I had a great time seeing NT Wright at a local Baptist church last night, and especially enjoyed sitting in the back row and cracking wise with one of my favorite recovering Baptists, Ryan. I devoured and loved the book he is touring to promote, and yet it was fun to hear him and be struck afresh by several things:
–The post-resurrection Jesus has not ‘stepped back’ to some other realm (‘heaven’). He has ‘stepped forward’ into the realm of the New Creation.
–Jesus’ resurrection is technically not a ‘miracle’, but more properly understood as a prototypical event. He is leading the way for those who will follow him.
–The few mentions of ‘heaven’ in the Bible are not about some literal destination for people, but instead depict heaven as “God’s space”. So the pictures in Revelation of worship around God’s throne are about heaven at the moment, not heaven at the end of time. The end of Revelation depicts a renewed earth (not ‘heaven’).
–This is not ‘creation ex nihilo’ (making something out of nothing), but ‘creation ex [something]‘ (creation out of the old).
–The ‘citizens of heaven’ in Philippians 3 are commissioned agents of God’s realm/Kingdom, just like the retired Roman citizens who resided in the Greek town of Philippi and were meant to extend the empire.
–”Love translates into beauty and justice. Justice is love rolling up its sleeves to recreate the old world.”
…now I know that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but sometimes I wonder… After having the good Bishop enlighten and stretch and inspire all of those gathered, two people in particular grabbed a microphone during the Q & A and did their best to put a halt to all of that.
The first was a nice guy who is the father of a 5 and 3-year-old, who wanted to know how to explain ‘heaven’ to his inquisitive kids. And then there was the sweet lady who wanted to have “one good solid theological answer” to “young people’s” questions about heaven.
Bishop Tom’s answers were, of course, gracious and British and helpful and magnanimous and patient. But if I’d have had the pulpit– and this is surely just one of a long list of reasons why I don’t have the pulpit– I’d have responded a bit more stridently:
“I think the problem is precisely that we’ve tried to think about heaven as if we were 3 or 5 years old! We’ve suffered under the least common denominator, in the name of ‘clarity’ or ‘understanding’ or whatever. So instead, just for one night, let’s think about heaven like grownups, using as much of our brain, and– especially!– our capacity for abstract thought, as we can. Let’s explore a few metaphors, and suspend judgment, and give ourselves some freedom. Let’s let in a little mystery, and wonder, and adventure. (I bet if we chill out, we’ll find some real hope, while we’re at it!)
“Then, when you figure it out as best you can with your adult brain, you can translate it to the young people that you know. It’s called “being relational”– you might try it some time. While you’re at it, you might try asking the kid or tweener or teenager what they think about God and the Kingdom. Let yourself off the hook for needing to have all of the answers, and you just might learn something!”
…like I said, Big Tom did nothing of the sort. But I’ll bet he felt like it. It can’t be easy, being Bishop.
(HT: Todd, for the invite.)