Skip to comments.Heaven and hell seem to be forgotten
Posted on 06/21/2006 8:03:30 AM PDT by Between the Lines
Belief in hell is going to you-know-where. And belief in heaven is in trouble, too.
That's the concern of some Christian thinkers, including Jeffrey Burton Russell, an emeritus professor of history at UC Santa Barbara, and author of the new book “Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Heaven and How We Can Regain It” (Oxford).
Russell and other fretters aren't impressed by fads like the sudden popularity of the girl's name Naveah (heaven spelled backward) or polls that show most Americans believe in some sort of heaven.
The growing problem, according to Russell and others, is that the way U.S. Christians conceive of both heaven and hell is so feeble and vague that it's almost meaningless — vague “superstition.”
It's “not that heaven is deteriorating,” he says. “But we are.”
Gallup reported in 2004 that 81 percent of Americans believed in heaven and 70 percent in hell. An earlier Gallup Poll said 77 percent of ever-optimistic Americans rated their odds of making heaven as “good” or “excellent.” Few saw themselves as hellbound.
“The percentage who say they believe in heaven has remained pretty constant the past 50 years, but what people mean by it has changed an awful lot,” Russell said in an interview.
Some people are so confused they believe in heaven but not God — “I suppose it's a New Age thing,” Russell said.
But if today's notion of paradise is off base, and sentimental images of clouds, harps and cherubs are the stuff of magazine cartoons, then what's the best way to think of heaven?
“For Christians, basically, heaven underneath all of the decorations means living in harmony with God and the cosmos and your neighbors and being grateful,” said Russell, who studied hell and Satan for 15 years before first turning his attention to heaven in a 1997 book.
To Russell, it's healthiest to see heaven as starting on earth, not an existence that “suddenly happens when you die.”
What about hell and its fire and brimstone? “There is a tendency to over-dramatize hell in order to get (it) across to people,” he said, but it's simply “the absence of God, the absence of heaven.”
“Heaven has gradually been shut away in a closet by the dominant intellectual trends,” Russell writes. Likewise with hell: Russell cannot remember the last time he's heard that unhappy subject treated in church or in religious literature.
What happened? Russell's book is largely a heartfelt appeal against “physicalism,” the modern claim that knowledge comes only through the physical senses and empirical science.
Such an outlook is arrogant and unprovable, Russell believes, because it ignores humans' moral sense and the supernatural— including heaven and hell.
Among Protestants who share Russell's angst, perhaps the most outspoken is the Rev. David F. Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. He has spent years bemoaning the erosion of Christian teaching, through books like last fall's “Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World.”
Wells said in an interview that western Christianity is on the defensive against religious skepticism, secularism, materialism and consumerism.
He said that when Christian truth collides with the dominant cultural belief, promoted by psychology, that individuals should choose whatever they want, then “something has to give. And in our world today, in America and much of the West, what is giving is Christianity.” That includes the faith in “ultimate right and wrong” that undergirds heaven and hell.
So, many who say they believe in heaven are “projecting from their very best therapeutic experiences into eternity,” not meeting God “on his own terms,” he thinks.
A related question is who enters heaven.
On that, Americans are predictably expansive. A Newsweek/beliefnet.com poll last year asked, “Can a good person who isn't of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation?” Fully 79 percent said yes, with somewhat lower percentages among evangelicals and among non-Christians.
In Catholicism, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) declared that persons who do not know the Christian gospel but sincerely seek God “can attain to everlasting salvation.” The church decided that requiring explicit Christian faith was too pessimistic, said U.S. theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing in First Things magazine.
But now, he cautioned, “thoughtless optimism is the more prevalent error,” with many Christians mistakenly assuming that “everyone, or practically everyone, must be saved.”
Still, the New Testament teaches “the absolute necessity of faith for salvation” and says that each of us faces just two possibilities, either “everlasting happiness in the presence of God” or “everlasting torment in the absence of God.”
Why is it no one wants to address what St. Paul said? What's with all the fear and trembling and "WORKING it out" if salvation is "in the bag" if you just believe? Responding with a different doesn't address the verse in question. Do you know the difference between what you "do" and what you "say"? "Doing" something is a work. Those who "do" the will of God will enter heaven. Are you calling Jesus a liar?
It only violates what your personal view of Scripture is. You have no teaching authority, but the Church does. And, um, no, don't crack out the old "well the Holy Spirit interprets it for me" line because as far as I can tell, no two Protestant sects are talking to the same Holy Spirit.
If you think there's no room for heirarchy in the Church, you'll have to explain why Jesus bothered separating the Apostles from the rest of the disciples.
Frankly, your view of Sola Scriptura is closer to Islam's view of the Koran than traditional Christianity. In other words, if the Bible is the only source of your faith, then why did Jesus have a ministry at all?
I'm pretty sure you're going to sidestep these questions.
Gee, but I'm supposed to take the word of fallible old you? By what authority do you interpret scripture?
"Why is it no one wants to address what St. Paul said? What's with all the fear and trembling and "WORKING it out" if salvation is "in the bag" if you just believe? "
People are just trying to be kind to you when you take verses out of context.
"Responding with a different doesn't address the verse in question."
Works don't get anyone to heaven. Again the Bible states differently than what you wish to believe.
"Do you know the difference between what you "do" and what you "say"? "Doing" something is a work. Those who "do" the will of God will enter heaven."
Yes, works will NOT get you to heaven. THAT is why I added that verse from the Bible. You believe that works WILL get you to heaven.
"Are you calling Jesus a liar?"
No, you are.
The Bible is consistent. Works will NOT get you to heaven and belonging to the "Catholic church" or any other "church" will NOT give you eternal life.
"...I'm quoting DIRECTLY from the Bible - very CLEAR verses in their proper context and you still don't get it! There is no "interpretation issue" going on here."
John 6:51-71 is also very clear....How do you interpret these verses in their proper context?
Quoting from the Bible is not interpretation.
There is no "interpretation issue" going on here.
Because there's no interpretation going on, just regurgitation.
Perhaps another verse from the Bible inspired by GOD could help you out:
That would be the Bible given to the world through the Catholic Church, if I'm not mistaken. But let's not let facts get in the way.
 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
It still needs to be interpreted. Latin is a wonderful language, but if you don't understand it, it's worthless to you. If the Bible alone were sufficient, then everyone would come to the exact same conclusions.
I use God as my Authority.
So do I. Teaching through the successor to Peter, not "the Church of 'nmh'".
I'm concerned about your "authority".
Don't bother. She won't fall before the gates of hell.
Have you ever wondered why you find the Bible so offensive?
Please quote where I stated the Bible is offensive.
Frankly I see no need in continuing this exchange.
Because you won't/can't address my questions. Apparently St. Paul is not your kind of Christian, and Jesus was a liar.
You need to calm down and spend some time with His Word.
I'm perfectly calm. I'm not the one having a problem with the caps lock.
I can't force you to acept what God states in the Bible nor can I argue you to eternal life through words.
But but but - I thought all we need is words and we're saved.
Because people are fallible there can't be a church? That's strange, because it didn't stop Jesus from having Apostles even though He chose a betrayer to be in His midst.
The Bible is the ministry of Jesus. GEESH! The hope was to educate and have folks follow HIM rather than fallible mortals.
So what was the ministry of Jesus for the roughly 400 years before the Catholic Church discerned the canon?
I have a Biblical view
Who had authority to discern the canon, again?
 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
That includes ANYONE in a "church" and any human being heading a "church".
I'm not sure where I said that every member of the Catholic Church isn't a sinner. What does that have to do with the legitimacy of the Church? Jesus hand-picked Judas. Did that de-legitimize Christ's authority?
Me: When boxed into a cornor why is it people like yourself have to resort to unseemly name calling?
It's not name-calling. It's a comparison. Good news is, you don't have to be an English major to be "saved".
Yes, works will NOT get you to heaven. You are saved through faith under grace. It is the gift of God. Please take it while there is time!
I can only hope and pray that repeating God's Word has some impact on you.
No works, no faith. It's pretty cut and dry, unless you don't accept James.
So then what??? You're going to throw out half the New Testament because you don't know what to do with that verse???
"Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."
So tell us, what is the will of the Father for these Jews living under the law of Moses in Matthew chapter 7 ???
You guys admittedly don't even believe the Bible and yet you pick bits and pieces of it to convince someone they don't know if they're going to heaven...That won't work with a Bible believin' Christian...
Your argument is not with me, I just quoted infallible doctrinal statements of the Church.
you are discounting the power of God to provide the dying soul with enough enlightenment at the moment of death to choose or reject the Church.
None of the doctrinal statements I quoted do that. In fact, from Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441, : "unless before death they are joined with Her", pretty much covers it. We cannot say any particular person is in hell with certainty, but we do know that there are souls there. I think it's best not to leave it up to chance counting on last minute graces. If a person has refused God's grace all throughout life, and remained outside the Church, I think it unlikely that he will have a sudden about face at the moment before death, but I don't deny the possibility, nor the possibility of God sending St. Peter himself to baptize him.
The second Vatican Council was said to be a pastoral council, it did not define doctrine like previous councils, and yes many of the documents appear to contradict previously infallibly defined doctrine which has caused much confusion among Catholics as well as non Catholics. However Catholics are bound to believe all infallibly defined doctrine, and it cannot change, it is true for all time.
Try using the "we have no King but Christ" line with the police officer who arrests you for failing to pull over when he signals you to. You are subject to a lot of people not just the pope, and any legitimate authority they have over you does come from Christ, yes.
But why did you not start at verse 47???
Joh 6:47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.
And then if you go up a few more verses in the same chapter and read:
Joh 6:35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
Now you MUST realize that this verse is figurative...Unless of course, you've never eaten nor drank anything since you became Catholic...So then, how do you take the verses you cited as being literal when the context up above is figurative???
Does it not make sense then, that the next verses which are in the same context are figurative as well???
And why would someone try to convince you those verses you referred to are literal??? Ever think of that???
Joh 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.
If you belong to Jesus, right now, he will never cast you out...Never...
Likely it was the bibles that your church admittedly confiscated and burned during that 400 years even to the point of killing the owners of such bibles...
And fortunately enough of these survived that copies continued to be made and finally evolved into a non-Catholic bible...
Probably so, certainly can't be proven otherwise.
How do you actually know it is the Word of God? I'm sure you believe it, but how do you know it?
Pardon the interruption, but isn't the interpretation, relative to the person doing the interpreting?