Heaven-At-Death Refuted in Time Magazine

In a recent interview with Time Magazine, Bishop NT Wright made some very encouraging statements about the biblical destiny of Christians. The interview was titled, Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop (click here for the article). Below are a few quotes that I thought were extraordinary:

In his new book, Surprised by Hope (HarperOne), Wright quotes a children’s book by California first lady Maria Shriver called What’s Heaven, which describes it as “a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk… If you’re good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]… When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him.” That, says Wright is a good example of “what not to say.” The Biblical truth, he continues, “is very, very different.”

I’ve often heard people say, “I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

It has, originally, to do with the translation of Jewish ideas into Greek. The New Testament is deeply, deeply Jewish, and the Jews had for some time been intuiting a final, physical resurrection. They believed that the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again. Belief in that goodness is absolutely essential to Christianity, both theologically and morally. But Greek-speaking Christians influenced by Plato saw our cosmos as shabby and misshapen and full of lies, and the idea was not to make it right, but to escape it and leave behind our material bodies. The church at its best has always come back toward the Hebrew view, but there have been times when the Greek view was very influential.

It’s more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you transpose that all the way through, it’s a picture like the one that you get at the end of Revelation.

Both that, and the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their “souls going to Heaven.” If people think “my physical body doesn’t matter very much,” then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn’t matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is 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.

Although I do disagree with Dr. Wright about the intermediate state (he believes in conscious “sleep”), the above comments are a huge step, a leap perhaps, in the right direction–away from the traditional, systemic errors which arose out of mixing Christian ideas with Greek philosophy and towards the simple, elegant Hebraic ideas contained within Scripture.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. If you like the article, you’re gonna love the book. I thought you might be interested with the chapter-by-chapter review that I’m in the midst of posting at my site. Scot McKnight is also doing one over at the Jesus Creed blog.

    Grace and Peace,
    Raffi Shahinian

    Reply

  2. Thanks for pointing out that article! Very revolutionary!
    It’s amazing how more and more people are beginning to delve a little deeper into their bibles and see what our REAL hope is…not a cloud and harp heaven experience at our death, but a real physical resurrection at the return of Christ, when we all receive our reward on that day at the same time…to inherit the earth in the Kingdom of God.

    This article and findings of N.T. Wright printed in TIME, should make us a little more bold in sharing this Good News about the Kingdom!

    THANKS for sharing!!!!

    Reply

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