“Heaven Can’t Wait” — TIME Magazine Considers Wright’s Heaven-on-Earth
BY IVAN MESA —
Pulitzer prize-winning author Jon Meacham writes in this coming week’s edition (April 16, 2012) of TIME magazine with the cover essay, “Heaven Can’t Wait: Why rethinking the hereafter could make the world a better place.” (His cover story on the Rob Bell brouhaha also appeared last year around Easter time: “What If There’s No Hell?”)
Relying on the published works of N. T. Wright, specifically his Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008), Meacham asks,
“What if Christianity is not about enduring this sinful, fallen world in search of a reward of eternal rest? What if the authors of the New Testament were actually talking about a bodily resurrection in which God brings together the heavens and the earth in a wholly new, wholly redeemed creation.”
Meacham summarizes Wright’s heaven-on-earth emphasis:
“Heaven … becomes, for now, the reality one creates in the service of the poor, the sick, the enslaved, the oppressed. It is not paradise in the sky but acts of selflessness and love that bring God’s sacred space and grace to a broken world suffused with tragedy until, in theological terms, the unknown hour when the world we struggle to piece together is made whole again.”
And he observes how this message resonates with a younger generation:
“Among younger believers in particular, the 21st century has seen a tangible move within evangelical Christianity to focus less on the enforcement of conservative convictions about sexual ethics and more on following Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and clothe the naked as though they had found Jesus himself hungry, homeless or bereft.”
Meacham, who professes faith in Christ (“A word of disclosure: I’m a Christian—a poor one, to be sure—who keeps the feast and says his prayers.”), admits that Wright’s proposal has been “illuminating,” for it is more in line with the New Testament authors and thus “should inspire the religious to open their arms more often than they point fingers.”
But is Wright correct in his understanding of heaven? And is Meacham on target when he says that Wright’s proposal is more in line with the New Testament authors?
In his review of Wright, Thomas Schreiner has noted that Wright overextends himself and minimizes a clear biblical teaching of entering God’s kingdom, of “going to heaven” (e.g., Matt 5:20; Mark 9:47; John 3:5; Acts 14:22). Furthermore, Scripture presents heaven as a place different and separate from earth (e.g., John 1:51; Acts 1:10; Col. 1:5). Wright very well agrees with this, yet he exaggerates his thesis to make his point, and in so doing jettisons clear biblical warrant for using the language of “going to heaven.”
It’s always interesting to see matters of faith appear on the cover of mainline magazines such as TIME. As informed believers we ought to pick up and read, knowing that it is yet another opportunity to engage unbelievers around us.
Heaven and its Lord can and does continue to wait — and that is pure mercy!
Read the rest of Thomas Schreiner’s balanced review of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope here.
Ivan Mesa is a Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY., where he is a member of Clifton Baptist Church. He is originally from Miami, a lover of history and books, and a shameless consumer of Cuban coffee. You can follow him on Twitter.