Jon Stovell’s Notebook


Summary of how hope for a heavenly afterlife supplanted hope for resurrection in popular Christian theology

The New Testament barely ever talks about “going to heaven when we die,” but it talks a lot about the hope for bodily resurrection to everlasting life in a renewed and glorified creation. Yet the popular understanding today is that “going to heaven” is the central promise of the Christian Gospel.

How did this happen? Well, it was a long and involved process of historical development, but here is a simplified summary:

  1. As Christianity spread beyond the Mediterranean to the Franks, Goths, Celts, etc., of Europe, theological attention to the resurrection hope faded in favour of hope for a heavenly afterlife. Unlike the Greeks, Jews, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, etc., who believed that all the dead descended to an underworld of some sort, these peoples tended to believe that at least some people (e.g. brave warriors) would be taken to the heavenly dwellings of the godsmore

The Significance of the Cross of Christ

When my daughter was almost three years old, I realized that it was time to start explaining the gospel to her. But how does one explain the gospel well to a child that young in a way that will actually make sense to them? It isn’t easy! But I recognized that if I, with all my years of studying theology, could not explain the gospel to a preschooler, then I didn’t really understand myself. So I set my mind to it and thought a long time about how I could express it in a way that made sense to her. In the end, I came up with this formulation, which I like to call “the gospel for the preschooler”:

Jesus died and came alive again, so that one day he can make everyone who dies come alive again. He is going to make the whole world good, and he wants us to help!

That’s what the gospel really is, once you get right down to it. Everything else is elaboration, implicationmore

Some thoughts on artificial intelligence in relation to theological anthropology

On Feb 3, 2017, Jonathan Merritt published “Is AI a Threat to Christianity?” in The Atlantic. Merritt suggests that “AI may be the greatest threat to Christian theology since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.”

Merritt’s argument is built on several, not entirely consistent presuppositions, and it is only their confluence that makes AI an alleged potential problem. These presuppositions are:

  1. The idea that a soul is a “component” of a human being.
  2. The idea that the defining trait of human beings is our intelligence.
  3. The idea that a collection of algorithms could become the same sort of being that humans are if we just make the algorithms sophisticated enough.
  4. The idea that “salvation” means the preservation of the human soul beyond death.

Presuppostion (1) is one possible interpretation of what a soul is in Christianmore

Barth’s aversion to natural theology is Christologically problematic

Barth’s insistence on only the analogia fidei and rejection of the analogia entis, by which he rejects that revelation can happen in terms of the creaturely reaching towards God, seems to be incoherent with viewing the incarnation of the Son as revelatory. If the Son’s self-revelation happens in and through his becoming a creature as well as Creator, then the creaturely would appear to be capable of serving as a means of revelation. Conversely, if revelation could happen only by divine speech and could only be received by “faith” (and what exactly does faith mean for Barth is its own question), then it is difficult to see how the incarnation could really be revelatory.