Trail Blazer Ministries
Base Camp for Life: A Spiritual Journey...

Is Christianity a Death Cult? Part 2

Is Christianity a Death Cult? Part 2

In our last post, we examined a claim made by columnist Joel Stein, who suggested that Christianity often looks like a "death cult" to outside observers. Stein based his claim on the Christian faith's apparent fixation on death - a fixation stemming from an overemphasis on the idea of eternal life in heaven after we die.

In contrast to Stein's claim, I highlighted some key teachings from Jesus that seem to paint quite a different picture - namely that the reign of God is in some sense being realized in history, and that it is bringing about a radical transformation of human affairs. To highlight the transformative nature of this message, I briefly drew attention to a number of important ideas from the New Testament, many of which can be gleaned from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6), including love of enemy and neighbor alike, the radical equality of all people in God's social economy, and the rejection of all armed and political revolutions as the means of establishing peace in our communities. Today, I'd like to unpack the practical side of this issue just a bit more.

What we believe directly effects how we live our lives. If I believe that the goal of my faith is ultimately to escape this "vale of tears" for a better world somewhere up in the sky, then I will have significantly less motivation to work to improve conditions in this present world. This is evidenced by churches that place a great emphasis on spiritual needs, but neglect to work for the betterment of those in their communities. In extreme cases, an overemphasis on the afterlife can even lead to apathy. One indiviual that I know of has become so fixated on the idea of the second coming, for example, that he actually accuses 'liberals' of doing satan's work by 'trying to save the earth, which is the devil's throne.' In his view, any action to try to save this present world from environmental destruction is misguided, because the intention of God (as he understands it) is to remove believers from the world into a place called "heaven." Indeed, he is so eager to get it all over with that he once hoped out loud that President Obama might actually be the antichrist, because that would mean that Jesus would soon return. (This leads to the interesting question of whether or not a professing Christian should actually vote the antichrist, since getting him into power would presumably hasten Christ's return!) Furthermore, his belief that all of the world's problems will be solved by the second coming of Christ has led to a case of apathy by producing an indifference to the issues that effect us on a daily basis. This is the sort of attitude that Stein takes aim at in his article - and with good reason.

Fortunately, most radicals are not consistent in their worldview. To my friend's credit, he is an active volunteer with several charitable organizations in his community, and I fully believe that he would take the shirt off his back to help someone in need. He can be one of the most compassionate people I know in a pinch. He just doesn't quite see the breakdown between his actions and his philosophy - which is probably a good thing in this case.

The idea of a present reign of God unfolding in the world puts things in a different perspective, though. It means that the corners of God's life touch and overlap with our present life - sanctifying each moment and bringing divine potential to each challenge we face.

For me, that's a large part of understanding the Christian doctrine of the incarnation - that idea that in Christ, God has manifested among us, taken on human flesh, and entered into the stream of human life. I believe God entered that stream in order to sanctify it and draw it up into his own life. While many Christians view the incarnation as being primarily about God coming 'down' to us, I see it as two-directional - in the incarnation, God not only comes 'down' to where we are, God also lifts us 'up' to where he is. In Christ, the divine stamp is once and for all set on physical life and on humanity; we can never again look at the world around us and think that God is remote from it. Instead, we must look at every rock, every city, and every mountain and think - "God has been here. Like an explorer setting foot on new land, God has come and set his flag here, claiming this world as his own." The incarnation kills in one stroke the primitive notion of an angry God fuming somewhere in the clouds, and the deistic notion of a detached, uncaring God who winds up the clockwork world and watches it go on its own steam. The idea that Jesus is "God among us" means that God is at work in human history, not above it or outside of it or somewhere ahead of it, but right here in the nitty-gritty midst of it.

In the Book of Isaiah, God promises a "new heavens and a new earth" (Isa. 65:17, 66:22), and 2 Peter 3:13 tells us that we are "looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness." The promise of God, and the end of Christian faith, then, is a complete overhaul of creation - a new paradigm in which the world-system you and I are familiar with is replaced and superseded by the reign of God in the hearts of men and women. This is the facet of the biblical message that those who emphasize the afterlife rightly draw our attention to. Their mistake, however, is in relegating this new reality entirely to the future, or else assigning to an incorporeal spirit realm.

A key piece of the "new creation" puzzle is in 1 Corinthians 5:17 - "therefore, if anyone is in Christ, s/he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come!" What does that mean? Well, as I understand it, it means that in some sense, God's new creation - the new reality that the writers of the Bible were looking ahead to - has already begun to break through into this present world. That is to say, the new reality is here, in you and me, if we submit ourselves to God's reign and partner with God in manifesting that new reality in the world. Like the Pharisees asking Christ where and when the Kingdom would come in, with its mighty army and conquering flag, many Christians today are looking for a single apocalyptic moment when God strikes down the wicked and establishes his reign through brute (albeit supernatural) force. But we may not get that apocalyptic moment; what we're looking at might be something more like a colonization - one that began with the landing of the King, and continues as lives are transformed by the gospel of his kingdom. Indeed, the whole thing may really be more gradual than we've dared to believe; a transformation of hearts and souls that will one day overtake the world-system we know, transforming it from within.

Think of those old science fiction movies and comic book stories where a time traveller from the distant future returns to the present to tell the world what the future is like. That's not far from the mark when it comes to the biblical idea of the new creation. You and I are that time traveller; the future is represented in us.

2 Peter 1:3-4 tells us: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."

This is one of my favorite passages in Scripture! Notice that the word "participate" is present tense. Our participation in the "divine nature" begins now, and stretches into eternity. For me, then, Christianity is fundamentally an invitation to enter into and participate in the life and work of God in the world. That is a life and work that is, by its very nature, eternal. And it is in this dynamic participation - dare I say, partnership, or better, romance, with God - that we find the "eternal life" that Jesus spoke of; a life that transcends the boundaries of this world and the limitations of death. C.S. Lewis once wisely noted that looking back from the perspective of eternity, we'll see that it was heaven or hell all the way through. That is to say, in some sense, heaven and hell are simply continuations of the lives we live here and now - the natural end of a trajectory either towards God or away from God. Perhaps Maximus put it best in the movie "Gladiator": "What we do in life echoes in eternity!"

Nice job on the new layout, Jesse; it looks great!

And thanks for the link to my blog!

Thanks Bruce, BTW check the article on you at

Can you link back, or do you want your involvement with this blog to be semi-anonymous

Secret Squirrel you did a great job onthe 2 part post "Is Christianity a Death Cult? I agree that most Christians have promoted a religion of death and unfulfillment. Christ came to give us life, and more abudantly.

The title of your posts caught my attention. I was raised Christian from before I could talk. All I remember hearing about in church was death. Jesus' death, our death, why we had to be prepared for death.

This scarred me for life. I had panic attacks for years. I obsessed about death. I'm 48 years old and I'm still not over the stuff I was taught as a child. Yep. To me, mainstream, fundamentalist Christianity is most definitely a death cult.

I'm 31 and in the last 3-4 years I've been dealing with this constantly. I'm struggling to even take part in my church's prayer of confession.
Here is a typical prayer:
Father, teach us not to sin with such abandon.

We do it all so easily:
pretend, lie,
envy, lust,
criticize, brood,
ignore, deny,
consume, hoard,
defame, distort,
make excuses,
and then expect an easy forgiveness for the asking.

God, forgive us for our deep and utter disregard for your holy character. Keep us from presuming upon your patience with us in our sin. Loving Father, work in us a godly fear that drives us, not to despair, but to you. And teach us the shortness of our days, that we may learn to live them for your glory, and gain from you a heart of wisdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wow. I'm not sure what to say about a prayer like that other than it would make me feel extremely uncomfortable and I don't see it as healthy.

Recent Comments