Month: July 2009

Resurrection and Renewal: Bigger and Better Than Going to Heaven When You Die

Here’s the text of that sermon I gave at  Network Vineyard Church on 12 July 2009.

1. Introduction

I want to talk about an area of faith where my whole way of thinking was turned upside down. And that’s about heaven. I’m anticipating three possible reactions – boredom, disagreement and excitement. I hope the excited group of people is the biggest one. If you already know everything I’m going to say, come see me and I’ll arrange for you to get your money back out of the offering. If you disagree with me because you have a strong contrary opinion, I understand, but have a think about it. But I’m thinking there are some of you here today who will be inspired to find new hope and meaning in your life and your understanding of what your faith is all about.

I spent the first nineteen years of my life with an unhealthy view of physical reality. I believed that God was going to destroy the Earth one day. I believed that my future state was to live as a soul floating around in heaven, with no physical body.

When you think that God is going to destroy his creation, plucking out as many souls as he can before he throws the Earth on the fire, you tend not to care as much about what happens here and now. The injustices that plague our world become unimportant. Doing good seems futile. Things can only get worse; why try to do good? Why care about the environment? About climate change? It’s only going to get worse; the whole earth’s going to be thrown out like a disposable cup. More than that, all of life feels a bit pointless. You’re waiting around for heaven, and the only useful thing you can do is evangelise.

When I was nineteen and studying theology at uni, at one stage I got overwhelmed. I had so many questions and challenges to what I’d thought in the past. Fortunately, there was a man named Ian who was a mentor to me. I rang him and he told me to come around. I didn’t have a car, so I had to catch a bus into the city and then one out to his place; it took nearly two hours. When I got there, I was ready to pounce on him with all my questions about the sources and authorship of Genesis and Deuteronomy and the history behind them. But instead, he asked me a question. I think the Holy Spirit inspired him to ask it, because on the face of it, it had nothing to do with my situation.

He asked me, ‘What happens after we die?’
I said, ‘We go to heaven.’
But then he asked, ‘What about after that?’
And when I looked at him like he was playing a trick on me, he told me two things.

First of all, that the Earth wasn’t being thrown in the bin, but was going to be redeemed and renewed.

Second of all, I wasn’t going to live as a disembodied soul in heaven forever, but at Christ’s return, I would be resurrected to live on the renewed Earth. Our resurrection bodies were to be more physical, more real than our current ones – not less. Heaven, he told me, was only a waiting place for something better.

Basically he told me that Christianity was bigger and better than going to heaven when I died.

‘Sponsored by Elusive Brethren and Right Wing American Fundamentalist Groups’


Increasingly I just can’t tell whether fundamentalists are joking or not. Or whether their site has been hacked. At, the subheading is ‘Sponsored by the Elusive [sic] Brethren and Right Wing American Fundamentalists’ and they have a barcode to the right, the mark of the beast for many fundamentalists. So I assumed they were taking the piss, that it was a satirical site. My view was reinforced when I read a slightly too frenzied defence of smacking children from the Old Testament. (It seemed to be aware of how ludicrous it sounded: stating that Jesus as Second Person of the Trinity wrote the Old Testament personally, so you have to obey every word to the letter.) But checking the About page and all the links, I’m convinced it’s not satirical, but a genuine conservative Christian site. Which leads me to the conclusion that someone hacked it!

Resurrection and Renewal

You can now hear the sermon I gave on Sunday on the Network Vineyard website.  It’s about resurrection of our bodies and life on a renewed earth as the substance of our future hope, rather than eternity in a disembodied heaven. I took the dangerous step of opening the floor for questions at the end. It was nerve-wracking, but I love thinking on my feet. (I just have this problem of obsessing over how I could have given a better answer or have not made that embarrasing gaffe.)

Trouble in Amish paradise

Last night ABC showed an interesting British produced documentary about two Amish families in Pennsylvania who were shunned by their church (/community/ family) after they started studying the Bible (in English rather than old German) and questioning some of the rules of the community.

It was a well made documentary, which showed faith in a positive light. Even though the sort of faith they came to was the sort of simplistic evangelicalism which usually makes me cringe, they had such an earnestness and integrity that I was excited for them.

It’s a pity the program didn’t make clearer the historical irony of the current events – that the Anabaptis from whom the Amish are descended were a people persecuted originally for reading their Bibles and finding that what Jesus said was at odds with what they saw around them.

The hard working, honest simplicity of their lives also seems valuable to me. Whatever I would disagree with in Amish theology (or lack thereof), they have truly lived as a peculiar people in a consumer country.

You can watch it online, at least for a little while –