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Heaven: Spiritual Vision or New Creation


Michael Vlach’s recent blogs have articulated something I had sensed but was unable to define and put into words.  At the local church (and probably common at many churches), heaven is mentioned infrequently and in a somewhat-detached way:  we want to live out our lives here and go to heaven when we die, yet with no joy of the anticipation of our blessed Hope that Christ will return and bring us to Him (ref. John 14:3 and 1 Thess. 4).  The topic of heaven comes up (as recently), only when a few members of the congregation are afflicted with cancer and facing physical difficulties ahead.  We hear platitudes about how we must endure, that God be glorified in the lives of those afflicted with cancer, and talk about ultimately going to a place of peace and rest.  Yet throughout I get the distinct impression that they really would prefer living here as long as possible, that they are not really longing for heaven–only that the idea has been thrust upon them due to physical distress.  No mention is made of the resurrection and our physical bodies, but only of “heaven” — by which they mean the biblical place of paradise (our intermediate state, before the Second Coming and the resurrection).

Listening to such a seemingly disinterested perception of heaven, I am reminded of Barry Horner’s observation concerning the heavenly city Jerusalem.  Contrary to what the standard Reformed amillennialist thinks about Hebrews 11:10, nothing in that text states or implies that the “real” land of promise is only a spiritual name for heaven, or that the city Abraham was looking forward to is confined to a non-physical location up in heaven.  Rather, Abraham desired the place where God was — and such is not to be confined to a non-material place.  The real point is to be in the presence of God: and that can be here on the renovated Earth during the kingdom, or on the new Earth (Revelation 21), just as easily as in present-day heaven.

At Vlach’s site, two recent postings about “Models of Eschatology” have defined the two ideas regarding heaven:  the “Spiritual Vision” model  and the “New Creation” model.  The “Spiritual Vision” model describes the inherent philosophy and thinking behind such disinterested attitudes so commonly observed among church-goers:

The spiritual vision model was inherently linked to allegorical and spiritual methods of interpretation that were opposed to literal interpretation based on historical-grammatical contexts. Blaising also notes that the spiritual vision model “was intimately connected with practices of ‘spiritual interpretation’ that were openly acknowledged to be contrary to the literal meaning of the words being interpreted.”  “The long term practice of reading Scripture in this way so conditioned the Christian mind that by the late Middle Ages, the spiritual vision model had become an accepted fact of the Christian worldview.”

By contrast, the “New Creation” model describes the biblical view of heaven — that which Barry Horner has referred to as “spiritual materiality.”  This model “emphasizes the physical, social, political, and geographical aspects of eternal life. It emphasizes a coming new earth, the renewal of life on this new earth, bodily resurrection, and social and political interactions among the redeemed.”

This approach follows the language of passages like Isaiah 25, 65, 66; Revelation 21; and Romans 8 which speak of a regenerated earth. A new creation model emphasizes the future relevance of matters such as renewal of the world and universe, nations, kings, economics, agriculture, and social-political issues. In sum, a new creation model operates on the belief that life in the future kingdom of God is largely similar to God’s purposes for the creation before the fall of Adam, which certainly involved more than just a spiritual element. Thus, the final Heaven is not an ethereal spiritual presence in the sky. As Russell D. Moore points out, “The point of the gospel is not that we would go to heaven when we die. Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe.”

Little wonder that so many church-goers are more focused on this life and enjoying it, when their notions of the after-life are associated with a very non-physical “spiritual presence in the sky.”  Certainly we cannot understand very much about heaven, thinking from our limited mortal understanding, but the “new creation” model — the view expressed in so many great scripture passages about the future kingdom and eternal state — gives us a few glimpses into wonders far greater than anything we can imagine, especially imaginations limited to non-physical Platonic ideas.

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