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  • Reincarnated or R.I.P.?

    In an article by the Pew Research Center I read a statistic that popped right off the screen at me:

    22% of Christians believe in Reincarnation.

    What?  Christians??  It’s a little hard to believe at first, but it’s true.

    Think about that for a minute.  Say you’re sitting in a mainline church of 500 people.  If the statistic holds, that means you’re sitting with over 100 people who believe that when our bodies die our souls begin a new life in a new body here on earth.  Not only that, but these people also see no conflict with this belief and their profession as Christians.  Yet, the Bible tells us clearly that men are appointed to die once, and then to be judged (Hebrews 9:27).   After Hebrews tells us that men are appointed once to die and then be judged, he tells us, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”  Reincarnation, on the other hand, is the belief that after we die, our souls are eventually put into new bodies and we live a new life, repeating the process over and over again until finally we are released from the cycle because we’ve finally learned or achieved what we were supposed to.

    Do you see all the differences there?  It’s not just one life and death vs. many lives and deaths. In the Christian view our deaths are “appointed” which implies an “Appointer” — a sovereign God outside of us directing our lives.  In reincarnation, a person is left to finally figure out or reach something, earning their release from the cycle of reincarnation.  In Christianity, Christ comes to save those who are waiting for him, to take them to live life eternally with him.  In reincarnation we must eventually become our own saviors or stay trapped.  In Christianity, God takes on flesh and enters in to save us — we who have Christ are ever the saved, never the savior.  Behind all of this are the ideas of One and Two.  In reincarnation all things are one, divinity even is a part of one whole.  In Christianity, God is separate — appointing and entering in to save us to him, but we never become him.  In Christiantiy there is always Two, Creator and creation.

    If I’m honest, my first response to people professing both Christian belief and belief in reincarnation is one of outrage mixed with some hand wringing.  But if I can get past that initial reaction, I begin to think about people in my own life who might either say they are Christians but hold to some very unchristian views, or who don’t profess to be Christians at all but truly believe that, when it comes right down to it, we essentially believe the same things.

    Think of common phrases in conversation within our culture:

    “Please send out good thoughts for our friend…”  It sounds like a request for prayer to Christian ears, but sending out good thoughts is a very different kind of thing.

    “We will miss him, but he’s in a better place…”  It sounds like a reference to Heaven to Christian ears, but how often does it refer to a better new life based on how good that person had been in this one?

    I showed a friend my new, terrible DMV photo which was taken after I’d gotten frustrated with the counter clerk while renewing my driver’s license recently and she winced and said, “Ooooooh!  Karma!”

    My point is, the effects of the spiritual shift in our culture to a predominately Oneist view of the world are all around us.  According to Pew, those affected by that shift are often sitting right next to us during service at church.  Knowing this is, I think, the first step to speaking to the issue.  Seeing the ideas behind the common phrases and words of our cultural dialog is the next step.  Opening our mouths to clarify from a Twoist perspective is an essential part of our Christian witness…even to other Christians!

    Have you encountered meshing of spiritual ideas like the ones I’ve listed above?  Have you ever tried to use them as opportunities to clarify on what Christians actually believe?  I’d love to know what your experiences have been.

    If you’re wondering how to get started, may I suggest you take the free, online curriculum we have available through our partners at Blue Letter Bible Institute?  There, you will join with other Christian in understanding and thinking through worldview issues using the useful categories of Oneism and Twoism, and come away better equipped to think through the ideas behind the culture and to have rich conversations with those around you about your Christian faith.