Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the World XVI

Implications, or why matter matters
Going to heaven when you die is not the biblical Christian hope. Instead, in the light of Jesus' resurrection, Christians are to hope for the transforming presence of God that brings new life to the dead and an end to all that is wrong and warped in creation.

Having recently summarised the main points of this series, I wanted to suggest a few reasons why it is important. What difference does this make? To get us started, I'd like to suggest seven. I'd love to hear more.

1. Creation and redemption are not fundamentally opposed
The same God who made the world has acted in Christ and the Spirit to save it. The world was made through Christ and was redeemed through that same Christ (Colossians 1.15-20). We must reject any gnostic or Marcionite division between Creator and Redeemer. The church is not the opposite of the world; it is the imperfect foretaste of the world's true destiny.

2. God has not abandoned his good creation
If we await our redemption from the world, rather than the redemption of the world, then it would appear that God, having called his creation 'good, very good', has given up and is ready to consign it to the garbage. God's power and faithfulness are called into question by any escapist eschatology. However, the God with the power to call things which are not into existence is the same God who raises the dead (Rom 4.17).

3. God says 'yes' to life
His 'no' of judgement is only to be understood within an overarching 'yes' to Christ, to humanity, to his world, to life. God is unashamedly positive about all that is good in the world: 'yes' to love, to laughter, to sharing, to sex, to food, to fun, to music, to matter. It is because he loves the world that he will not put up with its present disfigurements.

4. What we do with our bodies and the planet matters
Not because we can create the kingdom of God or sculpt our resurrection bodies now, but because God cares for them. Bodies and the broader environment in which they find their place are good gifts, worth caring for. Just as our obedience will never be complete in this age, yet we keep thanking, trusting and loving God, so our care for creation is presently an imperfectible, yet unavoidable, responsibility and privilege. We must therefore also reject any dualism that opposes 'spiritual' with 'physical'. To be truly spiritual is to be enlivened, empowered, cleansed and directed by the Holy Spirit of life, who is the midwife our birth (Job 33.4) and our rebirth (Tit 3.5), and the midwife of the world's birth (Gen 1.2) and rebirth (Rom 8.22-23).

5. Humanity as humanity matters
When the Word took flesh, he came as one of us. He remains one of us. We are not saved from our humanity, but are made more fully human. We await resurrection as humans. Nothing that is truly human is to finally perish (though all must be transformed). This makes human endeavour and relationships noble, even while they remain tragically flawed. Christians remain humans first, giving us much still in common with our neighbours. 'Secular' work in God's good world is not to be despised or treated merely instrumentally. Neither is art, or education, or healthcare, or agriculture, or science, or industry, or government. There is much about these activities that will not endure, and much that requires reform; yet these tasks all participate as part of what it is to be a human creature.

6. Difference is not necessarily sin
The Neoplatonic vision of creation and redemption is one in which an original unity degenerates into plurality before returning back to the source, the One. Not only does the doctrine of the Trinity undermine such a way of thinking about the world, but the fact that we await the resurrection of ourselves and our world in all its/our wonderful diversity and beauty also involves the rejection of this common assumption. We do not need to all be the same.

7. Our knowledge of God is not otherworldly
However hidden, confused, partial and dim it might presently be, one day creation 'will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.' (Isa 11.9; cf. Hab 2.14). The fullness of God's deity dwells bodily in Christ (Col 2.9). The home of God is to be with humans (Rev 21.3). Having a body, using language, being situated in a specific cultural context, being gendered: none of these are barriers to the knowledge of God. While each has been problematised by sin in various ways, we must not confuse finitude with fallenness. To seek knowledge of God, one does not need to transcend creaturehood.
Aside: Maybe the prohibition against visual images under the old covenant was not because the God of Israel was simply an idea, or simply invisible, but to prevent the pre-emptive summons of his presence through a human re-presentation. God is not at our beck and call, but sovereignly presents himself in his own good time through his Word and Spirit - which blows where it will.

So much more could be said about each of these points, and perhaps there are some more series to come here. But for now, I will draw this series to a close. To be a friend of God is to be a friend of creation, of humanity, of life - the kind of friend that hates what is evil, clings to what is good, that is not overcome by evil, but overcomes evil with good (Rom 12.9, 21).
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Ten points for the first to link back to the post that pictured the same structure as above.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Byron on a very fine series. I've enjoyed every post, though I only joined halfway through and had to go back and read the beginning.

I couldn't agree more with your view, although I'd like to see more about your thoughts on Christian apocalypticism in connection with this eschatology.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Byron. Your point 6 is particularly profound and wonderful. Thanks.

Miner, have a look at some of the earlier posts. Most of the key apocalyptic passages in the NT were covered.

Are you really a miner? Or have I missed a clever pun or joke that's obvious to everyone else?

Unknown said...

thank you for that summary Byron, I always find conculsions so helpful in figuring out what someone has said!

I think rather than having any other points to add to your seven, I am excited by the depth of each. So much could be said of them.

I just love being shown how much God loves our world, and us, not despite who we are, but because of who we are.

I'm especially excited by the point that "secular" work is not merely a tool, and that art, agriculture, administration, everything is a part of being true humanity! Lovely!

Anonymous said...

Nice summary. I'll have to catch up on the rest of the posts.

byron smith said...

Andrew - I assume the miner was asking about the presently fashionable approach to eschatology (esp in the US) that is also called 'apocalypticism', rather than the biblical (and extra-biblical) genre/movement known by the same term. While my treatment of some of the passages earlier in the series give hints, I am yet to write extensively on modern trends. Partially this is through lack of first-hand familiarity. Such trends seem stonger in the States than here in Oz. Nonetheless, I've hinted at my (probably very guessable) basic position here, here, here (I'm not sure I buy this quote, but I love the image!), here, here and especially here.

byron smith said...

I've also realised that I said much of this back near the start of blog in a long post reflecting on the burning down of out church building.

byron smith said...

Joanna - yes, it's disappointing that sometimes ministers can give the impression that unless you're a minister then you're only a half-baked Christian, or that the only reasons for working are 'to put food on the plate and money in the plate' (i.e. for sustenance and for giving to gospel ministry). Of course, those who serve us in teaching and pastoring deserve honour and respect, and particularly in a church like ours, with lots of gifted young people, it is right for us to be asking whom amongst us God might be sending into those modes of service, but I don't think this shouldn't be done by denigrating the worth of other kinds of service.

Anonymous said...

Dying and going to heaven is not the ultimate hope for Christians. But would you agree that post-death and pre-resurrection, believers go to be with Christ in a disembodied, yet joyfully conscious state?

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Would you provide one link for the whole series, Byron?

Chris Tilling said...

This is a very helpful series.

BTW, I second Michael's bitte. Would be great to have them all together.

byron smith said...

Yes, I'll put them all together this afternoon, or maybe tomorrow - I have to go to my final exam very soon (!). I'll put up Andrew Errington's third and final post before I go.

I'll also discuss Guy's question when I get back.

Anonymous said...

Andrewe - I am not a miner by occupation no, nor is it really a jest that others would get, but it is a loving nickname from friends do to my tendency to dig up old debates again and again.

My name is Aric Clark and I am a seminary student at San Francisco Theological Seminary in California on track for ordination in the Presbyterian Church.

Anonymous said...


As much as it would be a hoot to hear your thoughts in detail on Dominionism and other new American forms of Dispenationalism... my mentional of apocalypticism in connection with your eschatological outlook was more along the lines of this:

Having affirmed the resurrection of the body and the redemption of the heavens and the earth... how in layman's descriptive terms do you see it playing out? Is there an end to time? What do you hope happens? Where do you go when you die? Will only the faithful be resurrected or everyone? What about animals? etc... etc...

If I've missed your answers to some of these questions I'll go back and reread the earlier parts of this series. And I realize that this sort of thing is indulging in speculation of the wildest kind, but it's also the kind of question you get from the person in the pew. Do you have answers?

Anonymous said...

To be truly spiritual is to be enlived, empowered, cleansed and directed by the Holy Spirit of life, who is the midwife our birth (Job 33.4) and our rebirth (Tit 3.5), and the midwife of the world's birth (Gen 1.2) and rebirth (Rom 8.22-23).

Thanks for the series Byron it's been really thought (& action) provoking. Have you made earlier more extensive comment on the role of the spirirt as you've summarised here. If so can you point me in the right direction?

byron smith said...

Again, not having time to reply to everyone just yet (amazing how you can finish exams and then suddenly have no time!), I'll just point out to steviet this post on the Spirit. It focuses on one aspect of spirituality. I've also briefly touched on other points here and here, though haven't written a whole post directly on the Spirit.

byron smith said...

As promised here, I will offer some of my thoughts on more commonly asked questions at some stage in the next little while. Hopefully, I will be able to address Guy and Aric's concerns then.

Anonymous said...


Just stumbled in at the end of the series ... what a great series. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and found much here that I have been trying to convey to people in my congregation (although with much less eloquence).


Andrew said...

Byron, I think the photo of the same structure is found at this post.

It could be the Baths of Caracalla ... but I'm not sure ...

byron smith said...

Andrew - ten points. Baths of Caraculla is close (it is part of a bathing complex), though it is actually part of a villa on the Via Appia outside Rome.

Andrew said...

I think what might be missing from your summary of Christian hope is the work that is to be done to realising the future. I think Paul's vision of hope, next to Jesus apocalyptic vision of the future, is to inspire the church to action. In xv you said that 'We are aliens in such a world, not because we belong elsewhere, but because we belong to its future.' This is a profound comment, and we belong to the worlds future because, by God's Spirit, we will make this future a reality. I'm not saying we'll do it on our own, but I feel that action in hope, where we love others radically and attempt to break down divisions in humanity, are done because we know that God will restore his good creation. I don't think you can have Christian hope and then chill out in confidence of salvation. This falls back into the vision of heaven you are combating in your series.

byron smith said...

Andrew, thanks for your comment (BTW, are you one of the many Andrews that I know personally?). In short, I agree. Perhaps your point needs to stand as an overarching point within which the others make sense. I guess these were all trying to articulate something of the shape of what living in light of the future looks like. As you say, it is important to emphasise that we will not bring about the new creation through our actions (any more than exercise will bring about the resurrection body), but God's promised future to which we belong calls us into the life of faith, hope and especially love, since love is the future.