Tag Archives: paradise

Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book One

N.T. Wright is one of the leading voices within New Testament scholarship today. Wright taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford Universities. He presently holds the Chair in New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews, Scotland.

Wright, a prolific author, has written over forty books, including both scholarly and popular works. His major academic series Christian Origins and the Question of God is making no small contribution to NT studies. There are six proposed volumes in this series. The fourth volume is anticipated as being Wright’s magnum opus on Paul.

Wright undoubtedly stands at the summit of NT scholarship. I sincerely believe he is the most important of Christian thinkers alive today. His writings offer fresh insight and a stimulating challenge to evangelical Christianity.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise as to why I have chosen one of his books as the first in a list of five books offering up a new vision for evangelicalism.

In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (Feb. 2008), Wright challenges the notion of “going to heaven when you die” and spending an eternity in some bodiless future. For if this was the case, Wright says, “then what’s the fuss about putting things right in the present world?”

Is our evangelical language of our future existence reflective of NT orthodoxy? Do we have a consistent biblical message on “life after death?” Wright doesn’t believe so, and he claims we have instead embraced a Gnostic view of the future that fouls up our presentation of the gospel in the present. He believes we have lost sight of the biblical vision for the future.

Our future home is not “heaven”—for this is where God is presently—another dimension altogether. Our hope is in this spiritual heaven coming down to earth. The climax of all human history is the consummation of God’s spiritual realm (heaven) breaking through to our earthly existence. Therefore, in Wright’s view, it is “life after life after death” that we find our hope, and a hope for the world.

Wright’s greatest emphasis is on “resurrection” and “new creation” that has already begun in this world. It is time to realize the great significance with that which is at the heart of our faith in Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-28). He writes, “it is (resurrection), principally, the defining event of the new creation, the world that is being born with Jesus.”

It is in the resurrection of Christ that happened in this old creation that gives us hope for a new creation taking place right now in the 21st century.

“Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible…” (pg.75).

This “new creation” should not be confused with baptizing the culture into Christianity and attempting to enact a utopian dream, as some evangelicals have embraced. Wright says that his misplaced trust in the myth of progress does not work because it does not fully account for evil.

This myth may sometimes run parallel to our Christian hope, but it “veers off toward a very different destination” that ignores the need for the cross of Christ upon the natural fallen creation. It doesn’t see the need for change within, only uniform capitulation to a set order of ideas.

Wright declares, “What matters is eschatological duality (the present age and the age to come), not ontological dualism (an evil “earth” and a good “heaven”)” (pg. 95). Evangelicals have also been guilty of preaching the apocalyptic demise of the space-time universe! Therefore, we all must get ready to be raptured for another world altogether.

This belief in a Platonic escapism has pervaded our theology and demanded that we adopt a popular dispensationalist view of the future—a future where we “fly away” and are “raptured” to spend an eternity in a glorified retirement home in the sky.

Wright believes that embracing the biblical vision of the future will lead us to a proper practice of the church. If our beliefs about heaven and the resurrection are wrong, then we are not entirely about the Lord’s business in ushering in the Kingdom of God, more specifically in ways keeping with the example of Christ who has revealed what it means to be human.

It is time we abandon this empty belief for one that appreciates the hope given to us in the NT—a hope where God restores his good creation and finishes the work he began in the universe. Wright states, “What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (pg. 107).

Wright draws our attention to Christ’s ascension as well as his resurrection. Because of the ascension of Christ, we not only have a savior who is indwelling us and present with his people, but a Lord who is at the same time “gone on ahead of us” by being the first to enter into our promised resurrected existence.

In other words, the work of Christ is finished and yet to be realized. It is reflective of the “already, but not yet” tension of the Kingdom of God.

We await a savior to complete the work he began in us. This completion shall come by way of the parousia or his “coming.”  Wright very simply writes, “he will in fact be “appearing” right where he presently is—not a long way away within our own space-time world but in his own world, God’s world, the world we call heaven” (pg. 135).

Wright challenges our traditional picture of our journey being completed upon death. He argues that there is indeed a temporary “paradise” for believers awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the completion of all things. But if evangelicals ignore the finished work of Christ through the final resurrection of the dead, then we miss the entire Christian hope.

God’s judgment is a good thing, something that believers ought to celebrate—for evil will be dealt with once and for all and heaven will make its home on earth. On the other hand, the judgment gives the unbeliever much to worry about.

While Wright calls into question our modern interpretations of hell that are reflective of a theology from the Dark Ages, he finds it impossible not to believe in some sort of “ultimate condemnation” for those who have rejected God’s purposes for the earth. He says that these folks will cease to bear the divine image, and by their own choice become “beings that once were human but now are not.”

Wright believes that whatever “hell” is in reality, beyond the bizarre biblical metaphors, it should suffice for evangelicals to agree that it is a horrible end. And that should be enough. It is time to stop arguing over evangelical views about hell. Belief in a literal hell is not the true test of orthodoxy.

Wright’s main idea is this:

Heaven and hell ought not be the focal point of the Gospel.

The resurrection and ascension is not designed to take us away from this earth but instead to make us agents of transformation, anticipating the day when, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

Wright looks at the themes of justice, beauty, and evangelism. What do these look like in light of this radical message of hope? What does this look like in retrospect to the resurrection of Christ and the promise that we will inherit the same? Furthermore, what should the mission of the church be in light of this biblical hope for the future? Wright believes it is “to live consciously between the resurrection of Jesus in the past and the making of God’s new world in the future” (pg. 213).

Finally, I have chosen Surprised by Hope as the first book in this series because it is a much-needed theological challenge to popular evangelicalism. It gives us a biblical vision of God’s good future for heaven and earth.

I pray that Wright’s message will begin a move among evangelical churches to return to the biblical hope for the future, and offer the world more than an escape from a devil’s hell for a distant realm in a bodiless heaven.

For those interested, you may also purchase the 6-session DVD study with this book. It is an excellent resource for both independent and group study.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Read the next post: Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Two

* See the first post Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Intro for information on the free book giveaway at the end of this series.

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Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part III

It has grown increasingly apparent to me that pop-culture Christianity was birthed, and is being maintained, by a steady diet of sloppy hermeneutics and a distorted view of Jesus. It has opened the church up to demonic deceptions and has made her susceptible to the pagan powers seeking to undermine our hope in the finished work of Christ.

Because of this onslaught upon Christian orthodoxy and years of propagating a view of God that more closely resembles Greco-Roman mythology than the Abba of Jesus, it is necessary that we adopt the Berean spirit and be reconciled to an apostolic view of God that looks like Christ and is consistent with the eternal purpose (Eph. 1-3; Col. 1:15-23).

Let’s stop and reconsider what the Scripture teaches concerning heaven, hell, and the resurrection of the dead. For what we believe about the future has a profound effect on how we live in this present evil age.

Heaven: Our Final Home?

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Isaiah 65:17

The creation of a “new heavens and a new earth” is a transformation of the former things. It is a world transfigured like unto the physical body of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 17:1-9). The resurrected body of Christ was of its own kind. There is continuity with the old body and there is discontinuity as well (Lk. 24: 13-35, 36-49; Jn. 20:1-18, 24-31; 21:1-14).

In Rev. 21-22 we do not see believers flying off to a disembodied spiritual existence on the other side of the cosmos. No, we see heaven coming to earth. We see heaven, God’s realm, breaking through and fully consummating with the physical realm we call earth. We can see this in the resurrected body of Christ: heaven intersecting with earth.

We must rid ourselves of this mantra that speaks of going to heaven when we die, as if we will have come to the end of our journey. Heaven is indeed where the Lord is presently, but it is not our final home (Ps. 14:2; 20:6; 33:13; Ecc. 5:2; Is. 66:1; Dan. 2:44; 7:27; Rev. 11:15). The finished work of Christ is not fully realized until God makes his home on this earth.

If anything, heaven is only a temporal dwelling for those awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Jesus said there are “many dwelling places” in his Father’s house (Jn 14:2). The Greek word for “dwelling places” used here, monai, has regularly been used to refer to a temporary stop on an extended journey.

Even when Christ was on the cross, he told the thief on his left that “today” he would be with him in “paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This too doesn’t speak of a final destination, but of a temporal garden of rest. All of the saints, past and present, still await the return of the King and the establishment of heaven on earth (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 6:10-11).

God’s desire has always been to complete his good work in the created world upon which every human being has ever lived. For the Jew, there was a firm belief that God would restore creation and fulfill his covenant with his people. The Lord of heaven and earth would finally merge the two into one unified reality.

This resurrected world is called the “New Jerusalem” and the “Holy City” (Rev. 21:2). This newly remade world is our final destination. It is the Kingdom of God fully realized. In Revelation 21:5, Christ says:

“Behold, I am making all things new!”

And it is Christ that has the authority to say such things, for he was the first to be resurrected and be clothed with the imperishable.

Our hope is in a future resurrected existence in the “new heavens and earth.” It is on this earth that Jesus prayed, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Heaven is indeed coming to earth. Jesus has called for its renewal and resurrection!

“Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 19

NOTE: The original section Hell: Eternal Torture? was removed and expanded into a single article.

Resurrection Future

“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable… for the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.Paul, 1 Cor. 15:50, 53

Some folks would have you believe that the resurrection has already taken place in the spiritual sense and there is therefore no need for a physical resurrection of our bodies. This view highlights the work of the cross but overlooks the importance and power of a physical resurrection in order to maintain its toxic eschatology.

We can’t afford to ignore the earliest Jewish meaning of the word resurrection. Resurrection always refers to a new bodily existence. Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s bodily resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:12-58 is to assure the saints that we too shall receive the same.

It should be equally accepted as his purpose for addressing those believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The believers there were dealing with the deaths of loved ones around them. They had “fallen asleep” before the coming of Christ.

Concerning the Christian hope at death, Stanley Grenz writes:

“As Christians, however, our hope does not focus on any conception of life after death. On the contrary, our hope is directed toward the promise of resurrection. Therefore, anything we say about the status of the dead must arise out of our hope for resurrection.” Created for Community, p.271

It is by Christ’s death on the cross that we died. But it is through Christ’s resurrection that we may live. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Paul continues, “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom. 6:4-5).

Without the physical resurrection of our bodies, we may not enter into the fullness of the new creation. When heaven comes to earth and “the dwelling of God is with men,” we shall receive a body that is clothed imperishable and raised in immortality; a resurrected body for a resurrected world.

It is in the physical resurrection of the dead and the judgment that the “last enemy” is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). Death shall be no more!

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus, John 11:25-26

Resurrection Now

Does the resurrection of Christ on the third day have any effect on us in the present? Paul believed we could know the power of Christ’s resurrection even now.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Paul, Philippians 3:10-11

Paul wrote, “outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). How is it that resurrection has already begun in an inward way? It has happened by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As N.T. Wright has written, it is in the resurrection of Christ that the world is already now “being born with Jesus” (SH, 73).

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life…” and receiving his indwelling Spirit is receiving resurrection life (Jn. 12:24; 14:15-31; 16:5-16; Acts 1:8). The Kingdom of God has broken through into the old order of things and has already begun the work of resurrection in the here and now. It is doing a work within the hearts of men.

“The Kingdom of God belongs to the future, and yet the blessings of the Kingdom of God have entered into the present Age to deliver men from bondage to Satan and sin. Eternal life belongs to the Kingdom of God, to The Age to Come; but it, too, has entered into the present evil Age that men may experience eternal life in the midst of death and decay. We may enter into this experience of life by the new birth, by being born again.” George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 71

We are able to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord because of our hope that soon Christ’s victory over death will become a reality for all of creation (1 Cor. 15:54-58). Resurrection is now working in the spiritual order of things.

The Kingdom of God is already here now and it is yet to come (Matt. 12:28; Mk. 1:15). It is working behind the scenes to destroy the sovereignty of Satan and is restoring the creation in every act of Christian love.

The Kingdom of God is breaking though into this present evil age because of Christ’s resurrection and it is testifying of the age to come when God will bring heaven to earth. The two-stage coming of the Kingdom should not be overlooked any longer (Lk. 19:11). The Lord is advancing his Kingdom even as I write this article. Heaven is invading earth in a covert operation of love.

How is the resurrection impacting our world today? What does the Kingdom look like in action? I believe Gregory Boyd very simply describes its nature and power.

He says, the Kingdom of God “always looks like Jesus—loving, serving, and sacrificing himself for all people, including his enemies. To the extent that an individual, church, or movement looks like that, it manifests the Kingdom of God. To the extent that it doesn’t look like that, it doesn’t.” The Myth of a Christian Religion, p. 14

If we are not willing to bleed like Jesus, we shall not know the power of his resurrection life. There is always a cross before there is a burst of light coming from the empty tomb. We must return to Christ and the foolishness of his cross if we wish to exhibit resurrection. For his Kingdom is not a matter of talk, but of power (1 Cor. 4:20).

This power does not come through utilizing the power-over structures of man to baptize the culture into the Christian religion. It is a spiritual authority that is earned by sharing the suffering of mankind. It happens when we see our neighbors as objects of God’s love instead of souls to conquer for our work-centered faith.

Resurrection happens in the here and now when the church is reflecting life as it will be in the new heavens and earth.

And that life always looks like Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

“For, as I have often told you before and now say again with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians3:1821

Suggested Reading:

The Bible & the Future by Anthony Hoekema Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation by Bruce Metzger Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living by S. Grenz The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a Christ-Centered Approach by Adrio Koenig An Evening in Ephesus: A Dramatic Commentary on Revelation by Bob Emery Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God by George Eldon Ladd IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL OR RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD? by Oscar Cullmann The Myth of a Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution by Gregory Boyd Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright Dispensationalism: An Inquiry Into Its Leading Figures & Features by Jon Zens


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