October 22, 2017

Mondays with Michael Spencer: April 25, 2015

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Photo by David Cornwell

Note from CM: For the next several weeks, we will hear some of what Michael Spencer had to say on the subject of eschatology — the last things. Today, another installment from a series in 2008 called “Too Much Heaven?”

• • •

It is possible that the evangelical version of heaven suffers from two major problems:

  • It is simply not centered enough in God himself, but emphasizes details that are quite probably metaphorical and meant to be secondary to the central truth that heaven is where God reigns most directly. In other words, heaven is the God-present dimension of all reality, not a place that is located “elsewhere.”
  • It does not properly emphasize the relationship of heaven and earth, which is not an “either/or” relationship, but a relationship where one is completed by the other. The Paradise in Genesis 1 and Revelation 22 appears to be the “marriage” of heaven and earth in the presence of God himself. Sin has ruptured that harmony, and Jesus Christ, the one mediator between heaven and earth, will once again restore that union.

If this is true, then there is a heavenly aspect to every human activity and the church bears witness to this in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and its own worship and proclamation. Christians bear witness to this heavenly dimension by sanctifying everything they do with the person of Christ and the centrality of the God revealed in the Gospel.

Listen to the perspective of one of the most “heavenly” passages in the New Testament, Hebrews 12.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken — that is, things that have been mad — in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

This is not a future event. It is a present event. We are “there” now. We are receiving this permanent “heavenly” kingdom. The permanent triumph of God’s Kingdom is not the removal of God’s people to some distance city beyond space, but the appearance of the New Jerusalem in this world.

This is a much more helpful perspective on heaven, and one that preserves the holiness and sacredness of glorifying God in this world.

Comments

  1. but the appearance of the New Jerusalem in this world.

    Thy Kingdom Come. No city spaceship touching down on earth. No utter destruction of the old and creation ex nihilio for a new earth. Just heaven on earth. An earth living and filled with people walking in the spirit (Spirit?) of Christ.

    Amen!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Contrast that with what Heaven was during my time in-country:

      NEVER-ENDING COMPULSORY BIBLE STUDY.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    If this is true, then there is a heavenly aspect to every human activity…

    Human activities OTHER than Bible Study, Church, and WITNESSING?

  3. Ronald Avra says:

    I believe that it was Mule who at one point mentioned that one of Jesus’s more difficult sayings is in John 16:7, “It is for your good that I go away.” Jesus follows with ” Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” The gift of the Spirit is appreciated, but that hasn’t stopped the church from seriously screwing things up more often than not. I’m banking on the final physical manifestation of the resurrected Jesus to straighten this mess out. Not sure as to how all that will work out, but the most I think we are going to accomplish in the meantime is to patiently bear with each other.

  4. Christiane says:

    off-topic . . . for those of you who have not read NADIA BOLTZ-WEBER’s books, here is a ‘free’ chapter on one that she has put on line:
    http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/files/2015/09/Accident-Saints-Chapter-11-PreOrder-Excerpt.pdf

  5. Interesting that you posted this today, Chaplain Mike–my reading this morning included 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, one of the key texts used to defend The Rapture.

    I no longer believe in a literal rapture and, while Paul is writing on the return of Jesus, like Michael says in his essay, heaven is not “up there”–it is not a place from which Christ will “descend” upon his return. Heaven exists in the here and now–alongside us. We may not always perceive it but it is there and it is real. I’ve started to think of it as another dimension–similar to how someone living in a two dimensional world cannot perceive nor conceive of a three dimensional world (see Flatland ) neither can we perceive nor conceive of a world beyond our own–that doesn’t make it any less real.

    Michael writes that we are to “bear witness to this heavenly dimension” and I agree; we should be alert to and be able to point to those moments when God’s kingdom breaks through–when His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    …” heaven is the God-present dimension of all reality, not a place that is located “elsewhere.”

    It does not properly emphasize the relationship of heaven and earth, which is not an “either/or” relationship, but a relationship where one is completed by the other”….

    Sometimes, mostly in a surprise it seems, this truth becomes more evident than at others. Suddenly one becomes aware of heaven or heavenly presence. It may come in a relationship with another person. Just being in the presence of a person or persons we know, and love, and in conversation, or perhaps just sitting in quietness, something about heaven becomes real.

    Or it may happen quite physically while walking in nature. I’m not confusing nature with God here, but nature,
    being part of God’s good physical creation can be revealing of heaven, in the here and now. This Spring has been like that, part ot the time at least, for me. New life awakens in the morning, and the birds have been in concert like I’ve never heard before. It may not literally be heaven, but it comes very close at times.

    Or being in a holy place. I try to be careful about speaking about what we call “mystical”, but but at an Episcopal monastery something like this happened once. Some might say it is subjective, and I’m sure it might be to an extent. Church can be like this when we as a congregation lift up our voices together in a prayer that has been prayed for centuries, or when, once again, the congregation lifts up its voices in the hymns of praise sanctified by hundreds of years of singing them together. Or we hear a gospel reading and we remember that this has been recited or read in church from its very earliest of days.

    Or the baptism of a child in the sanctuary around gathered family and extended family and church.

    To me none of this cheapens heaven, but only adds to its glory. It’s a foretaste of “glory divine.”

    Needless to say, Michael Spencer’s piece has spoken to me today. And the photograph at the top bears witness of some of what I’m trying to say.

    • >>Some might say it is subjective, and I’m sure it might be to an extent.

      David, you say that as if there was something wrong with subjective perception. What else is there? God himself, when asked what to call him, said to call him I AM, the absolute ultimate in subjectivity. Beyond that there is no other, certainly no independent objective facts or objects floating around except as we give them temporary reality within our subjective perception. Yes, the descriptor “mystical” can be overused and abused, but it is still there that God is found most deeply, most “real” if you will.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Charles, you are right. It’s just that some people consider anything that someone might “feel” as being subjective of thus of not much account. But a lot of life is based on subjective experience. Young love is one of those things. However the young love of a newlywed will grow and mature based on the experiences the couple has together. When one gets old the love probably takes a different form, but it may be much deeper.

        Sometimes subjective and objective aren’t really good ways to talk about things.

        • >>It’s just that some people consider anything that someone might “feel” as being subjective of thus of not much account.

          At 77 years and counting, my take at this point, and for some time, is that what “some people” consider is a trap and a dead end and a detriment and an obstacle to finding Oneness with God in His Love as demonstrated to us by our Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.

    • I agree, David. The church I most remember as a child. and the few times I’ve returned since becoming an adult, is one of those places where I feel God’s presence. I used to sneak in there when no one else was there (in the days before churches were locked) just to be “near” Him. It may be subjective and probably is but I still feel closer to Him there than other places and a peace unlike most other physical locations; it is one of the places that the Irish call “thin places”–where we can palpably feel the presence of God.

    • David, I thought that must be one of your photos by the light in it.