I read a fascinating article this week:
Below is a quick review of some of the high points. It’s so worth taking the time to read it, I think it’s about a 45 minute article.
In this short essay, Middleton’s basic thesis is that the eternal destiny of the redeemed (an even who/what should constitute the redeemed in a way) is commonly misunderstood as this disembodied life of humans in heaven. What is essentially good about humanity is the soul, what is essentially bad is the body. (p.73) Middleton is arguing that redemption, as we find it talked about in the scriptures, is concerned with the restoration of God’s creational intent and an “intra-mundane, earthly creation,” (p.74) which is a far from the Platonic dualistic view of “heaven” as a purely spiritual realm.
Middleton uses plot analysis to tease out the understandings/misunderstandings of the basic story of God. He’s borrowing heavily from N.T. Wright at this point, but doing a fantastic job of it. God creates the human race and gives them a vocation. Their job is to exercise power and to rule the earth, transforming it into a complex culture which gives glory to God (p.80-82). But humans misuse their power and turn it on one another in violence. Jesus aids humankind toward their true purpose, which is not heaven but a new earth. (p.73-85)
Perhaps the biggest contribution of this article is the biblical interpretations sections. He turns his attention to important texts which all align and agree that salvation is primarily concerned with the restoration, liberating or setting free of all things, the entire cosmos. (p.86-90) The story of God is not about God doing something completely new after the resurrection, but re-doing/re-creating what was planned all along.
Also important to this line of argument is to deal with the texts which at first blush seem to support a supra-mundane human destiny. Middleton deals with each of these in detail. The most difficult, in my view, is Mt. 24:37-41. The phrase “took them away” which is often interpreted to support the idea of “rapture” is actually a judgment term. This view is supported by the corresponding text in Luke. Close readings of all of these texts leave open the idea of “soul-sleep” or an “intermediate state,” but clearly show that heaven isn’t humanity’s final destination. They all support the redemption of the entire created order and restoration of life on earth. (p.86-96)
In his short final section Middleton argues that we should stop using the term “heaven” to describe humanities final destination because it is so misconstrued. Heaven is simply not the Christian eschatological hope, the final destination. Resurrection is the final hope and the final destination. Not only that, but using the term seems to divert attention away from the real vocation of the Christian, which is to engage in the legitimate expectation of the transformation of our present earthly lives to God’s purposes. (p.96-97)
This is a really interesting article and it’s well worth the time it takes to read it.