Our recent emphasis on “kingdom work” misses the real hope of the afterlife.
Heaven isn’t what it used to be.
A friend of mine’s favorite Sunday school song growing up was “Dwell in Me, O Blessed Spirit,” the first verse of which goes, “Dwell in me, O Blessed Spirit, Gracious Teacher, Friend Divine. For the home of bliss that waits me, O prepare this heart of mine.” But my friend, Laura Smit, who is now a theology professor at Calvin College, notes that this song is now revised in the hymnal to read “For the kingdom work that calls me, O prepare this heart of mine.” Apparently, those revising the song worried that speaking of the “home of bliss that waits me” leads to otherworldly passivity. Rather than prepare our hearts for the “home of bliss” in the age to come, we should focus on “the kingdom work that calls me.”
This revision reflects the broader trend of evangelical scholars and pastors countering a wispy, ethereal view of heaven, separated from our present life. Rather than use “rapture” movies to scare non-Christians into faith so they are delivered from the burning earth, these evangelicals insist that Christian hope is not for the annihilation of the earth, but the restoration of all creation to service of the Lord. Our heavenly hope is that the Lord sets things right, and heaven comes to earth. Our kingdom work now anticipates the new creation to come, in which we reign with King Jesus in the renewed creation.
I embrace the main features of this counter-narrative to the rapture account. Redemption restores God’s good creation. Heavenly hope involves a material, embodied restoration. Heaven and earth will come together as Christ’s kingship is recognized by all creation. Moreover, we …Continue reading…