Heaven is Not a Place in the Clouds!

NT Wright opens a can of words about Heaven in an interview with Time Magazine.

I hope Tim LaHaye or one of the other Rapture theologians will respond.

For that matter, I’d like to hear a CoC theologian dispute Dr. Wright’s points.

What do you think?


About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 11 February, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Stoned-Campbell Disciple

    Wright is right.Seeking Shalom,Bobby V

  2. Joshua L. Pappas

    I’ve read “The Challenge of Jesus” and find Wright to be incredibly helpful and insightful. I’m currently reading “Simply Christian,” and find it almost entirely fantastic. While I absolutely believe in a bodily resurrection into a new world which is heaven, I haven’t quite decided whether or not I’m fully with Wright. Leaning that way though, so far. —JLP

  3. What bothered me about Wright’s article were his comments about the results of differing views. Just because someone doesn’t believe in bodily resurrection doesn’t mean they are not going to take care of their bodies. (I do believe in bodily resurrection) Same goes for a belief in heaven; I know people who believe in heaven that feel that man has the responsibility to be a good steward of this earth. Wright hurt his case by making such silly arguments.As far as heaven vs. new earth, I’m admittedly unconvinced either way so far. I would have to sit down and do an indepth study of my own.

  4. Tim,What Wright means is that they have no REASON to care for their bodies or for the earth.The post-Christian world is the fattest, most sexually immoral, and most ecologically polluted society in human history. Wright would not deny that there are exceptions: those who take God’s commands about physical health and ecology seriously even though they sound like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.I think his point would be two-fold:1) The Kingdom of God is not primarily about personal piety, but about “turning the world upside down.” The CHURCH has done next to nothing about either of these issues, because the CHURCH believes itself to be a vehicle to another reality.2) Right eschatology energizes our daily living. Which soldier typically does better work — the one who sees clearly how his work helps achieve the goals of his unit, or the one who believes he is doing “busy work” waiting for his commander to show up and dismiss them on leave?

  5. On the two enumerated points:(1) I don’t know that one’s eschatological views affect this that much. Those who believe in heaven should be just as motivated to bring others into God’s kingdom, which is how I see Christians “turning the world upside down.”(2) You could also argue that the “new earth” people would have no motivation to care for the earth, since God is going to fix it all in the end.One question I have: how does the concept of being strangers and aliens on this earth fit into all of this?

  6. Tim,1) But eschatology DEFINES the nature of the kingdom. When we pray for God’s will to be done, on earth as in heaven (which is a very eschatological prayer), what things we believe are packed inside “Thy Will” are defined by where we think God is taking his creation. If we believe God is going to annihilate the world and beam everyone up to a house in the clouds, we’re going to teach people to do different things than if we believe God is using us to reconcile all things to himself.2) But we DON’T believe God is going to do it all – that’s the whole point of being God’s people. God is using US to effect his purposes in the world. If we believe God is going to do it all, we won’t evangelize or teach or anything.Hmm… maybe that IS the problem after all!I think that being strangers and aliens means that we aren’t building for ourselves. We don’t try and build our own tower — rather we dig wells for others. Jacob was a stranger and an alien in Canaan, yet his well lasted to Jesus’ time and perhaps even til today.Those who do not live as strangers and aliens grasp for their own glory and security and righteousness. Those who are aliens and strangers build and pray and teach for others.Being strangers and aliens doesn’t change the goodness of creation and God’s enduring purpose for it. Adam was a stranger and alien in the Garden until he took some of it for himself.in HIS love,Nick

  7. Nick, I don’t pretend to know what the future dwelling place of God’s adoptive children will be like, and certainly not where it is. The only information I have is put together by reading scripture. And that scripture leads me to believe it will be a place other than this earth. When we say a new earth do we mean a renewed earth or a new earth. although there are many places in the bible that say we will be brought to dwell with God, and not that he will be brought to dwell with us . Can you please explain the following, Mt:6:19: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:Mt:6:20: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:2Pt:3:10: But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.Laymond

  8. Dear Laymond,If Mt 6:19-20 and 2 Pet 3:10 are talking about the same exact thing, I don’t understand why you would lay up treasures in heaven either! There seems to be some complexity here that we should strive to unravel.You’ve laid your finger on the very point. Are we talking about a completely different ex nihilo creation coming into being after this creation is annihilated? Or are we talking about a renewal, a refreshing, a purification?I suggest that we are looking at RENEWAL for two reasons:1) You and I are part of Creation (Gen 1-2). If this creation is totally destroyed, then all that is left is God. “Behold I make ALL things new,” John of Patmos records (Rev 21:5).2) Paul writes, “If any man be in Christ, there is new creation!” (2 Cor 5:17)When I was baptized, I was not annihilated and a totally different being put in my place. The work of transformation began, but there is considerable continuity between the old me and the new me.The driving force here is the Greek word KAINOS. Bauer says, “Kainos means new in the sense that what is old has become obsolete, and should be replaced by what is new. In such a case the new is, as a rule, superior in kind to the old.” Strong’s says kainos means “new, especially with regard to freshness, while ‘neos’ is properly used with respect to age.”I am not pretending to be a Greek scholar here. I’m following the evidence as best I can.Finally, the same Peter who wrote 2 Peter 3 also said Acts 3:21.”Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:19-21 ESV)And Paul writes: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20-21 ESV)Peter says times of REFRESHING are coming from God, and Christ will return at the time of the RESTORATION of all things.Paul says that the fate of the creation is the same as the fate of the children of God.in HIS love,Nick

  9. Joshua L. Pappas

    A member of the congregation I work with brought me a copy of the article today. Interesting read, and I’m excited that Wright is having a growing impact on thinkers in society–whether I end up in complete agreement with him on eschatology or not.I thought I’d put in a comment or two about 2 Pet 3.First, one should take note of the context. Before getting to the “fire” destruction in vv. 10-11, Peter assures us that it will happen despite the naysaying of unbelievers by using the example of the flood of Noah’s day. Verse 6 says that world was destroyed in the deluge, and it was, but destruction of the world of men did not mean total annihilation of all that existed. It very well may be the same for vv. 10-11. It may be that the “heavens and earth” of men will be destroyed with fire, but not utterly annihilated. That certainly fits the context.On the other hand, there are many who believe the “heavens and earth” of 2 Pet 3 are apocalyptic terms for Jerusalem and the ancient Jewish system pre-70 A.D. See, for instance, McGuiggan and Gerald Wright.—JLP

  10. Like McGuiggan and Gerald Wright, I read 2 Pet 3 apocalyptically. Not as apocalyptically as the writing of John the Revelator, but still somewhat of the ancient Hebrew version of Industrial Light and Magic — except TRUE!Unlike them, I think of “heaven and earth” in the broader OT context of ‘the whole of creation’. I’m not sure it must be an ‘either-or’ situation. Scripture consistently uses earlier judgment scenarios as types for upcoming judgments. So there is no reason (besides dating issues about which I know NOTHING) that this passage could not refer to both the judgment of Jerusalem AND the judgment of the world.Joshua, you give me hope, brother. I don’t mean a “light at the end of the tunnel” “you’ll eventually agree with me since I’m obviously right” kind of hope. So often I feel like a Martian talking to a Fungo dealing with issues like these in CoC circles. Sharing words with you gives me hope that there IS room in our tradition for me.in HIS love,Nick

  11. Joshua L. Pappas

    Thanks Nick. I appreciate your gracious spirit. I enjoy discussions with you.

  12. Very interesting discussion. The only thing I’d add, to Tim’s first point, is that Christians have resisted the “green movement,” by and large, and only recenlty have they started to embrace a story of redemption that encludes the physical. Some of the earth’s greatest enemies have been Republican Christians or Christian Republicans (I don’t know which term should go first).

  13. Interesting post and discussion.Thanks for this topic. God bless you brother. Kinney

  14. Blessings Nick! It’s been awhile since I’ve been to your blog and I’ve been poking around. This is a great topic, one that can be (and has been) debated for centuries…what is heaven like? I don’t know that there’s an answer that mortals can give. There are the books like 90 Minutes in Heaven and such that people say they’ve seen. I have a hard time believing that. Not that I want to discount their mission to bring more people to Christ…it’s just the difference between men writing (which I do) and the Holy Scriptures. And I’m glad Wright is talking from a scriptural point of view.When Jesus said, “My Father’s house has many rooms. I go now to prepare a place for you,” I think that is a place in Scripture where many people feel it is a place we will go immediately. But I know in my house we all have chores. And it’s not a place where you just get to lay around all day.My hope lies in Jesus Christ. And I pray that when I am taken to the place he has made for us, that we truly ARE put to work. That there is more work to be done for the Lord after death than we can ever hope to accomplish in life.

  15. Thanks for stopping by again, Kyle. Your work with the Scriptures is in my prayers. I agree that we haven’t been told every exact detail of our future hope.I would start by saying that since I cannot find a place in Scripture that says, “Christians will live in heaven with God when they die,” I have grown leery of using the word Heaven to describe our future hope. We both trust in God’s goodness, but I believe that eschatology and mission are intertwined too deeply to be separated without damaging either.John 14 is one of the challenging passages, but I believe that to be more of a problem with popular interpretation than with the actual passage itself. Let’s look:”Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3 ESV)Jesus is clearly returning to the Father in the heavens. He is going there to prepare a place. He is coming back to gather his beloved friends, so that they might be with Him forever.Notice what Jesus DOESN’T say – He doesn’t say, “You will come to heaven to be with me.” He says he will come to US, not that WE will go to HIM.If we had no other information, it still might be sensible to believe that Jesus will come and get us and then take us back to whatever place he has prepared. But we DO have more information about a PREPARED PLACE for God’s people.”Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, PREPARED AS A BRIDE ADORNED FOR HER HUSBAND. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Revelation 21:1-3 ESV, emphasis mine)In this case, it clearly seems that Jesus is bringing the prepared place to US, a glorious city in which we in our resurrected bodies will serve God forever.in HIS love,NickPS – I totally agree with you about our eternal lives being meaningful and active and full of service and stewardship. We were created to be active, doing, relating creatures. Eternal idleness is never suggested in Scripture.

  16. I loved that article! Thanks for sharing it! I am in Wright’s camp, and I must share that having a more concrete understanding of Heaven has made me more excited about being there. It has also changed my perspective about how I should live in the meantime. I have enjoyed reading your blog.

  17. Adam Gonnerman

    I saw this article a while back and commented on my own blog. I was discussing this matter of New Heavens/New Earth with a friend the other day, and he commented that someone from his church said that when he says “heaven” he means “new heavens/new earth.” Okay, so why say “heaven” and leave people who don’t know any better that this is the only goal? Popular music reflects this platonic view of a disembodied heaven, but if you look through Church of Christ songbooks you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything referring clearly to New Heavens/New Earth (or “New Creation” in the universal sense). The songs that talk about eternal hope all speak of “there” someday in “heaven.”Further, I’ve noticed that even when Christians of any fellowship accept that we’ll be resurrected, they assume that this is a resurrection to then follow Jesus back up to heaven. Hardly.Finally, if someone is going to deal with 2 Peter 3, he or she will also have to handle Romans 8.

  18. Adam,I feel guilty when I slip and say Heaven when discussing things with my fellow Christians. What’s worse is, I usually retreat to vague euphemisms that protect my conscience and their understanding. “Eternal hope of life with God” etc etc etc.Check out “This Is My Father’s World” — I can’t believe that one is still in the hymnal with how it ends!http://www.luthersem.edu/ctrf/JCTR/Vol11/Middleton_vol11.pdfThe address above will take you to the clearest, most straightforward, and most convicting exposition of “A New Heaven and A New Earth.” ENJOY!

  19. Adam Gonnerman

    Nick,Thanks for that link! I printed out the article and am reading through it as time permits. Good stuff.

  20. Joshua L. Pappas

    Just for the record here, I don’t see any reason not to use the word ‘heaven’ to describe the state of things in the regeneration. If indeed the dwelling of God is with men that is heaven no matter where it is. Just because some people may have some mistaken concepts attached to a word doesn’t mean we have to abandon the use of the word. Just explain your understanding. As I see it, belief in the coming return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal reward and punishment at judgment are the fundamentals of the faith so far as ‘last things’ are concerned. Preach that and insist on your right to challenge accepted views about the forms it will take, and to grow in your understanding of it, and don’t worry about it if some brethren won’t give you elbow room enough to think. Think anyway.—JLP

  21. Dear Joshua,Normally, I would agree. Emptying out the verbal suitcase, washing and ironing some of what is inside… tossing out what is moth-eaten or musty beyond repair… and putting good things back inside is a worthwhile endeavor IF the suitcase itself is sturdy and appropriate for the job.Among many other markers, we in the churches of Christ are a people dedicated to the idea of using Biblical names for Biblical things. Thus elders, deacons, ministers and evangelists rather than pastors, bishops, or clergy.”Heaven” is not the Biblical name for the state of things in the regeneration. The resurrection, the “restoration of all things,” the “city with foundations,” the “lasting city,” the “New Jerusalem,” the “new heavens and new earth.” These are most of the Biblical names for the state of things in the regeneration.”Heaven” is the Biblical name for the Throne Room of God — where God exercises his sovereign power over his creation. The Scriptures just don’t teach that that Throne Room is where we will dwell for eternity. To follow the metaphor, it seems like God is in fact planning on knocking down the walls of the Throne Room, ending the separation.That’s why I feel bad: when I slip and use Bible terminology in a traditional way that actually teaches what I believe are unBiblical principles.in HIS love,NickPS – Middleton wrote the article in question in 2006. In a footnote, he recollects the following: “Since the mid-seventies, I have been asking my students (in adult Sunday School classes, in campus ministry study groups, in undergraduate and graduate courses) to find even one passage in the Bible that actually says taht Christians will live in heaven forever (or that heaven is the eternal destiny of the righteous). After a lot of searching, they admit -incredulously – that they can’t find any.” It is an interesting challenge to take up.

  22. Joshua L. Pappas

    Nick, Maybe you have a point. I’ll think on it. But, off the cuff, I’d say that just because the word isn’t expressly used in that way… well, you know where I’m going. If Rev 21 is about the New Heavens and the New Earth, then God’s throne will be in a new here, and thus, a new this will be heaven. I’m not decided on what Rev 21 refers to yet, though, so just putting a theory out to you. Concerning Middleton’s article, I was able to download a full-length version and read it and passed it on to a couple of my thinking-helpers. Like you, I have some considerable disagreements with some of his ideas, but the presentation of the basic redemption of Creation idea is excellent and has already contibuted to the progression of my thinking.Thanks for making me aware of it. —JLP

  23. It is clear from Scripture that when Jesus returns the saved are gathered by angels to meet him in the clouds and go to the New Jerusalem while this world melts. Then God recreates heaven and earth and the New Jerusalem descends from the New Heaven to the New Earth. Heaven and Earth become one as N.T. says. HOWEVER and this is super-duper important, Wright is 100% wrong in asserting that this makes us give a flying squirrel about global warming. THIS earth is going to burn up. The fact that after God burns this one up he makes a new one doesn’t turn me into an environmentalist. Wright is denying the conflagration of all things, and is therefore VERY VERY wrong.

  24. Adam Gonnerman

    beowulf2k8,How do you understand what Romans 8 says about creation being in “bondage” awaiting the liberation at the revealing of God’s children? I’m asking because I really want to know your exegesis of that passage.As far as stewardship of creation, would you say your belief in the absolute destruction of this universe rather than its fiery renewal in the exposure of the wrongs done in it leads you to care less about the consequences of using fossil fuels, debris in the ocean and other forms of human-derived pollution?Thanks.

  25. Beowulf,2 quick points:1) The Greek word for the kind of new heavens and new earth you are describing is NEOS – brand-spanking new like nothing else before. The Greek word consistently used in the N.T. to say new heavens and new earth is KAINOS – renewed in quality, refreshed, restored.2) In Acts, Peter calls our eternal future “the restoration of all things.” My daddy restores cars. If I took his 1955 Ford truck to a dealership and traded it in on a 2009 F-150, he would call that REPLACEMENT, not RESTORATION. The same is true of your description. You’re not describing a restoration, but a replacement. Scripture describes a restoration.Peter describes the world being flooded with fire just like it was flooded with water in the days of Noah. In fact, Scripture says taht the world was destroyed in Noah’s day. The same KIND of destruction will occur on the last day, just by a different means. The cosmos will be cleansed by fire, what is corrupt will be seared away, and the perishable shall put on imperishability.in HIS love,Nick

  26. Sorry, Falantedios, but you and Adam Gonnerman are just being silly. This distinction between “absolute destruction” and “fiery renewal” or “replacement” and “restoration” is purely arbitrary and seems to hide a desire to flatly contradict Scripture. N.T. Wright doesn’t beleive this world will be destroyed, and therefore contradicts Scripture and you feel the need to defend that. BUT, I never said that this world reverts to total non-existence now did I? All the elements will melt with a fervent heat. Is your arbitrary distinction just that this world will not turn back to nothing but will become a fiery mass of melted stuff which will be reformed into the new earth? If so, it is not as arbitrary as it seems. But I don’t see where I disagreed with this, because this is what I meant. What I disagree with is the notion that the renewal is very small. Like if I drop a gum-wrapper, somehow I’m hindering God from renewing the world! He’s gonna burn the whole thing and melt it down and reform it, so the gum-wrapper will just be burned up and melted into whatever and will be part of the huge mass from which he forms the new earth. My gum-wrapper ain’t going to frustrate God’s purposes. N.T. Wright’s God, however, appears to be frustrated by a gum wrapper–what a small god.

  27. Beowulf,This world will not be destroyed in the sense that you mean, any more than the world was destroyed in the days of Noah.What sort of “freedom from bondage” is the kind of destruction to which you look forward?A small God? Small enough, perhaps, to be aided by a drink of water? (Matt 25)The question isn’t about the size of one’s God or whether or not a gum wrapper hinders Him. 1) How does dumping that gum wrapper fulfill the narrow gate of Matt 7:12?Just like Jesus, we are commanded to be about our Father’s business. Peter says that our Father’s business is the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). Peter also says that we are to be HASTENING, not just waiting for, the appearance of Day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:12). 2) How do you suggest we hasten his appearing?

  28. Also, what Peter calls “the elements” are not what we who have been blessed with a periodic table in science class mean by the elements! Check out Gal 4:3 and Col 2:8 to get a better idea of what ‘stoicheia’ are in 2 Pet 3:10. If you read very closely, you might notice that Peter says, “the judgment and destruction OF THE UNGODLY.” (2 Pet 3:7)Finally, I’m sure you just hate that older manuscripts and papyri have made clear that the last phrase of 2 Pet 3:10 should be translated “will be EXPOSED.”We are to be about Our Father’s business of refreshing, exposing, and blessing. That INCLUDES the natural world.

  29. “Also, what Peter calls “the elements” are not what we who have been blessed with a periodic table in science class mean by the elements!”Whether Peter realized that barium and helium are elements or whether he thought of the elements as the four elements of Greek philosophy, Fire, Air, Water and Earth, doesn’t concern me. Your ridiculous preterist spiritualization, however, shows that you do not care one whit about God’s word. If you’re going to try and make the melting down of this earth into some kind of figure rather than reality, then go ahead and persist in being a figurative Christian rather than a real one. You’re only hurting yourself.

  30. Preterist: N.) – One who believes the prophecies in the Apocalypse have already come to pass.Not me. Try again.

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