Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Models of Eschatology Part 3: The Dangers of Christoplatonism

As we discuss models of eschatology it is necessary to discuss how Platonism has affected Christian views on eschatology. To do so I want to mention some ideas from Randy Alcorn who has specifically addressed the impact of Platonism on Christian eschatology. He has coined the term, Christoplatonism. As the title suggests, Christoplatonism is a philosophy that “has blended elements of Platonism with Christianity.”[i]

But as Alcorn points out, this merger is not a good thing since this mixture of Platonism with Christianity “has poisoned Christianity and blunted its distinct differences from Eastern religions.”[ii] Christoplatonism’s pervasive influence has caused many Christians to resist the following biblical truths: bodily resurrection of the dead; life on the New Earth; eating and drinking in Heaven; walking and talking in Heaven; living in dwelling places; traveling down streets; going through gates from one place to another; ruling; working; playing; and engaging in earthly culture.[iii] Christoplatonism is also evident when the following beliefs are held:

  1. Belief that our eternal dwelling place is in a spiritual dimension and not on earth.
  2. Belief that planet earth is basically evil and is beyond restoration.
  3. Belief that heaven is entirely beyond human comprehension.
  4. Belief that our experience in eternity will be mostly that of spiritual contemplation and inactivity.
  5. Belief that there is no time or linear progression of history.
  6. Belief that there will be no nations or governments.

Alcorn believes that Christoplatonism has had “a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth.”[iv] He cites a statistic from Time to support this in which two-thirds of Americans who believe in resurrection of the dead do not believe they will have resurrected bodies.[v]

Prevailing ideas of Platonism that have been adopted rob Christians of their hope. “The human heart cries out for answers about the afterlife,” but the answers are not being given, he claims.[vi] Many Christians are led to believe, as one author has pointed out, that “eternity is an unending church service,” a “never-ending sing-along in the sky.”[vii] But trying to long for an eternity that is primarily spiritual does not offer real hope. Alcorn states, “Trying to develop an appetite for a disembodied existence in a non-physical Heaven is like trying to develop an appetite for gravel. No matter how sincere we are, and no matter how hard we try, it’s not going to work. Nor should it.”[viii]

Alcorn claims that this misunderstanding about the nature of Heaven has its roots in Satan: “Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a place of boring, unearthly existence. If we believe that lie, we’ll be robbed of our joy and anticipation.”[ix] Alcorn mentions that in his research he collected more than 150 books on Heaven, both old and new. “One thing I’ve found is that books about Heaven are notorious for saying we can’t know what Heaven is like, but it will be more wonderful than we can imagine,” he says.[x] “However, the moment we say that we can’t imagine Heaven, we dump cold water on all that God has revealed to us about our eternal home. If we can’t envision it, we can’t look forward to it. If Heaven is unimaginable, why even try?”[xi]

[i] Randy Alcorn, Heaven, 475.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Alcorn, Heaven, 476.
[iv] Ibid., 52.
[v] Ibid., 112.
[vi] Ibid., xiii.
[vii] John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed of (Nashville: Nelson, 2000), 111.
[viii] Alcorn, Heaven, 7.
[ix] Ibid., 11.
[x] Alcorn, Heaven, 17.
[xi] Ibid., 17. 

1 comment:

  1. Many Christians are led to believe, as one author has pointed out, that “eternity is an unending church service,” a “never-ending sing-along in the sky."

    Hi Dr. Vlach,

    I might be in the minority, but the idea of eternity being an unending church service where the object of our worship is present in all His glory doesn't seem at all boring to me. It seems like the very goal and outcome of my faith (1Jn 3:2l; Jn 16:22; Rev 22:4). I wouldn't style it as a "sing-along in the sky," and I think the kind of attitude that believes such a thing would be boring is the wrong one.

    I haven't spent much time thinking about the contrasting models of eschatology, and so I'm eager to see the case made from Scripture for one view or the other. But if it's the case that Scripture points more to the "New Creation model," the case can be made without such statements as Alcorn makes. I believe in a new physical creation. I believe in bodily resurrection. But there's also something in me that knows I would would be happy to gaze into the face of Christ and worship Him for eternity. And I don't think that means I have "an appetite for gravel."

    All that to say: if Scripture winds up vindicating Alcorn's position on eschatological models, it's a shame he had to present it so crudely.