“If you died today, do you know where you would go?”
If you have ever lasted until the end of a typical church service, I assume you have heard one of the elders ask this question, usually as one of the worship leaders plays the piano or guitar softly in the background. And before I expound on the question, I want to point out that this is not a bad way to end a Sunday morning service, at least in terms of cadence and structure.
Quite the contrary, it is an ideal denouement, a chance for those visiting and even the regular members to reflect on their standing with the God whose only passphrase for granting them salvation is that they merely believe.
And the journey we start after believing, with its sudden turns and pitfalls, convinces me it is never wrong for us to pause and reflect on our standing with God. However, if such reflection leads us anywhere, it ought to lead us to inspect the question of “where we go when we die” within a biblical framework. As we reflect, we might discover that beneath the question’s surface lies a set of untested assumptions and at least two resulting fundamental errors.
For listeners, here is an audio recording of the article:
What follows is a layman’s attempt at a theological argument, which I suppose makes it a shot in the dark. By taking this shot, I risk the assumption that no stray dart will cause harm. But I think my assumption is low-risk for the following reasons:
I will only be read by a few people.
These same people are confident in their faith but not so arrogant as to avoid a challenge.
Metaphorical arrows fired off into a metaphorical abyss don’t usually derail someone’s life-size relationship with their Creator.
As for the writing itself, I share ideas I’ve wrestled with for many years. In the contest, I’ve come to such a point of mental and physical exhaustion that I feel the only way to find rest is to publish the work in its current, incomplete form and allow more educated people to obliterate it. The gnawing reminder that I am not a studied, credentialed theologian has kept me from my writing desk, and perhaps that is not terrible. Like any sober person, I am persuaded that shooting anything in the dark is unwise.
Yes, theology does matter. As luck would have it, it matters a great deal.
Site-note: please ignore the grammatically incorrect meme of Rhett Butler. I can only depend on the internet for so much.
The false opposition
The popular idea that the pursuit of theology must cancel out the pursuit of God’s presence is, in a word, false. The same notion in reverse is also false.
I say the idea is popular because I hear it come up often enough in any conversation that skims the shallows of biblical criticism and layman’s hermeneutics. And while I consider myself a layman among laymen, I do not consider myself a moron among morons. (Those of you who get to spend time with me regularly should take this as a compliment.)
“If you want to see what it looks like for God’s renewed people in Christ to be ‘royal,’ to be ‘rulers’ in the sense indicated by the vocation to be a ‘royal priesthood,’ don’t look at the fourth and fifth centuries, when the Roman emperors first became Christian. That raises questions and challenges at other levels, but to begin there would be to miss the point. Look, instead, at what the church was doing in the first two or three centuries, while being persecuted and harried by the authorities—and announcing to the whole world that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel, was its rightful Lord. That is what it means to be ‘rulers’ in the sense we’re discussing here: to be agents of that King’s reign, the reign of the Prince of Peace, the one through whom tyranny itself (not to mention any individual tyrants) was overthrown with the destruction of its most vital weapon—namely, death—and the one through whom therefore was brought to birth a new world in which order and freedom at last meet.” – N. T. Wright, After You Believe