N.T. Wright Asks: Have We Gotten Heaven All Wrong?

RNS photo courtesy HarperOne

N.T. Wright RNS photo courtesy HarperOne

The oft-cliched Christian notion of heaven -- a blissful realm of harp-strumming angels -- has remained a fixture of the faith for centuries. Even as arguments will go on as to who will or won't be "saved," surveys show that a vast majority Americans believe that after death their souls will ascend to some kind of celestial resting place.

But scholars on the right and left increasingly say that comforting belief in an afterlife has no basis in the Bible and would have sounded bizarre to Jesus and his early followers. Like modern curators patiently restoring an ancient fresco, scholars have plumbed the New Testament's Jewish roots to challenge the pervasive cultural belief in an otherworldly paradise.

The most recent expert to add his voice to this chorus is the prolific Christian apologist N.T. Wright, a former Anglican bishop who now teaches about early Christianity and New Testament at Scotland's University of St. Andrews. Wright has explored Christian misconceptions about heaven in previous books, but now devotes an entire volume, "How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels," to this trendy subject.

Methodists Uphold Policy Calling Homosexuality 'Incompatible with Christian Teaching'

The Rev. Will Green calling for greater inclusiveness at the 2012 UMC General Conference. RNS photo by Mike DuBose/UMNS.

Despite emotional protests and fierce lobbying from gay rights groups, United Methodists voted on Thursday to maintain their denomination's stance that homosexuals acts are "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Two "agree to disagree" proposals were soundly defeated during separate votes by the nearly 1,000 delegates gathered for the United Methodist Church's General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

One proposal would have replaced the "incompatible" phrase in the Book of Discipline, which contains the denomination's laws and doctrines. Both proposals sought to soften the disputed doctrine by adding more ambiguous statements about homosexuality.

Gay rights advocates in the UMC viewed the compromise proposals as the best chance to advance their cause at this year's General Conference, which convenes every four years. On Friday, delegates are expected to debate the church's bans on noncelibate gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

Arctic Christians Get First Complete Inuit Bible

RNS photo by Ron Csillag

Inuktitut Bible translators flank director of scripture translation for the Canadian Bible Society. RNS photo by Ron Csillag

The Bible is by far the most translated book in history. Portions of the Old and New Testaments have been translated into more than 2,500 languages. According to United Bible Societies, the complete Bible has been rendered into 469 tongues as of 2010.

Add Inuktitut to that list. 

Later this spring, an entire Bible in Inuktitut, the language of Inuit people and the most widely spoken aboriginal tongue in Canada's Arctic, will be dedicated at an igloo-shaped church in Nunavut, an autonomous region carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1999.

Loving in Truth and Action: A New Hymn based on I John 3:16-18

Crown of thorns and nails,  nito /

Crown of thorns and nails, nito /

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” 

On April 29th, many churches will be hearing this reading from I John 3:16-24 as the Epistle Lesson for the Revised Common Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday of Easter/Year B.  Here is a new hymn inspired by this biblical teaching for compassion.

‘The Voice’: New Bible Translation Focuses on Dialogue

Hands holding a bible. Stocksnapper/

Hands holding a bible. Stocksnapper/

The name Jesus Christ doesn't appear in "The Voice," a new translation of the Bible.

Nor do words such as angel or apostle. Instead, angel is rendered as "messenger" and apostle as "emissary." Jesus Christ is "Jesus the Anointed One" or the "liberating king."

That's a more accurate translation for modern American readers, said David Capes, lead scholar for "The Voice," a complete edition released this month by publishing company Thomas Nelson. Capes says that many people, even those who've gone to church for years, don't realize that the word "Christ" is a title.

Slavery, Tokenism and the Atheist PR Debacle

Atheist activism is hardly news these days. Folks are feeling increasingly convicted about taking their disbelief public, and more specifically, pointing out the damage done by religion.

But it seems the most recent publicity campaign by a group called American Atheists has gone a little too far, even for those not in the religious sphere.

Human rights groups howled when the following billboard appeared in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:

Following a public uproar, the billboard promptly was replaced with one for the local symphony.

There are some more obvious concerns this kind of campaign raises, while others are more subtle. The point of the billboard is well taken, at least for me; the Bible has some messed up stories and rules in it. But cherry-picking isolated quotes like this from scripture is something that most in mainline Christianity consider a no-no. It’s called proof-texting, and it’s seen as tantamount to using the Bible as a weapon to further a personal agenda.

Violence, Women, Congress and the Bible

via Getty Images

via Getty Images

We’ve been hearing a lot in the news media lately about women’s bodies. Just when we thought the messy fight over contraception was over, Democrats and Republicans are butting heads again over renewal of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, a once widely supported bill that is now being met with opposition from Republicans due to new provisions that “would allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence,” according to the New York Times.

Wars and Rumors of War

 Photo by Przemek Tokar/

Special forces troops patrol in the smoke. Photo by Przemek Tokar/

While compiling the morning “Daily Digest,” I often recall  the advice of Karl Barth, who is said to have told young theologians “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

There are many mornings that Jesus’ advice comes to mind after reading the news. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come (Mark 13:7). While I am not an end times apocalyptic, there are days that Jesus’ prophecy seems all too real.

Is God Dead?

Face of Jesus from an old cemetery statue. Photo by Brasiliao/

Face of Jesus from an old cemetery statue. Photo by Brasiliao/

There was a movement back in the 1960s that many of us only have read about, while others vividly remember. Philosophers and theologians explored what was labeled the “Death of God” movement. Interest in the subject has re-emerged particularly as of late because William Hamilton, one of the more prominent voices in the Death of God movement, diedlast week  at age 87.

The movement inspired TIME Magazine’s now-famous cover (seen here) in 1966, raising the question in the public forum: Is God Dead? The cover has since been listed by the Los Angeles Times as one of the “Ten Covers that Shook the World.”

Hamilton’s faith was shaken during his teenage years when three of his friends were making a homemade pipe bomb. The project went wrong and detonated, killing two of the three boys.

The two killed were Christians. The lone survivor, an atheist.

Hamilton’s crisis of faith centered around a theological concept known as theodicy, which explores the question: why do bad things happen to good people? More specifically, why does misfortune seem to befall the faithful, while those lacking faith enjoy what seems to be a providential hall pass?