Is Wright Wrong?

The February 10 WorldNetDaily carried the article, Bishop: Christians don’t go to heaven -Anglican challenges widespread belief, says believers asleep until God returns and as I read it I reflected on the importance of definitions For example, in early 1998 when then President Bill Clinton was asked why his claims to the the grand jury that there is no sexual relation between him and Monica Lewinsky wasn’t a lie his response was:

It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

With this understanding Clinton could easily have engaged in sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky an hour earlier but since he wasn’t engaged at the precise moment the question was asked he claims that he would be answering truthfully when he said no.

In his September 13, 1998 Chatterbox column, Bill Clinton and the Meaning of “Is”. Timothy Noah writes about his transition from why is this important to why this is important:

The distinction between “is” and “was” was seized on by the commentariat when Clinton told Jim Lehrer of PBS right after the Lewinsky story broke, “There is no improper relationship.” Chatterbox confesses that at the time he thought all these beltway domes were hyperanalyzing, and in need of a little fresh air. But it turns out they were right:

While this all impacted politics, presidential credibility and perhaps gave license to teen age sexual promiscuity by appealing to the new presidentially sanctioned responses it perhaps pales in significance to theological sloppiness that was going on in the church in that decade.

In his 1985 book Raised Immortal, Dr. Murray Harris began arguing for a bodily resurrection that was not physical. There was a serious definitional challenge in his view. He was called to task on this by Dr. Norman L. Geisler in his 1989 book The Battle for the Resurrection. A non-physical resurrection is not a resurrection at all and playing fast and loose with the definition was not only confusing for seminary students but pastors as well. Harris responded in his 1990 book From Grave to Glory in which Harris unwittingly used Jehovah’s Witness arguments in an attempt to support his view. I am a number of other apologists and missionaries to cults and New Religious Movements entered the fray in 1991. I realized how important definitions are when I started receiving angry phone calls from pastors demanding, “How do you know the resurrection was physical?” I was dumbfounded. Resurrection by definition means a “standing up again.” In order to stand up again it has had to been laid down. Jesus said in John 2:19:

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

John’s commentary on this in verse 21 is telling:

But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

The Scriptures are clearly referring to a physical resurrection. Accurate definitions are critical in these areas or it becomes very easy to wander in to heresy. What is taught and believed in seminaries start becoming accepted or is the teaching in church one or two decades later. If the bodily resurrection is not physical than the physical body is no longer an essential part of the teaching with regard to the resurrection of believers. In his Sunday, March 10, 1996, talk titled “Life Beyond The Grave,” Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church stated, “Jesus taught that every single human being would be resurrected immediately following death…”.

I did contact Bill Hybels on March 21 of 1996 and although it took a while he did agree that his statement was not true and he would correct this in the future. I believed his intention was more along the lines of saying that immediately upon death humans would either be immediately in the presence of God or would be immediately in torment. He confirmed that this was his intention. Unfortunately, due to definitional clumsiness in an essential area of the faith he had inadvertantly taught heresy.

Some might wonder why this is important. After all that was all in the last century! While that is true the lack of doctrinal imprecision has continued unabated which brings me back to the February 10 WorldNetDaily article, Bishop: Christians don’t go to heaven – Anglican challenges widespread belief, says believers asleep until God returns Bishop Wright has come out with a new book, Surprised by Hope which has caused a bit of a stir. WorldNetDaily writes:

“Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven,” Wright told Time Magazine. “I’ve often heard people say, ‘I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.”

Questions arise. Are these people saying that they will get out of this body and get in to a brand new body in heaven? Very likely, for the lack of clear sound teaching on this left pastors unclear on the nature of the resurraction body. If pastors are unclear what will the average person in the pew believe? But as we read the article further it seems to take another turn:

When asked to explain why he rejects that typical sentiment, he said, “There are several important respects in which it’s unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. [The Apostle] Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, ‘Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.’ It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.”

This becomes more troubling. It sounds like Wright is arguing for soul sleep especially with what he says later in the article:

when asked by Time about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead, Wright said: “We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep

and

John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: ‘God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.’ That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God’s presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ’s kingdom.”

If he is indeed arguing that upon death our spirit or “software” is put on to God’s hardware and we are in a sleep state until a new body is created at some point in the future and our “software” is downloaded in that body, his view would be closer to the view of Jehovah’s Witnesses than to biblical teaching. On the other hand, if he is trying to point out that upon death the believer’s spirit goes to be with God immediately and is conscious awaiting the time that our bodies will be called out of the grave and spirit and body are reunited, that would be a welcome change back to the correct biblical teaching on this important issue.

The stakes are high and clarity in teaching in core areas like this is critical. How this is addressed today will impact what will be taught in the church 15 years from now.


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