Four View on Heaven (Counterpoints), John S. Feinberg (Contributor), J. Richard Middleton (Contributor), Michael Allen (Contributor), Peter Kreeft (Contributor), Michael E. Wittmer (General Editor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2022.
Summary: Representatives of four different views on heaven respond to ten questions and each other’s responses.
For many, if asked their view of heaven, they would be hard-pressed to say much more than that they hope to go “there” when they die. Among theologians and biblical scholars, as you may suspect, there is a much more extensive discussion, and some disagreement. This work presents four views representative of those shared by many thoughtful believers. It might be noted that the four contributors to this work all agree on three important truths: the Return of Christ, the bodily Resurrection of believers, and the Restoration of creation, a new heaven and new earth.
Following an introductory historical survey of the doctrine of heaven, worth the price of admission, Michael E. Wittmer lists ten questions he had asked each of the contributors to address. Some referenced the questions specifically while others formulated responses reflective of those questions:
- Where is the final destiny of the saved?
- What will we be there?
- What will we do there?
- How, what, and who will we see of God?
- How does your view of our end relate to the intermediate state?
- How does your view of our end relate to our present life?
- Will we possess special powers?
- Will we remember traumatic events in this life or loved ones who are not with us?
- How will we relate to our spouses and other family members?
- Will we be able to sin in our final condition?
The four contributors and a summary of their views are:
John S. Feinberg represents a traditional evangelical reading along the general lines of dispensational premillenialism. He would affirm an intermediate state of believers’ spirits going to be with the Lord, a “rapture” of the saints before Christ comes to defeat evil and inaugurate his millemnial reign, followed by the great white throne judgment, and the new heavens and earth.
J. Richard Middleton emphasizes that our ultimate destiny is not to go to heaven but that in Christ, heaven will come to earth in his return and we will reign with him on the renewed earth, engaging in the normal activities of life, participating in that renewal. Middleton traces the temple theme throughout scripture, seeing in Revelation 21-22, the renewal and final form of God’s temple.
Michael Allen represents a Reformed corrective to Middleton’s position, focusing on a beatific vision of God in a new creation, a radically renewed heaven on earth.
Peter Kreeft, in what I thought the most engaging of the essays, represents a Roman Catholic understanding including the affirmation of Purgatory as the “washroom” for believers before they enter the joys of fellowship with a holy God. Kreeft is the only one who explicitly answered all ten questions, including what we remember and how we will relate to our spouses and others in our family.
Each essay is followed by courteous but substantive responses from the others that point up the differences of their approaches, followed by a short rejoinder. Feinberg’s are the most scripturally focused (although I don’t think he fully reckons with his own theological premises). Middleton reflects the temple theology and neo-Calvinist focus on the renewal of the earth. Allen offers a reformed corrective to others from a theocentric perspective while Kreeft reflects explicitly the combination of scripture and tradition of the Catholic Church.
Several things stand out as quite wonderful in this discussion: no matter the specifics of our final destiny of believers, it is wonderful. It is filled with the presence of God in Christ that will occupy us forever. We will have resurrection bodies with enhanced but not omnipotent capacities. While there is disagreement, there will be work fitted to our faithfulness and gifted capacities. Sin in our lives and the creation is vanquished and death is no more.
This work both fosters our awareness of our glorious destiny as well as the details over which disagreements remain, which may help in clarifying our own understanding. It is also marked by the generous courtesy of each toward all the others, a quality of interaction that serves as a model for theological discussion, and indeed all discussions between Christians.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.