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Thursday, March 29, 2007

ECM and Heaven--Hard to Describe

[Here's the revised approach after taking a slightly different angle.]

ECM and Heaven--Hard to Describe

To this point, the posts have taken the following path...

Some will claim we should leave well enough alone, let each minister do his own thing and mind your business. However, an elder is called to refute unsound doctrine. But how can we define sound and unsound doctrine? Many will claim that the Bible may be inerrant, but that it is impossible to know what Scripture says. They would never be so arrogant to claim they can understand the text. But the Bible acknowledges some passages are tough, yet still expects us to understand them. But won't that sound mean and arrogant? Clearly, we can not teach with authority or the audience won't listen. We must learn to teach like Jesus, Who used parables and vague illustrations. But didn't Jesus say His mission was to prevent people from understanding Him? So clearly we can not teach as well as the "Good Teacher." We're going to fall short in that task so we should just relax some and accept our failure. But God is listening carefully and so should the church.

But if at first you don't succeed, focus on that which is vague. While the Scripture says some clear things about the Kingdom, it's more attractive to focus on the obscure elements. The only thing that is clear is that ambiguity is in. Even if the Scripture is clear, we handle it in generalities. That is, until you get to Revelation 4:1-7:
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. (emphasis added)
The force of John's passage can be lost on 21st century America. As a youth pastor for nearly a decade, I learned that saying, "I was like heading to school when like the bus was early and I had to like ride in the car with like my mom" actually means, "I missed the bus and my mom drove me to school."

But this is the inspired Word of God. Every word matters. Reread the text, this time knowing that like is "homoios," like is "hos," and appearance is "horasis." John inserts all of these words, not to fill space or to give him time to think. John inserts these words to share his inability. John is given such a vision of glory that all he can do is try to compare it to what he currently knows. The passage is full of ambiguity! For instance, we know that around the throne there is something like a sea of glass but not actually a sea of glass. Like crystal, but the "like" indicates it is not actually crystal. This passage is nearly impossible to get your hand around. For the ambiguous preacher this passage is homiletic heaven!

If you think about it, heaven should be difficult to describe. If it resembles this place, can it really be extraordinary? By nature, it is filled with things that cannot be compared to this globe. John tries to draw comparisons, but he keeps it clear that he's not speaking in absolutes. The sea is not glass or crystal. The creature is not quite a flying eagle.

For those with "emerging persuasions," there are good reasons for preaching heaven:

--It's much more pleasant than the hell-fire-brimstone preaching they claim to have been hurt by.

--It's a picture of paradise. An aim for their global purification processes.

--It's mysterious. There are passages, like above, where the language is ambiguous.

Yet, much of postmodern ministry does not want to address the topic of heaven. Heaven may be a reference point, but the attention is quickly diverted downward. Phrases like "heaven on earth" rule the method. We may believe in heaven (or may not). We may long for heaven (though I've heard some leaders confess they'd like to stay here). But we're not really going to talk about heaven or focus on it. What would be the reason to neglect such a rich doctrine? Would focussing on heaven really cause people to not be motivated while still on earth?

I don't think that is really the concern, but at this point I start to delve into so sensitive territory...

So, I'll return to this idea, but hit something else tomorrow.


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