On another thread (Should we form universalist congregations?), Bob wrote:
If I ever said that this dynamic “can’t” extend beyond our physical death, then it was an overstatement. My view is that it simply doesn’t do so - not because it’s strictly impossible or unreasonable for our future existence to so resemble this one that our character is formed in the same way as it is now, but because I don’t understand Scripture to reveal that it does. In other words, if Scripture taught a future existence but was utterly silent as to the nature of this existence, I would be open to the possibility that the process of character development which begins in this life will continue in a similar fashion in the next. At the same time, I would also have to admit to the possibility that the future existence may have very little in common with the present, and that the means by which a holy character is attained in this life may also be exclusive to this life.
My view is that the principle of analogy as a means to determining what the future state of existence will be like apart from what has been previously revealed is not a principle found in Scripture. In other words, for any particular aspect or characteristic of our future existence for which there is no previous revelation, we find no inspired writer “filling in the gaps,” so to speak, by reasoning from the principle of analogy. Paul’s “seed analogy” is, again, no exception to this, for he was merely giving an example from the natural world to illustrate how there will be continuity between our present personal identity and our future personal identity, in order to make this previously revealed fact more understandable to his readers. As noted before, Paul’s not revealing anything new to them about the resurrection existence that had not been previously revealed by the OT Scriptures or Christ’s resurrection. He’s teaching the same minimalist continuity between this life and the next which had already been revealed. Moreover, Paul’s seed analogy cannot be raised as an objection to Balfour’s argument, since Balfour was arguing against the use of analogies involving the present existence and experience of human beings, not illustrations from nature to defend a previously revealed fact concerning man’s future existence. Paul, in using an illustration from nature, was not thereby sanctioning the use of the principle of analogy to prove that we will begin our future existence with unchanged characters, and that there will be no essential differences between the present and the future existence in regards to moral change and development. And if that’s the case, then your insistence that people are going to be raised (or however you think we will transition into the future existence) in the same sinful state in which we die, need not be seen as anything more than pure speculation that means nothing without a “thus says the Lord” to substantiate it; it would be like me insisting that people who are insane in this life will be raised with the same mental derangement.
Again, the only continuity of which Christ speaks is that of the person, not some non-essential aspect of a person’s present existence and identity which, were it confined to this present existence, would not compromise the essential continuity between their past and future personal identity.
As said earlier, Paul’s use of the “seed analogy” neither involves any aspect of man’s present personal identity and existence, nor is it used to argue for some aspect of our future existence which was not previously revealed. So yes, I would argue that Paul’s illustration from nature is no precedent for thinking that we may reason on the principle of analogy in order to determine how our future existence as human persons will be similar or identical to our present existence as human persons.
Paul was not reasoning on the principle of analogy to reveal anything to the Corinthians that had not already been revealed by the OT, or by Christ’s resurrection. Again, the seed illustration is not an example of Paul reasoning on the principle of analogy between man’s present and future existence, since the illustration is not borrowed from human life but from plant life. And it’s ironic that you mention the “spiritual body,” since in the passage in which Paul uses this expression the emphasis is very clearly on the DISSIMILARITIES between the present and future body. Paul does not write one sentence in 1Cor 15 in which he employs the principle of analogy to argue for how the future existence will be similar or nearly identical to the present. Like Jesus’ discussion with the Sadducees, Paul’s emphasis is on the dissimilarities and discontinuities. The only continuity that Paul or Jesus mentions is that the future existence will be both personal and embodied.
Now, I think you are correct in saying, “We agree that there is both continuity and discontinuity in the texts, and thus seem to be quibbling over how much continuity it would be reasonable to expect.” Whereas I affirm that we should reasonably expect as much continuity between our mortal and immortal existence as is revealed by Scripture, you seem to be saying, “We should reasonably expect there to be as much continuity between our mortal and immortal existence as ensures that the same dynamic by which we attain Christ-like character in this present existence will continue in the future existence; that is, there will be as much continuity between the present and the future state as makes possible a gradual attainment of complete conformity to Christ’s sinless character instead of an instant attainment.” But why is this “reasonable to expect” apart from what Scripture has to say about it? As I noted earlier, some might say it would be “reasonable to expect” that our future existence will be identical to this existence, since our present existence is the only existence with which we are personally familiar. We have no experiential understanding of anything different. But does our familiarity with, and experiential understanding of, this present existence make the expectation that our future existence will be the same as our present existence a “reasonable” one? I don’t see how this follows.
The fact that this life is characterized by an exposure to inevitable pain and death does not mean it is reasonable to expect that our future existence will also be characterized by this. Similarly, the fact that this life is characterized by temptation and sin doesn’t mean this will be the case with our future existence. What determines the nature of our future existence is not our present existence, but the One who has determined what both our present and future existence will be like. We can’t determine from our present existence what God’s plan is for our future existence, so the only reasonable expectation we can have is what God chooses to reveal to us. Just because God saw fit to make this present existence one in which an improvement in character could only be attained gradually (and by faith!) doesn’t mean he has seen fit to continue this dynamic beyond this existence. What may be a perfectly wise and appropriate aspect of our present existence according to God’s redemptive plan (e.g., sin and death as a part of human experience) may be wholly unnecessary in the future, and inconsistent with God’s redemptive plan.
Now, if our subjection to Christ post-resurrection is to be at all analogous to this present existence, then it must be the case that we will experience the same ongoing struggle against temptation, the same conflict between the flesh and the spirit, the same doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity, and the same trials, hardships and suffering, as we do in this mortal existence - for it is these such aspects of our present existence that make the attainment of Christ-like character progressive instead of instantaneous. Remove all ambiguity and false perceptions of reality, take away the source of temptation, and save us from all the actual and potential evils to which mortals are necessarily exposed in this world, and I think instantaneous subjection to Christ is pretty much guaranteed for all. If I may borrow some expressions used by Talbott in chapter 11 of his book: If (when we are awakened in the resurrection) all of our illusions are shattered, all our ignorance is removed, all of the ambiguities we face are resolved, and an absolutely clear revelation of God is imparted to us, I don’t see how a “fully informed decision” to then reject and rebel against God could even be possible.
But I think the main question we should ask (and which I hope will become central to this discussion) is, “What does the Bible teach?” Does it reveal that any are to be raised as “immortal sinners?” I for one don’t see that taught; instead, I see just the opposite. I don’t see where it is revealed that there will be any moral change for anyone (for better or worse) after death has been “swallowed up in victory.” And when I get back from Disney World next week, I’ll try to begin building a case for this. Until then, I probably won’t be thinking too much about it (except maybe during the “It’s a Small World” ride, assuming my wife still wants to go on it… ).