Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

9/22 2020

What Happens After We Die?

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Exploring life after death

Is there life after death? The question has haunted humans for ages. It is the stuff of existential crises, and some answer to the question is provided in nearly every form of religion the world has known. Even for the irreligious, the unanswerable question of the Great Beyond looms. Blaise Pascal, the 17th-century philosopher, theologian, and mathematician, suggested that all our consumption of entertainment is one big distraction from the fact that we will die.

 

Life After Death?

Thankfully, this is an easy question to answer.

Just kidding! Even within the Christian tradition, there is a somewhat wide array of beliefs and nuances regarding heaven, hell, intermediate states, and who is going to end up where. We can’t possibly hope to settle the matter here in this short reflection, but I’d like to share some insights from a course I took at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

The course was an elective called “Rethinking Church,” taught by Dr. Edwin Chr. van Driel. You might think that the afterlife is a bit off-topic for a course about re-imagining church. But, as we learned in the class, our thoughts about salvation (soteriology) and ultimate destiny (eschatology) will shape how we live in the church. After all, the church is a salvific community and, in many ways, an eschatological community.

Because of the class’s focus on the end-times, one of our assigned texts was N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. The book, which I highly recommend, begins with a provocative premise: Christians often hold beliefs about the afterlife that don’t have anything to do with the biblical witness! Instead, we have allowed Platonic ideas and Enlightenment thinking to dictate what we believe about the future.

According to Wright, this has happened across the entire spectrum of Christian traditions. The Enlightenment (re)introduced a duality that was never present in the biblical authors’ thinking—the separation of the physical and spiritual realms. Once accepted, this duality began to warp Christian thinking about future destiny.

 

Two Opposing Errors

For one group of Christians, this has meant focusing only on the spiritual. Since our souls will float up to heaven after we die, the thinking goes, it doesn’t matter what happens in the here and now. This view tends to devalue justice work and, especially, environmentalism. For another subset of Christianity, the same duality has led to a different error: to focus only on concrete issues while downplaying or outright ignoring the spiritual reality of God’s presence and love.

The first group sees total discontinuity between the world we know and the world to come; an apocalyptic event will hit the “reset button” on everything. The second group sees only continuity with the future, since the works we do now will seamlessly bring about whatever comes next. Jesus, however, taught and modeled both continuity and discontinuity between present and ultimate future. He taught, preached, prayed, cried, ate, and healed. He declared that the kingdom is here but told us to await its coming. Wright suggests that Jesus’ resurrection and the biblical image of a new heaven and new earth—merged or fused together into one concrete, eternal existence—blows up the Platonic duality altogether.

The whole world will be resurrected, body and spirit.

So what happens after we die? According to Wright, this isn’t the important question. The important question is what happens ultimately (i.e. after whatever happens after we die). And the answer is a resurrected world—the new heaven and new earth. As for “life after death” in terms of what happens between a person’s physical death and the world’s ultimate resurrection, Wright says there is no way to know for sure. Perhaps we enter a time of waiting in God’s presence. But again, this isn’t the Bible’s picture of hope.

Our hope is in life after life after death.

 

Jon Mathieu is a master of divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a 2019-2020 Newbigin Fellow. While his background is in mathematics, he has been engaged in ministry in Pittsburgh for more than a decade. After years serving as a campus minister, ministry director, and writer in evangelical contexts, he is now following God into more expansive and inclusive visions for ministry. His writing appears at RELEVANT and Red Letter Christians.

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9/18 2020

Inside the PTS Curriculum: Greek Grammar I

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professor’s bio.

This week’s course is: “Greek Grammar I.”

 

Dr. Tucker Ferda, instructor of Greek Grammar I.
About Greek Grammar I

During this term, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about ancient Greek with Dr. Tucker Ferda in Greek Grammar class. This course fulfills a requirement for the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree and is also open to students in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) and Master of Theology (MTS) degree programs.

This course will introduce students to the basics of biblical Greek and to the tools necessary for translating and interpreting New Testament Greek texts. Students will start with the Greek alphabet and learn the rudiments of grammar and syntax. They will learn basic vocabulary and develop the ability to parse and to translate simple sentences from the New Testament.

By the end of the course, students will have mastered specific elements of ancient Greek vocabulary and grammar that are common in the New Testament. They will be able to translate some Greek passages from their textbook and from the New Testament itself. For many such Greek passages, they will be able to evaluate the authors’ grammatical and syntactical choices.

The required textbook for this course is S.M. Baugh’s A New Testament Greek Primer, 3rd edition. Course assignments will include frequent homework exercises in the textbook, weekly quizzes, and two exams.

 

About the Instructor

Dr. Tucker Ferda is assistant professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He previously served at PTS as visiting assistant professor and instructor. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, where he also served as teaching fellow. In 2015, he was named a Regional Scholar of the Society of Biblical Literature, an award which “recognizes and promotes outstanding entry-level scholars.” In addition to teaching Greek Grammar, Dr. Ferda has expertise in a wide range of areas, including the Gospels, the life of Jesus, the Old Testament in the New, the history of biblical interpretation, Hellenistic Jewish literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the theological interpretation of Scripture. He is a frequent presenter at regional and national SBL meetings, and he has published more than a dozen articles in biblical studies journals.

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9/11 2020

Inside the PTS Curriculum: Justice and Pastoral Care

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professor’s bio.

This week’s course is: Justice and Pastoral Care.

Leanna Fuller teaches PTS students.

Professor Leanna Fuller teaches MDiv, MA, and Doctor of Ministry students at Pittsburgh Seminary.

About Justice and Pastoral Care

During this term, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about the connection between justice and caring practices with the Rev. Dr. Leanna Fuller in the class “Justice and Pastoral Care.” This course fulfills a requirement for the Graduate Certificate in Urban Ministry and is open to students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv), Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), and Master of Theology (MTS) degree programs.

This course will explore the communal, intercultural, and systemic contexts of caring practices and the links between justice-making and pastoral care. Students will consider the ways in which communal dynamics such as injustice, exclusion, and conflict may shape individual experiences of suffering, both in congregations and in the communities of which they are a part.

By the end of the course, students will be able to articulate an understanding of pastoral care as a form of ministry that is situated within complex organizational and cultural systems—and narrate how this understanding challenges, supplements, or transforms their prior ideas about the nature of pastoral care. They will integrate insights from the course material with reflections on their own pastoral care experiences, with particular attention to the contexts of these ministry experiences. Finally, they will be able to describe their own emerging understanding of the proper relationship between practices of justice-making and practices of pastoral care.

Assignments will include required reading, classroom participation, reflection papers, blog posts, a public theology assignment, and a final integrative assignment. The texts for the course include but are not limited to Leah Gunning Francis’ Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community; M. Jan Holton’s Longing for Home: Forced Displacement and Postures of Hospitality; Emmanuel Y. Lartey’s In Living Color: An Intercultural Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling; Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care, edited by Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Karen B. Montagno; and Chanequa Walker-Barnes’s Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength.

 

About the Instructor

A graduate of Vanderbilt University (Ph.D.), Vanderbilt Divinity School (M.Div.), and Furman University (B.A.), the Rev. Dr. Leanna Fuller is in her element when teaching about caring ministry. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, her most recent book is titled When Christ’s Body is Broken: Anxiety, Identity, and Conflict in Congregations (Wipf and Stock, 2016). Dr. Fuller has earned numerous fellowships, awards, and honors. She researches and writes about church conflict, and her book uses two case studies to examine the issue toward constructive outcomes. Fuller advises pastors to develop an intentional plan for dealing with congregational conflict—before the conflict arises! Some of the first steps, she says, include acknowledging that anxiety will be present in such circumstances and that the more serious the conflict, the more time it will take to resolve it constructively.

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