In our 14 week Sunday teaching series on core doctrines of the historical Christian church, I taught on the doctrine of the afterlife today. The sermon was about what we the Bible reveals regarding what happens when we die and about heaven and hell. Not very easy subjects to teach on, and it was one of the few times I have actually texted some friends in the morning to please pray for me as I taught.
As part of the teaching, I once again walked through a biblical narrative storyline and drew it on the white board. Everything we have taught in this series, we are framing within the biblical narrative. I believe a weakness of straight forward systematic theology is the often not teaching how the doctrines historically developed or fit in the grand biblical narrative. So each week we have sketched out a biblical narrative from eternity past/creation/Fall/Israel etc. to the new heavens and new earth and eternity continuing. This way doctrines don't sit in isolation but fit within the narrative.
The teaching today was on the afterlife so I went into scholars persectves on the soul/spirit and physical body composition of human beings and then taught primarily on heaven, the future resurrection of our bodies that the Scripture reveals and about the new heavens and new earth. In addition to the several systeamtic theology books I am using for study I also had N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope" and some others I had read in prep of this as part of the afterlife study.
As I was teaching on heaven, Celeste Young was to my left and painting colors on a canvas. Basically she painted what colors she felt would represent the joy of heaven. Which is this photo below. After I taught on heaven, I then made the shift to teach on hell. I have taught on hell in our church several times in the past (I have put summaries of previous hell sermons here and here and here) so I focused more of a shorter but blunt look at its reality. There are many unknowns and mysteries about the specifics of hell, but most scholars do believe it is eternal and I emphasized that as my personal belief as well. Although I did share how some like John Stott who are very credible evangelicals believe in annihilation (that people who aren't followers of Jesus will basically cease to exist in the afterlife). I would be a wishful annihilationist but from scholars I trust, the great majority believe in the eternal nature of it. I'd be a wishful universal reconciliationist but I don't believe there is a solid basis for Scriptural support for that view if one holds to a full inspiration of the Bible. So I mentioned some various beliefs out there and I recommended Francis Chan's "Erasing Hell" book for further reading on the topic of hell.
After the heaven teaching, I transition to teaching on hell and as I did Celeste began painting with black paint over the beautiful colors she had put on the canvas which represented heaven. So by the time I was done, the canvas then looked like this below. It was a graphical representation of seeing the beauty of "heaven" being painted over and become darkness and void of light.
I taught then about Jesus, the cross, atonement and the eternal life offered through faith in Jesus and to wrap it up I then scraped away some of the paint (as cliche as it sounds did it in the shape of a cross) of how Jesus breaks through the darkness and removed the sting of death and how faith in Him gives us the gift of eternal life. I ended the message with an old school walk through a prayer for those wanting to put faith in Jesus and trust in Him.
After the 3rd worship gathering, we had our 4th theology Open Forum and had Professor Gary Tuck with us from Western Seminary in San Jose. We have been holding these theology forums and they have been quite fun with any question goes or disagreement and sharing of opinions. Gary has been part of 3 of them and tonight's primary focus was heaven and hell for the questions that came up.
We have one more week left in this series and next week it ends with the doctrine of the end times. I will be teaching the various ways the church has believed the end times will unfold and the second coming of Jesus. I have been quite happy with this series, the reason is seeing so much interest in theology. Our church is 37% college students so for me I sense a desire for uderstanding doctrine and theology. And not just from Christians. I had a local university student share with me how 4 of her non-Christian friends have been coming to this series. I have multiple discussions with non-Christians who have been coming and have had people sharing they put faith in Jesus during this series which has been a thrill to hear. Last Sunday, we baptized a bunch of people and the stories are always so encouraging to hear.
So it has been one of these days which felt like a truly good day, even though the topic of hell is never, ever easy to teach on. When I made the transition to teach on hell, I shared how my motivation to talk about this very uncomfortable topic is because Jesus talked about it and because it is out of care for people. To keep quiet about heaven and hell or to avoid teaching about it would mean I am not caring about the people there. To explain that further, I showed this clip that we showed a couple of years ago, but I felt worth showing again. It is one most church leaders have seen by now, but it is the one where Penn (from the magicians/comedians Penn and Teller) shares the story of a Christian who gave him a Bible. And the line when Penn says if you really believe there is eternal life and a heaven and hell, how much must you hate me if you don't take the effort to tell me about it. I shared that is our motive as I speak on hell, because of care, not because of mere trivia or of any sense of advantage over others.
So it was a full day and also our church raised a bunch of money today for cell phones, bicycles and supplies for graduating students over in Africa in need of these things. Kristin Jensen rallied us and explained the importance and every gathering had a flood of people contributing. It is 3:03 AM. I am up thinking about the day and all that happened and I better try and sleep now. Typing this made me sleepy. Maybe it made you sleepy too reading it all. Good night.