This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.
Throughout this series, we have been examining the idea of renewed eschatology from a variety of perspectives, and in this final post, we are going to consider different reasons why all of this matters. This is the discussion that many people want from the very beginning. When they hear the arguments for a renewed creation, they may be intrigued or skeptical, but often, regardless they somewhat dismissively state, “Why does this even matter? I know that I want to be with God for eternity; I don’t care where that is!”
I understand that sentiment—I shared it myself for several years—but I wanted to wait until the end to address it, because I really do not think the implications of renewed creation make sense until you really understand the position. So, stated more precisely: if Scripture teaches that God is going to redeem and restore His good creation and the hope for believers is to live eternally in glorious, resurrected bodies with God in a New Heaven and New Earth, why does that matter? How does that affect my life?
I will warn you in advance: in this post we will respond to that question in multiple ways, and at the end, some readers are not going to get it. At the end of this whole series and all of the digital ink that has been spilt in its production, it still won’t seem like a big deal. And I will not judge you for that response, because it’s exactly where I was for years. Even as I gradually became more convinced of the NHNE perspective, I just didn’t think it mattered that much. For me, it was a long process.
Others will get it immediately. Some of you already do; I have heard responses as I have taught and blogged through this from people who have found this illuminating, and for whom this has helped to connect dots throughout Scripture and enhance their hope and anticipation of eternity.
From my own perspective, although it has taken a while for me to get to this point, I can say that understanding my future (and really, the future of the universe) differently has greatly changed my present as well. It changes the way I live day to day, and the way I anticipate the future.
In this post, as we look at the implications of a redeemed creation, we’re going to look at four different implications of this, and we’re going to look at all of them through the lens of Story.
The Story Itself—What does the Bible say?
As many of my readers know, I work and worship within the fellowship of churches of Christ. One of the
things I love about our heritage is that we value Scripture highly and think it is really important to know what the Bible says and teach it and live accordingly. From this perspective, what we have been talking about in this series matters, because either it is what the Bible teaches, or it’s not.
At this point, we have spent a lot of time going over what the Bible teaches, and from my perspective, it is clear that the “traditional” view is off—the idea of God destroying the world and us flying away to an ethereal heaven for eternity is simply not what the Story is about.
Now, I am not claiming that you have to believe what I do about the New Heavens and New Earth to be saved (and, ultimately, to experience the New Heavens and New Earth someday!), but we don’t have to think that a certain belief is necessary for salvation in order to think that it is important.
So, in the first place, what we have been talking about matters because it is a central teaching of Scripture. It’s what the Story is all about.
The Author of the Story—What is God like?
We have talked about this already, but just as a way of reminder, the way we interpret the Story will also influence the way we view and understand the Author of the Story—what is God like?
If we believe that the Story is about God destroying creation because it is broken, then it’s no wonder that so many people question if God really loves them, or doubt that they will ever be able to be “good enough” to be saved. But that’s not what the Story is about! God is the Fixer of the Broken. He loves His creation and wants to redeem it! It’s not about you being good enough to be saved, it’s about God being loving enough to save you even though you’re not good enough!
If we believe that the Story is about us going up to be with God on His level, then it’s no wonder that so many people tie their salvation to getting everything exactly right—we obsessively try to meet God on His level by perfectly interpreting and intuiting every single thing. This becomes the basis for our assurance and confidence. But that’s not what the Story is about! God is the One Who Comes Down. He reveals to us who He is and what He is like, so that we can faithfully live in covenant relationship with Him. God is not asking for our perfection but for our commitment.
The way we understand the Story influences the way we understand the Author of the Story.
Living Out the Story—Agents of New Creation
Our actions are influenced by the story that we believe ourselves to be a part of. Let me try to illustrate that principle with two imperfect and wildly different examples:
- Let’s say that you are a young woman who goes to college and earns a degree, but your real desire in life is to be a stay at home mom—that is your story. This is who you are; it is the narrative around which you have constructed your identity. So, at the end of college you get married and start a career for a couple of years, but then you decide that you are ready to start your family. You get married, and have a child. A couple of years later, you get a very lucrative job offer to go back to work—what do you do? Well, if your story is that you are a stay at home mom, it’s not even a question: you stay at home! Your actions are influenced by the story that you believe you are a part of!
- Let’s say that you are a young man growing up in Germany in the 1930s. You are a member of the Nazi party, and you firmly believe that you are part of a master race—that is your story. This is who you are; it is the narrative around which you have constructed your identity. A few years later, you find yourself in a position where you are ordered to execute a Jewish person simply because of his race—what do you do? Well, if your story is that you are a Nazi who firmly believes you are a member of a master race, it’s not even a question. You execute the person you consider to be inferior! Your actions are influenced by the story that you believe you are a part of!
In regards to what we have been talking about—renewed eschatology—how does this Story influence our actions?
As we have seen, the Story of the Bible is that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and called it good. But God’s space (heaven) and humanity’s space (earth) were driven apart by sin. God’s good creation was tainted. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that through Jesus, God is reconciling all things (including creation) to Himself. This happens through the death of Jesus on the cross, and His subsequent victory over death through His resurrection.
At His resurrection, Jesus becomes the firstfruits of a new kind of creation, and likewise, when we are placed into Christ at baptism, we too are raised to walk a new kind of life, as agents of new creation:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5.17-20)
So Jesus, through His resurrection, brings about New Creation and reconciliation, and we become agents of that New Creation and ambassadors of His reconciliation. This means that we currently live in the shadow of the impending return of Jesus, and the redemption of all things that will accompany that return. Knowing that we are a part of a future reality, we live as if that reality were already present now.
This is reflected in passages in Philippians and Colossians that speak of us having citizenship in heaven or setting our minds on things above. In a sense, as Christians, we bring heaven to earth—anticipating what will happen when Jesus returns, the dwelling place of God is with man, and all things will be made new—by living now as we will live then. This is what the Sermon on the Mount is about too. Jesus tells His disciples how to live in ways that seemingly make no sense in our world as it is. But that’s the point: as Christians, we are agents of New Creation, living according to God’s Kingdom, which continues to grow and expand and will one day cover all that is.
The first stage of this new creation process happened at the resurrection of Jesus, and the second stage will occur at His return. We live in-between, but we live as agents of New Creation, living according to our heavenly citizenship, and according to the principles of God’s Kingdom. As we do that, we seek to counteract the effects of sin in our world:
- In a world of theological brokenness, we tell people about Jesus and how to have a relationship with God. That means it is important that we have people who serve as ministers, missionaries, and Bible class teachers. People who devote their lives to studying the Bible, biblical languages, and history, and share that knowledge with other people. People who help us to process current events and trends from a heavenly perspective in an effort to live as God would have us to.
- In a world of social brokenness, we act as peacemakers, seeking to reconcile people who are at odds with one another and to rectify the injustices caused by our mistreatment of one another. That means it is important that we have people who serve as social workers, lawyers, judges, teachers, civil rights activists, and elected officials. People who work to limit the abuse that happens to the weak at the hands of the powerful, to take care of those who have been cast aside, and to provide resources that people need to survive.
- In a world of personal brokenness, we help people see that they are valuable, created in the image of God. That means it is important that we have people who serve as counselors, therapists, coaches, trainers, and educators. People who help others deal with the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that we all feel and helping them to become productive members of society.
- In a world of ecological brokenness, we live out our intended function as stewards who tend and tame God’s creation. That means it is important that we have people who serve as conservationists, environmental scientists, and farmers. People who encourage us to take care of God’s good creation and prod us to reconsider and change some of our behaviors that have been damaging to it. People who study the way our world works and help us to predict when tornadoes will hit and how to prevent the introduction of invasive species that damage natural habitats. People who cultivate the earth so that its bounty can provide nourishment for humanity.
- In a world of physical brokenness, we seek to alleviate the physical suffering of people while pointing forward to the day when mourning, crying, and pain will be no more. That means it is important that we have people who serve as doctors, pharmacists, researchers, physical therapists, and hospice nurses. People who seek to treat and alleviate the effects of disease, who help people deal with their decaying bodies, and who bring dignity to people as they take final steps toward the sad reality of death.
Living as an agent of new creation is much bigger than having a Bible study with someone (as important as that is!). It is living right now as part of a future reality. In a dark and broken world, we create pockets of God’s kingdom everywhere we go by living according to the principles of that kingdom now, wherever we are.
We bring light into a dark world and sprinkle principles of the kingdom into everything we do, and since the biblical picture of eternity has points of continuity with our current existence, it suggests that what we do now matters moving forward!
Anticipating the Story’s “Ending”—Looking Forward to Eternity
Let me share a fairly common experience that perhaps you can identify with. Maybe you have heard discussions of heaven in the past and about how great it will be (better than we can imagine!), but then when an effort is made to describe what it will be like, it basically sounds like a never-ending worship service.
Does that fill you with excitement?
Don’t get me wrong—worship is extremely important. I love to sing praises to God, and I believe we will worship in eternity. But is a never-ending worship service something we really look forward to?
I work with teenagers a lot; let me tell you, it does not sound super exciting to them. It certainly seems like a better alternative than hell, but still, not amazing. I can’t help but think…if this is our view of all that we will be doing for eternity, is it any wonder that we have a lot of people who get more excited about summer vacations to Florida than an eternity with God?
But the ending of the Story that we have been talking about is much more than this. Certainly, there is worship: we will be in the presence of our Creator! We’ll be so overwhelmed with the desire to worship that we won’t be able to help it. But there will be much more than that!
- From the beginning, humanity was created in God’s image to function as God’s representatives on earth. Scripture teaches that in the eschaton, we will live in a new creation, and there are plenty of verses that reference our reigning with God. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but doesn’t it sound exciting?
- From the beginning, humanity was also given a job to do, caring for and cultivating God’s creation. This work was not a part of the curse, but a fundamental part of our identity as humans. When we are placed in an environment that is pictured as a marvelous city and a beautiful garden, it strikes me that there will still be work to be done—but work that is free of pain and sorrow, where nothing is wasted. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but doesn’t it sound exciting?
- And touching on something that I mentioned earlier, given the continuity between our current existence and eternity, what you do for the Lord right now is not in vain. As one author writes:
“You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”
How does that work? I don’t really know, but doesn’t it sound exciting? Somehow, just as the Father, through Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, will gather up the molecules of our wasted-into-dust bodies and recreate them into glorious, incorruptible resurrection bodies, so He will also take the work we have done, building for His kingdom, and incorporate that into His new creation.
This is an “ending” to the Story that I can get excited about and eagerly anticipate.
Renewed Eschatology is not some esoteric theory best left to the debates of ivory tower theologians; it is a powerful and practical teaching of Scripture. It helps us to better understand the Story itself, the Author of the Story, and the way we live in response to the Story, and in conjunction with those other aspects, it heightens our eager anticipation of the day when Jesus will return and bring the Story to a never-ending conclusion.
This concludes our series. For some readers, this has been a collection of new and challenging ideas that have been exciting, alarming, or a mixture of both. For others, these posts have strengthened and affirmed views that you already held or at least were leaning toward.
If this series has led you toward appreciating or even accepting the renewed creation perspective, that is great, but ultimately, that wasn’t my goal for this series. Echoing back to the introductory post, it was my hope that we would be able to study Scripture with an open mind, challenge ourselves, and, at the end, respect one another regardless of whether or not we agree. If we have been able to meet these goals, then I believe our Father is well pleased.
May we yearn for the day when Jesus returns and rights all wrongs.
 Although this is the last post in the series, I do not mean to imply that I have exhausted all of the arguments for and elements of the NHNE perspective; I certainly have not. In particular, this series would ideally include a discussion of Old Testament prophecy. When I originally taught through this material, I did have such a lesson, but it was so context specific to some other studies we had engaged at that congregation that I didn’t think it worked well removed from that context and placed into a blog series.
Additionally, the study could be further fleshed out and enhanced with discussions of what it means to be created in the Image of God, the biblical teaching of our eschatological reign with God, the continuing motif of God’s promise of land to His people, the biblical motif of Jubilee, and more.
 This is the point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15.58 at the conclusion of his discourse on resurrection. Because of resurrection and the continuity it represents between the present and the future, what we do now matters: our labor is not in vain!
 N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, (New York: HarperOne, 2008): 208.