a reasonable argument for everlasting torment, should there be one. It wasn’t until I reviewed a copy of Hell: A Final Word that I discovered Fudge, already established terms for my newfound position, and that this position isn’t new at all. Further study of Scripture convinced me of annihilationism and conditionalism, but The Fire That Consumes has certainly solidified it for me. Perhaps it will for you, too.

 

I understand the controversial nature of this material for many, and I pray it and those who discuss such things are approached with grace, a heart for God and his truth, and love for one’s neighbor. For those who wish to comment or respond to this post in any manner with something akin to “but what about what Bible passage X and theologian Y?” I encourage you to get the book and check for yourself. I imagine your questions will be answered well. This is a book review, not a fully articulated argument for the case of annihilationism and conditionalism—that’s what the book is for.

Book Review: The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith, by Christopher J. H. Wright

The God I Don't UnderstandWhile working through the unread books in my library, I realized I still had one more by Christopher J. H. Wright that I had forgotten about: The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith. Wright here works through four of the big questions people often have when struggling with God and the Bible: evil & suffering, destruction of the Canaanites, the cross, and thoughts on the end of the world. He addresses each of these issues through faith, scholarship, and trust, honestly and humbly admitting his own struggles along the way. The book is easy to read and understand, despite the subject difficulty. (This isn’t necessarily intended for those looking for the kind of thorough academic arguments as found in other works of Wright, but still both a useful and helpful starting point.)

If I ever get the chance to meet Chris, I’m going to thank him and give him a giant, awkwardly lasting man hug. His The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (review) is still my top recommendation (a bit too academic for some, but I encourage taking the journey anyway), with The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (review) in an easy second (more of an expansion on a particular aspect of the former, and much easier to read). The God I Don’t Understand is a helpful addition!

Book Review: Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation, by Michael J. Gorman

Reading Revelation ResponsiblyMichael J. Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation proposes exactly that: read Revelation well (stop taking symbols literally), worship and be a witness of the Lord (not governments, and be especially mindful of those that co-opt Christianity and claim to be the mighty savior), and follow the Lamb (imitate him by being nonviolent and sacrificial—lay down your life, don’t take others’) into the New Creation (there will be a new creation!). “Yes” on all fronts!

Gorman briefly describes several ways people read and interpret the last book in our canon, noting some of the problems that arise and unhealthy conclusions thereby taken from the text. He helpfully explains not only what we know of apocalyptic writing, but that the book of Revelation is actually a collection of genres: apocalypse, prophecy, and letter, as well as being both liturgical and political. There’s a lot going on here, and it cannot be simplified into one narrow way of interpreting the entire text—certainly not a literal approach (e.g., 1,000 years does not mean a literal 1,000 years). We are reminded that the sacrificial Lamb is the central image of the drama, and that when the Lord comes with sword in mouth (not in hand!) his robes are already bloodied—his own blood from already conquering evil through sacrificing himself!

Revelation is about worshiping the true Lord and living that out (discipleship). It’s not all about either what was (the Roman empire) or will be (a blueprint for the “end times”), but encouragement for us in the end times (between Jesus’ ascension and future return) while we live as witnesses of the Lord. Empires will rise and fall, but freedom, salvation, and truth are in Lamb!

I highly recommend this one. It may be particularly helpful for those who currently find themselves in the hermeneutical camp of dispensationalism.

Aside: I read the book in Kindle format, which has no page numbers and is sometimes a bit clunky in the formatting.

Book Review: Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News, by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment

Bringing Heaven to EarthMany of us have grown up in the “I’ll Fly Away” crowd, getting much of our eschatology (what we believe about end times) from our hymns rather than the Bible, which in turn influences what we believe about how we are to live here and now. If this place is going to blow up and we’re going to fly away, then nothing here really matters, right? Unfortunately, this way of thinking is still pervasive in many churches and schools. Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment grew up in this same vein, have since been convinced of a greater reality of living in the kingdom now, and have provided an easy to read book on why and how that can and should happen. This is Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News.

“Part 1: A Reintroduction to Heaven” begins emphatic, but lighthearted, sports jokes and jabs not spared (just look past them!). Ross and Storment make a simple case for the real connection between heaven and earth and God mission of resurrection and redemption, not rapture. “Part 2: When Heaven Celebrates” gets a little heavier—if that can happen when talking about partying!—but only insomuch as the authors continue drawing the reader into the importance of the topic at hand. Once in “Part 3: Life in the Light of Heaven” the reader should have a broader grasp of what it means to live for God’s glory and the sake of others right now and give up on any ideas that may keep us waiting until we’re in “heaven” to be joyful in this life.

This can be a great primer for anyone struggling with what to do with the good news of the kingdom of God and how heaven, hell, and earth may fit therein. It may be especially helpful for those who are steeped in dispensationalism, a particular theological stream espoused by much company I’ve kept in recent years. If you’re looking for a quick and easy read to whet your appetite to go even further in living as a kingdom citizen now, this can help. Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid!

 

*Disclaimer: I was contacted by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, and received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not paid, nor was I asked to write anything specific, whether positive or negative.