Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Heaven thing is pretty important

Kevin DeYoung is reviewing N.T. Wright's most recent book, Justification. He began yesterday with a generally positive appraisal of both Wright and the book, concluding "Wright is right more often than he is wrong. But I don’t think he is always right, nor is he always clear." Today he comments on one of Wright's themes that has always bothered me in "Good News: We Go to Heaven When We Die!":
One of Wright's pet peeves is reducing "salvation" to "going to heaven when you die" (10). This is a recurring theme in this book and every book I've read from Wright. .... I wholeheartedly agree that salvation is about more than being beamed up to heaven when we die, but the whole heaven thing is also pretty critical to folks when they come to die. They may find it encouraging to know that the whole cosmos is going to be renewed one night, but they really want to know where they will be if they choke on their mucus and stop breathing tonight.

Where we go when we die is one of the most important questions we as pastors have to answer. It isn’t enough to tell our people that they’ll live in a new world in the age to come. They want to know what tomorrow will be like? Will they be with Jesus today in paradise or not? Paul talked about his heavenly dwelling waiting for him once he died (2 Cor. 5:1-10) and the joy he would have to depart and be with Christ (Phil. 1:19-26), so we ought to have no shame in glorying, as the saints for two millennia have done, that we go to heaven when we die. ....

Now, I'm sure Wright believes we go to heaven when we die. And I know he is trying to correct an imbalance in some wings of the church. But I wish he would do it in a different way and not undermine or minimize one of the most precious promises in all the Bible, that he who believes in Jesus will never die but has eternal life. I am simply jealous that in emphasizing cosmic renewal we don't lose the precious hope of heaven that anchors the believer in hard times and is our sweet reward at the end of our days. [more]
Wright seems to believe that a focus on "pie in the sky bye and bye" means less concern for the world right now. That has never made sense to me. It seems to me that the knowledge that every action we take has eternal significance makes us more, not less, concerned about the world around us.

On the other hand, Wright's apparent desire to de-emphasize the consolations of eternal life has caused more than one critic to wonder how much experience he has personally had with those who are near death.

Incidentally, I am inclined to capitalize "Heaven" and "Hell." Ralph de Toledano once responded to an editor who insisted that was wrong by insisting himself that Heaven and Hell are places and place names are capitalized!

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Good News: We Go to Heaven When We Die!

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