Saturday, March 29, 2008

Heaven, again

So then, what exactly is "Heaven"? in the biblical sense?

Again, is N.T. Wright? There is no locale to which one can refer to as "heaven."



At 8:13 AM, Blogger Bryan L said...

That's a tricky question. I guess in one sense we could say that it is the realm of God where his presence is in all its glory and will is done completely.

I could be wrong though and I didn't read the section that you were talking about in the article.

What do you think heaven is?

Bryan L

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I agree with Wright, I think. The words translated "heaven" have two meanings: 1) the sky, what is physically above us, which is not where we go when we die (Jesus and Elijah ascended into it, it is true, but that was symbolic, as is "heaven" in visions in Revelation 4:1 etc); 2) effectively a euphemism for "God". So "the kingdom of heaven" is the same as "the kingdom of God". Since we are not going to the literal sky, there is no way in which we are "going to heaven".

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Bryan, I think to be in heaven is to be with God - I just cannot ascertain as to if it is or is not descriptive of some location also (except to be with God). It is a debatable thing I think. I can see it being a state of existence over a locale (as that is how "hell" is often described (note: not the lake of fire just yet)) but the main problem I have with NT Wright's explanation is that he seems to be suggesting some type of soul sleep in the intermediate state. I do not think soul sleep has biblical support.

At 11:43 PM, Blogger Bryan L said...

I think Wright is definitely a soul sleep advocate. But he concedes that even if it is not soul sleep that it's only an intermediate state while we await the resurrection. I see some evidence for both views, but at times I do lean more to soul sleep.

Interestingly, Philip Esler has taken Wright on about this view as he advocates the communion of the Saints. He advocates that view in his NT Theology and specifically challenges Wright on this. I think his view also has merit but it seems a bit more Catholic.

Bryan L

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m new to your blog, but if you don’t mind I’d like to make a couple of comments. Wright’s problem with the ‘hope of heaven’ is not that ‘hope’ in and of itself. He is concerned that some Christians have so overemphasized the intermediate state that the hope of resurrection has disappeared off into the sunset (I’ve seen plenty of this firsthand myself). He is pushing to correct this imbalance, not to do away with the hope of heaven itself. As a corrective to an imbalance it can sound like the opposite imbalance, but that it not what Wright is trying to achieve; he is trying to restore ‘resurrection’ to its proper place and emphasis within the scheme of NT biblical eschatology to which it is the lynch-pin.

Wright definitely does not advocate soul sleep. He thinks that the intermediate state is some sort of restful, conscious existence in the presence of the Lord (hence the use of 'paradise' as a description which wouldn't make much sense in terms of soul sleep), until the day of resurrection when we will be re-embodied.

To quote from Surprised by Hope: "all the Christian dead are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness. Though this is sometimes described as 'sleep', we shouldn't take this to mean that it is a state of unconsciousness. Had Paul thought that, I very much doubt that he would have described life immediately after death as 'being with Christ, which is far better'. Rather, 'sleep' here means that the body is 'asleep' in the sense of 'dead', while the real person - however we want to describe him or her - continues.

... it is a state in which the dead are held firmly within the conscious love of God and the conscious presence of Jesus Christ, while they await that day. There is no reason why this state should not be called 'heaven', though we must note once more how interesting it is that the New Testament routinely doesn't call it that, and uses the word 'heaven' in other ways." pp.183-184

Explicitly, Wright states that "the Christian dead are conscious" (p. 185). This is from the section in the book on ‘Paradise’, pp. 183-187.

I don’t want to be argumentative, but as a brother in Christ, is it really fair to critique someone’s views without engaging their writings more substantially? Even more so, to declare their work full of straw men and non-sequiturs without such engagement? Only a very slightly more extensive reading of Wright would have cleared up the questions from this and the last blog post.

Yours in Christ,


At 5:50 PM, Blogger Bryan L said...

After Jonathan mentioned that Wright doesn't beleive in soul sleep I went and looked through RSG and he is right. He doesn't seem to advocate soul sleep. I was wrong on that. What I think he still might be doing though that caused me to think he advocated something different than the regular picture of heaven as the place go after we die is that I'm not so sure he believes we will be with each other there when we dies, hanging out and talking to each other. I seem to gather that this is what Esler is criticizing him about since Esler is arguing for the communion of the saints against Wright and Esler also criticizes Wright saying the following on pg 217 of RSG:

"This is, in fact, as close as we come in early Christian literature to the theme much beloved of preachers at funerals, namely the promise of a reunion beyond the grave with Christians already dead. Nothing is said, one way or the other, about such a reunion taking place before the resurrection iself; but the pastoral logic of the passage [1 The 4.13-5.11] insists that an eventual reunion is what the creator God has in mind, and will accomplish at the time of Jesus' return."

That would lead me to think that he doesn't believe in the normal view about heaven where we're hanging out with our loved ones all together. That might have been why I assumes he believed in some sort of soul sleep between death and resurrection. There may have been something else too though.


At 10:43 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Johnathan, thanks for the note and I appreciate your comment. You bring up good points to consider, and I agree the resurrection needs more focus (and I think Randy Alcorn's recent book Heaven may accenuate your point, it has lots of problems exegetically) - yet I would prefer that the Bishop be more clear in his intentions and not leave other things out - so, for example, instead of saying there is no heaven or no one is going there (again it is a state of existence not a locale per se, except to be "with God,") I think it would help if he would say, to be "in heaven" is to be "with God" however, our hope lies more in our future bodily resurrection.

If he would just explain what he is trying to say more clearly in his writings, it would be of much more help.

As to reading more of Wright's work, while I understand your point, I kind of see him as being not unlike John Piper, if you have read one or two of his books you've read most of what he has to say.


At 7:54 AM, Blogger Bryan L said...

"As to reading more of Wright's work, while I understand your point, I kind of see him as being not unlike John Piper, if you have read one or two of his books you've read most of what he has to say."

Wow, did you really say that? I'm going to pray for your soul for this blasphemy.

Seriously though I think people can get that opinion because he writes so much popular stuff and he's always in the media but he actually writes on quite a bit of different topics and he has something original and interesting to say in all of them. Admittedly since he writes on so many topics some of themes and topics pop up on several occasions but I think that would be true of any author who publishes and preaches as much as Wright.

If nothing else when you get a chance read his Christian Origins series. You will be richly rewarded by those and he says quite a lot in them so that it's not all the same thing.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Sometimes I wonder, does Wright tend to miss the trees for the forest?


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