Four Views on “Heaven” (Zondervan, 2022)

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.

Two Clarifications

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).

A Trip to the Holy Land Is Coming (December 2022)

I visited the Holy Land for the first time in 2018. It was a transformative experience.

By the second day (at Caesarea Maritima [see picture below]), I was convinced I would be back.

The trip was sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (JCBS), and our teacher was Monte Luker (current Academic Dean of JCBS).

Even before the trip was over, Monte and I began discussing the possibility of co-leading a trip for Northeastern Seminary (where I am a faculty member). After returning to the USA, we began planning in earnest.

The itinerary was set by the end of 2019 and we had a PDF brochure with all the details finalized early in 2020, ready to do the trip after Christmas of that year.

But then COVID hit. So the trip had to be canceled.

New Trip to the Holy Land

Well, a new trip is in the works. It’s going to happen right after Christmas 2022.

Our dates will most likely be December 29, 2022 through January 11, 2023. Those dates are not set in stone yet (they may shift by a day or two), but it will be a fourteen-day trip (eleven days in Israel with three days for travel on both ends).

We will arrive in Tel Aviv (on the Mediterranean coast) and head north to Galilee to begin our tour through the Holy Land. We’ll visit sites like Caesarea Philippi (where Peter confessed that Jesus was Messiah), Jeroboam’s temple at Dan (where he built the golden calf statues), and work our way down south to Masada (with a free day at the En Gedi resort at the Dead Sea) and Beersheba in the Negev (where Abraham lived). We’ll spend our last days in Jerusalem before flying home.

Along the way, we will learn about the importance of the various archeological and pilgrimage sites, reflect on their relation to events in the Bible, and have time to think about the significance of what we are seeing and learning for our own lives.

You will also have the opportunity to take communion on the Mount of Beatitudes and to renew your baptismal vows at the Jordan River, where John baptized Jesus.

Approximate Cost of the Holy Land Trip

The exact cost of the trip is still being worked out, but is expected to be $4,500-$5,000 per person. This covers airfare from Rochester, NY, all transportation within Israel, entrance fees to all sites we visit, and all hotel stays and meals (except for lunch, which we purchase on the road).

Anyone traveling from a different city will have a slightly different cost. But it will be comparable.

All the logistics (including air travel) will be organized by Educational Opportunities, a group that has a great deal of experience in planning such trips.

Here is a short video from Educational Opportunities about visiting the Holy Land: https://vimeo.com/543713454?ref=fb-share&fbclid=IwAR2672EIrHK6QomJcZO5dI8Usxoue9mqKPLA-ZfVRoh03g7EaQj4FK2PMIQ

The Trip Leaders

Because Monte Luker was already booked for another Holy Land trip after Christmas 2022, our teacher from the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies will be Bobby Morris, a Lutheran pastor and adjunct professor in Hebrew and Old Testament, who has led numerous such trips. Bobby will be the official teacher for the trip and I will be the host and co-teacher.

Current Interest in the Trip

Once the itinerary is set, a PDF brochure will be produced and online registration will be available. It’s a first-come, first-served situation. The absolute maximum is fifty participants, including Bobby Morris and myself (since that is what the tour bus can hold). However, we will probably cap registration before that, since having fifty on a tour of a site in the Holy Land slows everything down considerably. (If the demand requires it, and it looks like it might, we will probably have another trip the following year.)

Registration will be open to Northeastern Seminary students, along with alums and friends of the Seminary and of Roberts Wesleyan College (we are interpreting “friends” quite broadly to include anyone with a connection of any sort to the two schools or to faculty or staff of the schools).

Sixty-five people have already indicated some degree of interest in the trip.

Whether or not you have previously contacted me about the Holy Land trip, I am asking anyone interested to email me to confirm (or let me know of) your interest. That way, you will receive updates on the trip, including the PDF brochure when it is ready, notification about when registration begins (probably February or March 2022), and the online registration link (plus lots more information about what to expect on the trip).

If you don’t have my email address, just use the contact function on this website.

Topics on Location (BIB 735)

There will be an option for Seminary students to take a 3-credit Northeastern Seminary course in conjunction with the trip. Anyone interested in taking this course should contact me and I will fill you in on the details.

How Should We Interpret Biblical Genealogies? (BioLogos Interview and Blog Posts)

I was recently interviewed for an episode of the Language of God podcast. The topic was the genealogies in Scripture, particularly in Genesis and Matthew, about which I had just written a series of blog posts.

This is the description of the podcast that BioLogos posted:

At first glance, biblical genealogies appear to straightforward family trees, the kinds we see on ancestry.com that map out the precise relationships between parents and offspring, tracing back as far as we can go. But is that how the genealogies in the Bible are supposed to be read? It turns out there’s a lot more going on in the genealogies than just that straightforward accounting. Bible scholar, Richard Middleton, shares with us some of the historical context that helps us to see the genealogies as another part of the story of God’s creation.

You can access the podcast on the BioLogos podcast page.

Or on Apple podcasts. Or Spotify. Or Stitcher. Or Google.

The interview is based on blog posts that that BioLogos asked me to write on biblical genealogies (posted in July and August, 2021). They actually asked for one blog post, but I got so into it that wrote a four-part blog post addressing the genealogies in Genesis 4–11 (parts 1 and 2) and the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 (parts 3 and 4).

The series was entitled “How Should We Interpret Biblical Genealogies?”

You can access the four-part blog post at these links:

I learned a whole lot writing them (and had a lot of fun too). I hope you enjoy them.

There are interesting follow-up comments following the first three of these blog posts on the BioLogos Forum.

You can access the comments for Part I here.

You can access the comments for Part II here.

You can access the comments for Part III (with some comments on Part IV) here.