Month: January 2008

HEAVEN & HELL Popular notions, Scripture clash on question of afterlife

Ever notice that when a discussion turns to a recently deceased celebrity, someone invariably says, “I know he’s looking down on us right now”? It doesn’t matter how godless the person was, his peers refer to him as being in a better place and then gesture skyward.

The Righteous Brothers’ 1974 hit tune, “Rock and Roll Heaven,” illustrates such misconceptions: “If you believe in forever / Then life is just a one-night stand. / If there’s a rock and roll Heaven / Well you know they’ve got a h*ll of a band.” The song venerates several rock singers who’d died, including pill-popping, pot-smoking, promiscuous Janis Joplin, along with Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, whose public antics got him arrested for lewd behavior, and whose illicit drug habits put him in an early grave like so many of his peers. What parents and preachers in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s called the devil’s music turned out to have some hellions singing it. Why would anyone, therefore, believe that those whose lifestyles reflected their hearts’ condition are in Heaven?

Conversely, society is unified about the eternal states of villains like Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin and Pol Pot, a terrorist on the most-wanted list or even a less menacing drug abuser.

TRONG>Secular misrepresentation
“Far more dangerous, however, is the happy-talk universalism you find in the public square,” said Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Lamenting a portion of the poem “High Flight” read in tribute to the space shuttle Challenger’s victims, Coppenger said not all the astronauts were Christians. “But, we were told that they ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.'” Coppenger recalled a cartoon from a Chicago newspaper depicting sports announcer Harry Caray at the pearly gates, where Saint Peter welcomed him gladly, even though “there was no evidence that Caray was redeemed. Everywhere you turn, culture ignores the Bible to make gassy pronouncements on the afterlife.”

Such secular, cultural perceptions are uninformed by the truth, and seem based on the delusion that one’s eternal state is earned through heinous deeds on one hand, or good poll numbers on the other.

One may surmise that those who assume the dearly departed are in Heaven, because they weren’t nearly as evil as more notorious sinners, do so because they, themselves, are promiscuous, greedy miscreants, but not bad enough for Hell. It’s the old “I’m not as bad as the other guy” reasoning, or God will somehow understand in the end that we were pretty good people, and based on our overall behavior he should let us into Heaven.

Then there’s the late John Lennon’s lyrics: “Imagine there’s no Heaven / It’s easy if you try / No Hell below us / Above us only sky.” Lennon’s musings of 37 years ago are yet contemporary.

“Even those who retain some vague idea of heavenly bliss beyond this life are slow to acknowledge the reality of final judgment and condemnation. Modern men and women live with the mindset that there is no Heaven, no Hell, and therefore no guilt.” David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said in a 2004 address at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

TRONG>Why so much error?
Steve Lemke, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary provost, said it’s because there’s “less preaching now about Heaven and Hell than in previous eras,” and that trend is due to “the upward social mobility of Southern Baptists.”

Lemke said Southern Baptists were mostly rural, small-town folks until the 1950s, with many poor people whose only respite from hardscrabble was Heaven. “So we lived with hope and our eyes on the skies, awaiting Christ’s return,” Lemke said.

But with increased education and income, Southern Baptists inhabit suburbia with “a fairly comfortable lifestyle” and a “focus on coping in this world. We don’t give nearly the attention that we should to eternity. Popular preaching focuses on how to have a better marriage, better relationships and how to cope with struggles,” Lemke noted. “It is important that we address these topics in preaching and teaching, of course, but not to the neglect of a focus on eternity. By this very focus on meeting needs in this world?to the neglect of preaching on Heaven and Hell?we are showing by our actions that this world is more significant than the world to come.”

Malcolm Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary, said there are two causes for the neglect of preaching on matters of eternity, and “both of them reflect the power of contemporary culture to distort the message once-for-all given to the saints.”

“First, our people and pastors are increasingly interested in making Heaven here on Earth. The modern pursuit of material wealth and comfort, alongside the overarching desire to avoid pain or physical problems of any type, is a longstanding and pervasive influence in our culture. Rather than challenging such a mindset, some of us quietly cave into the demand for sermons to consider primarily mundane matters,” Yarnell said.

“Second, the subject of Hell is not exactly the most comfortable subject to address. Postmodernism with its attendant religious inclusivism and aversion to judgment is the dominant outlook of our cultural elite, especially in the media; to condemn non-Christians to an eternity in Hell is considered impolite, even rude.”

TRONG>The church under secular influence
“I think some in our churches are influenced by pop notions of Heaven, with thoughts of a fantasy world filled with humans who have become angels,” said David Nelson, theology professor and academic vice president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

“Certainly, where the doctrine of Hell is deemphasized, there’s a good chance that this is influenced by the popular rejection, which is more broadly a rejection of the very notion of evil. There is a certain psychological comfort that accompanies one’s forgetfulness about evil and Hell, but of course we know that it’s not really a comfort at all, but is rather a deadly doctrinal amnesia.”

TRONG>Historical and contemporary perspective
“In the 1950s of my childhood,” Coppenger added, “it was easier to preach on Hell because there was more widespread conviction that the Bible was true. Or perhaps it worked the other way around: There was greater respect for the Bible because ministers preached the whole counsel of God, including the reality of Hell, without embarrassment, mumbling, or marketing spin.”

Coppenger said people think about the afterlife, but they need to hear the truth in the midst of the eschatological blather espoused by the New Age movement, Mormonism, universalism, and other false religions.

“Unregenerate cultural elites are masters at coining expressions designed to ridicule or marginalize biblical teaching, and unfortunately,” Coppenger said, “many church members are eager to use these expressions to gain credibility with secularists. Just as ‘homophobia’ is used to denigrate legitimate opposition to the homosexual agenda, ‘pie in the sky’ pictures Heaven as the laughable dream of weak sisters on earth, and ‘Hellfire and brimstone’ is applied to all preaching on Hell, making it seem hateful and wild-eyed. Such stereotypes sting, and the church has often muffled its prophetic voice to escape such hurtful labels.

“Taking our cue from the stylistic churches, we might think that emotional authenticity, artistic prowess, relational intensity, and cultural winsomeness are just the ticket,” Coppenger said. “We’re spending a lot of time on this-w

Scholars: Hell place of conscious suffering

What awaits the penitent and impenitent soul upon arrival in eternity?

Being in the presence of their Lord, Jesus Christ, and being reunited with loved ones who have gone on before them would seem reward enough for Christians. But what is in store for those who die without confessing Christ?

Scripture says there are only two eternal destinations for humanity. A few books about the Christian’s eternal home line bookstore shelves, providing insight on the joy to come. And, conversely, for almost 700 years “The Inferno,” a picturesque epic poem by Alighieri Dante, has stirred revulsion and fear in the hearts of those who ponder the fate of the damned.

Philosophers and theologians through the ages have tried to draw from Scripture and extra-biblical texts a clear understanding of the rewards of Heaven and the punishments of Hell. What are the treasures in Heaven? To what degree of punishment are the lost tormented? Are the experiences proportionate to the lives lived?

Contemporary evangelical theologians warn against reading into Scripture what is not there with regard to the experiences one will have in either destiny. Ken Keathley, professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “The Bible gives us sufficient revelation, not exhaustive revelation.”

Keathley and John Laing, assistant professor of theology and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Havard School in Houston, agree that the human soul begins its eternal trek at the death of the earthly body. Throughout the Old Testament and carried on into the New Testament are accounts of the departed existing in Sheol (OT) and in Hades (NT). The account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 illustrate the fate of the departed.

“The New Testament unambiguously teaches that the saints who have died in this present age are in Heaven with the Lord,” Keathley said, citing Revelation 6:9-10. “As for the unsaved, Jesus states four
times that the rich man experienced ‘torment.’ “

It is the imagery of the torment of Hell and the solace of Heaven that has stirred many a debate.
Discussions of Heaven, within a biblical context, provide little cause for rancor. But the interpretation of Hell?even questioning its existence?has been a source of contention even among Christians. Both professors stated that much of the debate regarding Hell is rooted in people’s revulsion at the concept of eternal torment created by God. But, fundamentally, they said, it is rooted in a lack of comprehension regarding the righteousness of God and the serious nature of sin.

The Baptist Faith and Message, in the article on Last Things, states: “God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

Even this text leaves the interpretation of Heaven and Hell open for discussion, but, Laing added, “It is important to note, while the Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed and Southern Baptists can disagree with its contents, it is still reflective of what the majority of Southern Baptists?and I would argue, Baptists around the world?believe.”

So what are we to believe about the degrees of rewards and punishments? Keathley noted that the existence of a judgment implies an accounting for how lives were lived. With regard to Heaven, both men said the Christian should never be satisfied with “just getting in.”

Keathley said, “Salvation is not merely exemption from punishment, but the restoration of a right relationship with God. What person who has experienced salvation in the fullest sense of the word would care only about ‘just getting in?'”

Laing added, “There are many reasons to do good during this life beyond the rewards [and] punishments of eternity.”

But he said Christians should be mindful not to place too much emphasis on “storing up treasures in Heaven” as outlined in Matthew 6. He has been critical of sermons or lessons that “place an inordinate amount of emphasis on what the individual gets out of being a Christian.”

He said, “This, in my thinking, can try to motivate persons to deny themselves and take up their crosses daily by appealing to their selfish motives and inclinations, which is self-defeating.”

But, Laing added, God does use rewards as a motivator. It is finding the balance between doing good deeds for God or for God’s rewards that is significant.

Keathley added, “Working for the glory of God and for his commendation are not mutually exclusive motivations.”

Citing 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Keathley said the value of a Christian’s work will be tested by fire.
“[Paul] likens this judging process to a fire, and only that which is of eternal value will survive. This life is a springboard to eternity, and our faithfulness, or lack thereof, will have everlasting repercussions.”

Neither Keathley nor Laing could state what the specific rewards of Heaven will be for the believers because the Bible is not clear on the matter. They said Scripture seems to indicate rewards will not be of a material nature but, instead, a distribution of responsibilities. Noting Matthew 25:20-23, Keathley said, “Certain passages indicate that a Christians’ role in the coming kingdom is determined in no small part by his or her faithful obedience in this life.”

Laing said because the Christians’ eternal existence will be a terrestrial one in the New Jerusalem on the New Earth, “it seems that at least some Christians will have leadership roles in the eternal state.” He said he saw no reason to interpret Luke 19:11-27 as metaphorical.

Does Heaven hold special rewards for those who have experienced exceptional pain and suffering on Earth? Laing said the Bible does hint at special rewards for those who are martyred for their faith. Keathley said there doesn’t seem to a one-to-one correspondence to rewards and suffering (for example, a reward for a child who dies from a painful, debilitating illness). But, he added, Paul reminded the Romans that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

It is the doctrine of Hell that spawns the most heated debate amongst theologians. Biblical interpretations?from both literal and metaphorical points of view?have created doctrines that at best are questionable or at worst heretical.

There are basically four views, from the biblical perspective, of Hell. What has been the traditional, or sometimes referred to as the “literal,” view since the time of Christ is that Hell is a place of conscious, physical, eternal torment. This is the view held by most Southern Baptists.

The metaphorical view holds that Hell is an eternal place of conscious torment but the language the New Testament describing the nature of the punishment is symbolic of a different, albeit equally agonizing, experience. In “Four Views of Hell” (a book in “The Counterpoint” series, published by Zondervan), William Crockett contends, “The Bible does not support a literal view of a burning abyss. Hellfire and brimstone are not literal depictions of Hell’s furnishings, but figurative expressions warning the wicked of impending doom.”

Crockett goes on to note a number of theologians who questioned the literal view of Hell, including C.S. Lewis, John Calvin, Martin Luther and Billy Graham.

The fire and burning which is described in Hell, in the metaphorical sense, is the burning associated wit

Baptist professors featured in new film

DALLAS?Two professors with ties to Baptist higher education are featured in an upcoming big-screen documentary that aims to expose the scientific establishment’s scorn toward academics who question Darwinian evolution.

“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” is scheduled for theaters in April and stars comedic actor and conservative activist Ben Stein as he travels the world interviewing intelligent design (ID) proponents whose careers have been threatened, as well as prominent neo-Darwinists who hold ID in contempt, including Richard Dawkins, author of the best-selling book “The God Delusion.”

A rough cut of the film, screened Jan. 10 in Dallas, featured interviews with William Dembski, a research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leading ID proponent whose books include “The Design Inference” and “No Free Lunch,” and Robert Marks, who holds the title of distinguished professor of engineering at Baylor University.

Marks is a co-laborer of Dembski’s whose ID research raised the ire of Baylor’s administration last year.

Dembski’s trials at Baylor from 1999-2005 are not documented in the film?among other things, he drew the wrath of the science, philosophy and religion departments early in his tenure there when it was learned that he was heading up an ID think tank on campus?but Dembski appears several times on screen as an ID apologist.

Dembski told the Southern Baptist TEXAN that those who most need to see the movie are “parents of children in high school or college, as well as those children themselves, who may think that the biological sciences are a dispassionate search for truth about life but many of whose practitioners see biology, especially evolutionary biology, as an ideological weapon to destroy faith in God.”

Marks appears in the film as one of the “expelled” academics. Although he remains at Baylor as a tenured professor, Baylor officials last year forced Marks to return grant money it received related to ID research and forced his ID research website to an off-campus server.

Marks appears in the movie with Stein near the Brazos River in Waco. Stein interviewed Marks’ engineering dean, Ben Kelley, on film, but attempts to interview Baylor President John Lilley and other administration officials failed.

Marks said of the film: “I sat there and I laughed. I laughed because I have seen this atheistic, big-science mafia squad come out and kill the careers of many of my friends. Guillermo Gonzalez, who I knew at the University of Washington. Richard von Sternberg, who I recently met. And to see their motivation and goals so clearly exposed in a Ben Stein sort of dry humor was incredible. I really, really enjoyed the movie. I think it is going to have an enormous impact. I hope it does.”

Logan Craft, co-executive producer of the film and chairman of the film’s production company, Premise Media, told the TEXAN that though most of the expelled academics in the film are affiliated with secular institutions, he is not surprised that ID is controversial at schools with religious roots.

“To me, the long history of religiously founded universities and colleges in the United States is typically one of the ultimate capturing of the colleges and universities by the progressive secularists. I think you see that at Baylor partly. You see that at SMU almost entirely.” Craft commented.

“What we see here is a struggle for a religiously founded university to maintain its credibility to the larger academic world and frequently that has come by simply being co-opted by whatever the zeitgeist of the day is, in this case, this commitment to scientific materialism,” Craft said.

One of the first interviews in the film is with Richard von Sternberg, a research associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington. With two Ph.D.s in biology, von Sternberg’s academic credentials were unquestioned until he allowed the publication of a peer-reviewed article questioning neo-Darwinism to appear in a Smithsonian-related biology journal he edited.

An investigation into von Sternberg’s treatment at the Smithsonian after the article appeared by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) found that he was subjected to a “hostile” work environment, even to the point of Smithsonian officials peering into his religious and political affiliations and scouring his library records for infractions.

But Craft said perhaps the most egregious example of persecution against an ID proponent is that of Guillermo Gonzalez, a highly lauded astronomer who is also featured in “Expelled.”

Even though Gonzalez has been credited with discovering two planets and making other notable contributions in his field, Iowa State University denied him tenure last year after months of controversy surrounding his co-writing of the book “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery.” After the book’s publication, 120 Iowa State University professors signed a statement published in the ISU student-run newspaper denouncing intelligent design.

Craft said he believes the modern icons Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud have been rightly relegated to non-iconic status, with Charles Darwin trailing closely behind as the last standing icon of modernity.
“And nobody has a credible theory, scientifically, of how life originated. No one. The Darwinists admit it on the phone.”

At one point in the film, Stein nudges Dawkins, the well-known Oxford evolutionary biologist, into offering a guess that perhaps some unknown intelligence planted the first seeds of life in our galaxy, but Dawkins quickly insisted that such intelligence would necessarily have needed to arise from Darwinian processes.

Stein, an economist, actor and conservative commentator whose previous work ranges from a memorable role in the 1980s hit movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to speechwriter for presidents Nixon and Ford, was recruited to the film after Premise Media created a template for its lead character: “a person, first of all, who wasn’t easily identified as overtly Christian or overtly religious and also someone who had a comic element to their personality or their repertoire, but also an intellectual,” Craft explained.

“That kind of limits the field,” Craft remarked. “There aren’t that many of those folks out there.

“Once Ben became acquainted with what we were doing, he got excited because he began to see a connection between our exploration and sanctity of life issues. He’s a very, very strong pro-life advocate. He has a high view of human dignity and human sanctity. And he saw a connection between what we were exploring, and sanctity of life issues and the historical elements of the eugenics movement, and especially as a Jewish person, the eugenics movement as it morphed into the Nazi racial cleansing laws.”

Craft added, “I think the public, once they understand more and more what Darwinian evolution represents, I think they will reject that and move against it.”

“Expelled” has received endorsements from evangelical Christian leaders such as J.I. Packer, Chuck Colson and James Dobson. Craft said Premise Media would be screening the film for some Southern Baptists leaders in Houston and Louisville, Ky., soon. A trailer of the movie is accessible online at

To read transcripts of the TEXAN’s interviews with Logan Craft of Premise Media and Robert Marks, one of the professors interviewed in the film, visit or Baptist Press reported on Marks’ case in an article last fall, accessible online at

Music leaders: Teach eternity with songs

If you heard about a church that totally ignored the subjects of Heaven and Hell in its preaching, what would you think of that congregation?

Most of us would think the church was shirking its responsibility to declare the entire Word of God and demand a correction. Yet many of us do not seem to mind that the music in hundreds of churches makes the same mistake week after week?failing to offer substantive teachings on eternity.

According to one group of Southern Baptist music experts, the lack of singing about eternity ought to bother us and drive us to use songs as opportunities to teach the full counsel of God.

Church music should declare “both the breadth of Bible knowledge and the depth of Bible knowledge,” Carl Stam, associate professor of church music and worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and minister of music at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., told the TEXAN. “We want to teach (with our worship songs). It’s not the kind of teaching that does away with teaching and preaching, but it’s the kind of teaching that happens when we sing and pray faithfully.”

A recent study by Ed Steele, assistant professor of music at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell College, attempted to quantify the lack of teaching about eternity in many modern worship songs. Steele conducted a comparative study of the 1991 edition of the “Baptist Hymnal” and two of the most popular collections of contemporary worship songs on the market?Word’s “Songs for Praise and Worship” and Maranatha’s “Praise Hymns and Choruses.”

Steele found that the “Baptist Hymnal” had approximately three times as many songs on eternal life, twice as many songs on Heaven and twice as many songs on the return of Christ as the nearest bestselling book of contemporary choruses. While choruses express many biblical thoughts about worshipping God, he said churches must not assume they are getting a balanced diet of biblical theology when they use the most popular chorus books.

Churches need “careful selection of relevant texts that do not compromise biblical theology,” Steele wrote in a lecture titled “Feast and Famine: Doctrinal Topics Addressed in Published Collections of Contemporary Choruses.”

Jerry Fleming, minister of music and senior adults at First Baptist Church in Wills Point, said churches do not need to abandon contemporary worship choruses, but they would do well not to ignore older hymns. He cited several hymns as teaching the doctrine of Heaven particularly well?”When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” “When We All Get to Heaven,” “Face to Face with Christ, My Savior” and “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” among others.

“One of the reasons that I enjoy and use hymns is that they do teach doctrine,” Fleming said. “There may come a time when choruses fall into this category too, but for now, it is hymns that seem to do a better job of teaching doctrine. Not all, of course, but many.”

Many times a solo can be the most effective musical tool for teaching about Heaven, he said, noting that “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried ‘Holy'” and “Wish You Were Here” are among his favorites.

“Music should do more than just prepare people for a sermon in which they are taught doctrine,”
Fleming said. “Sometimes I will stop before a verse and just read the verse to help us focus on what it says about Heaven or some other distinctive doctrine. Sometimes I let the choir or a soloist sing a verse for the same reason.”

Will Langstaff, pastor of Servant House in Lewisville, said contemporary worship songs can also do an excellent job of teaching about Heaven. He cited “I Can Only Imagine” and “The Days of Elijah” as examples of worship songs teaching about Heaven.

While finding songs about Hell is more difficult, Stam offered several suggestions. A collection of modern hymns written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend provides more than a dozen hymns that speak biblically on eternal life, he said, including hymns mentioning Hell. Additionally, hymns written during the era of the Great Awakening in the 1700s tend to teach biblical doctrine about eternal life, Stam said. Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley and William Cowper are three hymn writers from the 18th century whose works are helpful today, Stam said.

Stam added that while some churches shy away from singing about Hell, celebrating God’s eternal damnation of Satan and his just judgment against sin should be a part of Christian worship. Both the modern hymns by Getty and Townend and the Great Awakening hymns depict the justness of God’s judgment, he said.

Watts wrote in a hymn, for example, “But vengeance and damnation lies on rebels who refuse the grace; Who God’s eternal Son despise, The hottest Hell shall be their place.” More than 20 Getty hymns speak about Heaven or Hell.

Stam cautioned that churches should not sing every song that speaks of eternal life. A certain “breed of gospel hymnody” tends to trivialize the glory of God in Heaven and depict judgment too lightly, he said.

“Look for texts that are substantive in their views on what Heaven is like for the believer and on the judgment of God,” Stam said.

Ultimately Stam, Fleming and Steele agree that whether a church uses contemporary songs or traditional songs is not the important issue. Rather, the important issue is that congregations sing songs that match the teaching of the Bible both in their tone and their content.

“Can these new texts be used in worship?” Steele asked. “The fact is they already are. Nevertheless their use should not be without filters. The first filter must be a theological one.”

Disaster relief plans spring training

In 2007, SBTC disaster relief volunteers responded to 13 disasters, serving in Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, California, and internationally in Lebanon and Greece through feeding, cleanup and recovery, chaplaincy, communications, operations, showers, and child care.

Combined, the SBTC DR volunteers worked 1,162 volunteer days, prepared 39,169 meals and registered 23 salvation decisions.

In 2008, disaster relief training sessions are scheduled throughout the spring. The dates are as follows:
April 18: Phase 1 training, Great Hills Baptist Church, Austin; March 1: Phase 1 training, First Baptist Church, Leonard; May 17: Phase 1 training, First Baptist Church, Iowa Park; April 7-12: Phase 2 training, Pineywoods Baptist Encampment, Woodlake, Trinity County.

Registration available online at For more information, call Amber Birmes at 877-953-7282 or e-mail

Heaven doesn’t fit stereotypes

The popular notion of the Sweet By and By is often one of clouds and pain-free bliss and not much else except for the occasional angel floating by with a harp. If one’s idea of eternity is a happy pill, such an image might be appealing.

Author Randy Alcorn, in his bestselling book “Heaven,” illustrates contemporary Christianity’s failure to teach on eternal life with any usefulness by quoting a pastor who admitted: “I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp ? it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than Hell. I’d rather be annihilated than spend eternity in a place like that.”

More than one music leader has suggested, based on Bible passages that speak of music, that a believer’s eternity will be a never-ending sing-along around Heaven’s proverbial piano.

Most people enjoy good music and everyone wants bliss, but are these accurate depictions?

Revelation 21:1-8 describes a renewed creation at the end of time this way:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

“Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: ‘Look! God’s dwelling is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.’

“Then the One seated on the throne said, ‘Look! I am making everything new.’ He also said, ‘Write, because these words are faithful and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the thirsty from the spring of living water as a gift.

The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars?their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (HCSB).'”

Wayne Grudem, a research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary, writes in his popular “Systematic Theology” textbook: “When referring to this place, Christians often talk about living with God ‘in heaven’ forever. But in fact the biblical teaching is richer than that: it tells us that there will be new heavens and a new earth?an entirely renewed creation?and we will live with God there.”

Grudem emphasizes that Heaven is a physical place, not just a state of being, contrary to some other commentators whom Grudem alleges are hesitant to emphasize the physicality of the believer’s eternal destination.

Grudem notes that Heaven refers to two distinct places: the abode of believers who die in the present world and immediately join with God in a place that Scripture calls Heaven, and the New Earth that will include all the redeemed of all the ages after God completes his saving work.

“In fact, heaven may be defined as follows: Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless,” Grudem writes.

David P. Nelson, professor of theology and academic vice president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said: “Unlike the notion of some that we will float around in the age to come as disembodied beings, the Scriptures are clear about the sheer ‘bodilyness’ of eternal life. Paul goes to great lengths in 1 Corinthians 15 to explain this point. And this has significant implications for the manner in which we use our bodies in this life?we were bought with a price, so we must glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20), we must present out bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1).”

“We’re handicapped when it comes to Heaven,” said John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, who was preparing to preach on the topic as this story was being written. “We don’t know what it is like! Islam has a ‘heaven’ with each martyr being nurtured by 72 virgins. The Hindu heaven is ‘Nirvana’ or endless peace and rest. Mormons say heaven is a place of marriage and family activity.

But for Christians, well, we get the angel-on-a-cloud-with-a-harp thing. Or even worse for some?24 hours a day, seven days a week in a glorified church service. No wonder we hold off as long as we can. God, however, reveals tangible and vivid details of what we will experience, explore and enjoy in Heaven. It defies comparison with anything you’ve ever known, and it is revealed in living detail in the Word.”

So what will the perfected bodies on the New Earth be like?

Wayne Martindale, in his 2005 book “Beyond the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on Heaven & Hell,” supposes: “We find the best clue available in Jesus’ resurrected body. On the one hand, Jesus appears suddenly in a room with locked doors and ultimately floats into Heaven. On the other, Jesus takes pains to calm this fear for his followers: He eats fish, breaks bread, and converses in audible language that uses ‘normal’ bodily functions. He was recognized by his disciples as the Jesus who had been with them over miles of dusty road. He was so substantial that he had to admonish Mary Magdalene to let go. Thomas was invited to touch his wounds. The resurrection body of Jesus, like the new body he promises to bestow on us, has amazing capabilities. It is not an issue of giving up the things about our present bodies we know and love and that God in Christ created good. It is more like getting a new model with expanded capabilities that we will assuredly like.”

But before God creates the New Earth, the souls of believers who die “go immediately into the presence of God with rejoicing” and will be reunited with their resurrected bodies when Christ returns, as noted in 1 Thessalonians 4:14.

Some theologians have called the place of believers prior to the redemption of creation the “intermediate Heaven” or the “intermediate state,” though Alcorn emphasizes that Heaven in its intermediate state will change.

“The present Heaven is a temporary lodging, a waiting place until the return of Christ and our bodily resurrection,” Alcorn writes. “The eternal Heaven, the New Earth, is our true home, the place where we will live forever with our Lord and each other. The great redemptive promises of God will find their fulfillment on the New Earth, not in the intermediate Heaven.”

Sermons that explicitly describe Heaven are rare. Books are rare too, with Alcorn’s book and a handful of others the exceptions. “Heaven” borrows from other Christian authors and theologians and years of Alcorn’s own research to formulate a picture of Heaven where believers retain their unique personalities, and unblemished by sin with regenerated bodies in their purest form, they engage their talents in his service. Alcorn quotes several Christian thinkers who believe the redeemed are destined to have 20- or 30-something bodies and minds?whatever the optimum age is.

In short, Alcorn joins many other Christian writers who have proposed that believers will enjoy a re-created Earth that recovers what was lost in Eden and then some, with the New Earth continuing on in advancements made in the present Earth through the labor of believers.

That includes eating real food, resting, working at jobs?perhaps continuing on in pursuits we love or learning new ones?and fellowship with old friends and new ones in a physical world with real trees, flowers, and structures. In short, the best world one could imagine.

Alcorn also surm</ti

New project helps churches make disciples

Helping churches become more effective in winning people to Christ and in discipling the people they win are the purposes of a new initiative of the SBTC evangelism team. Empower Evangelism Strategy Consultations are designed to assist churches in developing approaches, ideas, and plans for reaching their communities with the gospel.

“The most effective evangelistic churches in Texas keep evangelism at the forefront of virtually everything they do,” said SBTC Ministry Strategist Jim Gatliff, who coordinates the Empower consultation project. “We look at the many things that make the main thing happen.”

Empower Consultations are free of charge to any SBTC church.

“For the investment of a few hours, a pastor and his church can get clearer insight into the community, a better awareness of the church’s needs and opportunities, some dynamite evangelistic ideas, and a plan that will really work,” Gatliff said.

Gatliff said more than 13 million people in Texas are spiritually lost and almost 45 percent of the 24 million people in the Lone Star State are not claimed by any church. The number of adults not attending church has more than doubled in the last 15 years.

“The huge majority of Baptist churches today, however, do not have healthy and effective approaches to winning people to Christ,” said Gatliff, citing a recent study conducted by the Landrum Leavell Center at New Orleans Seminary that found 89 percent of Southern Baptist churches are not experiencing healthy evangelistic growth. “Lost people are everywhere, but Southern Baptists have been flat-lining on baptisms for almost 50 years.”

“Most would agree that we are falling behind in reaching the growing population of Texas,” said Don Cass, SBTC director of evangelism. “Vance Havner once stated, ‘The great tragedy today is that the situation is desperate, but the saints are not.’ Desperate situations move us to take desperate measures.”

“Never has there been a greater need for intentional evangelism,” Cass said. “Intentional evangelism requires an intentional plan. It is impossible for the church to take on the likeness of our Heavenly Father and not plan. From the foundation of the world, God planned our redemption. Jesus came to fulfill the Father’s plan, ‘to seek and save those who are lost.’ Show me a church that is serious about reaching the lost and I will show you a church and pastor with a visionary plan to win their area of influence to the Savior.”

“I found that time spent with Jim Gatliff was rewarding,” said Charles Grasty, pastor of First Baptist Church of Neches. “He was well informed, shared great ‘do-able’ ideas and helped by bringing a demographic of our area. He listened to Kevin Simmons, our minister to students, as much as he talked. He was determined to find our spiritual blood pressure. He opened our eyes to some of the pitfalls we were facing, the holes in our bucket and prioritized ideas to plug the holes.”

Empower Evangelism Consultations are designed to help pastors and their churches better see and understand their mission field, discover methods that maximize the evangelistic impact of their churches, and fully mobilize their people for a great harvest.

“We feel that there is a great opportunity for many SBTC churches to rise to a new level of evangelistic effectiveness and kingdom impact,” Gatliff said.

“Mounds of research have documented what effective evangelistic churches do to reach people. These same things are also demonstrated in the pages of the New Testament. Churches, however, must do them in the Holy Spirit’s power,” Gatliff said. “Embedded in every aspect of our approach is a call to SBTC churches to seek the Lord and to experience spiritual renewal. Without him we can do absolutely nothing.”

The SBTC’s Empower Consultations focus on eight key dynamics that stimulate and support the evangelistic effectiveness of a church: environment, emphasis, events, example, enlistment, equipping, empowerment, and engagement.

“The first four dynamics emphasize the creation of an evangelistic atmosphere in a church. The latter four center on the mobilization of church members to evangelize the community,” Gatliff said.

The simple Empower Consultation process begins with a survey completed by the pastor and staff to indicate the strengths, needs, and opportunities of the church related to each of the eight key dynamics.
“The survey helps us see, for example, how evangelistic the Sunday School program is, what kind of evangelistic examples are being set by leaders of the church, and what the church is doing to equip its members to share their faith,” Gatliff said.

Next, an SBTC evangelism consultant will meet with the pastor, and anyone else he wants to include, for an on-site consultation.

“We look at the church’s current evangelism strategies and go over key demographics regarding the church’s mission field. We also suggest ways the church can continually improve its evangelistic impact,” Gatliff said. “Sometimes pastors are aware of some of the demographic and psychographic data regarding their community, but they don’t fully understand what it all means or what to do reach different groups in their mission field.”

“We bring to any church another pair of ‘evangelism eyes’ and a fresh set of proven-yet-innovative ideas for reaching people.”

SBTC churches may schedule an Empower Evangelism Strategy Consultation by contacting Jim Gatliff at 817-552-2500 or sending an e-mail to

The sting of death

“I’m not scared of dyin,’
and I don’t really care.
If it’s peace you find in dyin,’
well then let the time be near.”
“When I Die,” Blood, Sweat, and Tears, 1969.

There’s the rub. Is it peace you find in dying, or something more? Our sometimes bluff attitude towards death makes too little of its inevitability and finality. Death is cause for healthy fear and respect.

The sting of death is sin, we’re told in 1 Corinthians 15:56. Sin is the first cause of death and the reason that death is as ubiquitous as sin. As such we dread it rightly. Those outside of Christ dread it because their own faith leaves them uncertain as to their own eternal state before the god they worship.
Many of those know in their own hearts that they are unprepared to meet the God they have denied their whole lives. Death for them is an accountability for a life lived in godlessness. In the face of that, only fictional characters and healthy young people remain relatively fearless.

For Christians, the matter is still monumental. While we can have confidence in our eternal life, much of what will occur after death is unknown to us. Additionally, the process of dying is often fearsome. The pain and decline of even the natural aging and dying process shows the consequences of sin in gritty and stark ways. None of it is for wimps.

We must say, though, that death and dying is generally a good news/bad news thing for mankind. The good news is that our experience of physical mortality is of limited duration. The bad news, as we’ve said, is that we will answer for what we do. Let me speak of them each in more detail.

Physical death is a gift from God when you consider that the alternative is eternal life in a fallen and declining condition. Corrupt man collects a lot of bumps and bruises over the course of a normal life.
Most bodies go into the ground with missing organs (a kidney here, a spleen there), scars, degraded joints, and reconstructed teeth. By late middle age, we begin to think of how much longer we need something to work before we take extraordinary measures to restore its youthful perfection.

Imagine the collection of scuffs and wounds we would collect if we lived another hundred or thousand years. It’s not a pretty thought. Those who dream of immortality want to fix their own development at 30 or some other youthful point in life. That’s piling unreasonable on top of impossible. I honestly believe that God banned Adam and Eve from the garden to protect them from a fallen and corrupting immortality. He was punishing them, yes, but also showing a deeper mercy so that they would have hope of freedom from their new mortality.

I’ve attended more than a few funerals where the joy of the departed person’s new life far exceeded the sense of loss. This friend had a degenerative nerve disease, this grandfather crippling respiratory problems, that grandmother the effects of multiple strokes?all made new after their souls were freed from their malfunctioning bodies. Christians have a comfort in not only the hope of Heaven but also in the best kind of healing for someone they love.

The bad news is that most people miss both the comfort and the hope. Health concerns aside, after a life lived on a man’s own terms, things get so labyrinthine as to be incomprehensible, and unpleasant.
Corruption and rebellion conspire together to make this life untenable. And yet, we’re foolish to believe eternal life is in no way connected to our mortal one. Lost men find themselves with one foot on a rotting, collapsing dock and the other on a burning boat. Death becomes a terrible watershed whether a man has made a conscious decision against God or just in favor of everything ungodly.

You’ve heard the expression “whistling past the graveyard” to describe someone who feigns unconcern regarding something he truly fears. The song I quoted at the top is as example of that. So was Sinatra’s, “now, the end is near and I face the final curtain ? I did it my way,” and “whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong, whether I find a place in the world or never belong, I’ve gotta be me, I’ve gotta be free.” I heard those two songs at a funeral, by the way. It’s delusion, bravado.

To those lost men I say “Yes, fear death!” Fear the Lord who judges the living and the dead. You will certainly fear him when you face him. It’s better to face him now.

To you Christians who read this, listen to a culture that speaks foolishly of ultimate things. Watch those who twitch and fidget at Grandma’s funeral. The solution to their fear is nothing but the gospel we bear. Remember that we will all die in terror or bright anticipation of the God we will all meet.

It is a fine thing that we examine the doctrine of man’s eternal state. Our churches don’t give as much attention to that subject as does the Bible.

A look at Heaven will salt our imaginations so that we more earnestly seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Learning about Hell will fill our hearts with gratitude for our great salvation. It should also make us pity those for whom the despair of this life is only a foretaste of their eternal state. How can we, believing what we say we believe, be uncaring about the fate of our neighbors?

I believe it’s all real. Yes, Heaven and Hell are a state wherein we are in the presence of or separated from God. That state of existence begins here in small ways that seem very big to our sensibilities. But they are also real places where resurrected bodies will dwell for eternity. These bodies have substance, as Jesus’ body did, and likely will have some ability to sensually perceive the experience of their surrounding. In other words, we will be able to feel pleasure and pain in our resurrected bodies.

As great as that sounds to those of us who are bound for glory, it is proportionally bad for those who are not. The real torture of Hell and pleasure of Heaven will be spiritual but not merely so. It is often said that Heaven will be filled with unimaginable joy and comfort. Our creative God, the author of beauty and love, has prepared a place that perfectly reflects his nature. We believe that and can go on about the revealed and imagined hope of Heaven.

The Bible uses burning to describe the torture of Hell. I believe this conveys the worst kind of pain the human body can experience. How much more serious could this warning be to us all? Do we believe in Hell as literally as we believe in Heaven? In the Bible, the reality of condemnation and reward are inseparable. Our convictions regarding one should not differ in degree with our convictions about the other.

Our Savior has taken the sting out of death for us. Our bodies will die but our souls and resurrected bodies will forever experience the completeness of life. For most of our neighbors, the sting is still in. They grieve without hope; they whistle and sing past the graveyard. I believe this is something about which God cares very much. So must we. Even the comfort we receive in this life is for God’s purpose and his glory.

Love leads us to tell despite society’s apathy

The theme of the 2008 Empower Evangelism Conference, “When Time Is No More,” points us toward eternity. The Bible plainly tells us there is an eternity future. Recently, a Southern Baptist Convention agency released a study that indicated that people are not as concerned about where they are going when they die. Obviously, people don’t think about the sweet by and by much. Are we out of step when we talk about Heaven and Hell?

I vividly remember the night that God the Holy Spirit convicted me of lostness. Without question, I knew I was going to Hell without Jesus. He saved me and gave me the assurance of Heaven. I have been on the sweet journey to Heaven for almost 38 years. Praise the Lord!

My first pastorate was an incredible experience. As a 21-year-old I got to baptize over 100 people. In every pastorate, I did everything I could to help my church reach people for Christ. When I preached revival meetings and evangelistic services, my appeal was always to the lost. As a director of missions, my desire was to assist the churches reach the local area by saturation evangelism and church planting. When I came to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the churches embraced a vision of “Reaching Texas and Touching the World.”

There are all types of evangelistic tools. Servant evangelism opens doors to developing relationships. Block parties work in neighborhoods and communities. Friendship evangelism is a very effective method. Technology makes it possible to witness through a website like Affinity evangelism appeals to specific cultural segments. All of these are good. I believe we should put as many hooks in the water as possible to catch people for Jesus.

I guess what concerns me is that with all the approaches, some may leave out the hard realities of Heaven and Hell. We have all heard how the message never changes but the methods do. I fear some methods have changed the message.

When we talk about how Jesus can make your life better but never tell them he will take you to Heaven, we change the message. When we encourage people to “let Jesus help you with life’s difficulties” and fail to point out there is a place of eternal separation called Hell, we have changed the message. When we talk about the “un-churched” and never mention the “lost,” we have changed the message.

In our politically correct culture it has become bad form to mention Heaven and Hell. Why talk about it anyway? The pollsters tell us people aren’t interested. I submit to you that as followers of Jesus Christ it is incumbent upon us to speak to people about where they will spend eternity whether they are concerned about it or not. Let’s rely upon God the Holy Spirit to convict them and convert them just like he did me so many years ago.

May God bless you as you faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Patterson’s attorney again moves to dismiss Klouda case

FORT WORTH — A Fort Worth attorney representing Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson filed two motions in U.S. district court Jan. 23 seeking dismissal of a former professor’s wrongful termination suit and also limiting discovery until a ruling is made on this latest effort.

Attorneys for the seminary, Roland K. Johnson and Shannan E. Goss also filed a motion for a summary judgment, and a brief in support of that motion. A summary judgment contends that all necessary factual issues are settled or so one-sided they need not be tried.

The motions by attorney J. Shelby Sharpe seek dismissal of a lawsuit in the alleged wrongful termination of Sheri Klouda, former professor of Hebrew at the seminary’s school of theology. The other seeks to limit discovery in the original case until a ruling on the dismissal is forthcoming. The 2007 lawsuit charged Southwestern and Patterson with breach of contract, fraud and defamation, and sought unspecified damages because Klouda was terminated from her position.

Klouda later alleged she was denied tenure, and that her teaching contract was not renewed because she is a woman. Klouda’s attorney amended the suit to include discrimination. The additional complaint necessitated a second motion to dismiss since the original complaint was changed.

Patterson told Baptist Press last March that the seminary does not employ women to teach men, with a desire to “model” the practice of the local church as outlined in Scripture.” The Baptist Faith and Message, adopted by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, states that the role of senior pastor in local churches should be held by men. Patterson, according to the suit, believes that same standard applies to the seminary’s School of Theology.

Sharpe’s motion to dismiss counters the suit, essentially saying that the court has no jurisdiction in such an ecclesiastical matter.

The motion to dismiss asks: “Since all claims set out in [Klouda’s] second amended complaint are predicated on an ecclesiastical decision not to continue [Klouda’s] employment as a member of the faculty of the School of Theology and the communications of the theological reasons for the decision in response to plaintiff’s public statement about the employment decision, are all of these claims in the “realm where the Constitution forbids” the “federal judiciary” to “tread” requiring dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction?

The Jan. 23 motion also states: “The judicial admissions in the amended complaint and the admissions in two prior complaints along with the accompanying evidence establish that all of [Klouda’s] claims against the Seminary and its president pertain to matters of ecclesiastical administration and government making them peculiarly ecclesiastical in nature and thereby placing them outside the subject-matter jurisdiction of any civil court based on the longstanding doctrine of ecclesiastical abstention or church-autonomy doctrine, which includes the ministerial exception doctrine.”

On Jan. 24, the judge responded by signing an order that Paige Patterson’s motion to dismiss should be re-filed as a motion for summary judgment. He gave Patterson and his lawyers until Feb. 4 to re-file the motion. Shelby Sharpe told the TEXAN that he planned to comply with the judge’s order well in advance of that deadline.

The seminary’s brief supporting their motion for summary judgment also attacks the court’s jurisdiction in “an ecclesiastical decision which is protected by the church autonomy doctrine under the First Amendment.” The brief claims that that the seminary’s relationship with its faculty is similar to the relationship between a church and its ministers.

Plano, Texas, attorney Kelly Shackelford, who has argued numerous religious liberty cases in federal court, said issues “that touch in any way on the seminary’s right to follow doctrine in hiring its religious instructors” are constitutionally protected.

Sharpe’s limitation of discovery motion asks: “Because a motion to dismiss all claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction is pending a ruling before the Court, which, if granted, will make discovery on the merits of the claims a complete waste of time and money for all parties, should all discovery be limited to those matters relevant to a decision of the jurisdiction issue until that issue is decided?”

Van McClain, chairman of Southwestern’s board of trustees, told the Dallas Morning News last year that the seminary has returned to its “traditional, confessional and biblical position” that a woman should not instruct men in theology courses or in biblical languages.

McClain said the seminary was gracious to Klouda as she looked for a teaching position elsewhere. “The administration … allowed her to teach a full two years after she was told that whe would not have tenure.”