Christopher Morse on heaven

An interesting wee interview with Christopher Morse appeared in today’s Salisbury Post in which Morse (the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Professor of Theology and Ethics at Union Theological Seminary) speaks about his latest book The Difference Heaven Makes: Rehearing the Gospel as News. Here’s a few snippets:

‘The reason I titled my book “The Difference Heaven Makes” is that I find that the subject of heaven is trivialized today in both academic and popular contexts. One reviewer has commented that it was surprising to find a professor from Union seminary writing about heaven. When schools of the church cease to explore afresh the traditions of scriptural and doctrinal testimonies regarding heaven other voices in the public media, often with little knowledge of these traditions, presume to speak for Christianity in their place without any accountability. Heaven becomes, as one author has written, whatever we want it to be. But rather than complaining that such popular writings sell many times over our books as professors, we should work harder as theologians and scholars to convey as clearly and vitally as possible how it all really matters’.

‘To pray that “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is to acknowledge that heaven involves a doing. Notice, it is a doing based upon a coming. But what in practice does this mean? In the Gospel this heavenly doing is said to be a coming to us from God that is described as “at hand” but not under our control, not in our hands or originating from us. From this Gospel standpoint what we call ethics, or our human responsibility, is actually our being enabled to respond to what is taking place. Jesus called his disciples to seek this kingdom at hand in the promise that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give it to us. In doing so we are said to become witnesses of what is being done in heaven’.

Read the entire interview here.

On Annihilationism

It seems to me that one of the problems with the traditional doctrine of hell is its inability to provide for us a vision of creation which in its finality is without evil. Despite all God’s best efforts to sanctify the creation and turn rebels into enchanted sons and daughters, hell, at least in its more popular presentations, remains as the big black line across a page that God has made clean.

The alternatives of universalism and annihilationism raise problems as well. Although I remain convinced that the case for the later, on the basis of biblical exegesis alone, remains the stronger of the two, both reveal a theology deplete of all the revealed ingredients. Whereas the Scriptures seem to rule out the portrait of a final salvation for all, the door of possibility, and of God’s hope – a possibility and hope grounded in the nature of God’s very own being as revealed in Jesus Christ and in the Scriptures that bear witness to him – finally remains open. Despite the initial attraction of the annihilationist position as that which, at least at the end of the day, leaves every room of the universe without spot or blemish, it does so at the expense of granting evil a final victory. If annihilationism is to be defended, it must face the demon it creates, which is, in the final analysis, that evil has claimed a victim in the creation.

I confess that this topic is an ongoing wrestle for me. ‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.’ I welcome, as always, your thoughts.