Four Views on Heaven

Wittmer, Michael. ed. Four Views on Heaven. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022.

Of the Zondervan Counterpoints volumes, this is one of their better ones.  It addresses one of the most practical of subjects, but it also shows the current outlooks on heaven among conservative scholars. The scope of the book is on the final destination of believers, not on the intermediate state. John Feinberg represents the traditional view, Richard Middleton the New Earth view, Michael Allen a heaven on earth view, and Peter Kreeft the Catholic view.

The four views are:

Traditional: John Feinberg. This chapter is the most disappointing in the book. Whatever the traditional view of heaven might be, Feinberg has written a chapter on timelines in dispensational eschatology.  When he actually discusses heaven, I agree.  He affirms an intermediate state, a body-soul duality, and a resurrected body that will exist in the New Heavens and New Earth.  All of that is good. 

Neo-Kuyperian: J. Richard Middleton.  His actual position is “New Heavens and New Earth,” but it is better seen as a Neo-Kuyperian view. 80% of his essay is quite good. He points out, no doubt in line with scholars like Beale, that God is constructing the earth as a cosmic temple and that is where we will be in the New Earth.  To be sure, for Middleton, we will only be on the New Earth. Whatever the New Heavens is, and he is not sure, we will not have access to it. This is where his problems begin, as will be evident in the responses. He also rejects the idea of the soul and intermediate state.

Feinberg’s response: Middleton says we have no access to the New Heavens because, as he notes, Scripture’s language about the New Heavens is metaphorical and we cannot draw any inferences from that. Feinberg points out that he misunderstands what metaphor means.  All metaphors have a referent, and we have cognitive access to this referent. Middleton’s desire is to avoid being too literalistic, yet he also admits that language about the New Earth is metaphorical, yet this does not prevent him from saying we will live there. He cannot have it both ways.

Allen’s response: Middleton should be careful not to dismiss a key teaching of the church without any interaction with the thinkers from that view and the actual texts themselves.  Jesus’s words to the thief clearly teach an intermediate state. Sure, I can grant that Paradise refers to a Garden-like existence, but Jesus actually tells the thief that “today” you will be “there.”

Like many Neo-Calvinists, Middleton downplays the church and corporate worship.What will we be doing in heaven? Cultural activity.  Any kind of worship then (and now) is merely to prepare us for that cultural activity. Middleton’s argument is that the prophets condemn any kind of worship that neglects justice.  However, as Allen points out, the admonitions to justice in the prophets do not actually tell us how to worship God, and in any case the prophets called Israel back to the covenant, not to justice in the abstract.

If I can make an aside.  We all know that there will not be sex or marriage in heaven.  That is a given. However, on the Neo-Calvinist gloss there will still be cultural activity, including “healing the nations” and the “wealth of nations,” if read literally.  So, there will not be sex but there will be business transactions. Or so they say.

Heaven on Earth.  Michael Allen. Allen’s position is close to Middleton’s, but with a few key differences. Both say we will be in resurrected bodies on the New Earth.  For Allen, however, we will also have access to the Beatific Vision and probably to the New Heavens.  I side with Allen in this volume.

Roman Catholic.  Peter Kreeft. Half of Kreeft’s essay is a riff on his lifetime of musing about C.S. Lewis, and for that half it is quite good.  The other half is Purgatory.  That is not good. Kreeft’s argument falls apart if the Reformed claim that “believers at their deaths are made perfect in holiness.”  If I am made perfect in holiness, then I do not need Purgatory.

I truly enjoyed this book and it made me want heaven even more.

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