“Here Is The New There”
Chapter 2 is the longest chapter in Love Wins and it starts out with Rob questioning popular visuals of heaven and hell. The ones that depict heaven as separate from this life – later and someplace else – with hell ominously situated between the two, also someplace else. Hence the title of the chapter: “Here Is The New There.”
Although references to hell are included, the focus in this chapter is heaven.
Rob disagrees with the “we’re here” and “heaven is there” perspective and brings up several points to make his complaint:
- He implies that common teachings about heaven’s other-wordly bliss, hell’s torment and the ease with which one can miss heaven and be swallowed up by torment, forever, comes perilously close to traumatizing children causing them to stumble. Something Jesus gravely warned us not to do, p. 22. This, however, is not the point of the chapter.
- He mockingly mentions the popular but questionable images associated with heaven (that no one really believes anyway): white robes, St. Peter at the gate, everyone having so much fun they forget about family and friends grinding it out forever in the other place, pp. 24-25, along with images of floating on clouds, perfect hair and singing in perfect pitch, p. 57.
- A lot of what Rob says hinges on his interpretation of the interaction between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (RYR), Matt. 19 & Luke 18 (pp. 26-31). I’ll say more just now.
- Rob speaks of “eternal life” – or heaven as we think of it – as two consecutive ages (aions) or periods of time. The temporary one we live in now leads to the eternal one that follows. Most refer to the second one as the millennial kingdom. Rob suggests the two are inseparably connected so heaven is both now and later and it only follows that what we do in this age is important for preparing for and determining what we will do in the next, pp. 30-31
- Rob does say the second age will include all nations (p. 34), will exist on planet earth (pp. 34-35) and he points out that these ideas are well established in the Old Testament (pp. 32-33).
- Judgment and Justice will prevail in the age to come (pp. 36-39) but will be balanced by grace and mercy (p. 39), implying that grace and mercy are equally active in the next life as they are now. There will be an increase of justice not the reduction of grace and mercy.
- Later in the chapter he expands the definition of aion (age) to mean “an intensity of experience that transcends time,” p. 57. Rob’s words: “To say it again, eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life lived now in connection with God, p. 59.
- He also makes no direct reference to the eternal state, which most expect will follow the millennial age, the second aion, but he doesn’t deny it either. His mention of the gates of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:25) in chapter 4 – Does God Get What God Wants? – implies it.
His purpose in this chapter is to change our perspective on “heaven” and to suggest a better way to interact with it now, in this life. And the evidence that one is ready now for heaven in the next life is character, which is demonstrated not through religious ritual but through personal morals and social justice.
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Rob is promoting the life we live outside of religious ritual but he is not suggesting it is contrary to it. A life that is mostly ceremonial offers little for the rest of the world to connect with. A well established life outside of, but in agreement with faith, is relatable and can have an evangelistic effect, the thing we are working for.
His primary arguments are based on one meaning of the Greek word “Aion,” age or period of time. He takes an accurate but very narrow approach to this particular word.
If heaven is someplace else, and only comes after this life, then it is natural for us to wait for it – while trudging through the same religious rituals repeatedly, presumably to keep us safe – but if “eternal life” – which most agree begins at the moment of salvation – is somewhat synonymous with “heaven” then we don’t have to wait until after we die to connect with heavenly purposes.
In that regard, Rob makes a valid point.
He doesn’t deny the idea that salvation is final or instantaneous but his focus is more on post salvation non-ceremonial living than how we get saved or how long we stay that way. Other than mentioning the new birth in passing (pp. 5 & 36) he says very little about it until chapter 5 – “Dying To Live” – and his real point is that salvation is not the end of the story. He questions the sit-around-and-wait-for-heaven mentality implied in traditional teachings.
Therefore, in answer to the question, “what will we do in heaven?” Rob says…
What do you love to do now that will go on in the world to come? (p. 47)
Which obviously implies we should be doing something now that prepares us for later.
And a common response might be. . .
So what. Most Christians believe ‘eternal life’ starts at the moment of salvation and most also agree that doing good things in this life is the proper way to live. So why is this important? Why all the fuss?
The answer doesn’t become clear until later. Rob doesn’t say it at this point but he is preparing us for the idea that hell is not final. Those who go to hell will have another chance to repent and be restored, which naturally brings up another question: if I can change later why bother being good now?
And the apparent answer is: the benefits of heaven start now and engaging it now determines what we will do later, so waiting is wasteful and painful. Remember, Rob doesn’t deny hell or the pain and judgment that it comes with it. Taking steps to avoid it now is still the smart option.
That is the implied understanding, which unfortunately for Rob, doesn’t completely eliminate the pain associated with judgment, which he seems to be aimed at, p. 110. In fact, the idea of restoration from hell raises several questions Rob doesn’t answer or mention.
Rob’s hell is still painful, and tormenting, but he says very little about how long one might have to be there before restoration is possible or the conditions under which restoration can occur, other than choice. Talk more about that in a later post.
Rob’s teachings don’t, however, eliminate the urgent need for evangelism. You can read about that here.
Getting back to chapter 2…
Drawing heavily on the expectations of the prophets in the Old Testament (pp. 32-34), Rob melds our present age with the one yet to come and suggests the primary evidence that a person is well suited for the next age is how well they engage social projects and green issues in this one. Religious rituals like church attendance, ceremonies, prayers, devotions, confessions, offerings, candle lighting, etc. aren’t featured in his writing. If anything, he speaks against these.
Taking heaven seriously, then, means taking suffering seriously, now…Around a billion people in the world today do not have access to clean water. People will have access to clean water in the age to come, and so working for clean-water access for all is participating now in the life of the age to come, p. 45.
And he further states…
Eschatology shapes our ethics. Eschatology is about last things. Ethics are about how you live…If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world? A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven, pp. 46-47.
But Rob isn’t delusional about how far we can take social action. We try to address the needs of the suffering, he says…
Not because we’ve bought into the myth that we can create a utopia given enough time, technology, and good voting choices, but because we have great confidence that God has not abandoned human history and is actively at work within it, taking it somewhere, p. 45.
Instead of unreservedly piling up debt for the Anti-Christ to pay in the Tribulation, as some glibly suggest, Rob encourages us to focus on social issues like “Clean Water For All.”
And, no, “Clean Water” isn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible but wealthy people are repeatedly warned not to take advantage of the poor and underprivileged, and to take measures to lessen the pain of their plight.
That is probably why Rob focused on the Rich Young Ruler whose family, as members of the ruling elite, derived its wealth from overtaxing and abusing those they ruled.
Much like Moses, he couldn’t enjoy the material benefits of corrupt politics and live for heaven at the same time. He had to make a choice.
Rob’s anti-greed sentiments, however, do come across as anti-wealth. Using the mother of James and John to prove his point he says…
She doesn’t want bigger mansions or larger piles of gold for them, because static images of wealth and prosperity were not what filled people’s heads when they thought of heaven in her day. She understood heaven to be about partnering with God to make a new and better world, p. 47.
A few words of warning in that regard:
- Living comfortably and better off is not the same as living selfishly.
- If I neglect my needs in order to help someone with theirs, then there is always the possibility that someone will eventually have to take care of me. Where’s the point in that?
- Making money is a lost art. We’ve replaced it with earning money which is one way to make money for someone else. I take my money making cues from the parable of the talents. We should never make money illegally but we shouldn’t be shy about finding ways to create larger and additional streams of income.
- The people who have the power to do the most good are the ones who make the most money, e.g., Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
So, there is no reason to impugn people who make lots of money. Money is just as problematic when we make too little as it is when we make too much. Using money to empower people to make money is a great way to make the world a better more responsible community.
But, back to the social issues, history is riddled with examples of Christians taking action to address human rights issues.
- William Carey, a Baptist missionary known as the father of modern missions, is also referred to as a great social reformer. He campaigned for 25 years against Sati – the practice in India of burning surviving widows with their deceased husbands. He was also the first man to campaign for the humane treatment of lepers who were also burned.
- William Wilberforce, successfully campaigned against the slave trade throughout the English Empire.
- Separation of religion and human government has a long history and many proponents. Oddly enough Christians have fought more against it than non-religious individuals.
- Even the law given to Moses was largely a document detailing social reforms. The study of that document helps us understand that human society is fluid and the laws that govern it must be also.
- There is an endless list of people who have fought and even paid the ultimate price to earn the personal rights and freedoms we enjoy today.
The world is a better place because of these things. Unfortunately, Christians sometimes oppose this progress and at other times neglect it.
Like Rob, I think something should done about the water supply problems of less privileged communities but I doubt clean water or any other social improvements will effect the eternal destinies of any person.
Now, lets talk about the Rich Young Ruler. Rob doesn’t use the words but what he says could easily be interpreted as salvation by works and the RYR is the justification for his thoughts.
I don’t think it is intentional but Rob misrepresents the RYR’s situation and makes far too much of it. He even implies the man missed heaven because of his greed.
But, Jesus told the man to sell EVERYTHING and give ALL the proceeds to the poor. That isn’t the usual remedy for greed. If Jesus had wanted to address greed he would have told the man to give away the excess and learn to be content with less.
The truth is the RYR was like Moses. He couldn’t stay in the system and be part of the solution.
There’s more to this exchange than meets the eye. The aspects of the RYR’s situation which Rob got wrong is what influenced his anti-wealth attitude.
Another critical point Rob makes is: Jesus didn’t evangelize the RYR the way we might today – for which there is a plausible explanation. I won’t address it now.
Additional implications are:
- Jesus, Rob says, promises no blink-of-an-eye transformation to the completely-new-you at the start of the next age and he is right. Paul is the one who mentioned that promise (1 Cor. 15:52) but Rob does address an areas that are usually ignored: character and skill. Physically we will transformed be but what about Christians who waste their abilities and opportunities in this life? Are we all equal or do some rise higher than others?
- The judgment by flames Paul described (1 Cor. 3:15) is an evaluation on a person’s works not their nature or their person. Rob agrees with that but takes it a bit further, insinuating some, the ones who miss the mark the most – although he doesn’t mention where the line is drawn – will spend a little time in hell. He even implies we can’t be sure before we get there, which again implies we better work really hard to be sure. He throws in Matthew 7 and 25 to reinforce his ideas, both of which are a little out of context.
- Rob ignores the background of Matthew 25, which contextually refers to the people of the Tribulation, a 7 year period at the end of this age, that ushers in the next. It was a time of war not business as usual. The ones needing water then were those persecuted for their faith, by the enemy, and the only people who would dare supply it were those with a to-the-death commitment to Christ. Giving water under those circumstances was a definite indication of salvation.
- He suggests that we will be surprised by those who get into and are honored in heaven as well as by those who don’t get in. No argument there. Since salvation is a new heart issue and one’s life may not always follow their heart, what a person does in this life is not always an accurate indicator of a spiritual state.
Chapter three is where Rob really goes off the tracks. You can see the review of Chapter 3 here.
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The Love Wins Companion offers valuable information for anyone wanting to explore further: insights and commentary by qualified individuals, in-depth exploration of significant Bible passages, detailed chapter summaries of Love Wins with questions and guides for discussion, historical evidence demonstrating the breadth and diversity of Christian ideas about heaven and hell and more.
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