A good day with heaven and hell

December 12, 2011 — 12 Comments

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, Photo[2]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.

PhotoI 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.  IMG_6545

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.  

Dan Kimball

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author of "Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus In The Mess of Organized Religion" and "They Like Jesus But Not The Church" . On staff at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA.
  • donsands

    Good post Dan. It is difficult to eat the Word deep in when it comes to studying hell, and God’s wrath. My flesh at times is glad some people are in hell, and feel like I’m not as bad as they.
    And yet, the truth is far from that self-righteous attitude, isn’t it.
    Other times I do ache that others shall stand before a holy God of wrath and justice.
    here’s a quote I’m sure I dropped on you before:
    “Would that God would make hell so real to us that we cannot rest, Heaven so real that we must have men there.”-Hudson Taylor

  • http://offthewahl.blogspot.com Sean

    You are the poster boy for night owl. I got up pretty early (5am) & notice you posted this 2hrs before I was alive & kickin.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/dankimball DanKimball

    Sean – sometimes on Sunday late night/early Monday morning after Sunday teaching and all that happens I can’t sleep and stay up till the wee hours. So poster boy I am. I probably only sleep 5-6 hours on average on any night anyway. But my friend Kevin Harney who is pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey only sleeps 4 hours a night on average, so he beats me. But there are those like Thomas Edison who only slept 4 hours a night too. So Kevin is in good company. Hope all is well! ONe of these days we have to have our Dan-Sean meet up!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/dankimball DanKimball

    Don – I used two CS Lewis quotes in this sermon, the one reflects what you seem to be saying:
    “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.”
    Thanks for your comment!

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    ” I would be a wishful annihilationist but from scholars I trust, the great majority believe in the eternal nature of it.”
    There’s movement here. Did you see the Christianity Today interview between Mark Galli and Francis Chan? There’s significant reconsideration taking place.
    Much love

  • SuperStar

    Two Brits – C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright have a pretty good perspective on heaven and hell. And John Stott – another Brit isn’t far behind. I wonder why the British have a better perspective on these issues than most Americans do?

  • don sands

    SuperStar, have you ever listened to RC Sproul?
    He is an amazing teacher of the Holy Writ, and a fine theologian. Here’s a short teaching if you care to listen.

  • Dan

    Superstar – Scot McKnight wrote a chapter on the afterlife I appreciated and he is 100% USA! Thanks for the comments!

  • Dan

    Jeff – I found that interview and read it after you commented here. Thanks for the tip on it – I liked reading Francis’ heart and always being open to learning.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jacksonbaer Jackson Baer

    It’s funny how so many Christians get upset at the fact that God will save all yet are fine with Him damning most. Love is the greatest commandment, to love God and love others. God’s love & mercy endures forever. If it only endures in this lifetime, what good does that really do? Jesus’ sacrifice was and is enough and will translate to the afterlife. God will take care of those who reject Him in this life but He will not write them off forever. His will is stronger than ours and the Scriptures teach that He wants all men to be saved.

  • Dan

    HI Jackson! Thanks for the comment. I personally don’t know of any Christians “get upset at the fact that God will save all yet are fine with Him damning most.” The ones I know are heartbroken about it, not upset – but also have faith God knows more than we do as human beings and it gets dangerous when we create God in the way we think he should be like. I’d love to believe what you are advocating but the overwhelming majority of scholarship over the history of the church and even contemporary scholars like NT Wright and Scot McKnight would not agree with that understanding of Scripture. Anyway, i totally understand the heart of what you are saying – but Scripture and trusted scholarship is what I have to depend on despite my own personal wishes. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  • don sands

    “God will take care of those who reject Him in this life but He will not write them off forever”-Jackson
    Lord Jesus disagrees with you my friend:
    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    (Matthew 25:41-46 ESV)
    Merriest of Christmas’ to you! I hope you can see this truth my friend.
    BTW, I like the name Jackson. Cool name.