February 29, 2008

Is "Heaven" really the goal? No.

My friend Bill sent me a link to the following post describing the confusion many Christians embrace regarding "Heaven" and referencing N.T. Wright's recent interview with Time Magazine where he discusses his newest book "Surprised by Hope."


Here is a quote the author gives from an essay on this subject that is sure to raise a few eyebrows...especially among well-meaning worship leaders and Hymn-singers! :)

With these two distinctions (concerning creation and redemption) in mind, it becomes easier to see that the traditional picture of "heaven" (found in many classic hymns and contemporary praise songs) as perpetual fellowship with, and worship of, God cannot constitute full redemption in biblical terms. This is because the traditional picture typically omits (and thus implies the negation or abrogation of) large areas of human life that God created good. "Heaven," therefore, as an eschatological state does not constitute genuine redemption of the multifaceted world God intended from the beginning. The logic of biblical redemption, when combined with a biblical understanding of creation, requires the restoration and renewal of the full complexity of human life in our earthly environment, yet without sin.

It is sometimes shocking for readers of the Bible to realize that the initial purpose and raison d'etre of humanity is never explicitly portrayed in Scripture as the worship of God (or anything that would conform to our notion of the "spiritual," with its dualistic categories). Instead, Scripture portrays the human purpose in rather mundane terms of exercising power over our earthly environment as God's representatives...To put it another way, while various psalms (like 148 and 96) indeed call upon all creatures (humans included) to worship or serve God in the cosmic temple of creation (heaven and earth), the distinctive way humans worship or render service to the Creator is by the development of culture through interaction with our earthly environment (in a manner that glorifies God).

Definitely something to think about next time we find ourselves singing about or teaching about "Heaven"!



JMS said...

Hey everybody,

Here is a fantastic interview from ABC News with N.T. Wright (My friend Bill sent it to me. Thanks Bill!)


I'm almost finished with "Surprised by Hope", and so far it's one of the best books I've read thus far in '08. I wholeheartedly recommend it!

Andy Denton said...

Ok, I'm digging thru your blog here...

Just listened to your talk at ONE last night. WOW! You brought the goods, brother.

This does have me thinking a lot though. I'd be lying if this post here and your talk doesn't have me somewhat confused as to what I now believe about heaven. It has definitely challenged what I *thought* i believed.

I guess this is God's way of making me do more study...

I'm curious of how the "bridegroom" imagery of Christ plays into bringing Heaven on Earth.

I always thought that "in Heaven" our relationship would be with God, and not with each other. Along those lines, Matt 22 talks about "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage".

Can you expand on this a bit for me? And how does this heavenly society of Godly people after Christ's second coming interact with one another?

(Not sure I fully communicated here what I wanted. My head is definitely spinning)

JMS said...

"I always thought that "in Heaven" our relationship would be with God, and not with each other."

Andy, this is such a great example of how N.American individualism has crept into the church's teaching! :) God NEVER intended us to just have a relationship with Him. His goal has ALWAYS been for a community of people bearing His image, loving one another with the love that He has enjoyed within His own triune being from eternity. The most dominant theme in the Bible is that of Community.

But since that is not something that has traditionally been stressed in post-enlightenment industrial culture, it's fallen by the wayside in our teaching.

As for the Bridegroom imagery Jesus used, it's His way of saying that just as the people of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant were God's Bride (see Hosea for example!), the people of "Israel" under the New Covenant (Jew and Gentile together in community through the Messiah) is His Bride--identifying both believers as New Covenant Israel and Jesus with God...something that is shocking coming from the mouth of a 1st century Jewish teacher!

But for more on all this you should ABSOLUTELY grab a copy of Wright's book. He deals with these and so many other passages in more detail (and is one of my favorite authors/scholars as well).

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