Heaven is not our home – another shock from another Wright

Brian of the blog sunestauromai – living the crucified life has the good fortune to pastor a church at a place which in some ways must be heaven on earth: the rim of the Grand Canyon. But is it in fact the nearest he will get to heaven? I don’t mean the altitude, although from there it must be unusually easy to imagine what it would be like to fall into hell.

Brian has been reading what Bishop NT Wright has had to say about heaven, in a new Christianity Today article (from where I have taken my post title) and a slightly older interview in Time Magazine. To these Brian has written a response, with a follow-up. I am sure he is not the only Christian, not even the only pastor, to be a little confused by the way in which Wright seems to be undermining the traditional understanding of the Christian hope, that we go to heaven when we die and that is the end of it.

So I will take a break from explaining the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to explain the Right(!) Reverend NT Wright, as I understand him.

In fact I am completely with NT Wright on this issue. The understanding which he is undermining, even if according to Nick Norelli it is not in fact widespread, is not biblical teaching but a distortion of it. Bodily resurrection – of every Christian in future, as well as of Jesus on the first Easter Sunday – is central to the Christian hope as explained by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others.

1 Corinthians 15:16-19 (TNIV)

Doug Chaplin (who is sounding more and more like an old-fashioned liberal with his denial of Jesus’ “I am” declarations) tried last year to argue for

Paul’s affirmations that the stuff of this risen body is spirit, not flesh and blood or soul / natural life.

This of course ties in with the discussion I recently reopened about whether the risen Jesus has blood. For it is clear in Paul’s teaching, if not always in the teaching of the church, that the future resurrection bodies of ordinary Christians will be the same in essence as Jesus’ resurrection body.

And it is also clear that Doug’s summary here is quite wrong. Yes, the resurrection body is a spiritual body, but it is also a physical one; it is not less than the old earthly body, but the old body transformed by the addition to it of a new dimension:

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

1 Corinthians 15:53 (TNIV)

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.

Philippans 3:20-21 (TNIV)

It is sad to see how so many Christians have gradually lost this faith in physical resurrection. First, they have lost this hope for themselves and come to expect simply that their souls will go to heaven to live some kind of disembodied existence in the clouds. Then, increasingly, they have come to reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus, as speculation abounds that his bones remained in a grave somewhere and that his resurrection appearances were effectively of a ghost, without flesh, bones or blood.

As Bishop Wright makes clear on the third page of his Christianity Today article, this watering down of the Christian faith and hope has profound effects not only for the future but also for our Christian lives and mission today:

The mission of the church is nothing more or less than the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. It is the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made.

If that is so, mission must urgently recover from its long-term schizophrenia. The split between saving souls and doing good in the world is not a product of the Bible or the gospel, but of the cultural captivity of both.

In the Time article, Wright dismisses the idea that

All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven.

On the contrary, as he summarises the New Testament teaching on the Resurrection:

Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do. … God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.

16 thoughts on “Heaven is not our home – another shock from another Wright

  1. I’m afraid this weird obsession of yours with Jesus’ blood is distorting your ability to read.
    Paul says: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50). He also says: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Now I know that the translation of psyche and its cognate adjective is not straightforward, but either “natural” or “physical” seem best to fit the context. In what sense then is my summary quite wrong when I refer to “Paul’s affirmations that the stuff of this risen body is spirit, not flesh and blood or soul / natural life.” ?

  2. Bah! Schizophrenia IS NOT having multiple personalities!!!!!

    Sorry…I just had to let that out…being a former psychology major and all 🙂

  3. Heaven will not be our home after Judgement Day.
    We will live out eternity on the New Earth which is p[art of the New Creation and God will live with us on the New Earth;

    Rev 21:1 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.
    Rev 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
    Rev 21:3 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.

  4. The Hope Of Heaven!

    “For the Hope which is laid up for you in Heaven,
    which you first heard in the Word of Truth that is
    the Good News”! (Colossians 1:5)

    The Hope Of Heaven!

    There is a “biblical” translation that has been called
    “The Good News”, yet what of The Good News(The
    Gospel)? What was the promise of The Good News
    that The Messiah preached?

    The promise of The Good News for the Jews and “the
    lost sheep of Israel”, which The Messiah preached,
    was recorded in Matthew 3:12,4:17,10:7, Mark 1:15,
    and Luke 10:9, 21:31.

    “The Kingdom Of GOD(Heaven) Is At Hand”

    And what was the promise of “The Good News” which
    Paul preached unto the heathen(gentiles) after The
    Messiah “was raised from among the dead”?

    “Through the Good News those who are not Jews(heathens)
    will share with the Jews in GOD’s blessing. They belong to
    the same body, and they share together in the promise that
    GOD made in The Messiah. By GOD’s special gift of grace
    given to me through his power, I became a servant to tell
    that Good News.” (Ephesians 3:6-7)

    And The Good News of The Promise!

    “The Kingdom Of Heaven(GOD) Is At Hand”!

    A Lively, Living Hope Of Heaven!

    When Paul began his ministry, after GOD had “raised up
    The Messiah from among the dead”, he testified that
    “believers were translated into The KINGDOM OF GOD’s
    BELOVED SON”. (Colossians 1:13)

    “THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN” HAD COME!

    And “The Good News” after the destruction of the earthly
    “kingdom” of Jerusalem was:

    “THE KINGDOM OF GOD” HAS COME!

    All Thanks And Praise Be To Our Father!

    Believers have a Living Hope of Heaven!

    So why is it so many still believe that “The Kingdom of
    Heaven(GOD)” is yet to come?

    “What is Truth”?

    “Pilate” asked The Messiah that question after The Messiah
    testified, “You say that I am a king. To this end was I born,
    and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear
    witness to The Truth. Everyone that is of The Truth hears
    My voice”! (John 18:38)

    Do you hear The Messiah’s voice?

    The Messiah previously had testified, “The Words that I
    speak are not My Words”. “For I have not spoken of Myself;
    but The Father which sent Me, HE gave me a commandment,
    what I should say, and what I should speak.” (John 3:34,
    12:49) Later The Messiah testified to His disciples, “As
    GOD sent Me, so send I you”! (John 14:10)

    “What is Truth”?

    The Messiah bore witness unto The Truth, as He revealed
    The Way to The Truth of The Life, both in His Teachings
    and His Life example.

    And The Truth of “The Good News” promise?

    “The Kingdom Of GOD(Heaven) Is At Hand”!

    The Hope Of Heaven

    Now when The Messiah was raised from among the dead
    and ascended into Heaven He was given His rightful place
    at the right hand of Our Father and GOD, and “all power
    was given Him(by His Father and GOD) in Heaven and in
    earth?” “The Kingdom” HAD “Come”! And The Faithful
    “were translated into The Kingdom of GOD’s Beloved Son”!

    “Giving thanks unto The Father, WHO has made us able
    to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in Light:
    WHO has delivered us from the power of darkness, and
    HAS translated us into The Kingdom of HIS Beloved Son:”
    (Col 1:12-13)

    All Thanks And Praise Be To Our Father!

    And Paul testified of the time when The Messiah would
    deliver up The Kingdom unto Our Father and GOD and
    The Messiah would be submitted unto Our Father and
    GOD once again. (1 Cor 15:22-28)

    “Then the END comes, when The Messiah shall have
    delivered up The Kingdom to GOD, even The Father;
    when The Messiah shall have put down all rule and all
    authority and power. For The Messiah must reign(after
    He was resurrected), till He has put all enemies under
    His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is
    death. For GOD has put all things under The Messiah’s
    feet. But when GOD said, all things are put under The
    Messiah, it is manifest that HE(GOD) is excepted,
    WHO did put all things under The Messiah.

    And when all things shall be subdued unto The Messiah,
    then shall The Son also, Himself be subject unto GOD,
    HE WHO put all things under Him, so that GOD may
    be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:22-28)

    “Then the END comes, when The Messiah shall have
    delivered up The Kingdom to GOD, even The Father.”!
    (1 Cor 15:22)

    Question is, “The END of what?”

    Paul testified, “In that GOD said, A New Covenant,
    HE has made the first covenant old. Now that which
    is decaying and waxing old is ready to vanish away”.
    (Heb 8:13)

    That which was decaying and waxing old was the old,
    earthly “covenant of laws”, and “The END” was the
    destruction of the earthly, natural “kingdom” of Jerusalem!
    The earthly “kingdom” would be no more!

    All Praise And Thanks Be Unto Our Father!

    So believers were, and are, exhorted to,

    “Set their affections on things above(Heaven), not things
    of the earth”! (Col 3:2)

    Believers are exhorted to, “Be not of those whose god is
    their belly, and whose glory is in their shame because
    they mind earthly things.” (Phlp 3:19)

    Now why such exhortations?

    “Spiritually Reborn!” A believers “citizenship (Life) was,
    and is, in Heaven”! (Phlp 3:20)

    And believers “had been translated into The Kingdom of
    GOD’s Beloved Son”. (Col 1:13)

    They Had A Living, Lively Hope of Heaven!

    So “We do not look at the things which are seen, but at
    the things which are not seen, for things seen are
    temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
    We know that our body, the tent we live in here on earth,
    will be destroyed. But when that happens, GOD will have
    a house for us. It will not be a house made by human
    hands; instead, it will be a home in Heaven that will last
    forever. But for now we groan in this tent. We want GOD
    to give us our Heavenly home, because it will clothe us
    so we will not be naked. While we live in this body, we
    have burdens, and we groan. We do not want to be
    naked, but we want to be clothed with our Heavenly home.
    Then this body that dies will be fully covered with Life.
    This is what GOD made us for, and he has given us The
    Spirit to be a guarantee for this New Life. So we always
    have courage. We know that while we live in this body,
    we are away from GOD. We live by what we believe, not
    by what we can see. So I say that we have courage. We
    really want to be away from this body and be at home
    with Our Father for our only goal is to please HIM whether
    we live here or there.” (2 Cor 4:18, 5:1-9)

    The Kingdom of GOD’s Beloved Son HAD Come and
    believers were translated into The Kingdom! (Col 1:13)

    The END” of the old, earthly covenant was At Hand, for
    it was “decaying, waxing old”, and would soon “vanish
    away”!

    And it did! Thanks Be To Our Father!

    When Old Jerusalem was destroyed The END came. It
    was then that The Messiah delivered up The Kingdom
    unto Our Father and GOD! The Heavenly, Spiritual
    Kingdom of GOD WAS, and always WILL BE!

    “THY Kingdom” HAD “Come”!

    “And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned
    with goodly stones and gifts, The Messiah said, As for
    these things which you behold, the days will come, in
    which there shall not be left one stone upon another,
    that shall not be thrown down. And they asked Him,
    saying, Master, but when shall these things be? And
    what sign will there be when these things shall come
    to pass?

    And He said, Take heed that you are not deceived: for
    many shall come in My name, saying, I am messiah;
    and the time draws near: do not go after them. But
    when you shall hear of wars and commotions, be not
    terrified: for these things must first come to pass, but
    The End is not by and by. Then said He unto them,
    Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against
    kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers
    places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights
    and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before
    all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute
    you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons,
    being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.
    And they shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it there-
    fore in your hearts, not to meditate before what you will
    answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all
    your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
    And you shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren,
    and kinsfolk’s, and friends; and some of you shall they
    cause to be put to death. And you shall be hated of all
    men for my name’s sake. But there SHALL NOT A HAIR
    OF YOUR HEAD PERISH. In your patience possess your
    souls.

    And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies,
    then know that the desolation thereof is at hand. Then let
    them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them
    which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that
    are in the countries enter there. For these be the days of
    vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

    But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give
    suck, in those days! For there shall be great distress in the
    land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the
    edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all
    nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the heathen,
    until the times of the heathens are fulfilled. And there shall be
    signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon
    the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the
    waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking
    after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers
    of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of
    man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when
    these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up
    YOUR heads, for YOUR redemption draws near.

    And He spoke a parable to them; Behold the fig tree, and all
    the trees; when they now shoot forth, you see and know of
    your own selves that summer is now close at hand. So like-
    wise YOU, when YOU see these things come to pass, YOU
    know that The Kingdom of GOD(Heaven) is close at hand.
    Truly I say unto YOU, THIS GENERATION SHALL NOT PASS
    AWAY, TILL ALL BE FULFILLED.”(Luke 21:5-33)

    And The Messiah testified, “Truly I say unto YOU, that this
    generation shall not pass, till ALL these things be done.”
    (Mark 13:30) “Truly I say unto YOU, This generation shall
    not pass, till ALL these things be fulfilled.”(Matt 24:34)
    (The word “YOU” in the above testimonies referred to those
    whom The Messiah was speaking to at that time, not two
    thousand, or more, years after!)

    Simply, with the destruction of the earthly, natural Jerusalem,
    that “which waxed old” DID “vanish away”! (Heb 8:13)

    The Kingdom no longer had a physical presence, in a precise
    location on the earth, The Kingdom of GOD was now fully of
    The Spirit, Heavenly. The END of the Old, earthly kingdom
    WAS! “THY Kingdom” HAD “Come” indeed and Truth, and
    believers were, and are, translated into The Kingdom of Our
    GOD and Father! A Living Hope of Heaven!

    And so it is believers were and are exhorted to “love not the
    world, neither things that are in the world, for all that is in
    the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the
    pride of life is not of Our Father, but is of the world”!

    Believers knew that their “citizenship” was now in Heaven,
    and that “whosoever would be a friend of this world was the
    enemy of The Only True GOD”! (Phlp 3:20, James 4:4) And
    The Messiah testified that “the works of the world were evil”
    (John 7:7) And John testified, “the WHOLE world is under
    the control of the evil one”! (1John 5:19) And Paul?

    Paul testified, “WE WHICH ARE ALIVE and remain SHALL
    BE CAUGHT UP together with them in the clouds to meet
    The Messiah in the air: and so shall WE ever be with The
    Messiah.”(1Thes 4:17:18) and Paul testified, “I was
    delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And GOD WILL
    DELIVER ME FROM EVERY EVIL WORK, AND WILL
    PRESERVE ME UNTO HIS Heavenly Kingdom: to WHOM
    be Glory for ever and ever. Amen(Let it be so)”(2Tim4:17-18)

    I believe that Paul was alive and taken up “in the clouds to
    meet The Messiah in the air” when the physical, earthly
    Jerusalem was destroyed. At that time “The Messiah came
    in the clouds”. And at that time of “the END” of that old age,
    The Messiah delivered up The Kingdom unto Our Father and
    subjected Himself unto HIM once again.

    All Thanks And Praise Be To “Our Father”!

    The Messiah had testified, “Behold, I COME QUICKLY: hold
    that fast which YOU have, that no man take YOUR crown.”
    (Rev 3:11) “Behold, I COME QUICKLY: blessed is he that
    keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book.”(Rev 22:7)
    Behold, I COME QUICKLY, and My reward is with Me, to give
    every man according as his work shall be.”(Rev 22:12)

    And the apostle John testified, “He Who testifies concerning
    these things said to me, “Surely I COME QUICKLY”. Amen
    (So be it). Even so, come Yahshua Messiah!”(Rev 22:20)

    And The Messiah DID Come Quickly!

    The Messiah came at “The END” of the old covenant when
    the natural, earthly kingdom of Jerusalem was destroyed!

    And so it is today that The Faithful desire to be taken Home,
    for their “place has been prepared for them”! Home! Home
    at last! The Faithful await their final transformation, “caterpillar
    to butterfly” indeed and Truth.

    The Faithful Have A Living Hope Of Heaven!

    Peace, in spite of the dis-eases(lies) that are of this wicked
    world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE world is
    under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth……..
    francisco

  5. Doug, do you agree with Wright on this matter or not?

    Francisco, I do not have a “Hope of heaven”. I am already in the kingdom of heaven = kingdom of God, and so this is not a matter of hope. I accept that 2 Corinthians 5:1 suggests that our eternal home is currently in the heavens, but there is nothing here to say that we are going to heaven to live in it rather than that it is coming from heaven to earth for us to live in – and Revelation 21:2 teaches the latter.

  6. Doug, let’s forget about blood in the resurrection body and think about flesh and bones. Luke, 24:39, reports the risen Jesus as saying that he is not a spirit or ghost but has flesh and bones. Do you believe this, or not? Or do you believe that his flesh and bones stayed in the tomb, or just disappeared, with no material connection with the risen Jesus?

  7. (Wow you have to scroll a lomg way down to find the conversation continues after that weird post) Peter, I believe – as I said last time we had this conversation – that the body which was buried was transformed, and that I think dogmatic assertions about what precsiely it was transfromed into are category mistakes. That real physical bodies and the physical world have a real future is what I am prepared to assert. I am not prepared to discuss it’s chemistry, biology or physics.

  8. Fair enough, Doug. We are probably not that far apart. I don’t want to be dogmatic beyond what is clear in Scripture, and that is that resurrection bodies are different yet in some ways the same. The main point I wanted to make was that they are bodies living on a transformed earth, not disembodied spirits in a vague “heaven”.

  9. Peter,

    I’ve been reading Bishop Wright’s new book Surprised by Hope and this is where most of that stuff is.

    Why is what Wright saying seems so shocking? What do we believe about the New Heavens and the New Earth?

    I this is the key to understanding the good Bishop.

  10. TC, I don’t find this shocking because it is what I have always believed – at least since my early days as a Christian. But I know quite a lot of Christians find it shocking, or at least strange and confusing. Perhaps this is because they have never realised how unbiblical their own beliefs are.

  11. I agree with Peter that for many this is shocking – or at least the way Wright frames things (the title of the Christianity Today article is likely not helpful – which may not be Wright’s fault, but for a community ready to stand up for ‘biblical truth’ against ‘liberals’, the statement makes them come out fighting). When I follow Wright’s argument, but start from the point of resurrection (rather than saying, ‘It’s not “going to heaven when you die”‘), many will say, ‘Aren’t we saying the same thing?’ No, I try to explain and that’s where the discussion can begin. I had some in my congregation read Wright’s Ship of Fools article, and they were put off by the sarcastic way he talked about the two hypothetical preachers.

    I also agree with Peter (and against Nick) that for many, resurrection doesn’t come into it. It’s all about going to heaven when you die. If francisco’s comment above doesn’t convince you, you can read plenty more in the comment thread on the CT article. It may be more of a shock in the US, where the Left Behind series promises that Jesus will come and take us to heaven. I think many underestimate how influential those books are.

    On the pastoral side, what one can also see in the comments is this understanding of where granny goes when she dies. One person in the CT comments honestly admitted that he couldn’t imagine that granny was anywhere other than in heaven right now with Jesus, and while it shouldn’t, Wright’s comments threaten this. I do not discuss this with my grandmother because all she will hear me say is that her husband is not with Jesus, which is not what I’m saying at all. Sometimes, it may be pastorally sensitive to drop the subject and try other ways.

  12. Thanks, Will. Actually I don’t think Wright is really saying that granny is not with Jesus now, only that that is not her ultimate fate, that she will be raised up with a new body on a new earth. I expect that the Left Behind authors also believe this, but perhaps it is not explicit in their books (which I have not read). In fact, from the Wikipedia plot summary of Glorious Appearing, it seems that the raptured do return to earth for the millennium, but I wonder how many people read all the books in the series.

  13. Hi Peter: I agree with you – Wright wouldn’t say that granny isn’t with Jesus, but for some reason that’s the way some people take it (hence the comments on the CT thread). More so, there are ‘liberal buzzwords’ that people look out for, and evidently Wright (or Richard B. Hays or Michael Lloyd or you and I) hits on that makes people say that somehow we don’t believe in life after death as they believe Jesus describes it.

    I grew in the dispensationalist theology that undergirds the Left Behind novels, but I haven’t held to in years. So, if I remember correctly, the theology believes that while they will come back for the millennium, they go to heaven after that because the world will eventually be destroyed. Like I said, it’s been a while since I have thought much about it.

    Yes, unfortunately many read all the books that come out. They are a phenomenon in the US.

  14. Thanks for the link Peter – and I agree with you all that heaven is not the final destination but rather the new heavens and the new earth. I guess I have pretty much alway thought this way – I just think Wright hasn’t framed it well, at least not in my opinion.

    Will, (W)right, grandpa is with Jesus, just perhaps not in the sense as traditionally understood?

    I am of the view that Jesus was risen to a new way of living though still a living breathing human being with flesh and blood but not of the old fashion but the new.

  15. Pingback: Heaven, Hell and Bell - Gentle Wisdom

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