Brief Insights for Mastering Bible Study (Heiser)

Heiser, Michael. Brief Insights for Mastering Bible Study. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018.

This book is written on the most basic level. It is designed for the brand new Christian, though there are insights that experienced bible readers can take home. The goal is not to learn a method or a series of steps but to learn how to think critically. You must learn to develop insightful questions.

Study Habits

Memorization isn’t bible study. It is good, perhaps even necessary. Bible study involves thinking and thinking is work. It isn’t a ritual event. And if time is a commodity, Heiser recommends, and I think this is quite good, devoting small increments to thinking about what we have studied.

In chapter 5 Heiser admits we can never have pure objectivity to the text. We can still ask whether our precommitments are impeding our knowledge of what the text is saying.

Geography is important, too. If something happened at a place, look it up on a map. For example, it makes a big difference if the Transfiguration happened around Mt. Herman rather than Mt. Tabor.

Read Journal Articles

Journal articles are published several times a year. They are more up-to-date and cutting edge than commentaries. While not objective, they give you access to a wider range of experts in the field. The average lifespan of a critical article is about twenty years. Think of scholarship before the discovery of Ugarit or the Dead Sea Scrolls.

He then covers linguistic issues in the text: there is no Holy Ghost Greek, the Masoretic Text didn’t fall from heaven, and the books in the canon are not necessarily in chronological order. Per the Masoretic text, this means you can entertain alternative textual readings if you have good warrant to do so.

Heiser points out that the cultural milieu of the bible is not that of late Western Europe. This seems like a truism, but it’s not. People get nervous when the term “Second Temple Judaism” is mentioned, if only because of what NT Wright has done with the term. Be that as it may, what is more likely to be understood by a first century Jew: the writings of that time period or 19th century theology?

Also, don’t worry too much about doing word studies. Most people at the beginner level commit more fallacies on this point than anywhere else (scholars, too). For example, is a butterfly a fly that is made out of butter? That’s what doing word-studies looks like. It’s more profitable to trace concepts throughout the bible than word studies.

Bible Study Tools

Strong’s Concordance is good, but online search engines have rendered it somewhat obsolete. If you are going to use an interlinear bible, use a reverse one. If it is in a bible software it can directly link the words.

I do wish Heiser had gone a bit deeper at times, but this makes a perfect graduation gift for the brand new Christian.

I dare you not to bore me with the bible

Heiser, Michael. I Dare You Not to Bore Me With the Bible

This is a short introduction to Michael Heiser’s program. It covers slightly different ground than Supernatural, which is also seen as an introduction to his more scholarly Unseen Realm. This text works off the premise that “what is strange is probably important.”

If you’ve read Unseen Realm, there isn’t anything new here. But I think you should still get it. It’s only a few dollars on kindle and there are some neat exegetical insights which are perhaps easier to find here than in Unseen Realm.

Who is God’s Witness in the Clouds?

In Psalm 89 God swears by another, one who is presumably on the same level with God an in the clouds. Verses 35-37 form a chiasm:

A. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;

B.I will not lie to David.

C.His offspring shall endure forever,

C’his throne as long as the sun before me.

B’ Like the moon it shall be established forever,

A’ a faithful witness in the skies.”

Psalm 89 requires an equal to God who is distinct from God yet not another God. God’s holiness (A), which is the same thing as God given divine simplicity, means that his “faithful witness in the skies” (A’) is also God. We see something similar in Revl. 1:4-5.

The Eyes of Ezekiel 1

The whole scene is connected with Babylonian astronomy. No, it is not copying Babylon. It is trolling Babylon. Cherubim have four faces. Possible connection with four cardinal directions. What happens in heaven affects what is on earth. Also, in the Hebrew it reads as if the wheels are covered with eyes (ayin).

Satan’s Fall

Similar material found elsewhere. When Jesus said he saw Satan fall, it wasn’t in the context of a Miltonian pre-history, but as a result of his sending the 70 (The New Table of Nations, Genesis 10) out to get rid of demons. This event is connected with the kingdom. If this happened in the past, then why wasn’t the Kingdom established then?

There is nothing new in this book but it is a good primer to his work. Each chapter is only a few pages long. My only qualm is that sometimes Heiser avoids giving his own conclusion.

On Guard (Craig)

Craig, William Lane. On Guard.

Although I recommend this book, I in no way endorse Craig’s other works that promote Middle Knowledge or Apollinarianism.

William Lane Craig covers familiar ground in this book, but he presents the material in a way that translates “directly to the streets.”  His arguments themselves are not new, but he has placed them in flowcharts and shorter premise-based arguments.  If you memorize these syllogisms, you will be able to engage unbelievers and friends.

Throughout he tells his own story of how he came to faith and his various doctoral studies in Europe.  

Note: I am not debating whether these arguments prove the Triune God of Yea Reformedom.  What matters below is the soundness and validity of the arguments.

Why Does Anything Exist at All?

Shorter version:

(1) Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (Leibniz)

(2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

(3) The universe exists.

(4) The universe has an explanation of its existence.

(5) Ergo, God.

I’ll admit. This isn’t my favorite one, and I really like Leibniz.  It does raise some important issues, though, concerning abstract objects, meaning, etc.  The important point is that Leibniz forces us to distinguish between contingent and necessary existence.  I’ll leave it at that for now.

Cosmological Argument

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

(2) The universe began to exist.

(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The great thing about this one is that atheists cannot attack premise (2) without giving up Big Bang cosmology.  I am not saying that the Big Bang proves God.  (2) is even more interesting.  Al-Ghazali “argued that if the universe never began to exist, then there have been an infinite number of past events prior to today” (Craig 78).

Further, you can’t pass through an infinite number of elements one at a time.  Before any number can be counted, an infinity of numbers will have to have been counted first.

The Design Argument

Craig’s argument isn’t “Look at a watch. That kind of means there is a God.”  Rather, he is saying there is fine-tuning and irreducible complexity in the universe.  What accounts for that?

(1) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

(2) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

(3) Therefore, it is due to design.

In some ways this might be the most popular argument.  I just lay it out before you. I want to spend more time on New Testament arguments.

Who Was Jesus?

Those who insist we ignore evidence from the New Testament are asking us to ignore the earliest and most reliable sources and go to sources which are often hundreds of years later and notoriously unreliable (186).

Basic argument:

(1) The gospels were written less than two generations after events. This means legendary aspects did not have time to creep in.

(2) The gospels employ criteria of embarrassment (e.g., Peter’s failings), historical fit, and coherence.  The Gospels also record Jesus’s ignorance about the date of his return, which doesn’t seem like something a start-up group would include.

Resurrection

Three independently established facts:
(1) Empty tomb

(2) Jesus’s live appearances after his death.
(3) The origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

(1’) The disciples assume the public location of his tomb, thus opening themselves to falsifiability. The story of the chief priests saying the disciples stole the body assumes “from the other side” that the tomb was empty.

(2’) List of eye-witnesses. The witnesses are there to be questioned.

Revamping Natural Theology

Let’s explore a different angle. I went over some of my notes on Torrance, Einstein, Polanyi, and the like.

With the natural theology guys, we agree that there is a rationality in nature that points towards God and to which even the unbeliever has access.

Against the natural theology guys, this rationality is more along the lines of post-Newtonian models and not simply Aristotle’s causality.

With the Van Tillians I agree that without God this rationality would be impossible, as it would no longer be contingent.

Against the Van Tillians, it is better to pursue this as seeing a God-given rationality within nature rather than bizarre transcendental models.

Bottom line: the extreme Van Tillians are wrong to reject natural theology as proposed above. The classical theists, although correct on the doctrine of God, need to move beyond Plato and Aristotle.

Bibliography from Veneration

This is a condensed bibliography from Derek Gilbert’s Veneration

Conrad l’Heureux, “The yelide harapa—A Cultic Association of Warriors.” Bulletin of the American
Schools of Oriental Research
No. 221, (Feb., 1976), pp. 83-85.

E. C. B. MacLaurin, “Anak/ʾανξ.” Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 15, Fasc. 4 (Oct., 1965), pp. 468-474.

Brian B. Schmidt, “Israel’s Beneficent Dead: The Character and Origin of Israelite Ancestor Cults and
Necromancy.” (Oxford: University of Oxford doctoral thesis, 1991), pp. 158–159.

Amar Annus, “Are There Greek Rephaim? On the Etymology of Greek Meropes and Titanes.” UgaritForschungen 31 (1999), pp. 13–30.

Amar Annus, “On the Origin of Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in
Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha vol. 19:4 (2010), pp. 277–320.

Christopher B. Hays, “An Egyptian Loanword in the Book of Isaiah and the Deir ʾAlla Inscription: Heb. nsṛ, Aram. nqr, and Eg. nṯr as “[Divinized] Corpse.” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections Vol. 4:2
(2012), p. 18.

George C. Heider, The Cult of Molek: A Reassessment (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985), pp. 90-91.

Brian R. Doak, “Ezekiel’s Topography of the (Un-)Heroic Dead in Ezekiel 32:17–32.” Journal of
Biblical Literature
, Vol. 132, No. 3 (2013), p. 611.

Ronald S. Handel, “Of Demigods and the Deluge: Toward an Interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4.” Journal of
Biblical Literature
106 (1987), p. 22.

Frölich, Ida (2014). “Mesopotamian Elements and the Watchers Traditions”, in The Watchers in Jewish and
Christian Traditions
(ed. Angela Kim Hawkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John Endres; Minneapolis:
Fortress), p. 23.

The Trinitarian Theology of Cornelius Van Til (Tipton)

Tipton, Lane G. The Trinitarian Theology of Cornelius Van Til. Libertyville, IL: Reformed Forum, 2022.

Greg Bahnsen explained Van Til’s apologetic method.  John Frame touched on broader theological issues.  Lane Tipton gives us something quite new: a whole book on Van Til’s Trinitarian theology.  He clears up misunderstandings and explains some of Van Til’s rather unique phrases. Tipton’s thesis is that every error concerning God comes from either having God participate in man or man in God (Tipton 16).

Self-Contained Trinity

When Van Til uses words like “self-contained God,” he means that “God does not exist in correlation to the universe, with each side of the relation characterized by mutual change” (17).  This is excellently put.  In other words, he means that God is a se.  One minor theme in the book is that creation does not participate in the substance of the Godhead.  I agree.  I would like to point out, however, that there is an ambiguity here that neither Tipton nor some Thomists seem to be aware of.  What does “participation” actually mean?  No one really defines it. Even when I finished reading through all of Plato, I had only a vague idea of what the word meant.  This means there are two errors to avoid.  One is to define participation in such a thick way that one becomes part of the substance of the Godhead.  The other is to weaken it where 2 Peter 1:4 is all but meaningless.

Whatever participation means, Van Til posits, not a participation of the divine essence, but a finite replication of it to covenant man (19). This leads to another key point of Tipton’s: Rome’s view of the analogia entis entails theistic mutualism.  Theistic mutualism says that God and creation are in a correlative relationship. We will return to that claim later.

Tipton’s chapter on the Triune Creator is a fine presentation of some of God’s attributes.  He even suggests how these attributes, some of them anyway, safeguard our understanding of God and the universe.  Immutability, for example, precludes any form of pantheism (25). On this point Tipton rightly rebuts John Frame.  Frame, by contrast, “advocates for a species of theistic mutualism when he posits two modes of existence in God” (32 n.21; cf John Frame, Doctrine of God, 572).

The heart of this book, maybe surprisingly, is not Van Til on the Trinity, but Van Til on the image of God.  Van Til simply expounds the standard Protestant view that man was created in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Adam was already disposed for communion with God.  Rome, by contrast, says something is needed to raise man above his created nature.  This means that man’s position is already defective before the fall.  Scripture, by contrast, says that any conflict in the being of man is a result of sin (44).

The Trinity

This is where problems arise, all of them self-inflicted for Van Til. I note up front that I do not believe Van Til was a heretic on the Trinity.  I know what he was trying to say (see below).  Rather, he simply chose the absolute worst way to express his views on the Trinity.  Tipton says Van Til is misunderstood on this point.  He alludes to Keith Mathison, R. C. Sproul, and John Gerstner. There are two problems with that.  One, those men did not really attack Van Til on the Trinity. They attacked him on apologetics and his reading of Reformed sources.  Two, it is not clear that they actually misunderstood what he was saying.  When someone says the Trinity is both One Person and Three Persons, it is not the critic’s fault that he misunderstands what you are saying.  

So what is Van Til saying?  He begins well.  Tipton notes that the “divine essence has no existence outside of each Trinitarian person” (63). Moreover, the unity in the Trinity is a numeric, not a generic unity.  The persons of the Trinity are not members of a genus called “Godhead.” And in one area where I think Van Til did make a valuable advance in Trinitarian theology, he says that each person “exhausts” the divine essence.  Whatever it means to be God, a divine person is it.  Each person is “interior” to the other persons.

One Person and Three Persons

Following Bavinck, there is “absolute personality” in the Trinity (74; cf Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, God and Creation, 304). This absolute personality entails self-consciousness and self-determination.  This absolute personality “opens itself up organically in a threefold existence.”  God’s being is a “personal unity” (Tipton 76). It works like this:

Absolute personality → threefold, self-differentiated existence (77)

Now we can proceed to Van Til’s infamous claim. When he says “one person” and “three persons,” what he means is “absolute personal being/personality” and “three persons.”  The word person shifts in meaning. At this point he is simply guilty of the fallacy of equivocation, not heresy.  Tipton tries to rescue the phrasing, saying “the terms ‘person’ and ‘personality’ [are used interchangeably] to refer to God in his unity” (83). This does not sit right with me.  If we front load divine unity with personality, then we muddle the distinction between nature and person. To this Van Til would reply that we cannot, ala Gordon Clark, make the divine essence a “mute” essence. I agree.  The older fathers noted that the concept person can already do that.  A person is a mode of subsistence.  As a mode it modifies the divine essence.  It is a mode of existence (tropos hyparxeos). The divine essence is never free-floating in the abstract.

The book ends with a good discussion of perichoresis and autotheos.  We will spend some time on the latter term. Autotheos means the Son’s essence exists of himself and not with reference to the Father (112). The Father communicates the person, not the essence to the Son. In fact, “one subsistent person is not sustained in his essence by another Trinitarian person, since all persons subsist equally as the entire underived essence of God” (117).

Van Til ties all of this together with the idea of “mutual representation.” Tipton explains that “each person represents the whole of the divine essence (in the relations of subsistence) and the other Trinitarian persons (in the relations of coinherence” in the Godhead” (132). In fact, mutual exhaustion correlates with mutual representation (133).

Conclusion

Is Thomas Aquinas a theistic mutualist?  He might be.  Tipton, like Van Til, does not engage in actual analysis with primary sources.  To be sure, he references learned works by Thomists on this topic, but we still do not know what Thomas actually said.  There are problems with Thomas’s account in places, and I agree with Tipton on the donum. I admit that some Thomists do indeed speak of a sharing (or at least, seeing) the essence of God.  If Thomas said something like that, we would need to see where and to see what he means by it.  We see neither. Thomas probably held to the chain of being ontology, but did he mean that there is just one being and God has more of it than we do?  That seems more of a criticism of Scotus. My own reading of Thomas, no doubt largely shaped by men like Norman Geisler and Mortimer Adler, suggests something like the following: God and man have being analogically, not univocally. We can say our concepts of being are univocal, but our judgments of it are analogical.  

Following Norman Geisler, I would say that unless we have something like an analogy of being, we will not be able to escape Parmenides’s challenge. Parmenides said if we think being is univocal, then all being is one.  If we say it is equivocal, then we would differ from other objects and God by not-being, or nothing.  In which case, being is still one.  The solution, then, is that we have our being analogically of God.

That’s not crucial to this review, though. What is crucial is that we are still not sure of what Thomas said.  I can even grant Tipton’s claim for the sake of argument, but we would at least need to see it.

Notwithstanding the above criticism, the book is excellent. Tipton has done what Van Tillians normally do not do: he explains some of Van Til’s unique phrases. I do wish he would tell us what “concrete universal” meant for Van Til.  I do not think anyone should criticize Van Til on the Trinity without at least reading that section in this book.  It may not necessarily convince you, but you will at least have seen what Van Til does and does not mean.

(Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy by the publisher. I was under no obligation for a favorable review.  My thoughts are entirely my own.)

Introduction to Philosophy (Geisler and Feinberg)

This is a systematic philosophy text.  Like a systematic theology, it explains and evaluates the loci of philosophy.  It is probably the best intro text on the market, at least from a Christian perspective.

A good philosophical system will achieve three things: (1) internal consistency, (2) external comprehensiveness, and (3) correspondence (Geisler and Feinberg, 72).

The authors do a fine job rebutting the pietistic charge that studying philosophy violates Colossians 2:8.  For one, Paul is warning against false knowledge, not all knowledge.  Moreover, the definite article could actually indicate a specific teaching at Colosse (i.e., most likely gnostic angel-worship).  Even more, one cannot beware of false philosophy unless he is first aware of it (73).  And though Geisler does not mention it, these same pietists themselves give a logos about theos and have no problem with using Aristotelian concepts like being, quality, quantity, and motion.

The first locus the authors cover is knowledge and the various options with justifying belief.  My only concern is that I wish they had spent more time on foundationalism.

What is Knowledge?

Problems with skepticism:

1) Skepticism is rationally inconsistent.  Assertions that we cannot know anything are themselves claims of knowledge (94ff).

2) Skepticism is practically inconsistent: skeptics trust their sense perceptions when they cross the road.

Foundationalism

Foundationalism is the view that there is a structure of knowledge “whose foundations, though they support all the rest, are themselves in need of no support” (152). We have directly justified beliefs “and they are topped with indirectly justified beliefs.”

In response to criticisms, the foundationalist maintains his position does not end in an infinite regress. It is possible that there are immediately grounded propositions.

Coherentism

Coherentism is one alternative to foundationalism.  Geisler notes a distinction between coherentist theories of truth and coherentist justification for truth (161). The coherentist justification asserts that there are no basic beliefs, only webs of belief. 

What is Reality?

Is reality One or Many?  Geisler does a fine job explaining the power of Parmenides’ argument for monism (168). It looks like this:

1) Reality is either one or many.

2) If reality is many, then then many things must differ from each other.

3) But there are only two ways things can differ: either by being (something) or by non-being (nothing).

4) However, two (or more) things cannot differ by nothing, for to differ by nothing means not to differ at all.

5) Neither can things differ by being (or something), because being is the only thing that everything has in common, and things cannot differ in the very respect in which they are all the same.

6) Therefore, things cannot differ at all; everything is one.

It’s clear that the problem is his univocal use of the term “being.”  The solution can’t be an equivocal use of the word “being,” for then our knowledge of reality is now suspect.  The only solution, and one Aristotle and Aquinas would later formulate, is an analogical use of being.

The pluralist options are as follows:

Atomism: “Things Differ by Absolute Non-Being” (170ff).

Platonism: Things differ by relative non-being

Aristotle: Things Differ in their Being (Which is Simple)

Aquinas: Things Differ in their Being (which is composed of Form and Matter)

Trinity, One, and Many

Can the Trinity solve the problem of the One and Many?  Short answer: No. The Trinity does not address Parmenides’ concern.  Parmenides wants to know how things can differ in their being.  The Trinity, however, only seeks to posit plurality in the persons, precisely not in the being.

God and the Ultimate

We must not confuse “belief in” with “belief that” (269). I do not need a reason for faith in God.  It is entirely legitimate, though, to stress reasons for belief that God exist.

Some Thoughts on Deism

The Deists’ line that miracles are a violation of natural law no longer works.  Science today is as likely to speak of “models” and “maps” than laws (277).  Moreover, natural physical law does not actually “cause” anything.  It merely explains it.

Problems with Panentheism and Finite Godism

Panentheism cannot claim an infinite god with “finite poles.” It does not make sense to speak of a contingent and necessary God.  Even more problematic, “can God actualize his own potential?” This problem is even more damaging for finite godism.  As Geisler notes, “A finite god needs a cause.”  That new cause is now God (or at least has a better claim to be God).

Paul Tillich’s Symbolic Language

It does not do to say that God is the ground of ultimate Being and that language about God is symbolic. Such a person believes there is at least non-symbolic entity, being.

Analogical God-Talk

1) There is only a basis for “analogy when there is an intrinsic causal relation” (314). For example, as Geisler notes, hot water has an extrinsic relation to the hardness in the boiled egg, but it has an intrinsic relation to the heat in the egg.

2) The effect does not need to resemble the instrumental cause, only the principal efficient cause (315).

3) Likewise, the effect need not resemble the material cause, only the efficient one.

4) Terms like “being” are univocally defined, but analogically applied (317).

What is Good or Right?

Kantianism: will it to be a universalizable law.  Existentialists have asked why should we prioritize the universal over the particular?

Utilitarianism: greatest good for the greatest number.  There are numerous problems with this claim. Only God can be utilitarian, since only he has the foresight to know which actions will be the best for the greatest number (393).  There is another problem: the utilitarian subtly analyzes results in terms of ‘the Good,” which means results cannot be the deciding factor.  Perhaps the greatest practical problem: how long-range must the results be in order for them to be good?  If it is only short-range, then this justifies a number of evils.  Too long a range, on the other hand, makes it worthless.

Classical theistic ethics: the Good is self-evident. The main difficulty with the classical view is whether it can overcome the “is-ought” fallacy. There are several lines of response.  “If ‘ought’ is a basic category that cannot be reduced to ‘is’ or anything else, then one must understand it intuitionally, since there is no way to break it down further” (383). We still haven’t justified natural law ethics.  We have, however, provided a source about what we believe.  We should point out, though, that concepts like “The Good” cannot be analyzed in terms of a higher concept.

Conclusion

This book was a joy to read.  Geisler provided us with an accessible, yet rigorous text for the introductory to mid-level college student.  

Christianity and Idealism (Van Til)

Van Til, Cornelius. Christianity and Idealism. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1955.

Originally a collection of articles, this is actually a fascinating account of the final days of Anglo-American Hegelianism. When Van Til (and by extension, his interlocutors) say “idealism,” they do not mean it like Berkeley and others did, where the world is a product of the human mind. Not even Hegel meant that. Rather, for this kind of idealism, the Absolute is that which is either beyond all particulars or contains all particulars.

A note on terminology: a key concept for idealism is the concrete universal. If for Plato universals existed in some unattainable heaven, and where for Aristotle universals exist in the particular, for the later Idealists the universal contains the particulars.

For men like FH Bradley, reality is beyond the appearances. Reality is unreal to the degree that it is not comprehensible. This calls to mind the old Hegelian dictum: the real is the rational and the rational is the real.

Bernard Bonsanqet makes a similar argument: pluralism destroys knowledge (Van Til, 19). Unity must be basic to difference. I think this is correct and Van Til himself acknowledges its proximity to theism. Without a unity, everything is in flux. This means that the universe must be timeless. Now we are getting into dangerous waters. We are only a short step away from denying the passage of time altogether, as McTaggart later did.

As good as this sounds, Van Til highlights its weakness. It makes God and man correlative of one another. Being and nothing are correlative. All ends up as becoming. Yes, it’s pantheism. Another consequence is that there is no doctrine of creation, since particularity has always been there.

Van Til says the ontological Trinity is the true concrete universal. I think there is something to that. There is unity and particularity in the Trinity, but it does not function the same way as earlier Idealist models did. The unity for the Idealists served to ground the particulars. The difficulty here is that the particulars in the Trinity (i.e., the persons) are not functioning in the same way as idealist particulars are. Of course, Van Til never makes these claims, but it is an idea I have had for years when I read Van Tillians on the ontological trinity.

The book is worth getting to see how Van Til reacted to the last of the British Hegelians.

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.