15 May 2011

Will Heaven be on Earth or a "pure spiritual existence"?? Reply to a Letter

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Christian hope, David Lipscomb, eschatology, Exegesis, Heaven, Hermeneutics, James A. Harding, Restoration History

Not long ago I received an email with a lengthy critique of my views regarding the New Heavens and the New Earth. Some of the material was simply not what I believe and other parts an attempt to critique it biblically. At first I was not going to reply but I chose to do so. I commend my brother and hope my reply will contribute to a greater understanding. I am hoping that further dialogue will take place with closer attention to the relevant themes and texts. I have removed anything that could identify my correspondent

Dear Brother …

I at first decided not to reply to your essay but it has sort of gnawed at me. I want to commend you for taking the time for thinking about this subject though it will become obvious that I disagree with the light you cast the position in, your interpretation specific texts and regret your lack of interaction with serious scholarly material on the subject, especially contemporary material.

Yet I want to say clearly I have no, absolutely no, desire to get into a debate on this matter with you. I hope to share my thoughts (briefly) on things I would have liked for you to do differently or expand upon. I by no means know all the truth on this or any other subject under the sun so I remain open to teaching and instruction. I relish learning from you but debate or contentiousness I will not participate in. So I will jump right into it …

First, it is classic ad hominem reasoning to both open and close your piece with attempts to link renewed earth eschatology with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “denominational writers,” “millennial doctrines” and “wandering off into sectarian ideology.” This is neither helpful nor is it even relevant.

In fact if by “millennial doctrines” you mean premillennialism then the charge is simply false. Renewed earth eschatology was around long before anything looking like the premillennialism of Tim Lahaye and Hal Lindsey. Anthony Hoekema articulates the view nicely while critiquing the dispensational premillennial point of view in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views edited by Robert G. Clouse. Further Alexander Campbell and Jonathan Edwards were hardly premillennialists (of any variety). Neither is John Piper or James Packer. New Earth and premillennialism are separate issues and trying to stick them together is nothing but smoke and mirrors and a condemn by guilt by association tactic.

Second. Perhaps this is an extension of the previous paragraph but I think it needs to be said. I found your characterization of the holders of the renewed earth point of view as having a “carnal mentality” to be a massively unfair judgment that you are unable to make. You and I agree that the pioneers of the Stoned-Campbell Movement are not inspired but but neither are you nor any other source you quote. The inspiration or lack there of is not really the issue however. Yet I have a difficult time saying some one like Alexander Campbell, Robert Milligan, Moses Lard, David Lipscomb or James A. Harding were “carnally minded” men, yet they all held this position. Indeed that seems like a grasping at straws to me. Yet all of these men, and many more, not only believed in the renewed earth but taught it as part of the work of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection. At root here is a skewed definition of what “carnal” and “spiritual” mean from a biblical standpoint.

Alexander Campbell’s essay “Regeneration” in the Millennial Harbinger in 1833 is more than worth your effort to read. It is lengthy running from p.337 to p.384. If you do not have access to it I will be glad to mail it to you. This is healthy biblical theology from a man who has discerned the difference between Plato and Scripture.

On the “materiality” that is still very “spiritual” I point to the deep biblical understanding that David Lipscomb had. Lipscomb writes in Salvation from Sin:

The object of God’s dealing with man, and especially the mission of Christ to earth, was to rescue the world from the rule and dominion of the evil one, from the ruin into which it had fallen through sin, and to rehabilitate it with the dignity and the glory it had when it came from the hand of God” (David Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin, p.114, see the entire essay “The Ruin and Redemption of the World” but esp. pp. 115, 117, 126-128; Check out p.137).

In his commentary on Romans, Lipscomb comments on the meaning of “creation” in 8.19ff. “The ‘creation’ here means the world, embracing all animated nature below man. (p. 152). Later he writes, “then the whole creation will share this deliverance and be freed from the corruption and mortality to which it has been subjected by the sin of man. It shared the corruption and the mortality of man’s sin, and will share his deliverance from it” (p. 153).

KCMany, many, more paragraphs can be produced from Lipscomb and many from Harding. Knowing what I know about these men I can safely say they were anything but “carnally minded” men. For more on Lipscomb and Harding I recommend the study I published with John Mark Hicks at Lipscomb University called “Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding” (Leafwood Press, 2006).

Third, I have to ask, in light of your understanding of “carnal”, what the resurrection of Jesus (and our own) is really all about? Was Jesus’ resurrection a “spiritual” or a “bodily” (i.e. “carnal”) resurrection? Your closing statement about a “purely spiritual environment” honestly sounds like Gnosticism rather than biblical Christianity. From my own study of the Scriptures I have concluded just the opposite of you. I used to conceive of heaven as a “purely spiritual environment” … of course I think I used the word “spiritual” to mean “immaterial,” which I now think is not only unbiblical but antibiblical. But with such conception the resurrection has no “real” place. Campbell said it well,

“Immortality, in the sacred writings, is never applied to the spirit of man. It is not the doctrine of Plato which the resurrection of Jesus is a proof and pledge … Jesus was not a spirit when he returned to God. He is not made the Head of the New Creation as a Spirit, but as the Son of Man … By the word of his power he created the heavens and the earth; by the word of his grace he reanimates the soul of man; and by the word of his power he will again form our bodies anew, and reunite the spirit and the body in the bonds of an incorruptible and everlasting union.” (MH, 1833, p. 359).

Do we believe that the body comes out of the grave. Paul says that our bodies are to be redeemed—not simply our spirit, Rom 8.23.

Fourth, I wish you would have spent more time with some specific texts. Isaiah 65.17ff you assert refers only to the messianic age of Jesus. But E. J. Young (Isaiah, vol 3. pp. 512ff) suggests it goes beyond that. This is the understanding of most OT scholars. Indeed the very notion that material creation is somehow ‘unspiritual’ needs serious thought. One of the most informative studies I have ever read is by Terence Fretheim called “God and World in the Old Testament” (Abingdon 2005). This is a very lively yet thorough introduction to nearly every passage that speaks of creation and the world in the Hebrew Scriptures. I highly recommend it (with the usual caveat that I do not endorse everything he concludes. Never the less it is a great book).

Returning to Romans 8. This is indeed a profound passage but hardly obscure as you wish. In fact I believe it is crystal clear and in total harmony with the Hebrew Bible, the rest of the NT, and the Jewish “hope” that pervaded second temple Judaism. I know you are a studious man so I recommend N.T. Wright. Wright is without a doubt on of the most influential New Testament scholars of the current generation. He has many works that are both extremely technical and others that you can nearly use in a Bible class. In his book The New Testament and the People of God (Fortress Press) Wright goes to amazing lengths to place the NT in its first century context. He does this to take on the real liberals of the Jesus Seminar and the new Gnostic teachers who make Jesus into something he could never have been. At any rate Wright’s chapter “The Hope of Israel” is essential reading (pp. 280-338). This chapter is expanded in many other works he has published since. (again I don’t agree with everything Wright says but he is incredibly stimulating). C.E.B. Cranfield’s commentary on Romans (among many) is outstanding and his exposition of Rom 8 is worth looking at.

Your treatment of 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21 I also found wanting. But I have by now gone on for to long.

Before I close, I would have like to see you interact with some outstanding resources that have a different point of view that are hardly sensational or leaving the anchor of the Bible.

Ben Witherington, Jesus and Paul and the End of the World (IVP, 1992)
Albert Wolters, Creation Regained (Eerdmans 1985)
Michael Wittmer, Heaven is a Place on Earth (Zondervan 2004)
Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Tyndale 2004)

If I know my own heart then I can safely deny I am carnally minded as you seem to understand that term. But I am convinced that the Old and New Testaments teach that satan did not win, even a fraction of God’s good creation – seen or unseen. God is in the process of redeeming his entire creation to bring glory to himself. Colossians I am certain makes this claim for the work of the Crucified One. The words for salvation in the Bible all point to this conclusion too: redeem; restore; recover; renew; regenerate; reconcile … all of these words point to a return or a bringing back.

I hope that I have not been offensive in anything I have said in this letter. Even if you never agree with me I will hold you in high regard. I simply believe that the renewed earth point of view has far more going for it than what you let on.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

9 Responses to “Will Heaven be on Earth or a "pure spiritual existence"?? Reply to a Letter”

  1. Chyntt Says:

    It’s only been in recent years that I have come to the conclusion that the Cosmos was intended by God to be eternal, and that even though this world is destined for destruction by fire, somehow or another it will also be freed from the curse under which it has been subjected when Adam ate the forbidden fruit, to once again be remolded into an eternally-lasting “material” cosmos. (“The meek shall inherit the earth”, anyone?)

    I suspect that our notions of “physical” (material) and “spiritual” (non-material) are skewed into the binary one-or-the-other aspect most of us find natural to our senses. But looking at the resurrected body of Yahshua, which had the physical, material aspects of scars and the ability to eat and walk and holler and hug, but which also had the spiritual, non-material aspects of changing appearance, popping into and out of existence, passing through solid walls/doors, and floating through our atmosphere and into space without a space suit, I’ve started using my own term for the melding of these two aspects: physi-spiritual.

    I suspect this is the condition of the world and of Adam and Eve before they ate the forbidden fruit, and will be our future state.

    (I also suspect Adam and Eve were dressed in light, as was Moses and Elijah and Yahshua on the mount of transfiguration, as well as the young man at the opened tomb of Yahshua, and when they sinned, their light went out, making it obvious that they needed a covering. If it was simply a matter of them realizing they were naked, without a physical change, they could have bluffed their way rather than needing to cover themselves up. But I also realize this is 123% (roughly 🙂 speculation.)

  2. Patricia Says:

    Chyntt,
    I would like to know what scripture references you can provide that cause you to draw your conclusions. I find your post extremely interesting.
    Thank you!

  3. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I got this comment via email …

    “Bobby, just a note (I don’t write many) to say I appreciated this article on the New Earth. I agree with you totally, and preach it. We’re just so afraid of being tagged somehow and identified with some sect or other point of view that we cease to be objective in our study. I believe what we lost in Adam we regain in Christ–and then some. As God originally created creation, He pronounced it “GOOD,” not “carnal.” The New Creation is to be spiritual because it is not of man’s doing, but is of God, who is Spirit. The Israelites ate “spiritual meat” and drank “spiritual drink” in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10), and this didn’t mean they were eating and drinking spirits. It was spiritual because it was of God. The spiritual gifts were spiritual–not because they were unreal, but b ecause they were of God.

    In Him,
    Ron Bartanen, minister of the Gospel for 57 years; now at Arthur, IL”

  4. Patricia Says:

    What do you do with scriptures like this if you believe we don’t go to heaven? I am very confused about this issue.
    Thank you,
    Patricia W.

    Matt 5:12 – Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
    Matt 5:3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Matt 6:20 – But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
    Matt 8:11 – And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Patricia I absolutely believe in heaven and believe that all God’s people will be in heaven. The only question is what heaven is like and where it might be. Historically Christians have believed that the final resting place of God with this people will be a redeemed and restored earth (see Rev 21-22 where the city of God comes DOWN out of heaven and the dwelling of God is with humanity). One of the problems here is the usage of the word “heaven” which actually has several different meanings in different contexts in Scripture.

    In Modern Western Christianity the meaning of such ideas as spirituality, heaven and the like were heavily influenced by the Enlightenment and a not so subtle Platonic gnostic outlook.

    Heaven will be a redeemed earth or that is what Paul seemed to think and the author of 2 Peter.

    If you would like I have a long discussion of many scriptures from both the Old Testament and the New Testament that relate to this matter. If you would like that more indepth discussion send me an email asking for that material in the subject line. Here is my email address:

    stonedcampbell@yahoo.com

    I look forward to sharing with you and getting your feedback.

    Shalom,
    Bobby V

  6. Anonymous Says:

    GW: I do understand that many early Christians would think us quite “gnostic” in the prevailing “spiritual” heaven concept, which to me is quite ironic.

    However, I’m not quite sure what “physical” would mean when there is no night, no pain, no death, no sorrow, etc.

    It won’t be like we see things now, so what will it be like?

    Personally, I really don’t see this as worth arguing about. All I want to do is be with God, wherever He is and wherever He wants me to be. If that is a “spiritual” existence (whatever that means) or a “physical” existence (whatever that means), I will not pause to argue.

    “I’m going to live with God”

    Good enough for me.

    Although a much longer post laying out what you think would be a good read.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Gene,

    I do think most of the Church Fathers would regard most evangelical Christians (including restorationists) as dangerously imbibing gnostic tendencies. This should give us great cause for pause.

    Now as to the rest of your comment I think if one isolates this discussion into simply an arcane discussion about heaven as it is often imagined in contemporary churches then indeed it is not worth arguing. However, if one sees “heaven” as it is in Scripture then “heaven” is not really arcane because it is not isolated but part of the biblical theme of redemption and salvation itself.

    There is a massive difference between what the the Scripture means by words like “resurrection” and “immortality” as conceived in the Greco-Roman world. Paul knew it, the philosophers in Acts 17 knew it too. So whatever you believe about “resurrection” is how you define “the hope of Israel” which is how Paul defines his entire gospel ministry (Acts 24.14-21; 26.4-10, 22-23; etc)

    So redemption has to do with Creation. The Incarnation in the flesh, the death in the flesh, the resurrection in the flesh … all sore spots with Gnostics are essential to the Gospel and they define what we mean by “heaven.” Romans 8 is quite clear.

    BTW, I did a 14 part series on “Heaven” if you will recall back in 2007. 🙂

  8. kingdomseeking Says:

    Good reply of which I very much agree with. But more than the biblical nature of your reply, you are very charitable as well and that says much more about your character (Christ being formed in you) than the degree to which you are biblically correct.

    Grace and Peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  9. Terry Says:

    I would like to offer one minor correction. I believe John Piper is a historic premillenialist, although you are correct that he is not a dispensational premillenialist. I have read some of his sermons on the topic at http://www.desiringgod.org. I tried to access them at the resource library on the site today, but there seem to be some technical difficulties. As soon as the problems are corrected, you should be able to read his perspective on the subject. However, I found that http://www.theopedia.com/John_Piper acknowledges him as a historic premillenialist.

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