Saturday, January 25, 2014

Will Our Pets (and other animals) Greet Us in Heaven?

In my last blog article, I said I would begin a new series that will explore the possibility of deceased pets and wild animals inhabiting the new heaven and earth, as its described in both the Old and New Testaments. I believe this is a question millions of people—both Christians and non-Christians—would like to have answered. Unfortunately, there are very few resources available on this topic, and the few I’m familiar with are more emotional-based than Bible-based.  And of course the Bible is not explicit on the eternal fate of non-human life. But after studying this issue in depth, I think I can make a fairly good case that at least sentient animals (those that can feel and perceive things) will be redeemed alongside God’s children at the end of this age.

By way of introduction, I’ll briefly share how I came to be interested in this topic. The first time I remember wondering about the eternal fate of non-human life was on my 20th wedding anniversary. My wife and I were in Moab, Utah, exploring Arches National Park. When we called home that evening to check on our kids, who were in high school at the time, they told us our golden retriever, Bear, had died.  We were grief stricken, and felt terrible that we were not home to comfort him (and our kids) as he was dying. We also felt bad that our fifteen year old son was left with the sad chore of burying his dog “brother.” In our motel room that night, I tearfully wrote a “eulogy” for Bear to preserve my memory of his life. I wondered at the time if he would be there to greet my wife and I in heaven, someday.          

Then, a little less than three years ago, my dog Sam—one of my best friends and companion for over fifteen years—also died. Fortunately, I was home this time and was able to gently pet and comfort him as he drifted away. Sam’s death refocused my interest on the eternal destiny of non-human life even further, and I decided to research and write a book on the subject. The book itself is not completed (I’ll let you know when I find a publisher), but the material I will be using for this series of blog articles is going to be based on it.

C. S. Lewis believed that pets would be in heaven (I’ll explain his reasoning later on), but questioned whether or not wild animals would be. Readers who know me personally (or read my book Should Christians Be Environmentalists) know how much I love wildlife. In fact I’ve written a book and several dozen articles on wildlife, so it was natural for me to wonder if they too might inhabit heaven after physical death.  If Lewis is right about pets, why not wild animals?

In order to develop this topic, we’ll explore thing such as:  What is God’s perspective on non-human life—do they have value to Him independent of humans? What do animals think, feel, and experience? You’ll be surprised what recent studies in animal behavior have revealed! Do sentient animals, like humans, have immaterial minds distinct from their physical brains? What is there about sentient animals that would lead us to conclude they do have immaterial mind (and thus souls)? Are animal souls immortal? If so, will they be resurrected? You may be surprised to discover that well-known theologians think they probably will. I’ll share some of their thoughts down the road.

I know this is a controversial topic, so I will go through it carefully and methodologically, laying a solid foundation for my conclusions. Although the Bible doesn’t give us all the information on this topic we would like, I will try to justify my conclusions in Scripture. And let me assure you, nothing I will write on this subject will be contrary to what is possible within biblical boundaries—even when  a degree of speculation is required.

You can see this will be an intriguing series of articles. And from an evangelistic perspective, I think it has tremendous potential as a point of contact because many unbelievers have the same concerns about their deceased pets as Christians. Since this is material for a new book, I'd appreciate any feedback you can give me.

 If you know anyone who would be interested in this topic, give them my blog address. If they (or you) would like to get on my blog email list (people I notify by email whenever I post a new blog article), send me an email through my website (, and I’ll add you to my list. (I post notices on Facebook, but they’re easy to miss because of the huge volume of posts that pass through every day.) As in the past, I try to post an article every two weeks.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Four Approaches to Evangelism*

Part Three of Part Five:   Applying the Socratic Method

This blog article ends my twelve-part series on apologetics and evangelism. Beginning in (probably) two weeks, I’ll embark on what will be a major shift in topics—and one that I believe millions of people would like answers to, but which there are few Bible-based resources to investigate: “Will deceased pets and wild animals be in Heaven?” I’ll introduce the topic in the next blog article, so let interested people know what’s coming up. For now, to the issue at hand.

In my last article, prior to Christmas and the holidays, I suggested that asking challenging questions requires non-Christians to justify their own religious or secular worldview. This is the Socratic method of apologetics. If you didn’t read that article, go back and read it before going further, or what follows won’t make as much sense.

It should be clear by now that the task of Christian apologetics is to identify and remove obstacles that prevent non-Christians from seriously considering Christianity. The strategy of the Socratic method, in achieving this goal,  is to ask questions that  encourage non-Christians to see for themselves that their own religious or secular worldviews are untenable, and, in light of this, to reconsider the veracity of the Christian worldview.

This apologetic approach can be particularly useful in today’s postmodern world, where many non-Christians claim (although few consistently live it out) that there are no absolute truths, especially in the area of ethics and religion.  Rather than trying to present objective facts and evidences for Christianity, which many staunch  postmodernists will off-the-cuff reject as irrelevant, we challenge them to explain their position on the issue at hand.

The idea behind this apologetic tactic is that when fair-minded people come to understand for themselves that their existing religious or secular worldviews cannot be substantiated, when they discover they are unable to muster legitimate reasons to believe it, they will be more willing to rethink the assumptions of their own worldview. This may lead to a willingness to consider traditional apologetic evidences for Christianity. Better yet, to a Gospel presentation.

What kind of questions should we ask? In my book Engaging the Closed Minded I give numerous examples, but here are several basic kinds of questions that will work in practically every apologetic encounter:

 “What do you mean by that?” (Make then clarify.) 

“How do you know that’s true?” (Is their view merely personal opinion, based on
            hearsay, or is it something they are parroting from popular culture?) 
 “Why should I believe that?” (Is there a good reason to believe as they do?)
 “Where did your learn that”? (What’s their source, is it reliable?)
“What happens if you’re wrong?” (Religious decisions based on feelings and
            experiences, rather than a foundation of objective facts (as in Christianity),
            are at best questionable, and likely false.

These are just a few examples, and I encourage you to read my book for many more examples and a much fuller treatment of this subject. But notice that all of these questions are essentially the same kinds of questions that non-Christians often ask us. By asking them the same questions we’re asked, we are taking the burden of proof off ourselves and placing it on the unbelievers—where it belongs. After all, we have the truth and they don’t, so why should we always be the ones justifying our beliefs!

We can also ask similar questions to help non-Christians think through their assumptions about Christianity. Non-Christians often harbor erroneous ideas about what the Bible teaches and misconceptions about what Christians actually believe. More often than not, they get their opinions from popular culture, which is notoriously biased against Christians and Christianity.   As we respond to their answers to the questions we ask, we can gently and lovingly share the truth about our faith. Unbelievers will begin to see that much of what they assume about Christianity is mistaken. This may give us an opportunity to share the Gospel as well as the transforming power of Christ. Postmodernists in particular, who often interpret reality according to their feelings and emotions, need to see that Christianity is not just about facts and history. It really can change their lives and meet their deepest emotional and spiritual needs—because it is true.

So give the Socratic Method a try. Simple questions that encourage unbelievers to think through their beliefs can be a powerful and effective apologetic tactic.

*  This series of blog articles are adapted from copyrighted material and may not be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without permission. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or email it to people who may benefit from it. I explore the topic of this present series of articles  in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).