Will Rob Bell Be Cremated?

Glancing through Diarmaid MacCulloch’s three-thousand year history of Christianity, I noticed an astute point by the author. It is the inverse relationship that exists in the contemporary setting between churches teaching about hell and churches opposing cremation.

It is observable that certain aspects of the Christian past are being jettisoned without fuss even within self-consciously traditional religion. The most notable casualty of the past century has been Hell. It has dropped out of Christian preaching or much popular concern, first among Protestants, then later among Catholics, who have also ceased to pay much attention to that aspect of Western doctrine which seemed all-consuming in the Latin Church on the eve of the Reformation, Purgatory. (1012)

MacCulloch goes on:

A particularly suprising development in Christianity, admittedly so far noticeable mainly in the West, is the abandonment of a key aspect of Christian practice since its early days, inhumation of corpses. As hellfire receded, there advanced the literal fires of the crematorium; such fire, previously reserved by Christians for heretics, now routinely forms the liturgical climax to encomia of the good things in the life of the deceased. (1013)

One last point that MacCulloch makes is that cremation took root in the West among liberal Italian nationalists who were often forbidden from being buried in church graveyards. Cremation as such was a gesture of anti-clericalism.

Not sure I have much of a point here except to recover reasons against cremation.

53 thoughts on “Will Rob Bell Be Cremated?

  1. Telling correlation indeed, I am not sure there is warrant to outright condemn cremation, but I am not sure why any Christian would opt for it. Maybe in utmost necessity, but I am not sure how to square biblical anthropology with the desecration of the body even in death.


  2. One book with good arguments against cremation is Earth to Glory, by Jonathan Rainbow, 2003. Dr. Rainbow died shortly after this book was published, but he did not know of his fatal illness while he was writing it. Earlier in his career, Rainbow (who taught at Southern Baptist Seminary) wrote a very important book about Calvin and the extent of the atonement, putting that debate in the framework of controversies with the Anabaptist.

    I wish Rainbow was not dead so that I could talk to him about his last book, Earth to Glory, which is about death and resurrection. He explains what should be obvious, that Christians don’t need to be happy when another Christian is dead. “ If I die before the trumpet sounds, I want a loud public funeral. I don’t want a quiet private exit. I don’t want them to think of me ‘as I was’. I want them to think that I am now dead. I want somebody to preach about the resurrection.” P77

    I agree with Rainbow that the body is not our enemy, and death is not our friend. I think Rainbow’s questions are a lot better than Rob Bell’s. For one thing, they aren’t merely rhetorical, with the answer already implied in the questions.

    In what sense can sin be a punishment for sin? We need to think more, not less about Romans 8:10. Why is Christ present here now only in His deity but not in His humanity? p64 Rainbow does a good job of showing the problems not only with Platonism but also with materialism. As he warns, “The materialist thinks that what is not public is not sin.” p83 And then Rainbow attempts to steer truthfully between Platonism and materialism. As he points out, at least the Pharisees were not Platonists. As those who believe in material resurrection, the Pharisees often became legalists who imposed extra-biblical rules on people. But many Reformed people think that’s better than being antinomians without rules but the Bible. At least Pharisees had a community and a tradition.

    Of course I don’t agree with everything Rainbow says. He extrapolates from “not work, not eat” to ruling out the idea of retirement. P92 Some of his rules sound very “Methodist”, as if we should agree with Marx that work is the meaning of life.. For example, “A Christian may be wealthy but may not live wealthy”. P133. Or this: “We must say no to sleep”. P 127 Sometimes he even seems to be saying that we should only have enough sex for survival and procreation and to avoid immorality. p95

    In other words, Dr Rainbow sounds like my mother! Can you do without it? But all that being said, Rainbow argues that we should not do without the expense and trouble of funerals. Better than the “let’s just get on with life” of cremation, he favors loud funerals where people are sad and not fake, where people speak about our “last enemy, death”.

    As his daughter writes in the appendix about his recent death—we are waiting.
    The dead body is a sign—we are waiting
    One day the Lord Jesus shall come again and be with us. Comfort one another with these words.


  3. Anti-clerical gestures depend on context for their significance.
    Consider Kierkegaard’s burial.

    Christ Is Risen means that we
    have in our future realities
    which have the bad taste
    to still be visible, for instance
    unique individual
    resurrected blood vessels

    why does that clergyman think
    that matter does not matter
    why does he want to go straight to heaven
    without waiting to get back
    our very own live eyeballs
    new different and better

    and on that day immortal and “spiritual”
    eyeballs completely controlled
    by the Holy Spirit of Christ

    clerical advocates of the incorporeal
    talk about a landless land and a timeless time
    neither here nor there
    inhabited only by one collective essence
    a world all clean
    refined and very light
    where time and space
    will not matter

    a world with no music and no touching
    and cremation helps us
    avoid awkward truths
    like holes in the ground

    mark mcculley


  4. Re: It is the inverse relationship that exists in the contemporary setting between churches teaching about hell and churches opposing cremation.

    I would add a point to MacCulloch’s observation that I think plays an important role, too. In the past, people had a heightened awareness of the precariousness of life and the risks of death more prevalent. Now we have laws and safety measures to protect workers from accidents, medicines to cure contagious outbreaks of disease like malaria and smallpox, vaccines to protect our children, electricity to replace candles/fires to light and heat our homes and thus fewer home fires, child labor laws that prevent children from exposure to workplace dangers, damns and levees to control flooding, weather reports to warn of tornados, wars are in distant places, and so the list goes on and on.

    All of these advances have reduced a lot of the risks in daily life; our family, friends, and neighbors aren’t dying on a regular basis around us anymore; and we’ve most likely lost some of our sense of vulnerability…

    Re: recover reasons against cremation

    Social mores being what they are, I’m afraid burial is going the way of chastity.


  5. I suppose I should pipe in here and put my two cents in, having been brought up in a family where a relative of mine invented the casket lowering device and our family business consisted in making other funeral and cemetery supplies too, including embalming fluid. In fact, I helped develop a new line of embalming fluid with our company (Frigid Fluid Company- http://www.frigidfluidco.com) chemist who happened to be a Mormon. So, if you die and get embalmed with Cell Guard, Tissue Guard, Leak Guard and Water/Clot Guard you can thank me for preserving your body for glory before the last judgment and massive ressurections of the dead. I always wanted to call one of our fluids Glory Guard but it seemed like profaning a rather sacred subject and I would get visions of Christ turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple, so it never came to fruition. I think I have stated that before at this blog site.

    I find this topic of cremation vrs. traditional burial an interesting one, not only because our family business makes products that caters to traditional burial and preservation of bodies in cemeteries but also because it has interesting theological and dare I say w____v_____ implications; even though I was completely embarrassed about the family business when I was a kid and would lie about what my father did when asked.

    We have talked about this on this site before so I guess I will spare everyone from saying too much more. Suffice it to say that both tradition burial (which finds its roots in the patriarchal period of Jewish history and in the fact that God Himself put on a burial service for Moses) and cremation can be found in the Old Testament with cremation being given a rather dim view in the scriptures. I am not sure if you would consider death a creational issue or a redemption issue but the topic is an interesting one to me and like I said, has a very interesting history.


  6. Let’s not forget that the Dude and Walter cremated Donny. I’m not sure that Rob Bell deserves such a ceremony.

    On a serious note. Jed. Would you consider it the problem of pragmatism to suggest that burnIng the body to ash is the same as a body decaying in a casket? Would the anthropological problem desecration of the body lie more with putting th body to flame or the destruction of everything including the skeleton? I’ve never given the topic much thought until now.


  7. So, John Y., is “Six Feet Under” really what it’s like to grow up in the death business? But my man crush was Peter Krause. Rest in peace, Nathaniel Samuel “Nate” Fisher, Jr., you were a good man.


  8. It was remarkably accurate Zrim. In fact, one of the producers of the show actually consulted us about some things in the funeral industry. From what I gathered they mostly consulted with Dodge chemical who are the biggest embalming fluid manufacturers in the country. Hence, they used most of their products in the body prep room scenes on the show. Although on rare occasions I noticed some of our products. I am sure they talked with many funeral directors and casket manufacturers too.

    I always liked Nate too but could never understand his infatuation with Brenda. Nate was much too kind hearted for her. Nate’s dead father, who popped in on Nate’s imagination every once in awhile, was frighteningly similar in appearance and mannerisms to my father. Is it any wonder I became hooked on the show?


  9. John K.,

    There may be times (like in war-time and sanitation necessitates it) where a proper burial isn’t feasable without placing the living in danger. However, a proper burial denotes the respect that this body was something precious, created by God, and never intended to die. It is a statement of respect. I think the case for cremation is not nearly as good.

    That saying, just as I told John Y. a while back, all I ask is a proper burial, pyramid and all – something that makes the Giza pyramids look like they were done by amateurs, kind of a testimony to my own (self) importance.


  10. That decides it –– I’m getting buried when I’m called home. My parents informed me they had already taken care of their arrangements, meaning cremation. It kind of set my teeth on edge.


  11. If we are to discourage the culture of cremation, shouldn’t we also encourage a culture of spending less money on funerals? The casket in which we recently buried my father probably cost more than the book value of my car. A cosmetologist got 100 bucks to make him look better. Etc…
    Our family had the means to pay for all of this, but how about so many poorer families?

    Should we make an example of having plywood coffins, closed casket services, funeral co-ops, etc? Shouldn’t those of us with the means to have “nice” funerals opt for more modesty in the funeral services?

    Did the puritans put the body on display, or were their services more “closed casket”?

    Just thinking out loud!


  12. Walking the dog through the graveyard it often strikes me that the last enduring stroke of genius Calvin had was to be buried in an unmarked grave.


  13. When I want to talk to my son about the details of my funeral, all he has to say: “Dad, they won’t be selling tickets.”

    And my wife is going to build a monument of my papers for the trash man on the Monday morning after.


  14. When we went to the mortician to pre-plan my aging Mother’s funeral a few years back I noticed a display of different kinds of urns to contain cremated ashes, including (make sure you’re sitting down) some that were shaped like customized Harley-Davison gas tanks. Quite a statement THAT particular product makes…


  15. Re: Six Feet Under

    Sorry guys, were we watching the same show? Nate was not a good guy. He was shallow, egotistical, self-obsessed to the point of pathology. Brenda had emotional issues- and a psychotic brother- so let’s not be too hard on her. Plus she was interesting. And she knew who she was. Nate searched everywhere for “meaning” and “something bigger than himself” but the problem is he wanted that something to be him. The reason he never finds peace or something to believe in in the show is because such things require one to look outside of oneself and to care for something other than oneself: Nate could not do that. He refused to do that. And look how he treated poor Lili Taylor!

    Claire was the star of the show. Go Claire!


  16. Alexander, since when was being complicated and lost and confused tantamount to not being a good man? And what, pray tell, leads you to believe his treatment of Lily was so wrong by honoring her adamant wishes to buried in a box, even to the point of alienating her parents (the grand parents of their child) who wanted her CREMATED? For crying out loud, the man buried her with his own two frigging hands! Only a cold hearted evangelical, who thinks a man must be a Christian to be good, could not be moved by the last scene of season 2 and see just how good he was even if deeply flawed.

    And what is this about Brenda? Nate was the only good thing she ever had and her treatment of him was utterly deplorable. The only worse human being was her pretentious and skewed mother. Interesting? Why, because she was a genius and her childhood was the subject of a novel? Who cares. She was a spolied and indulged little girl. But Brenda did redeem herself toward the end, which is more than I can say for her mother.

    Harrumph. Where’s the Tylenol?


  17. Only an Evangelical would use Nate’s refusal to cremate Lisa as a reason to like him, i.e. use their own theological position to skew their appraisal of a secular TV show. Searching for theological fidelity in an HBO drama is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

    How is Nate complicated? He’s not lost, or confused. Very few people are. Most people are just lazy and selfish and don’t want to have to commit to anything that demands anything from them. Nate is a good character, because he represents the zeitgeist. But he’s not a good man. His treatment of Lisa was despicable: he seduced her, made her fall in love with him then betrayed her: he never loved her, he was never emotionally committed. He honoured her wishes out of guilt, not love.

    Brenda and her family are one of the best parts of the show: all the psych. chat is immensely interesting. Of course they’re dysfunctional and her parents screwed her up: we don’t watch TV shows for role models, but to be entertained, engaged emotionally and intellectually. Brenda and her family offer us this in spades.

    The most unsatisfying and two-dimensional aspect of the show is, of course, its treatment of religion. But since only someone who watches TV or reads books or watches films merely to have their world view reinforced would find this a significant problem it doesn’t matter.

    Back to Nate: how many people needed to show they loved him; how many philosophies did he have to dabble in before he “found” himself? Nonsense. Claire evolved. Claire learned tolerance and acceptance of things she didn’t agree with. Claire learned to get along with people she disagreed with. That is why she is the hero of the show.


  18. Every inclusion is also an exclusion. That’s what drawing lines is all about. So the next time any of you denominate yourself an “Augustinian”, think not only of Augustine’s confusion of justification and (baptismal) regeneration. Remember also Augustine’s advocacy of prayers for the dead.

    “There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended. But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death.”

    In other words, these dead folks in particular weren’t “missing fruit” like others we could name?


  19. Alexander, so you don’t like lost and confused as descriptors but rather lazy and selfish. Ok, but I still don’t see how lazy and selfish negates also evaluating a man as good in a proximate sense. Isn’t that the zeitgeist of being human? And to be human is to be complicated, you know as in Creator/creature and all that, and since Nate is human I fail to see how he cannot be understood as complicated.

    Besides, I’m pretty sure Claire would’ve evaluated her brother the same way, a flawed but still a good man. If she’s really the heroine for you then maybe that would count for something. And if anybody was at once a flawed but not-so-good human being it was Brenda’s mother. Somehow cremation seems a more fitting end for her.


  20. Alexander and Zrim,

    What a heated discussion. The show ended way too soon and the characters were all left hanging in limbo somewhere. There was a lot of stuff that I never really got and was not sure of the main point or points the writers of the show were trying to convey. Zrim and I have been dialoging about the show every once in awhile here at Old life and he told me once that the main plot line revolved around Brenda and here troubled brother. However, I am not sure that really is the case. I always thought Nate, their family and the goings on at the Funeral Home was the main plot line to determine the point of the whole show. I always thought Nates father had a very significant role to play for the writers of the show. But that probably has something to do with my skewed perspective of things which relates to the dysfunction in my family growing up. Nates Dad was kind of an absentee father who left all the members in the family in a confused state when he died and who had led a life away from the family that became more mysterious as the show unfolded. Nate and his brother were left with trying to decide what to do with the funeral home which caused a lot of conflicts in the family. That whole part of the story struck a nerve with me because it was very similar what I was experiencing in my own family with my brothers. I also found out a lot of things about my father I wished I had not found out about as I went to conventions that he used to frequent after he died and half inebrieted funeral directors would pore out stories about him.

    So, Alexander and Zrim, what are some of the main points and main plot line of the show, in your humble opinions? Like I said, I was a bit miffed and the last episode did not really explain much. There must have been some contract disputes and behind the scenes stuff that put an abrupt end to the series.


  21. Btw, I always thought Claire was one of the more interesting characters too but she was never fully developed as the drama in the story was never fully completed. The story had the potential to become of Dostoevskiesqe proportions (that may be a bit of an exageration), however, like I said, it ended abruptly without the story and various storylines coming to satisfying conclusions. But others may see that differently.


  22. John, I think you’d be better off asking Alan Ball about plot lines, but I think the final episode should’ve been cremated and sunk into an unmarked grave. Here’s hoping “In Treatment” will feed the need for a SFU fix.


  23. Also, Alexander, I think you’re right about most secularist treatment of redemptive life being two-dimensional, but often I find that’s most religionist treatment of created life.


  24. But Zrim, you didn’t answer my question and I thought Claire was Ruth- so there!! I bet Alexander will give me a more satisfying answer. I also think the writers of the episodes rather than Alan Ball could answer plot line and main point questions better. But I bet they all agued about how to develop the chararcters and plots and perhaps the actors and actresses had their input too. The story seemed to go in different directions each new season so there probably are not any real answers to the questions I have, although I find it worthwhile to try to figure those things out while being entertained by a well done, well written and well produced production.

    Why do you always have to be so contrary Zrim?


  25. McMark,

    I read R.C. Sproul Jr.’s comments about cremation and burial but I think the scriptures say more about the issue then Sproul seemed to indicate. All of the patriarchs bodies were carefully preserved and even Joseph’s body and bones were carefully transferred to the promised land when the Isrealites finally got there 400 or 500 years later. Since Abraham, Issac and Jacob are types of heirs of Christ I think whatever happens to them in the Old Testament is significant for members of the New Covenant in Christ.

    Moses, in Dueteronomy 34 (verse 5-6), was actually buried by God Himself and in contrast to this many false prophets in the Old Testament were “burned up” as a form of judgment upon them. The prophets of Baal in the story of Elijah come to mind. There is a specific verse in the Old Testament, which I cannot find now, which specifically condemns cremation as a form of judgment.


  26. Should we focus on the displaced person (the exile) buying property in a land where God is not recognized as king, or focus on the fact that this was the only land this gospel believer had at the time?

    Genesis 23: Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 And Sarah died at Hebron in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites,1 4 I am a sojourner among you; ggive me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 5 The Hittites answered Abraham, 6 “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb to hinder you from burying your dead.” 7 Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. 8 And he said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as property for a burying place.”
    10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.” 12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred ishekels3 of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham jweighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.
    17 So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field


  27. McMark,

    I am not giving redemptive status to the burial or cremation issue. The point is the patriarchs treated their dead with care, in a redemptive sort of way.


  28. I agree, John, that cremation is not a gospel issue. Neither is our view of the intermediate state, and that’s where I agree more with Luther than with Hitler. But let me give a bit from Rainbow on cremation (even though I think he might be a little too dogmatic about the topic):

    p79, Earth to Glory–“I fear that in cremation we have creeping platonism. It is is a historical fact that the pagan Greeks and Romans cremated their dead, and that one of the ways the early Christians proclaimed their gospel faith was by burying their dead and treating the dead bodies of the saints as precious. The disposition of a Christian’s dead body is not a theologically neutral thing.

    “The dead body of a believer is still that believer and still belongs to Jesus Christ. (I Cor 6:20). It is still the temple of the Holy Spirit. It does not belong to the funeral home, or to the surviving relatives, or even to the person who died. It belongs to Christ. If it is Christ’s will to bring it back to the dust before He raises it, so be it. It’s his.”

    Yes, I know everybody now is against Platonism (and also inquisitions by the nation-state, in theory that we oppose also).

    Being against Platonism though makes more sense than being against “hyper-Calvinism”. Where are all these hypers people are so worried about? Platonism, on the other hand, is alive and well in many churches, both “evangelical” and confessional/sacramental.


  29. Brian,

    Does OT practice argue against that as well as cremation?

    I’ve asked the same thing as well, but so far as I can tell there is no record of organ transplants or even complex surgery until the Greco-Roman era. With this in mind, I would place this under an issue to which the Scriptures do not speak clearly – therefore freedom is in place. I don’t even think that that cremation is absolutely wrong in every instance, but I would simply argue that it doesn’t reflect a biblical anthropology well, and would be something I would judge to be unwise. I am not sure how binding my judgement is in that area though.


  30. Brian, I think the argument extends this direction. Not that Richard Neuhaus was or Jean Elshtain is Reformed, but I seem to recall both making arguments in First Things against organ donation.


  31. Neuhaus and Elshtain also approved pre-emptive war against Iraq for the sake of Israel and her servant the American empire. First Things insisted on collaboration with the present regime even as it donated a lot of human bodies to “non-religious” questions. “Sacrificed on the altar of their patriotism” would not sound temporary (secular) enough.

    One good step in the direction of anti-Platonism would be warning Christians against killing other individual Christian bodies. Some folks are far more concerned about us not killing ourselves with immoderate drinking and eating than they are about military “service”.


  32. But, Marky McMark, isn’t this where your Anabaptism is kicking in? I understand the problem of Christians potentially killing other Christians with a rifle and fatigues, but by the same token wouldn’t that preclude a believer from enforcing the law with a gun and badge or gavel and robe? And what does a Protestant doctrine of vocation have to say about all of that? So as a Reformed believer, I tend to think pacifism has more to do with with not defending or advancing the cause of Christ with the weapons of the world than with thinking his people are exempt from suffering them, even at the hands of his people.


  33. I came across a confessional curiosity a while back and posted it at the Heidelblog at one point in a post about cremation. Here is the 2nd Helvetic Confession on the subject matter (if it helps at all):


    Of the Burial of the Faithful,
    and of the Care to Be Shown for the Dead;
    of Purgatory, and the Appearing of Spirits

    THE BURIAL OF BODIES. As the bodies of the faithful are the temples of the Holy Spirit which we truly believe will rise again at the Last Day, Scriptures command that they be honorably and without superstition committed to the earth, and also that honorable mention be made of those saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord, and that all duties of familial piety be shown to those left behind, their widows and orphans. We do not teach that any other care be taken for the dead. Therefore, we greatly disapprove of the Cynics, who neglected the bodies of the dead or most carelessly and disdainfully cast them into the earth, never saying a good word about the deceased, or caring a bit about those whom they left behind them.

    THE CARE FOR THE DEAD. On the other hand, we do not approve of those who are overly and absurdly attentive to the deceased; who, like the heathen, bewail their dead (although we do not blame that moderate mourning which the apostle permits in I Thess. 4:13, judging it to be inhuman not to grieve at all); and who sacrifice for the dead, and mumble certain prayers for pay, in order by such ceremonies to deliver their loved ones from the torments in which they are immersed by death, and then think they are able to liberate them by such incantations.

    THE STATE OF THE SOUL DEPARTED FROM THE BODY. For we believe that the faithful, after bodily death, go directly to Christ, and, therefore, do not need the eulogies and prayers of the living for the dead and their services. Likewise we believe that unbelievers are immediately cast into hell from which no exit is opened for the wicked by any services of the living.

    PURGATORY. But what some teach concerning the fire of purgatory is opposed to the Christian faith, namely, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting,” and to the perfect purgation through Christ, and to these words of Christ our Lord: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Again: “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over, and you are clean” (John 13:10).

    APPARITION OF SPIRITS. Now what is related of the spirits or souls of the dead sometimes appearing to those who are alive, and begging certain duties of them whereby they may be set free, we count those apparitions among the laughingstocks, crafts, and deceptions of the devil, who, as he can transform himself into an angel of light, so he strives either to overthrow the true faith or to call it into doubt. In the Old Testament the Lord forbade the seeking of the truth from the dead, and any sort of commerce with spirits Deut. 18:11). Indeed, as evangelical truth declares, the glutton, being in torment, is denied a return to his brethren, as the divine oracle declared in the words: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29 ff.).


  34. Zirm: So as a Reformed believer, I tend to think pacifism has more to do with with not defending or advancing the cause of Christ with the weapons of the world than with thinking his people are exempt from suffering them, even at the hands of his people.

    mcmark: I find that last sentence confusing. Nobody is exempt from suffering. Are you claiming to be pacifist, or that Reformed believers are pacifists? I am a pacifist (and in that sense, and some others, “anabaptist”). But that is one of the reasons I would never claimed to be Reformed. I know a few pacifists (like Jean Lassere and Andre Trocme) who thought of themselves as Reformed but they were way more liberal (French) than I would be.

    I understand and appreciate that you wouldn’t kill somebody in order to convert their/your nation to Protestantism. This is surely an advance in history. But I don’t understand why you or I would call that distinction between kingdoms “pacifism”.

    A pacifist does not return death for death, or give death to prevent death. A pacifist is killed, but does not kill. A pacifist is not sovereign, but some of us hope in resurrection.

    I suppose every soldier in war could say–“they were trying to kill me”. But this of course leaves out the Paton observation: the task is to try to kill them. Of course you don’t have to take pictures of the dead bodies when you do that. A little “sensitivity training” I suppose would suggest that what you do with their dead bodies might be what you would want them to do with your dead bodies. Because that’s the way the world is: returning evil for evil, not in the private sphere where you are trying to take my individual stuff, but in the “public” sphere where you might be trying to take OUR stuff.

    What’s been done in the name of the collective is way worse than what’s been done for individuals.


  35. Mark, what I have in mind is dual citizenship, a notion that seems to elude both Anabaptists and theonomists (sorry, more mirror errors ahead). For theonomists, the ethos of the Old Testament should characterize the world at large, while for Anabaptists the ethos of the New Testament should. But in older Reformed Protestantism the idea is that believers straddle both this age and the one to come. We’re still citizens of this world where death is indeed returned for death and believers may very well be a part of that process. Which means we may enlist and pull triggers, take oaths and bang gavels; and contra the Anabaptist who wants the judge to suspend punishment on the man who mowed down his daughter’s classroom because we’re supposed to turn the other cheek, we’re not so inclined to bring the coming age to bear on this one quite yet.

    So while I quite agree with you that war is no way to cultivate anything, immanentizing the eschaton is also no way to cultivate Christian ethics.


  36. Zrim, I understand. Schizophrenic citizenships, two masters, but not pacifism. Neither the OT nor the NT gives Christians any standard for when and who to kill, but since we do that in the left kingdom, it doesn’t matter that we don’t have Biblical standards for the sacrifice of other humans since it’s still our vocation to serve both kingdoms. The Sermon on Mount is Christ’s exposition of the law but NOT YET applicable.

    So the Confessional notes that go with the Sermon on the Mount tell us–NOT YET even for private individuals. Only for people when they represent the church.

    Anabaptists are not all that concerned to tell the Mormon judge who to punish and by what standard. It is a mistake to think that we want to operate the nation-state a different way. We don’t think Christians have been told to kill killers before they can kill others. If that had been our vocation, surely we would have revealed standards and not simply “instincts”.

    Of course I am not saying that only “anabaptist types” of Christians have been commanded to overcome evil with good. Nobody will be saved from God’s wrath because they leave the wrath to God, but those who have been saved by Christ’s death and resurrection have been commanded to leave the wrath to God, and that simply does not mean “leave the wrath to those of us who are God’s public agents”.

    I Peter 2:21 For to this you have been called BUT NOT YET, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example BUT NOT YET, so that you will follow in His steps BUT NOT YET.

    So this is not at all about me telling non-Christians to act like Jesus commanded. Rather, it’s about asking when if ever it will be time to turn the other cheek? Why would anybody need to be turning the other cheek after Jesus Christ comes again?


  37. Mark, according to Luther the time to turn the other cheek is when a matter pertains to our eternal citizenship:

    Early in this treatise [“Temporal Authority”], Luther asserts that temporal authority, with its law and sword, exist by God’s ordinance. Citing Genesis 4:14-15 and 9:6, he says that they have thus existed since the beginning of the world and have been confirmed by the law of Moses, John the Baptist, and Christ [pgs. 85-88]. Luther then divides the human race into two classes, those belonging to the kingdom of God (true believers) and those belonging to the kingdom of the world. The former, he explains, need neither law not sword, but the latter do and are under their authority [85-88]. In light of this, God has established two governments in order to complement these two kingdoms. The purpose of the spiritual government is for the Holy Spirit to produce righteous Christians under the rule of Christ and the purpose of the temporal government is for retraining the wicked and non-Christians by the temporal sword. The world cannot be ruled in a ‘Christian and evangelical manner’ since most people are not real Christians and a common Christian government is therefore impossible. Thus, Luther states that ‘one must carefully distinguish between these two governments’ and yet affirm the existence of both, one to produce righteousness and the other to secure ‘external peace and prevent evil deeds.’ In fact, Luther says, ‘Christ’s government does not extend over all men; Christians are always a minority in the midst of non-Christians’ [91-92].

    With these ideas in hand, Luther propounded a novel reading of the Sermon on the Mount’s exhortations to shun violence and retaliation. In opposition especially to those who proposed that Christ commanded these things not to all Christians but only as counsel to those who wished to be perfect [81-83], Luther urges that these commands apply to all Christians, though only to Christians. Christ commands Christians to refrain from violence because the sword has no place in Christ’s kingdom. Non-Christians, on the other hand, are ‘under another government’ and by external constraint are ‘compelled to keep the peace and do what is good.’ Christ sanctioned the sword, but he made no use of it and rules by his Spirit alone, the sword serving ‘no purpose in his kingdom….” [92-93]. Thus, Christians are under a spiritual government that does not bear the sword—hence the commands of the Sermon on the Mount—and non-Christians are under a temporal government that indeed uses the sword to keep order among the wicked. For Luther, the Sermon on the Mount was not intended for some Christians who wished to attain a higher righteousness, but was the norm for all Christians, all of whom are under Christ’s spiritual government.

    Luther’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount through the two governments paradigm, however, did not separate Christians entirely from the use of the sword or make political life irrelevant to them. He goes on to explain that though Christians have no use of the law or sword amongst themselves, they submit to its rule and even do all that they can to help the civil authorities, in order to be of service and benefit to others. In fact, he explains, ‘If he did not serve he would be acting not as a Christian but even contrary to love….” [94]. This counter-intuitive conclusion leads Luther to encourage Christians to seek out temporal occupations, even those that require using the sword: ‘If you see that there is a lack of hangmen, constables, judges, lords, or princes, and you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services and seek the position….” Luther reconciles these seeming contrary injunctions by emphasizing that Christians should never take up these tasks for the purpose of their own vengeance, but only for the safety and peace of their neighbors. And so, when a matter arises concerning themselves, Christians live according to Christ’s spiritual government ‘gladly turning the other cheek and letting the cloak go with the coat when the matter concerned you and your cause.’ This, claims Luther, brings harmony to the Christian’s life in both kingdoms: ‘at one and the same time you satisfy God’s kingdom inwardly and the kingdom of the world outwardly’ [95-96]. Shortly thereafter, Luther announces the final reconciliation of life in the two kingdoms: ‘No Christian shall wield or invoke the sword for himself and his cause. In behalf of another, however, he may and should wield it and invoke it to restrain wickedness and to defend godliness.’” [103]

    VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (pgs. 56-58).


  38. Zrim,

    SFU fix- Six Feet Under fix; dah!!

    For the past three days now I have not been able to get the show out of my mind- especially the contrasting views you and Alexander had of Nate and the complex relationship he had with Brenda. I guess it is the psychological undercurrents that made the show what it was and which is why In Treatment is so attractive too.


  39. Hey John, sorry for delay in getting back to you. In terms of main plot lines, I would say that the focus was on the Fisher family with Brenda and Nate’s relationship an aspect/offshoot of that. However, Brenda becomes a main character almost from the outset so her story is one in its own right, but the main focus remains on the family.

    To me, and what makes the show one of my favourite, its main thematic concern is with people trying to find meaning in their lives and through these searches the show explores great themes and ideas. And there is sincerity in these searches and in the characters themselves. There is honesty. And even though the show follows a secular/atheist track in its conclusions I find this sincerity and honesty very powerful (we particularly see this in the character of Lisa, but also in Ruth’s sister Rose and Claire later on the series when she begins to mature).

    This is where my problem with Nate comes in: he never commits, to anything. He’s an emotional parasite: always taking from people and never giving anything of himself. And so he wanders from partner to partner, from worldview to worldview.

    Zrim- of course, in a “created by God in His image” sense human beings are complicated. But when we talk about people or characters being complicated we are not doing so in this sense but in a subjective sense, e.g. emotionally complicated. or “has issues” or is multi-layered and other psycho. chat.

    And so we talk about certain situations being “complicated” and that’s why we haven’t done anything to resolve them, when really the situation is very simple it’s just we who are making it complicated and/or just refusing to do what we know we should. Too often we use terms like “complicated” and “lost” and “searching for meaning” to make us more interesting than we actually are, or to make excuses for why we’re not taking action in a particular situation or because we want to be seen as radical or individual and not one of the pack. Nate most certainly falls into all these categories because he doesn’t like his life and thinks he deserves something better and doesn’t want to accept that life, by and large, is pretty humdrum and so he looks for something better. And in the process he rejects and hurts those who love him and with whom he would have found something meaningful.

    I think lazy and selfish are more legitimate character (in the sense of character trait and in the sense of TV show character) descriptors than lost or confused. Being lazy or selfish are definable, specific things. What does it mean to be lost? In what way is Nate lost? Does he not know what geographical location he is in? All the other characters in the show develop. They “move on”. Nate doesn’t. And agreed, that in itself doesn’t make Nate a bad man. But he “doesn’t move on” in ways which are selfish, lazy and hurtful. And I would ask: why does someone being confused and/or lost make them good?

    And of course Claire would be far kinder in her appraisal of Nate- he was her brother whom she loved.


  40. Alexander, something tells me the good Dr. Dobson might take exception to the suggestion of SFU’s main focus being on the family. But when it comes to family values I’ll take HBO over FOF. Still, I didn’t think eulogizing Nate as a good man would be so contentious. I guess man crushes can be blind.


  41. Perhaps I was a tad too vitriolic, it’s just I really can’t stand Nate. There are far worthier candidates for one’s man crushes out there.


  42. Alexander,

    That was a much more satisfying answer to my questions than Zrim’s. I appreciate the thoughtful response. Perhaps your “can’t standing” Nate has some mysterious psychological undercurrents along with your conscious awareness of why you find him so disagreeable. Although your awareness of why you dislike him is pretty convincing. Harsh emotional responses lots of times come out of some bad experiences with similar personality types. I know, I am playing amatuer psychologist.

    Brenda seemed to be toying with Nate at times although she always admitted she had true feelings for him. She never gave any indication that Nate’s wandering lostness, as you called it (my paraphrasing) bothered her that much as far as I could tell. It also seemed to me that Nate was deeply affected and hurt by her.

    I do agree with you that the show and characters were very honest in showing their weaknesses along with their strengths. And it was their weaknesses that seemed to prevail most of the time.

    BTW, Zrim is totally unflappable and I have only seen one person really get to him a bit but I won’t mention names.


  43. I have a thought for you, Darryl. Rather than seeing a correlation between preaching about hell and burials, I would ask about the correlation with the teaching of the creeds. I would propose that a loss here may be a cause of the problem.

    If we believe, teach, and confess the catholic creeds, it only makes sense that our practice should realign with our doctrine. If Christians are taught the simple truths about the resurrection, they should recognize the need to treat a person’s body that will be resurrected and reunited with their soul with respect. That ain’t grandma’s shell to be disposed with like that trash, that’s still grandma(!) and her body will be reunited with her soul in the resurrection whether she’s unbeliever or believer.

    Here’s the apostle’s creed excerpt:

    (I believe) the in resurrection of the body

    Here’s the Nicence creed excerpt:

    We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    Natch, I think all 3 creeds should be properly taught. [Perhaps, if people understood Lutherans confess the Athanasius creed, they would stop accusing us of antinomianism? (LOL – it’s worth a try…)] Here in the Antanasias creed, again, the resurrection of the body and the teaching is clearest.


    “At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire. This is the true Christian faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved.”

    Anywho, I’m voting for the recovery of teaching creeds if we want to make a dent in the Christian cremation industry. Ya thank?


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