Review: Four Views on Heaven

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:

  1. Where is the final destiny of the saved?
  2. What will we be there?
  3. What will we do there?
  4. How, what, and who will we see of God?
  5. How does your view of our end relate to the intermediate state?
  6. How does your view of our end relate to our present life?
  7. Will we possess special powers?
  8. Will we remember traumatic events in this life or loved ones who are not with us?
  9. How will we relate to our spouses and other family members?
  10. 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.

Review: 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell


40 questions small

40 Questions About Heaven and HellAlan W. Gomes (Benjamin L.Merkle, series editor). Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019.

Summary: Addresses with clear and concise biblically based answers common questions about the afterlife: heaven, the intermediate state, the final judgment, the new creation, and hell.

What happens to us after we die? This is one of the most basic questions every human being has thought about (or tried not to think about). There are a variety of conceptions of what will happen. Some think that there isn’t anything after death. Many in the world anticipate reincarnation in some form. Others, including many Christians think of our post-mortem existence more along the lines of ancient Greeks, where an immortal spirit will reside in some kind of “heaven” in the presence of angels and God.

Alan W. Gomes offers a very practical exploration of many of the questions that arise both from these popular notions and from our reading of the Bible. The title of the book says “40 Questions” but technically, some questions are answered in two parts. Here are some of the kinds of concerns he gets into: what do we mean by soul or spirit and do one or both survive our death? What does the Bible mean when speaking of “heaven” or “hell”? What happens in the period between our death and the resurrection? Will there be rewards in heaven? Degrees of punishment? What about purgatory? What are the “new heavens and the new earth?” Will there be marriage and sex in the eternal state? How can a loving God send anyone to hell? How can we be happy if there are people suffering in hell?

This isn’t an exhaustive list but gives you the sense that you will probably find the questions you or others have asked addressed in this book. Each chapter offers a general discussion of the background of the questions and positions Christians have held, then considers biblical texts with the author’s conclusions of how scripture addresses each question. The chapters conclude with reflection questions allowing readers to review the content, as well as determine their own response to the material presented. Generally, each chapter runs between five and ten pages.

Rather than go into detail on most of the author’s answers, which would be kind of spoiler, I would observe that Gomes would tend to take a traditional approach to many of the questions in the book. What I appreciate is that he does not try to speculate on questions for which the Bible is silent. He affirms the existence of souls of believers in a conscious state prior to the resurrection. Along with other traditional and modern commentators, he believes in the resurrection of the body, and the reign of resurrected believers with Christ in the new earth, the New Jerusalem come down from heaven. He affirms both our salvation by grace, and rewards for believers on the basis of their works, their faithfulness. While acknowledging the figurative language about hell, he believes the scriptures give no warrant for anything other than eternal conscious punishment. He rejects annihilationist, and universalist proposals that have been advanced and discusses the biblical arguments that have been advanced.

I did find his answer to the question of how one could be happy knowing of others people undergoing punishment. His proposal comes down to the idea that from the perspective of eternity with God, we will see things differently–the opportunities for repentance, faith and salvation, and the sinfulness of sin. I also found it interesting that he finds no biblical warrant for the statement “he descended into hell” in many renderings of the Apostles Creed.

It’s likely that not all readers will agree with all that the author says. That, in my mind is not a reason to not buy this book. Often, those who would reject the positions the author takes actually reject poor caricatures rather than the kind of carefully argued treatments this author gives us. Particularly with questions of ultimate destiny, a book like this challenges us to examine whether our beliefs are grounded in what we would like to be true, or hopeful speculations, or grounded in what scripture has made known to us. The reflection questions leave room for the reader to wrestle with these question on his or her own, and that the reader may or may not be convinced of what the author has written. I appreciate the approach here that does not shrink from setting forth what may be hard for some to accept, while giving the reader the space to reach his or her own conclusions.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.