October 23, 2017

Our Terrestrial Hope

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This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

– Malt­bie D. Bab­cock

The world into which we shall enter in the Parousia of Jesus Christ is therefore not another world; it is this world, this heaven, this earth; both, however, passed away and renewed. It is these forests, these fields, these cities, these streets, these people that will be the scene of redemption. At present they are battlefields, full of the strife and sorrow of the not yet accomplished consummation; they they will be fields of victory, fields of harvest, where out of seed that was sown with tears the everlasting sheaves will be reaped and brought home.

– Edward Thurneysen
quoted in The Bible and the Future, p. 281

* * *

Long before N.T. Wright caught the attention of so many with his teachings on eschatology in Surprised by Hope, my own views were transformed by the teaching of Anthony Hoekema.

His 1979 work, The Bible and the Future, is on my personal “short list” of the books that have influenced me most in my life and ministry. Hoekema was Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, and his book is a comprehensive treatment of the amillennial perspective on eschatology. When I first read it, my doubts about dispensationalism had been growing for some time, and Hoekema’s clear, intelligent reading of Scripture took me a long way toward abandoning it altogether. After having done so, I’ve come back to The Bible and Future time and again to solidify and refine my own thinking about our Christian hope.

Hoekema’s first and greatest contribution to my understanding of the age to come was his emphasis upon the new earth.

The doctrine of the new earth, as it is taught in Scripture, is an important one. It is important, first, for the proper understanding of the life to come. One gets the impression from certain hymns that glorified believers will spend eternity in some ethereal heaven somewhere off in space, far away from earth. . . . On the contrary, the Bible assures us that God will create a new earth on which we shall live to God’s praise in glorified, resurrected bodies. On that new earth, therefore, we hope to spend eternity, enjoying its beauties, exploring its resources, and using its treasures to the glory of God. Since God will make the new earth his dwelling place, and since where God dwells there heaven is, we shall then continue to be in heaven while we are on the new earth. For heaven and earth will then no longer be separated, as they are now, but will be one (see Rev. 21:1-3). But to leave the new earth out of consideration when we think of the final state of believers is greatly to impoverish biblical teaching about the life to come. (p. 274)

N.T. Wright has gone further and greatly enriched our conceptions of the future by locating the early Christians’ hope about the age to come firmly within Jewish expectations regarding the resurrection and the age to come and the disciples’ experience of Jesus being raised bodily from the dead. Wright’s work shows that we who have been long taught that “this world is not our home,” making a spatial division in our minds between “earth” and “heaven,” should instead think in temporal terms and consider life in a world which is our home now and life in a world which will be our home in the age to come.

What matters is eschatological duality (the present age and the age to come), not ontological dualism (an evil “earth” and a good “heaven”). (SPH, p. 95)

Wright teases this out by analyzing the “fundamental structures” of the Christian hope, finding that it:

  • Is rooted in the goodness of a God-given creation that God made because of love.
  • Recognizes that evil is not rooted in the material nature of the world nor its transience but in rebellion and idolatry. This evil has led to the consequence of “death,” which scripture describes as exile, a separation from the presence and blessing of God.
  • Views redemption not as wiping the slate clean and starting over, but liberating creation from its slavery through incarnate means. God chose Israel and made his dwelling among them in the Temple that they might bring his light to all nations. Then, in the wake of Israel’s failure, Jesus came to fulfill what they could not do. The One through whom God created the world became part of that world and himself suffered death. He was then raised up, conquering death so that he might be God’s steward and restore God’s original plan of blessing to the whole world (Gen. 1:26-28).

We now live, as one theologian put it, between D-Day and VE-Day. Christ accomplished the decisive act of victory, and his followers are now engaged in battles that bring us ever closer to the culmination of the war. Together, we regularly pray for the consummation of this hope when we say: “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The key event which enabled the early Christians to believe that the age to come had begun was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-23)

13926879959_ef1615561c_zThe ultimate personal hope that following Jesus brings therefore is “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23), not a release from our bodies into an ethereal, celestial realm of glory.  As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus is the “first-fruits” of the resurrection, guaranteeing that all those in him shall likewise be raised. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).

This personal hope fits into God’s larger scheme that involves the renewal of all creation (Ephesians 1:9-10). Whereas now we experience a sense of separation from God and “heaven” (God’s realm), in the age to come heaven will come down to earth (not us go to heaven!) and God will permanently dwell with his people in a world made new (Revelation 21:1-3).

The bottom line is that heaven is not our home, at least in the way this has been presented. We are not simply “passing through” this world on the way to somewhere different and better, away from this earth. Humans were made for this world, and this world shall be our home forever. Heaven will come to us, not vice versa. God will make his dwelling in our midst, we will not take up residence in dwelling places (much less “mansions”!) in celestial realms. Whatever it means to say that the age to come will be full of God’s glory, we will experience it with our feet planted on terra firma.

Perhaps it would be good for us to spend more time meditating on texts like this one from Isaiah, which describe the terrestrial nature of the new creation:

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
   they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
   they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
   and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. (Isa. 65:21-22)

And perhaps, with such visions in mind, we can better define what it means to follow Jesus now, in this time when we are awaiting the consummation of that which began with his death, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Spirit.

Doesn’t this imply that Christians should embrace a calling to live as full human beings, fully engaged in this world; to be people of faith, hope, and love who affirm the goodness of God’s creation and the common humanity we share with our neighbors, who see being “saved by grace” not as an call to stop working but as an invitation to start participating in God’s work of making a better world?

Comments

  1. Vega Magnus says:

    It always perplexed me when my dispensationalist Bible teachers would just sort of ignore the whole bit about a new earth and focus solely on the spirit world, if you will. I’m glad to read some alternate views on this. It makes more sense and it certainly makes the world in its current state have more value than it is typically assigned by dispensationalists. I’m afraid that dispensationalism and all of the Kulture War stuff surrounding it is the only view of Revelaton that I have any real knowledge of. Wikipedia is pretty helpful, but I’d love some more resources on the views exhibited in this post.

    • As mentioned by CM in the post, NT Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” was a real game-changer for me. Check it out, Vega!

      A few more thoughts:

      1) “Dispensensationalism,” in my own experience, uses the term “End Times” when they really should just say “in the near future.” Nearly all of the sturm und drang about Bible prophecy focuses on events that are putatively just around the corner. The actual End Game is indeed of surprisingly little interest, not because they don’t believe in a New Heavens and New Earth (they DO believe in them), but because it’s just topically less compelling than the conflicts animating Trib-talk.

      2) I just tried out the abbreviation “NH/NE” and realized that it probably won’t catch on unless you’re really into granite and/or Warren Buffet.

      3) A deep appreciation of the New Heavens and New Earth should, by rights, give an entirely new meaning to the term “Post-Apocalyptic World.”

      • on #3: Yep. Nice.

        I wonder if the term “end times” is tainting the whole stew. I know “the end” is a Biblical phrase, but the way it’s commonly used, it tends to leave out the fact that it’s really only the end of one particular thing, but the beginning of another.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        1) “Dispensensationalism,” in my own experience, uses the term “End Times” when they really should just say “in the near future.”

        More like “Twenty Minutes into the Future” or “Any minute now… Any minute now… Any minute now…”

        (Why yes, I got converted by The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay. However can you tell?)

        3) A deep appreciation of the New Heavens and New Earth should, by rights, give an entirely new meaning to the term “Post-Apocalyptic World.”

        To me, Post Apocalyptic means Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War(TM) , described in lip-smacking detail. With or without Hal Lindsay’s/Tim LaHaye’s Christian coat of paint and Fire Insurance policy rider. All Lindsay did was take the Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War trope in mainstream American culture of the Sixties and slap a Chrsitianese coat of paint on it for the latest version of “Turn or Burn”. “If you can’t love ’em into the Kingdom, SCARE ‘EM INTO THE KINGDOM!”

        (The subject also comes up at Brony meets. One of the big-name MLP fanfics is the 300,000+ word monster Fallout: Equestria (Yes, you heard that right. Post-Nuclear-Apocalyptic with Ponies.) When other Bronies (most of them born after the Second Russian Revolution ended the Cold War) find out one of my major interests in Bronydom is the derivative fiction, they always ask me about Fallout: Equestria. And I tell them what it was like to live during the height of the Cold War.)

      • On #3, I will admit to a brief period of time where I followed up the phrase, “it’s not the end of the world” with, “but don’t you wish it was”.

        • And I will confess to answering the rhetorical question “What’s this world coming to?” with the obvious “An End! Du-uh!” even today, its glaring theological inadequacies notwithstanding.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’m afraid that dispensationalism and all of the Kulture War stuff surrounding it is the only view of Revelaton that I have any real knowledge of.

      You’re not the only one. Dispy Secret Rapture and its fallout seems to be THE default EotW choreography for American Evangelicalism. It was almost ten years before I found out there even WERE other views of Revelation. It’s that much of a default.

  2. Christiane says:

    a quote from Jewish ethics which, I think, is connected to the Jewish concept of ‘tikkun olam’

    ” . . . the Torah doesn’t differentiate between its varieties of commandments:
    God doesn’t distinguish between our obligations toward each other, the planet, or Him”

    • Dana Ames says:

      C,

      tikkun ha’olam was the very first thing I thought about when reading the Jewish views of what was to come, set forth in Wright’s “New Testament and the People of God” – that was about 12 years ago, I think…

      Dana

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Tikkun Olam.

        Reparing and completing and healing a damaged and incomplete and broken Cosmos.

  3. Robert F says:

    “Whatever it means to say that the age to come will be full of God’s glory, we will experience it with our feet planted on terra firma.”

    Yes, but, if the hope is true, terra firma will be heaven at our equally transformed feet, and we can hardly, hardly now imagine or feel either what terra firma or our feet will be like then.

    • Robert F says:

      And yet, there is a sense in which the finished Kingdom of God already exists in our midst, ready to spring forth and reveal itself at any moment. Indeed, I’ve had moments when I have seen and felt it clearly in the very center of my life.

      Yet, and not yet. This is the paradox of eschatology: whenever we linger too long on either the immanent or transcendent side, we lose our balance.

  4. If you haven’t read it yet, I would also highly recommend Hoekema’s book on (theological) anthropology, *Created in God’s Image*. A lot of the problems neo-Cals have with being human and our role in God’s world could be corrected if they had been assigned this book in seminary (like I was).

  5. WOW!!!

    What a lot of new perceptions to ponder and pray over for me. Every Sunday at Mass, I affirm along with my brothers and sisters that “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” BUT, it simply never crossed my mind that heaven could be possible on a cleansed planet earth….along with the mountains and rivers I love, and our new bodies to enjoy it and Him. I think I have some new reading to do, and some paradigm shift to consider (but still in the context of RC theology!!)

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • JoanieD says:

      Patti, reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope will surely be worth your time.

    • “BUT, it simply never crossed my mind that heaven could be possible on a cleansed planet earth”

      It’s awesome, isn’t it? That’s really the more Biblical picture, as CM is getting at here. Heaven and earth are not radically separated. The whole point in Genesis 1 was that the two halves- heaven and earth, would coexist and have perfectly open and friendly “commerce” with one another if you will. Not that one would take precedence and swallow up the other. Revelation 21 and 22 recap, and look forward to, this reality being restored. I hate using the word “heaven” any more, without qualifiers. I find myself preferring the longer but more accurate phrase “New Heavens and New Earth.”

      • ” I find myself preferring the longer but more accurate phrase “New Heavens and New Earth.”

        As do I, Nate. And it IS awesome.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I hate using the word “heaven” any more, without qualifiers. I find myself preferring the longer but more accurate phrase “New Heavens and New Earth.”

        New Cosmos?

        Cosmos 2.0 (completely debugged)?

    • Dana Ames says:

      Pattie,

      the word “world” in that phrase in the Creed can also be translated from Greek as “age” and is how we say it in the Orthodox Church – “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.”

      Also, we say the Glory Be as “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages – Amen.”

      Dana

    • Pattie, one more thing. If you haven’t yet grasped its significance, read carefully 1 Corinthians 15:58 in context. The chapter is a defense of the bodily nature of resurrection, and the last verse is a mind-blowing encouragement for people doing real life work here on earth. At least that’s what it did for me.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Unfortunately, most everyone tunnel-visions on 15:51-52 and checks another box on the End Times Checklist.

    • This is not a nitpick, or anything like that, but your comment on the mountains and rivers got me to thinking about the last read I had through Revelation, and the sort of things that will happen between now and the appearance of Christ. I am not entirely sure how recognizeable the world will be after all of these things take place. I am fairly certain that there will still be mountains and rivers, but whether they will be the ones we know today, I am less sure of. A friend of mine has gotten me at least a little bit in the habit of thinking what things might be like on the other side of eternity. It can be an interesting exercise.

  6. This is Christianity 101.

    I’ve believed this all my life. You mean to tell me it isn’t widely taught in the Church? I’ve not heard otherwise. The only thing Orthodoxy changed for me was to remind me that we didn’t have to wait for the Eschaton, that the New Heavens, the New Earth, and the New Body were already substantially here in Christ and in the Holy Mysteries.

    Honestly, I’m baffled.

    • All Evangelicals believe this. They just don’t remember that they believe this.

      I say this as one having just returned from a Midwestern funeral. Granddad died at home, old and full of years, surrounded by his family and with the cat on his feet. His passing was a sweet release in many ways, and understandably much of the talk at the funeral home revolved around his being reunited with Grandma. I can assure you that the Resurrection of the Dead got little more than a passing nod at the funeral. Again, everyone believes in it, but somehow it never quite makes it to the center of the picture.

      It’s the quadratic formula of Christianity 101: everyone learns it at some point but almost no one remembers it.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > All Evangelicals believe this.

        No, I do not accept that. Turn to Evangelical media and it is pretty clear the great majority of them are in the replace [new heaven new earth] camp; interpreting what they say about the end-times as being in the repair-camp requires word torture. They might believe in replace-in-place, but is still quite distinct from the redemption of creation – at least in tone [and tone matters].

        > but somehow it never quite makes it to the center of the picture

        The simplest explanation of that is that they do not believe this, hence it never comes to the center of the picture.

        Having forgotten a belief, IMO, is not longer believing it.

        • I won’t presume to speak for Mule, but by “believe this,” I was thinking of the more general point that there will be a New Earth, i.e., something much more than heaven-when-you-die. I do maintain that all Evangelicals believe that much.

          I agree, however, that if the distinction is repair vs. replace, then, no, not all Evangelicals believe in the redemption of Creation in its historically normative form, and I agree that the “it’s all gonna burn someday” attitude does have potentially massive ramifications in how we live out our lives collectively.

          • Dana Ames says:

            Trevis,

            in my +30 years as an Evangelical I found universal expectation that this earth would be burned to smithereens, and that the “new earth” was to be found in that “other place” called “Heaven” – even now being constructed by Jesus Just For Us! – and all one’s hope was pinned on “going to Heaven after we die.” There was no hope for this earth. “Being in Heaven” was described by many Evangelicals as being in an ever-lasting worship service. The doctrine of new creation as including the redemption and ever-lastingness of this very earth was not forgotten at all; there was nothing to forget – it simply was not known because it was not expected. “The bible doesn’t say that,” don’t you know….

            “Going to Heaven” was also the hope I was given as a Catholic. I don’t recall ever hearing any teaching about this earth being included in that.

            Dana

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            in my +30 years as an Evangelical I found universal expectation that this earth would be burned to smithereens…

            Four words: IT’S ALL GONNA BURN.

            …and that the “new earth” was to be found in that “other place” called “Heaven” – even now being constructed by Jesus Just For Us! – and all one’s hope was pinned on “going to Heaven after we die.”

            What TV Tropes calls the “Fluffy Cloud Heaven” image of the afterlife.

            Kind of like becoming a ghost/shade in Hades forever.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      >I’ve believed this all my life.

      I have too, but I think I actually inherited it from my pre-Christian beliefs. My Evangelical years laid siege against those beliefs but ultimately failed to seize the tower. Perhaps that is why I just don’t get some of this.

      I’m affiliated with the New Urbanists; the religious subset of which makes a very big deal about this eschatology. I agree with them. This is my eschatology. But … it also seems their [and others] weakest argument to me. I’m puzzled by how deeply it seems to effect some people. Is that because I’ve never believed the contrary?

      I have had the privilege of discussing this with an atheist friend of mine – a discussion which did not move my eschatology at all – but deepened my puzzlement over the issue.

      Say, for sake of argument, I completely 100% accept with no conditions or ‘supernatural’ escape routes that:

      (a) in a few billion years our sun exhausts the light elements in its core, in begins to metabolize helium, then sulfur and iron…. it swells up like a fusion-powered rotten tomato incinerating all the the inner planets [including earth].
      (b) long long before that the nation I live in is schism’d by factions, and possibly civil war, and new nations divide the land. after them possibly come yet more generations of nations.
      (c) before that my city is emptied by plague, or leveled by nuclear fire, or inundated by rising seas. It is no longer on any map.
      (d) before that my neighborhood, these buildings, these streets, my coffee shop, my bus stop … all are replaced, destroyed to make room for something new. A high rise stands where my house was. The park is now a train station.
      (e) I die

      And? If I believed all that, would I despair? Would I stop doing what I’m doing? Would I abandoned the things I advocate? I don’t think so. I believe in the eschatology of redemption; but is it really why I do what I do? Is it really what drives people? I find this hard to accept. I think my atheist friend explained it best, simply, when he said “You like people.” I struggle to find an honest retort to that; a response which really brings, pragmatically, eschatology into the picture. I like [maybe love, depends on the day] my home and my neighbors, I want to live in a safe, fair, and hopefully fun place; and I want them to as well. If the planet is ultimately atomized in solar fire… that seems so terribly distance… I admit there is a significant part of me which just cannot seem to care.

      • By the time the Sun burns out we will have learned to harness the energy. All the Sun does at its level is mediate the uncreated energies of the perichoretic Trinity.

        I’m with you. If Christianity is true, it has to be better than the swirling confusion of pantheistic pre-Christian and semi-Christian beliefs that swirled around in my head. Evangelicalism was good because it introduced me to Jesus, but I could never understand all the knee-deep horse manure about Palestine, the Jooz, red heifers, and Belgian supercomputers.

        I don’t know who are the New Urbanists. I’m wary of New anything. I don’t care for the concept of Latter Day Saints because I prefer the Former Day Saints. How do they differ from the Old Urbanists? There is something to the idea. We began our career in a Garden, which was God’s planting, but we will complete it in a City, which was Cain’s idea.

        Go figger.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > By the time the Sun burns out we will have learned to harness the energy.

          Heh, maybe. I am skeptical of technological optimism; I doubt we will ever build inter-stellar space craft. I was supposed to have a flying car by now; that was a given. 🙂

          > . Evangelicalism was good because it introduced me to Jesus,

          Yep

          > but I could never understand all the knee-deep horse manure about Palestine,
          > the Jooz, red heifers, and Belgian supercomputers.

          And that is responsible for some really ridiculous movies. Mostly annoying facet of which is they paint that crazy as the defacto Christian eschatology.

          > I don’t know who are the New Urbanists. I’m wary of New anything.

          The name is primarily about a reaction against Modernist planning techniques.

          > How do they differ from the Old Urbanists?

          They weren’t any, as they didn’t need to bother with naming themselves. At least not until the Modernists came along with the idea that society needed to be rationally divided into productive units; that society was insufficient in doing this for itself by non-algoryhtimc means.

          > There is something to the idea. We began our career in a Garden,
          > which was God’s planting, but we will complete it in a City

          The big weakness I see in eschtalogical orienting world views is that they are about these word-pictures. And you cannot really evaluate, or barely even discuss, a word picture. The connotations people attach to the words often matters more than the picture. So coming to any informing conclusions is an exercise in tedium. Even it-is-all-going-to-burn Evangelicals I do not believe are actually motivated in their callousness by that eschatology – it is the ontology that everything-is-corrupted that explains their attitudes; this may be in relation to the eschatology – but which really drives which?

          Generally humans like to think they think in Big Picture and the Big Picture informs them – driving their small choices.. at the root I suspect it is that which I am most skeptical of.

        • Robert F says:

          “By the time the Sun burns out we will have learned to harness the energy. ”

          For a guy who distrusts, and at some level rejects, the whole Enlightenment project, that statement is nothing short of Ben Franklin-ish. Unless, of course, you are talking about some sort of spiritual technique rather than a mechanical technology.

          • Mule Chewing Briars says:

            Unless, of course, you are talking about some sort of spiritual technique rather than a mechanical technology.

            I think we are on the verge of learning how limiting that dichotomy is. I don’t reject the Enlightenment or empiricism. I am impatient at their limitations, that’s all.

      • A small example of how eschatology drives the work we do, and prevents despair: as a musician, and a professionally unsuccessful one, I’m prone to being discouraged to the point of paralysis about the state of my creative career. It’s not that I don’t feel inspired by the material, it’s that I don’t think it’s worth it since it’s essentially going unheard and uncelebrated, and if I don’t get it together by the time I’m 55 or so, there’s really no point in continuing because my time is running out. This is a daily struggle for me, and I don’t think I’m alone.

        I had a friend in an evangelical ministry once tell a group of Christians that “the only thing that will survive long term are the relationships you have with people.” Now relationships are important and all, but If I really believed that, honest to god I would just phone it in right now.

        But the revelation I had reading 1 Corinthians 15:58 (and it’s entire chapter) was that Beethoven would one day finish the Unfinished Symphony. In some way, despite the apparent victory of death, decay, and the sands of time, we get it all back- all the work we put in. It’s “saved up” so to speak, and nothing good actually dies permanently. The work we do now has permanence and continuity with the Resurrection future.

        That’s the emphasis that needs to be rediscovered, imho, is not just the Resurrection and New Earth itself, but that continuity of the future reality with the present one. The way we all live, e.g. my discouragement about my creative life, is conditioned by death and decay. Not the expectation of life eternal. It’s true to an extent what your atheist friend says- that we don’t stop doing good simply because we believe in the eventual heat death of the solar system. But what about the more imminent approach of destruction? Have we lived through a holocaust? The death of child? A situation where, on a large scale, the bad guys obviously win? Where all seems to be lost? The minute people are really and truly assailed by the presence of evil, their confidence and hope, at least for the world/work they know and love, are under siege. If it survives, long term, it will be because of a new vision of reality. It will not be simply because they have a general liking for people. If they do come through with a measure of healing, there will be a lifelong scar over what was lost. That’s what Resurrection eschatology does: convinces the believer that the apparent futility of his work and relationships that have been eclipsed by evil or death, are not futile after all. It heals our depression over the apparent failure of our good deeds in the present. Thats what it did for me anyway.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Nate,

          YES!

          Glory to God!

          Dana

        • Danielle says:

          Nate, this is such an important reflection. Your comment brings home the significance that these ideas have to the way we ought to understand our humanity, and the value of life and creativity – despite corruption in creation, the transience of life, and our utter fraility.

          BTW, have you read “Leaf by Niggle” by Tolkien? It has been a while since I read it. But as I recall, it concerns an artist (Niggle) who spends years on a painting. He doesn’t finish the work, and he doesn’t think it is up to standard. All that’s left in the end is this scrap of canvas with a leaf on it. But he later finds that the leaf is one piece of a larger reality – a window into a new creation, or a reflection of the Real. So Niggle’s imperfect creation and Niggle’s apparent insignificance are not what they seem. I may have mangled that description (I read the story eons ago, and might be misremembering elements of it). But your post reminded me of the imagery…

          This is a long way of saying that I find the Christian imagination most disheartening when it champions a few select things (God! Just this work! Just that mission! Just the soul!) to the extent that it fosters a suspicion (or outright hatred) of humanity and the humane. I find it most moving when it looks out on everything that is beautiful, on creation generally, and on all parts of humanity, and sees a creation to renew and cherish. One mindset focuses always on what is supposed to die. The other looks to the resurrection of all things.

          • I remember reading Leaf By Niggle long ago, but now that you bring it up, I will have to re-read it!

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Excellent; thank you for the thoughtful response. That is good stuff to meditate upon.

      • Robert F says:

        Adam,

        I think a lot of what you said in this comment is true. We are driven by many motivations that we are completely unaware of, and so, when our conscious belief system changes, it often does not change our underlying value system or attitudes about life.

        Eschatology is such a confusing and hard to focus subject and viewpoint that it’s hard for me to believe that anyone is able to form their daily interactions with reality on the basis of any strong eschatological perspective. To think that’s what I’m capable of doing would be wishful thinking. My eschatology boils down to this: Jesus is here with us now, and he will there with us in the future, wherever we’re going and whenever we get there. In fact, Jesus is the past, the present and the future. I can’t go any further than that, and even that’s a stretch at times, but it at least sometimes impacts the way my life is shaped right now at this present moment.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Eschatology is such a confusing and hard to focus subject and
          > viewpoint that it’s hard for me to believe that anyone is able to
          > form their daily interactions with reality on the basis of any
          > strong eschatological perspective.

          Agree, strongly. BUT the stories we repeat to ourselves, over and over, cannot help but bias us. So while this may not be direct it certainly has an indirect influence.

          I do not know that I have ever seen, clearly, a redemptive eschatology have a positive impact – but a non-redemptive eschatology is certainly useful in justification of callousness and disregard. That may reflect as much about human nature as it does about eschatology. We are much more attracted to things which justify [excuse] us rather than redeem us.

          > To think that’s what I’m capable of doing would be wishful thinking.

          Ditto, speaking fot myself.

          > My eschatology boils down to this: Jesus is here with us now, and he will there
          > with us in the future, wherever we’re going and whenever we get there. In fact,
          > Jesus is the past, the present and the future. I can’t go any further than that,
          > and even that’s a stretch at time

          I am more-or-less in the same place. I find plenty in the now to both inform and challenge me, more than enough. But Nate makes some good points that eschatology is very relevant for certain questions and perspectives.

          • Robert F says:

            Yes, Nate’s thoughts are good. But notice that Nate’s thoughts don’t open out onto a wide vista of speculation about what the eschaton will be like. Rather, they circle back into the resurrection of Jesus Christ, where they find there reference for meaning, with all the openness to the future, as well as the past and the present, that that entails. The resurrection of Jesus is the way into the escathon; it doesn’t need speculation or much imagination, but faith that wherever we’re going, Jesus was there first, and is ready to receive us, even as he accompanies us on our journey right now.

    • Yeah, Trevis is right.

      Except that some evangelicals genuinely have no clue, because the basic way of educating people in the Bible’s story is, in some quarters, so paltry and anemic that they’re led to believe the earth will be burned up in a ball of flame and the souls of the saved will be drawn away to another plane of existence. Think Harold Camping, except you don’t even have to be that wacky to believe this.

      I had a feeling IM’s EO presence would turn up and be express surprise about this! 🙂

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        …they’re led to believe the earth will be burned up in a ball of flame and the souls of the saved will be drawn away to another plane of existence.

        Never mind Harold Camping, that’s joining Bo & Peep behind Hale-Bopp, “Next Level of Existence” and all.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven%27s_Gate_(religious_group)
        “The Planet is about to be spaded under and Recycled…”

    • David Cornwell says:

      Mule, from your description Orthodoxy has much to commend it.

      • Orthodoxy DOES have a lot to commend it, except, at times, for the Orthodox. There are people here I can’t imagine being comfortable sharing the Spoon with Vladimir Putin.

        All kidding aside, I’ve noticed that there appears to be [at least] two roads leading out of the post-Evangelical wilderness. One leads to Rome / the East, the other leads to mainline Protestantism. IM is like the antechamber where you can get a cold one and have a nice chat before you pick your path. Of course you can end up in Judaism, Islam or skepticism as well, but most of those people wouldn’t stick around a place like IM very long.

  7. Isaiah 65 also says that people are going to die in the new earth :

    “20 “Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
    the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
    the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.”

    I find it a confusing text…

    • I don’t personally put a lot of stock in the prophets as predictive texts. If I did, I think I would be disappointed at how often they got it wrong. The use I have for the prophets is in spurring us on, as God’s people, to live a certain way. But that’s just me.

    • All eschatological prophecy is a sign pointing into a mist. The theological world Isaiah lived in, as far a I know, didn’t admit a Resurrection or the expulsion of death from creation. His concern was more the political freedom of Israel, and some degree of creational restoration…and the hope for living in a world in which the natural order was basically restored. I guess for him that didn’t necessarily mean the expulsion of death from the world. We also have to keep in mind the prophecies have a “pre-fulfillments” also- foretastes; ways of coming true in a measure before the ultimate “day of YHWH.” So his imagination could have been taking redemption out a certain distance, but probably not the whole distance that we now see in the NT.

      • Isn’t it a bit dishonest to claim Isaiah 65 as support for certain eschatological views if it can only do so when taken out of context?

        What’s the difference between reading NT Wright’s views of the new earth into Isaiah 65, and the rapture back into thessalonians? They’re both subsequent ideas read back into a text that the original author never intended, right?

        I hope this doesn’t come across as mean, I’m not trying to be critical, I’m trying to learn…

        • Isa 65 expresses hope for the age to come, return from exile, peace and righteousness and security in a renewed Promised Land. These are all images picked up in the NT to describe the future hope. I don’t see the problem.

        • But the “subsequent idea” read back into Isaiah 65 came from the New Testament. Isaiah 65 isn’t the only place where we get that theology either. Romans 8, Genesis 1, Revelation 21-22, to name a few. The very nature of the Resurrected Christ- formerly living then dead human material, raised to life incorruptible; re-animated, if you will, by the Spirit. Jesus didn’t become a non-bodily or non-creational thing- he ate bread and fish (including blessing the bread), spoke to people, and invited people to touch him. He continued to affirm the Gospel of a new kingdom- on earth as in heaven, after his resurrection (the great commission).

          I don’t even necessarily know if we need to oppose rapture theology so thoroughly as we need to defend New Earth theology. Rapturists don’t impress me generally, but if you want to believe there’s some physical ascension by the church, followed by a re-inhabiting of a real earth, fine. As long as it’s the real earth.

  8. > we will not take up residence in dwelling places (much less “mansions”!) in celestial realms

    Okay, so then you’re saying that when Jesus spoke of “mansions” (okay, “rooms”) in John 14 he was wrong?

    It’s also interesting how Hoekema’s and Wright’s teaching resembles what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. Except that 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses supposedly will make it to the celestial realms and the rest will stay on the perfect earth. They modified their teaching when their group grew larger than 144,000 people.

    And do elaborate on Isaiah 65:20 please (Paul’s comment at 7:42 am). People die in heaven?

    I think we do not know as much as we think we know. Obviously someone is not rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

    • Hi been there done that,

      I actually used to be a JW, I think the views are a bit different, Wright, I think, believes the Earthly and celestial realms will merge and bring God’s presence to the Earth. JWs think they will remain separate, they also believe Jesus resurrection was as an angel or spirit being rather than a physical one.

      Interestingly a little known fact of JW doctrine is their interpretation of the Isaiah scripture I quoted and you also asked about is that it will still be possible to sin and die in the paradise.

      • Paul, so God wasn’t telling the truth in Revelation 21:4 (there shall be no more death) ??? But it is impossible for God to lie, isn’t it? Or do JWs believe “paradise” is some other place than heaven or earth? I’m confused.

        I repeat, someone is not rightly dividing the word of truth.

        • No, when JWs say paradise they mean the Earth. To be honest I don’t know how a JW would answer your question, it’s not a contradiction I ever noticed when I was in.

    • I have noted that the JW’s emphasize, at least on the surface, some things that Wright and other Kingdom theologians emphasize.

      This is not a problem for me. What’s clear is that cults and fringe groups ALL have recovered some teaching or Biblical idea that they notice the rest of the church has lost. What makes them un-orthodox is when they begin to separate from the rest of Christianity, insisting they are the only true saints, and then begin adding to the originally Biblical idea, things that are not found in Scripture. Or making secondary teachings primary and using them to exclude people who disagree.

      And I’m not sure we can so easily insist that “we just don’t know,” at least about the basics. Christianity is simply not spiritual agnostic any more than it is gnostic. It’s epi-gnostic. True knowledge. Certain things about the future are undisputedly known. Certain things that are secondary are disputed due to fuzzy, apocalyptic language, and because they are, some people want to make them front and center (like the timeline for the tribulation). The basics are without question for all Christianity though- resurrection, New Heavens and New Earth, redemption, reconciliation, and the fulfillment of Biblical promises in Christ.

      As to the mansions and rooms- it’s really irrelevant whether there will be an actual house. Run with the idea that Genesis 1 is an account of creation as Temple, with God dwelling within it and placing his icon, Man, as his image on earth…then you start to see that we don’t need to have a literal house with rooms for John 14 to be true. It could be, but I don’t think it needs to be. The Mansion of God was the Temple, and the Temple reality, through Jesus, was transferred to his people- living stones with Christ as chief cornerstone, the shekinah presence of God descending on the disciples at Pentecost as He once did on the Solomon’s Temple of stone, to inhabit the Holy of Holies. I imagine we’ll be building literal houses, but as for the mansion with many rooms, could that not be simply a way of referring to the church itself?

      • deerintheroad says:

        “… What’s clear is that cults and fringe groups ALL have recovered some
        teaching or Biblical idea that they notice the rest of the church has lost. What makes them un-orthodox
        is when they begin to separate from the rest of Christianity, insisting they are the only true saints, and
        then begin adding to the originally Biblical idea, things that are not found in Scripture. Or making
        secondary teachings primary and using them to exclude people who disagree.”

        ++!

        ” As to the mansions and rooms- it’s really irrelevant whether there will be an actual house. ”

        It is relevant to the preachers that promote the idea of a Heavenly Hierarchy whenever they need volunteers or $$$.

  9. It’s important, when reading the OT, to recognize that it often speaks in “types” (symbols if you will) of the ultimate realities. The “longevity” spoken of in the Isaiah text is a foreshadowing of the eternal life explicitly taught in the New Testament.

    • Hi Eeyore

      Do you know any good sources or books that expand on this? I don’t really know anything about it.

      • The best, clearest author I’ve read on the subject is Graeme Goldsworthy, an Aussie preacher and OT professor. He’s written several books on the topic at various reading levels – the most comprehensive is *Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture*. Do not be thrown off by the title – you DO NOT have to be a preacher to read and use this book!!! It is well worth the effort to track down and read.

        • Goldsworthy is awesome.

        • Thanks Eeyore, I found a copy on Amazon, it’s expensive so hopefully worth it! 🙂

          • I’ll offer you a money-back guarantee – if you don’t like it, I’ll buy it off of you at cost. I suspect you WILL like it, though… 😉

  10. I can plainly remember hearing at least one sermon (and reading at least one Bible tract) that describes the dimensions of heaven. The measurements listed in Revelation 21 are not the spacial dimensions of heaven but of the city New Jerusalem. It’s just one city! The former heaven and earth will have passed away and both will be made new. You don’t need some allusive Bible decoding formula to discover this great secret, it is written plainly on the pages of scripture.

  11. Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, also focuses on heaven as the new earth and was helpful to me in thinking through what the scriptures teach about heaven.

  12. David Cornwell says:

    Chaplain Mike, thanks for this piece. If ever a truth needs to be emphasized in evangelical circles (or for that matter in the entire Church) it is this.

    When I was a freshman in college my roommate was a student of “endtimes” and the rapture. He was a member of the Missionary Church. He had an old looking book, full of charts and prophecies. It was intriguing to look at, but beyond understanding. And he carried his Scofield bible everywhere. It was all confusing to me, because I knew nothing about the “end of the world.” Then, later, I lived in Dallas, Texas for a few years. During those years it seemed everyone believed in this kind of scheme. Dallas Theological Seminary was the hotbed of this teaching, and it spilled over to become the popular theology of the people. Almost everyone was reading Hal Lindsey’s books and his prophecies concerning the Common Market and the Russian invasion of Israel culminating in the Battle of Armageddon.

    It took me a long time to work out something in my own mind that made sense. It began, I think, by taking “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven” with the seriousness it deserves. My reasoning was that Jesus would not have prayed this prayer, and given it as a model, unless it were true, real, possible, and a prayer that would eventually be answered.

    Our reasoning minds will never work it out entirely. We take it by faith and dwell in its truth.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I spent a couple years inside The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay, and over 30 years later the damage is still there. TurboJesus coming back to destroy the world and throw everyone except His Speshul Pets into Eternal Hell (and you never know whether you’re sheep or goat until then), all described in gleeful detail with a seven-year choreography and checklist timed almost down to the minute.

      And even if you make it, what then? Never-ending Compulsory Bible Study/Church Service. You become a worship bot endlessly repeating “Praise The LOORD!” 24/7 for all eternity — no personality, no past, nothing remaining that made you YOU. Only an empty shell duckspeaking praise-phrases in Fluffy Cloud Heaven.

      The resulting image of Jesus Christ as a Cthulhu-esque cosmic monster of cosmic destruction is still in my hindbrain.

      • Vega Magnus says:

        That is a very interesting thought, HUG. The worship bot view is indeed very Lovecraftian.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Actually, that imagery (and terminology) comes from the comment threads over at Slacktivist on Patheos, part of Slack’s continuing scene-by-scene snark/analysis of Left Behind that’s been going on for years. They’ve pointed out lots of interesting parallels between Left Behind RTCs and Cthulhu cultists, between Dispy End-Time choreography and Cthulhu’s reawakening to destroy the world.

    • David, your comment about the Lord’s Prayer is why I got on the computer today. Thanks.

  13. I’m pretty sure American popular evangelicalism would be radically and permanently changed if it could grasp this. Or, it would be riven asunder by people who refused to believe the news we have is actually this good. Possibly both.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Most likely both. One faction will adopt it, another faction will stick with the old ways, and the Schism is on.

  14. I have been leading a study of Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” at my church for several weeks now. It has indeed come as a surprise to many who are participating in the class what the Christian hope really is. As a dear 82-year-old lady commented last evening … “I have never heard this before.” She could not recall a sermon she had ever heard that presented the Christian hope in this manner.

    • I have seriously got to get that book. Just finished Wright’s Simply Christian but from what I keep hearing Surprised by Hope is the way to go. Simply Christian is good though, similar in ways to John Stott’s Basic Christianity, which is high praise.

  15. David Cornwell says:

    I may have mentioned this before, but about 6 (or so) years ago our church, in cooperation with 2 or 3 other downtown churches (ELCA, Presbyterian, Methodist) sponsored a symposium over a weekend that featured a book study of “The Rapture Exposed” by Barbara R. Rossing who teaches at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. We also had a speaker from Fuller Theological Seminary (can’t remember his name). All the events were very well attended. Lay people had lots of confusion, thus lots of questions. This was about the time the “Left Behind” books were bestsellers, and everywhere one could see a copy laying on a table.

    These kind of books are sensations and bring to mind the following:

    “For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.”

  16. Christiane says:

    there is something Celtic in comprehending the ‘connection’ of our Earthly experience of God’s Creation together with our experience of the Creator Himself
    . . . the idea of the existence of the ‘thin places’ of the Earth

    • I’ve noticed that a lot of (every?) mythos has some reflection of this reality. Even the underlying assumptions within political factions.

    • @Christine….lol ! I sometimes (jokingly) refer to myself as a Roman Catholic with a minor in Druidism!! I guess because the beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains around me, along with the changing of the seasons, speaks to me so strongly of God’s power as an artist and engineer!

      To everyone who responded to my comment from yesterday….thanks for the kind words and the suggestions for reading. There is not a lot that I find new in my faith, as usually I encounter what I have already studied/prayed about OR I find bull-hockey that I reject out of hand as incompatible with my RC theology. I look forward to reading about the concept of paradise being established on this planet, rather than some other plane. Thanks for the encouragement….

  17. A little late joining the conversation; had a busy day yesterday. But thank you, Mike for a great post and for bringing up an issue dear to my heart and tremendously important to the Church.

    Dispensationalism is not just bad eschatology it is outright depressing and a major distraction from the gospel. Ironically, it was Hal Lindsey’s book, “The Late Great Planet Earth” which first got me interested in Christianity back in 1973 after a period of about ten years in which I was disinterested in spiritual matters. And although the prophetic details in the book were discredited long ago, its “everything is going to hell in a hand basket” and “matter doesn’t matter much” theology still predominates much of Evangelical thought.

    Back in the summer of 2010 one of my co-pastors, then the senior pastor but now retired, preached a message on his growing doubts about dispensationalism and his newly found amillenialist perspective. You would have thought he said that Christ was not divine! Consequent to his message we lost close to a quarter of our congregation, some calling us everything from heretics to supersessionists (replacement theology) to being anti semites (the latter not based on anything said about Jews or Judaism but simply because the pastors, myself included, rejected the dispensationalist notion that Judaism and the modern state of Israel plays a specific prophetic role in God’s redemptive plan).

    Fortunately, the tide is changing, and the change among Evangelicals is coming mostly from Reformed Evangelicals.

    • Somehow, I blessedly escaped any serious exposure to dispensational-style Hal Lindsey eschatology. From what people say, I’m pretty fortunate.

      I have had brushes with these people, and they basically look like aliens to me.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        You don’t know how fortunate you are to have “escaped any serious exposure”. It’s like malaria or herpes — once exposed and infected, you are never completely rid of it. (Though the relapses and flareups fade over time — it took me 15 years for the Rapture Scare panic attacks to subside completely.)

        One of my writing partners (the burned-out preacher who also lost 10+ years of his life to Left Behind Fever) has told me many times that “John Nelson Darby and Hal Lindsay destroyed Protestant Christianity in America.”

      • Jacob C says:

        I agree about what Nate said about them sounding like aliens. I once overheard a conversation and a fellow was “witnessing” by using dispensationalism. He said something like, “So-and-so (a politician) is the anti-Christ (he named a Bible verse), New York City is Babylon (he named a verse), and New York City will be destroyed in a nuclear explosion, and it will happen THIS YEAR!” As he said that, he this ecstatic smile, like I imagine a Taliban would smile about NYC being nuked. I shook my head. If all churches taught things like that, I would consider it my Christian duty to stay away from church.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Of course he had an ecstatic smile.

          He KNEW God would beam him up to a catered box seat in Fluffy Cloud Heaven before ANYTHING bad could PERSONALLY Happen to Him. And all the rest of us? “It’s Prophesied, It’s Prophesied…”

          As an aside, just which politician was The Antichrist this time around? The Obamanation of Desolation enthroned in the White House? (After all, Henry Kissinger and Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev are out of the picture these days and nobody hears much about the King of Spain these days…)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Where have we heard such KILL THE BLASPHEMER! DIE, HERETIC! reactions over a secondary doctrine before? (Hint: Ken Ham, Kentucky Creation Museum)

      The guy who wrote Scandal of the Evangelical Mind remarked that Young Earth Creationism and Secret Rapture EotW choreography are almost ALWAYS found together. Like they’ll have to widen the Throne to seat both of them now that they’ve kicked Christ under their bus (again…).

      • Jacob C says:

        It seems like Young Earth Creationism and dispensationalism (especially pre-trib) are almost THE central doctrines in some circles. My theory on that is if you believe the rapture will happen when the world is 6,000 years old because there is a literal millennium and the world must end after 7,000 years because your “Biblical” system of numerology says so, then you would really need a “scientific” system that proves the earth is 6,000 years old. I think that is why some are so passionate about Young Earth Creationism. If the world is billions of years old, then the system of numerology and secret Bible codes that some pin their hopes on is invalidated. If your understanding of Christ’s return is mostly based on a system of numerology that cannot be supported, then you might wonder if Christ will return or was it all a myth?

        We have Christ’s word that he will return. But taking that on faith is a bit much when you can construct a timeline, and it shows everything that will happen. You can “scientifically” prove the earth is 6,000 years old and this validates your system of numerology (your timeline is of course driven by your numerology). So the Bible is reduced to a book of divination and Christ becomes a worldly king, albeit super-sized. As a bonus, you don’t have to be a steward of the earth because God is soon going to destroy everything anyway.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          What do you mean, “Almost”?

          “Numerology and secret Bible Codes” — isn’t that a form of Divination Magick? And the very essence of Gnosticism — the Speshul Sekrit Knowledge (Occult Gnosis) WE and only WE Chosen Few of the Inner Ring possess?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          My theory on that is if you believe the rapture will happen when the world is 6,000 years old because there is a literal millennium and the world must end after 7,000 years because your “Biblical” system of numerology says so, then you would really need a “scientific” system that proves the earth is 6,000 years old.

          I came to a similar conclusion during my time in-country in the Seventies. I remember hearing as much in so many words on the Christianese AM radio I listened to at the time. (I remember it being associated with Calvary Chapel, but that might be due to the fact that CC — who were local boys — dominated the local Christianese airwaves back then.)