Don't Know Much About Heaven

In reading Love Wins there are times when I cannot help but almost feel sorry for Rob Bell. Almost.

His use of the Scriptures is either incompetent or purposely misleading. But I don't know when the last time was that I read a book which was guilty of so many fallacies in biblical interpretation. It makes the reading very laborious because one has to stop consistently and shout at the page.

Anyway, Michael Bird has been taking his time reviewing Love Wins. In his review of chapter two he takes Bell to task for his egregious mishandling of what the Bible teaches about Heaven.

"Sometimes when Jesus used the word “heaven” he was simply referring to God, using the word as a substitute for the name of God. Second, sometimes when Jesus spoke of heaven, he was referring to the future coming together of heaven and earth in what he and his contemporaries called in the age to come. And then third—and this is where things get really interesting—when Jesus talked about heaven he was talking about our present eternal, intense, real experiences of joy, peace, and love in this life, this side of death and the age to come" (Love Wins, 58-59).

Taking these points in turn. First, only Matthew has Jesus do such a thing; in other words in none of the other Gospels does Jesus replace “God” with the term “Heaven”. This may just have been Mathew’s preference and not much can be assumed than from this about Jesus’ usage. It is true that Matthew uses “heaven” this way. Second, while this is somewhat true. Ancient Jews and early Christians still maintained the distinction between heaven and earth. When saints died they went to heaven from where they will return with Jesus at the end of the age. Collapsing the distinction between heaven and earth to the extend Rob does is unbiblical. If Paul is right “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” then there is a heaven somewhere else at least until the time of Jesus second coming. Jesus did pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, but that has yet to occur. Third, this category of heaven is an illusion. Neither Jesus nor any biblical writer defines heaven this way.

So what is the final word on Love Wins and heaven?... I'll say only here that God’s ultimate place for humans is a renewed earth. God is going to make all things new (Rev 21) and the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven to earth. As I make this point, I am surprised that Rob didn’t discuss Revelation 21-22 in the chapter. It’s absence startling.

Heaven is a complex biblical idea however. There is a heaven that is distinct from the earth. They are not the same place. Right now God is in heaven and at the time of his choosing he’ll turn the eschatological calendar sending Jesus to finish the work. Yet, in the meantime because of Jesus’ resurrection life and the gift of the Spirit in the church, heaven can be enacted in this time and in this place through the work of the church. Where the church steps, heaven’s footprint is left.

This finally brings us to the question of who is in heaven. First, it needs to be said that Jesus does call people to "enter heaven", although we need to define that term appropriately. The story of the Rich Young Ruler itself shows this. Second, the saints in both the Old and New Testament times are in heaven right now. When we die, if we have entrusted ourselves to Jesus [if we follow Jesus], we’ll be in heaven immediately. This however is not the last word and it might not have been what Jesus the the young man were discussing as Rob points out. Heaven will unite with a renewed earth and it’s this harmony that the Bible foresees as the final state, eternal life. Eternal life is both a quality of life (Rob’s point) and a quantity of life (forever).

Read the entire post HERE.