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  • I'm a creator, entrepreneur, author of DREAM YEAR, and aspiring novelist. My wife Ainsley and I live in Virginia Beach with our five kids Wyatt, Dylan, Cody, Annie & Millie

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It's definitely enough, it's just not the WHOLE of the Gospel message. I'd be satisfied even if it was "just" a ticket to Heaven. Thank God its not.
I agree with you, but I added the movie to my Netflix anyways.

I think most of American Christianity suffers from Narcissistic personality disorder. We want the abundant life without the taking up your cross part.

I agree. But I think it's better to say that God is enough. In this life and after, it's God who carries us through our earthly sufferings and in the end makes all things new. He's greater than this world and the reason heaven will be as great as it is.

You know us darn disgruntled church kids are always making revolutionary comments of some type.

I think a lot of times we make those statements from a prideful place... as if those in the previous generation didn't have a full revelation of what the gospel of Jesus Christ was all about.

Thanks for occasionally slapping the disgruntledness out of us.

Great word Ben!

note: Hazelnut Lattes suck! :)

Heaven YES, Hell NO!

Ben, you're making a few ill-informed generalizations here and I know you're better than that.

I love your blog, man and I think God has and continues to use you for good stuff in his kingdom, but I'd encourage you to put on your big boy theology pants before making some claims and assertions that are a bit off the mark.

Heaven is most definitely a major aspect of what the Gospel is and something to be anticipated in our journey, but it is most definitely not enough. Heaven is not the prize, Jesus is. And to boil all of salvation and Gospel down to "a ticket to heaven" is simply not Biblical.

And furthermore, to claim that this is coming from a dude drinking "a Hazelnut latte in a shopping center Starbucks" is a childish backstop to your poorly supported claim (A film on Netflix? For real?)

Grow up, bro.

Conviction often starts with anger Ryan, but I'll take ur lashings out of love for you. Although I see my letter has caused you sorrow, I pray it won't be for long my friend.

Ben, good word. It seems that you put on your Church Leader hat for this one. It works well, as you have definitely established yourself as a lover of Christ and his church. I'd love to hear more of this kind of necessary rebuke from you, as I often consider myself a part of this young pool you address, although I am not currently in a pastoral roll.

There is a whole lot of living between now and heaven. I grew up in an atmosphere that preached "going to heaven" and very little discipleship making. Most of the NT is concerned with our living now. From that weight of all those texts, let's include heaven in our gospel living (discipleship making) but not make it the treasure. The Bible does not begin or end with us. Equating the gospel to something we get seems like a distortion.

Wow, I don't think our span on this earth comes anywhere close to our eternity in Heaven, Matt. You're in for a big shock. I'm not making an argument for Heaven only. I'm just saying it's enough. Also there are greater theological imbalances at work behind this push to minimize Heaven. One at a time.

I agree, when God heals all that sin has wrecked and we spend eternity with Jesus, it will be incredible. I don't mean to minimize heaven. Clearly in scripture we are to look towards the day when Jesus returns. I guess my point was that I have heard too many times people getting "sold" on heaven (and not hell) but really want to do their own thing until then. Am I closer or farther away from your point?

Thanks for good discourse.

If Heaven is eternity with God then that should be plenty enough. I'd imagine to those suffering in Haiti (or anywhere else) that the promise of Heaven is plenty enough as well.

Hey Ben, I've been very blessed by so many of your posts. Thanks so much for being a great writer and sharing your gifts.

With that being said, you're way off the mark theologically and scripturally with this post. If we start slinging scripture, you're going to have a really rough time backing up your assertions. You're reading a lot of cultural "extras" into your understanding of gospel.

The Gospel is "good news" in every aspect of life. New creation and the Kingdom of God have been inaugurated in and through Jesus, and although they will both find their completion when Jesus returns, they are both present and working realities right here right now. "They Kingdom come... on earth..."

The Gospel is SO MUCH MORE than just heaven, and we would all do well not to minimize any part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the comprehensive good news that it entails.

@Daniel Decker:

Seriously? So, we tell the people in Haiti, "Hey, sorry about your situation, but at least you get to go to heaven someday!" That's not good news to them, dude. This is exactly why this is really bad theology.

I would encourage us to not force the Church to either extreme on this issue (or many others for that matter). It seems to me we keep forcing the pendulum to swing. We thought we were getting too caught up in "doing" so we decided we'd preach more of "ticket to heaven" and now we've decided that preaching "ticket to heaven" was resulting in lukewarm Christians and so we want to push the pendulum back the other way towards more "doing" and transformation.

I'm not a pastor or a theologian by any means. But, when I look at Scripture I see a call to live in tension. To bask in grace but not use it as a "get out of jail free card." To live with the assurance of heaven because it is only with it that we are able to endure the suffering of this earth, and all the while living out the Gospel so that others may share the assurance that we have. My mind immediately goes to Paul who suffered greatly for the Gospel, who probably understood suffering better than most of us, and who wrote often about the promise and hope of heaven, but who never stopped living out the Gospel either. He lived in the tension that is being a redeemed child of God with the assurance of heaven that doesn't depend on us and a warning that faith without works, without transformation, is dead. Maybe we can do the same? And do it because heaven is enough?

I think Katie just articulated my thoughts exactly. Well played.

@Jeremy, speaking on minimalization... please don't minimialize my comment down to "Hey, sorry about your situation, but at least you get to go to heaven someday!" That's not what I said at all. I said heaven is enough for many who are hurting. The promise of heaven brings hope. The promise of something on the other side enables them to endure today (at least it does for me in mine). I'm not suggesting it makes the physical suffering easier or that we, as Christians ourselves, shouldn't do everything we can to help eleviate the phsyical suffering but I'm saying that the promise of heaven IS enough because many times, despite our best efforts, that suffering still exists.

I'm not a pastor or theologian either, just someone who has been saved by God's grace and reborn from a life that was headed down the wrong path. Honestly, I think we can sometimes get so wrapped up in "theology" that we can miss the forest through the trees. But that's just my personal opinion.

Again though, how Katie articulated the pendulum and the tension is brilliant and spot on.

@Daniel Decker

I'm sorry if I misconstrued your comment. I agree with you that the promise of eternal life brings hope to hopeless situations, but I disagree that it is the sum of the gospel. That's where Ben is mistaken, because if we take the Bible seriously, then the gospel is good news to everyone, both immediately and for eternity. We would have to ignore many of Jesus' words about good news and Kingdom to make it all about heaven. So we dare not resign ourselves to an either/or mentality.

For instance, there's actually more in the Bible about helping the poor than there is about salvation itself... Why? Because the gospel is good news in every situation, both right now AND for eternity.

Jeremy, you did not read my post correctly. I wrote,

"I'm not saying God doesn't aim to transform us. But to act as if Heaven isn't enough..."

I didn't say that Heaven is the only thing. I said it is enough.

Hey Ben,

Again, thanks for a great blog. I benefit greatly from your writing & insights.

I know we're both extremely busy, so after this comment I'll go back to just reading what you post. :)

Here is your central assertion: "More and more, I hear pastors say that "salvation = heaven" is a reductionist Gospel. As if heaven weren't enough. That the Gospel is only legit when it transforms us and our communities."

To be honest, "salvation = heaven" IS an anemic understanding of the gospel. It's theologically emaciated at best. It's not saying that heaven isn't "enough" (enough for what?), but is trying to be true to what the Bible says about the all-encompassing nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, maybe you didn't explicitly say that heaven is the only thing, but your post strongly implies that it's the main thing, which is not accurate according to the Scriptures. The gospel is "legit" only when we understand it in the ways that the Bible shows us what a legit gospel looks like.

This is such an interesting dialogue. Some friends and I were recently having this discussion from the aspect of where/how we are motivated to serve God. Would I serve God if my life turned Job and all I had was my salvation? Would that be enough? I think it relates to a watering down of the Gospel we preach. What would persecuted Church worldwide have to say about suffering? Or the sufficiency of salvation (heaven)? Generations of slaves have longed for the "promised land" that is heaven. Knowing that their greatest transformation would be the one from this life to the eternal life.

Let's get serious, most of us have never even seen a hint of real suffering. Television and newscasts don't do it justice. I have seen some degree of poverty and suffering on the mission field, but I'm sure even my experience is limited. I can say that my worst of days in this country are nothing compared to what some live daily. But hey, lets keep insisting that the American experience (308 million people of 7 billion worldwide) is one we should shape our understanding of the gospel from.

As a caveat - I get what people are saying who are worried that people see salvation as only a heaven ticket and never pursue discipleship, but I think I hear what you are saying Ben.

If nothing else, thanks for a controversial post!

jeremy maybe our arguments are reactionary to the abuses we've both witnessed in ministry.

if you were reading this blog years ago when i was planting a church, you would have seen me write "make disciples not converts" over and over again. so i'm not advocating an easy gospel

but there's a movement currently afoot that is seeking to reduce the value of heaven. I have some suspicions of why they're doing this, but i need to push back on it.

What do you mean by heaven?

Are you talking about hanging with Jesus in the clouds and leaving our bodies behind or are you talking new heavens/new earth, post-resurrection?

Defining the terms might help with the discussion.

Eric, phases of eschatology don't have anything to do with this conversation. The fact that you would require a distinction between going to be with Jesus upon an untimely death with, say, cancer and your experience with a remade earth demonstrates perfectly the crisis of undervaluing Heaven that I'm seeing across the church.

i think i'm going to do a series of posts on Heaven based on what the Bible tells us about it. If we don't love it and look forward to it as a prize, it's because we've never seen it in our mind's eye.

Ben,

Spot on.

You are very right to point out the distinction between "enough" and "everything."

In Mark 2, the spiritual healing was "enough". The physical healing was bonus.

I'd welcome reading a series of posts on Heaven. Bring it.

Here's why I asked for the distinction:

Heaven (the intermediate state) has been so OVER-valued for generations of American Evangelicals that I understand the pushback.

Heaven is a great comfort to believers, especially those who are undergoing great suffering in this life. Yet, "Heaven is important, but it's not the end of the world." -NT Wright

I asked you for the distinction because there are two very different conversations that could be had:
1) This world is all there is, live for today vs. what happens after death
2) Leaving this bad, physical world behind vs. new creation.

I think you're having the first conversation but I think a lot of Christians (especially our parents and grandparents) are still having the second conversation.

Paul Washer has spoken well on the subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLcVT75L3KQ

Eric thanx for clarifying. To view salvation as merely an escape from hell is not what Im advocating. But to not emphasize that salvation is an escape from hell at all is to miss the point of Jesus dying on the cross. Following Jesus merely for the sake of the restorative effects on this earth is not a complete or biblical gospel. We should be "cut to the heart" by the conviction of our sin and relieved by the fact that "we will be with him in paradise."

by the way, Eric, NT Wright doesn't believe in Heaven. He believes in an intermediate state - a holding pen - until the new heaven and the new earth is joined together. In other words, he doesn't believe that if you die right now that you'll go to heaven. I'm pretty opposed to that. I'll explain more in a future post...

Ben, I'd be interested to read that post. I'm not sure that what you wrote above is a fair expression of Wright's belief on the matter. From Surprised by Hope p. 171-172:

"This state is not, clearly, the final destiny for which the Christian dead are bound, which is, as we have seen, the bodily resurrection. But it is a state in which the dead are held firmly within the conscious love of God and the conscious presence of Jesus Christ while the await that day. There is no reason why this state should not be called heaven."

Interesting conversation. I can see why some commenters were looking for clarification, but my first reaction was to love this post. As someone who has faced suffering (the death of a child), sometimes the hope of Heaven - in whatever perfect form it will take - is all that keeps me going.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Wright's thoughts. : )

Wright's interview with TIME on the matter of heaven:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html

This argument could easily slip into defining the stages of the afterlife. But I'm trying to avoid that for the sake of a much bigger point (I too believe that a new earth is the ultimate destination according to scripture).

But I keep pushing on the issue of treasuring Heaven because it is fundamental to our humility as believers (being present with Jesus will not just be "hanging in the clouds with JC"). What an irreverent suggestion. We will be all-consumed by the pleasure of his glory. And that is enough for all of eternity.

And it is fundamental to the act of evangelism. We are separated from God by our sins. The treasure of salvation is being reunited with God for eternity. The hope of salvation (being reunited with God) should be the first hope for a convicted sinner... not a transformed community. I would be willing to bet that churches that put Heaven / Hell on the back burner for the sake of this other language - transformation - see far fewer decisions to follow Jesus.

And I'll be vulnerable with this question in expressing my ignorance...

Where in scripture does it say that WE are responsible for bringing about this new earth? Isn't that God's job?

WRIGHT: Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.

TIME: That sounds a lot like... work.

WRIGHT: It's more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music.

Gotta bring Clive into this discussion:

"Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of Heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one. We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning Heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about 'pie in the sky,' and of being told that we are trying to 'escape' from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere.

But either there is a 'pie in the sky' or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. Again, we are afraid that Heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that the mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.

There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object."

C.S. Lewis "The Problem of Pain"

God bless you Matt

@Ben Arment

Indeed it is God's job. More specifically, it is Jesus who will do the re-creating of the cosmos. But there is a purpose for us in the meantime (beyond just getting people their "get to heaven" tickets).

In Matthew 28, Jesus tells His current disciples to go and make more disciples, teaching the new disciples to obey all that Jesus has commanded.

So, what has Jesus commanded throughout the Scriptures?

Jesus commanded Kingdom living that embodies and expresses new creation, acting as a foretaste of the newness that will be effected at the second coming of Jesus. These acts of new creation are about healing, and crossing ethnic and cultural barriers, and about reckless love and crazy forgiveness, and about being peacemakers, and about caring for the poor and marginalized... AND let's not forget that it's also (and very importantly) about eternal life. We see this emphasized especially in John's Gospel.

So, you're very right that we humans do not possess the power or righteousness to bring about a new (or good) earth. Only Christ has that power. But, before judgment and new creation, we are to truly be Jesus' disciples, showing the world what it looks like in every aspect of life to live with Jesus as Lord (read: Emperor) of our lives.

Because when Jesus is in charge, EVERYTHING is different... both right now, and for eternity.

The "job" that Wright talks about is not about us ushering in new creation, it's about us acting as signposts to Christ Jesus, who is the only hope for any good right now, and the only hope for eternity in the presence of Almighty God in the new creation.

Jeremy you seem to have your focus on both the earthly and the eternal aspects of salvation, so kudos to you.

You originally interpreted my argument to be a dismissal of the earthly aspects of salvation, which it wasn't. I was pushing against those who fail to uplift the eternal.

Comments like "get your tickets to heaven" blaspheme the very real reality that salvation saves us from hell. I suggest we stop making remarks like that lest someone who doesn't know Jesus adopts the same attitude.

I want to preface all of this with, I attend Jeremy's church and work quite closely with him.

I think... and feel free to correct me that Ben Arment is reacting to a movement in agnostic/atheistic circles of a reduction of the idea of heaven. By that I mean, the movements are expressing an idea that Heaven is not a big deal and not that great. So what does it matter? Of course, the movements face a logical flaw, since something claimed to not exist, cannot be good, bad, or indifferent. But some are making these types of assertion, anyway.

My reading of this discussion is that Jeremy and Mr. Arment are reacting to different challenges to faith, while they are minimizing what the other says.

There is a danger in both approaches. The concept of "Heaven" as a reductionist gospel is also a reaction to the "Prosperity Theology" that is so popular, right now.

In the past decades, there has been, whether it is perception or fact, that many Christians are ONLY concerned with getting to heaven and once they are baptized and go to church, they are set for eternity. If that is your attitude, it is easy to forget about Jesus and Paul's instructions to the church about "the least of these".

If Christians sit around and watch the world starve and die from unclean drinking water, just to name a couple, do we really think Jesus is going to welcome us with open arms.

Plus, if you are "helping the least of these" only to GET to heaven, then you are lost. You are just as lost as the Pharisees and others in the Bible.

But I would ask Mr. Arment, one question. Do you really think the Gospel is legit if we aren't doing everything in our power to transform ourselves and our communities? And if we aren't seeing transformation, does that not signal a serious problem? A serious problem whether or not we have our "ticket to heaven".

A lot of this boils down to, how do you make yourself "worthy" (which is know is a loaded term in a theological discussion) to get an invitation to heaven? Can you get to heaven without true transformation of yourself and others, especially if God has called you to be a Pastor or leader?

Samuel,
Yes, the Gospel is legit even if we aren't doing everything in our power to transform ourselves and our communities. The Gospel is always legit...it is legit in spite of it. If we aren't seeing transformation yes, that could signal a problem. But it's with us, not the Gospel.

@Katie

I was not questioning the legitimacy of the Gospel, simply our understanding of it.

Samuel, for the criminal on the cross beside Jesus, who had no time to be transformed or to "transform others" ... Jesus granted him eternal life based on his pure and simple belief.

It is our faith and faith alone that saves us.

Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Samuel... to continue... that's the amazing grace of God. That we can do nothing - not even those good works you mentioned - to make ourselves worthy enough to be saved. It's a scandalous exchange: the life of Jesus for our eternal life. Nothing more, nothing less. Can I venture to ask... have you ever placed your total faith on Jesus Christ?

Ben,

I am not sure if you meant that to be an offensive question, but yes I have!

There are always circumstances that can keep people from being able to transform lives, and of course I do not question the salvation of the man on the cross Jesus forgave and saved. But what about the middle to upper middle class Christian who has all the opportunity and ability to help the least of these. Don't you think he or she will be judged in a very different way by Jesus, if he or she does not do what the Gospel tells him or her to do?

So how do you reconcile all of this with James who said, "Faith without works is dead. Which is another way to say, if your actions do not show you have faith, then you probably don't have faith.

We live in the richest country in the world. We can choose to only drink water we buy and store in plastic bottles from France or some other exotic place. Yet, we do so little as Christians as a whole to make this world a better place. And not just the world, but here in our own communities.

I would never claim we EARN anything. We can never earn salvation. But we do have a responsibility to behave a certain way when we accept the grace of Christ. And I knew it was a mistake to use "worthy", but I meant worthy only in the sense that when judgement comes, Jesus will not say to us, away from me, I never knew you.

Remember what Jesus told the friends of "John the Baptist" in Luke 7. "22 So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." Or do you contend, the Good News Jesus mentions is separate from the other things he lists?

Where is the mention of, oh yeah and because you are all guaranteed a spot in heaven.

If we focus solely on Heaven, we forget about what we are called to do on this Earth as Christians. The "Good News" is about a better life here and in the future." And since literally, "Gospel" means, "Good News". Heaven is not enough if we are going to be fully devoted, mature, followers and disciples of Christ.

Samuel I love your passion for helping others as a follower of Jesus. I believe we will be held accountable for the opportunities to serve others that God puts in front of us. But don't confuse salvation with sanctification.

If you would get upset at or ban heaven for those who don't serve like you do (or expect), you are exhibiting the heart of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. You are a legalist

also - I keep saying this - my argument is not that heaven is the only outcome of salvation. It's that there is a movement to undervalue heaven as a treasure

Ben,

I can see how my comment could be construed as a bit of "Elder Brother" syndrome as Timothy Keller would call it. But all I meant was is that we should make sure those we are leading know that they "should be" helping the least of these, not to "get in to heaven" but because of the gifts of Grace and Salvation God has given to us.

I would love to know more about the movement that is attempting to undervalue Heaven as a treasure. It would probably bring clarity to the whole discussion.

Whatever the outcome of this discussion, you have at least gained another loyal reader. And based on your passion, I expect to agree with you much more than disagree.

So keep writing (I know you will) and I pray for Blessing for you and yours NOW and in Heaven. ;)

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