Sometime in January 2022, Zondervan will be releasing their newest book in the “Counterpoints: Bible and Theology” Series. The book is entitled Four Views on Heaven. I am one of the four authors, each of whom was invited to write our chapter as a position statement on eschatology; each chapter is followed by responses from the other authors.
It seems strange to me to have a new book published so soon after my last, Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God, which was released less than two months ago (by Baker Academic).
Abraham’s Silence was a major project, six years in the making (research and writing). My contribution to Four Views on Heaven was a lot less intense.
I first learned that something was in the works about the “Heaven” book when the editor, Mike Wittmer, sent me a message on Twitter in 2017.
The tweet was followed up by an email, in which Mike outlined the project, namely to have four position statements on the nature of the final destiny for the redeemed, with responses from each author.
A little over a year later I signed a contract with Zondervan and delivered my chapter and my responses to the other authors in summer 2020.
This is how the Zondervan website describes the book:
Discover and understand the different Christian views of what heaven will be like.
Christians from a variety of denominations and traditions are in middle of an important conversation about the final destiny of the saved. Scholars such as N. T. Wright and J. Richard Middleton have pushed back against the traditional view of heaven, and now some Christians are pushing back against them for fear that talk about the earthiness of our final hope distracts our attention from Jesus.
In the familiar Counterpoints format, Four Views on Heaven brings together a well-rounded discussion and highlights similarities and differences of the current views on heaven. Each author presents their strongest biblical case for their position, followed by responses and a rejoinder that model a respectful tone.
Positions and contributors include:
Traditional Heaven – our destiny is to leave earth and live forever in heaven where we will rest, worship, and serve God (John S. Feinberg)
Restored Earth – emphasizes that the saved will live forever with Jesus on this restored planet, enjoying ordinary human activities in our redeemed state. (J. Richard Middleton)
Heavenly Earth – a balanced view that seeks to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of the heavenly and earthly views (Michael Allen).
Roman Catholic Beatific Vision – stresses the intellectual component of salvation, though it encompasses the whole of human experience of joy, happiness coming from seeing God finally face-to-face (Peter Kreeft).
There are two clarifications needed about both the title of the book and the above description.
First, the term “Heaven” in the book title should be understood as shorthand for the eschaton, which in my case is the new earth or renewed cosmos (the “new heavens and new earth”), with a focus on the redemption of creation.
Second, despite the description of the four views (which predates the writing of the book), all authors actually affirm that there will be a new heaven and new earth (the editor could not find a reputable theologian or biblical scholar who thought that salvation consisted in “going to heaven” forever). However, there is still a lot of disagreement on other issues along the way.
For example, the “Traditional Heaven” view is really on Dispensationalism, while the “Heavenly Earth” view claims that all we will do on the redeemed earth is worship God (an earthly “beatific vision”).
I have to say that while I disagreed with much of Peter Kreeft’s chapter on the “Roman Catholic” view, it is very wittily written (you will laugh out loud at some of the turns of phrase there). And Kreeft and I agree on some things that may be surprising.
Respect for Scripture and Each Other
The website description of the “Counterpoints” series stresses that each viewpoint seeks to respect Scripture:
The Counterpoints series presents a comparison and critique of scholarly views on topics important to Christians that are both fair-minded and respectful of the biblical text. Each volume is a one-stop reference that allows readers to evaluate the different positions on a specific issue and form their own, educated opinion.
One of the distinctive features of all the chapters in the Four Views on Heaven book is that every author is charitable to all the others, with no ad hominin attacks or denigration of someone for having a contrary opinion. The respect that accompanies the very real disagreements is salutary and I am delighted to be part of this conversation.
Focus on the Cosmic Temple Theme
Although I have previously written an entire book on eschatology (A New Heaven and a New Earth), my chapter in Four Views on Heaven isn’t simply a repeat or summary of what I’ve written before. Besides addressing some specific questions that the book’s editor put to each contributor, I greatly expanded the theme (already present in my eschatology book) of the world as God’s temple, with God’s desire for his presence to fill all of creation in the eschaton.
This focus was evident in my provisional title for the chapter: “The New Earth: Cosmic Redemption and the Coming of the Shekinah.” Shekinah is the post-biblical Jewish term for the divine Presence, derived from the Hebrew shakan, “to dwell,” with mishkan or “dwelling place” designating the tabernacle in the Old Testament. However, the editor (perhaps) wisely changed the title of my chapter to “A New Earth Perspective,” which is simpler.
You can purchase the book at a good discount from the Zondervan website, as well as other books in the “Counterpoints” series, which typically have four or five views of important topics. One that I have found particularly helpful is Five Views on the Exodus: Historicity, Chronology, and Theological Implications (2021).
Congrats on this new project, Rich. As a teacher and wanderingly curious about theological conversations outside of my ken, I quite like these books. I have spent a lot of years working on this topic for my own growth. Last in early 2020, I began a 10-sermon series at a local church called “Remembering Heaven”–meant to test the material for a someday book. Then COVID hit. It turned out to be weirdly difficult to talk about the intimate links between heaven and earth as the world is ending.
I do love these books, which have been without fail (for me) thoughtful and generative. I got in trouble some years ago for critiquing Zondervan for not having more women authors, and noted this series. It would be pretty hard to complain about your volume. A great collection of thinkers. I look forward to reading it!
Your comment about the lack of women authors in these books is astute. I myself was concerned about this. While it doesn’t solve the problem for the particular book I contributed to, you should know that Katya Covrett (executive editor for Zondervan Academic) has been pushing hard (and succeeding) in publishing lots more women authors. She is an amazing person. See: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/cruxsola/2020/08/katya-covrett-zondervan-academic-the-editors-behind-the-great-books-in-new-testament-studies/
Yes, after I had commented publically about Zondervan (which a PhD student is unwise to do), Katya reached out to me and I gave her space to talk about her vision for publishing women. As I travelled over the following years of my graduate work (before graduating and then having the world shut down), I interviewed a number of women biblical scholars and theologians to get their understanding of the publishing world. What Katya was describing, though she does not use the words exactly, is a “request weariness” in women scholars in male disciplines as editors, publishers, and media are anxious for a new perspective. We see that weariness in scholars and writers of colour in the last couple of years especially.
Katya’s note is here: https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2015/12/04/katya/