This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.
We have spent a lot of time now looking at the idea of renewed eschatology from a variety of different perspectives, and for some readers, a lot of different pieces are starting to click into place and make a lot of sense.
But something that may be bothering you (it certainly bothered me as I was studying through this): “If this is the correct view, why am I just now hearing about this? I mean, Christianity has been around for 2000 years, and we’re just now understanding what the Bible actually teaches about eternity?!”
The question, “why am I just now hearing about this?”, is a difficult one, but the short answer is that the view of eternity where this world will be destroyed and then we will go off to heaven and have some sort of eternal spiritual existence with God has been the dominant view within conservative, evangelical Christianity for all of our lives.
But here is the important idea I want to emphasize: just because this idea is relatively new to you, or because it was new to me when I first heard it does not at all mean that it is a new idea.
I am very suspicious of brand new ideas in Christianity. When someone suggests an interpretation of a particular verse that I can’t find anywhere else, that makes me very suspicious. I am supposed to believe that in the whole history of Christianity, this guy is the first person to come along and actually figure out what this means? But that’s not the case here, and what I want to emphasize in this post is that the renewed earth perspective is not new at all. It is actually a very old understanding of what the Bible teaches about eternity.
Now, I am not going to trace this perspective in detail for 2,000 years, because for the majority of people, that would be mind-numbingly boring. However, I do want to give you some examples from different time periods to emphasize that this is not a new idea.
Irenaus is one of what we call the “Church Fathers”, Christians who lived and wrote in the first few centuries. Irenaus wrote a famous work called Against Heresies in the late 100s, in which he opposed false teachings that had arisen. One very popular heresy was called gnosticism and it held, among other things, that material creation is evil. Irenaus rejected this notion, and argued that the Bible teaches that creation is good. He also says:
- The righteous will “rise again to behold God in this creation which is renovated…”
- Speaking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 26.27-30 (I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom), he says “[Jesus] cannot by any means be understood as drinking of the fruit of the vine when settled down with his disciples above in a super-celestial place; nor, again, are they who drink it devoid of flesh, for to drink of that which flows from the vine pertains to flesh, and not spirit.”
- “For neither is the substance nor the essence of the creation annihilated.”
Irenaus viewed resurrection as a bodily experience that was directly tied to the restoration of all creation. Clearly, the renewed earth perspective is an ancient view.
You are likely familiar with the Protestant Reformation that began in the 1500s. Two of the major figures of the Reformation were Martin Luther and John Calvin. These two men differed in significant ways, but they make similar, interesting statements in their commentary on 2 Peter 3 (a text we looked at earlier):
“…some may disquiet themselves as to whether the saints shall exist in heaven or on the earth. The text seems to imply that man shall dwell upon the earth, yet so that all heaven and earth shall be a paradise where God dwells…”
“Of the elements of the world I shall only say this one thing, that they are to be consumed, only that they may be renovated, their substance still remaining the same, as it may be easily gathered from…other passages.”
If you have been following along with this series, these ideas will seem very familiar.
Now, Luther and Calvin agreeing with the NHNE perspective doesn’t automatically make it correct. Indeed, these men hold a variety of views that I disagree with on various topics. My point here is not that we should believe in renewed eschatology because Luther and Calvin did; rather, I am simply illustrating that this is by no means a new perspective.
In Churches of Christ, we are spiritual descendants of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. If you know me well or have read The Doc File for long, you know that I am extremely interested in the history of our movement. Imagine my surprise and fascination when I discovered that the renewed earth perspective that we have been talking about was held by influential early leaders in our movement!
Alexander Campbell was likely the single most influential thinker in the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Campbell was famous in the 19th century, and disseminated his perspectives as an orator, editor, debater, educator, and author. Among the many topics he touched on in his vast array of writings was eschatology and the renewal of creation:
“The Bible begins with the generations of the heavens and the earth; but the Christian revelation ends with the regenerations or new creation of the heavens and the earth. This [is] the ancient promise of God confirmed to us by the Christian Apostles. The present elements are to be changed by fire. The old or antediluvian earth was purified by water; but the present earth is reserved for fire, with all the works of man that are upon it. It shall be converted into a lake of liquid fire. But the dead in Christ will have been regenerated in body before the old earth is regenerated by fire. The bodies of the saints will be as homogeneous with the new earth and heavens as their present bodies are with the present heavens and earth. God re-creates, regenerates, but annihilates nothing; and, therefore, the present earth is not to be annihilated. The best description we can give of this regeneration is in the words of one who had a vision of it on the island of Patmos. He describes it as far as it is connected with the New Jerusalem, which is to stand upon the new earth, under the canopy of the new heaven.”
“The impression prevails in many minds, that the earth is to be annihilated. Such is not our belief. There is a vast difference between annihilation, and change, or general alteration. This earth will, unquestionably be burned, yet, through the process of variation and reconstruction of its elements, God will fashion the earth and heavens anew, and fill them with tenants to glorify His name forever.”
Walter Scott was another key early Restoration leader. Unlike Campbell, Scott’s focus was particularly on evangelism, and his use of simple, memorable methods led to thousands upon thousands of baptisms in the Western Reserve. Scott was also a theologian who mused on the nature of eternity. From Embracing Creation:
“Just as the present world was “formed out of the ruins of the first and original one, so the third and future world shall, by the power of God, be constructed from the ashes of the present one.” The “present habitable globe,” like the primitive one, will be destroyed, but “from the ashes will rise another heaven and another earth…the abode of [the] righteous.” This is “the new heavens and new earth…created as the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This “new earth” is the inheritance promised Abraham (Rom. 4.13) and it is the “hope of all Christians.”
In case the above language is confusing, Scott is reflecting on ideas from 2 Peter 3. He is referencing the “destruction” of the world through the flood, and then the future “destruction” by fire. This accounts for his three worlds.
David Lipscomb was an influential leader in Southern Churches of Christ following the Civil War (so, a different generation of leadership than Campbell and Scott). Lipscomb was primarily an educator, and also served as the longtime editor of the Gospel Advocate. In his words:
“God is holy. As a pure and holy being, he cannot tolerate guilt and sin. The two cannot permanently dwell together in the universe. When sin came into the world, God left this world as a dwelling place. He cannot dwell in a defiled and sin-polluted temple. He has since dwelt on this earth only in sanctified altars and temples separated from the world and consecrated to his service. He will again make this earth his dwelling place, but it will be only when sin has been purged out and it has been consecrated anew as the new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness.”
James A. Harding was a contemporary and close associate of Lipscomb, but while Lipscomb functioned primarily as a teacher and editor, Harding was a traveling preacher. His thoughts on renewed creation closely resembled Lipscomb’s:
“But—thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ grace came with a mighty hand to meet this great, dark, cursing, onrushing tide of woe and death, to roll it back, to free men from death and the earth from every curse of sin, and to give to it a glory and beauty never dreamed of by Adam and Eve in the midst of their Edenic home. This earth, with its surrounding heaven, is to be made over, and on the fair face of the new earth God himself will dwell with all the sons and daughters of men who have been redeemed through grace…through Adam we lost the garden of Eden; through Christ we gain the paradise of God.”
“…the earth is God’s nursery, his training grounds, made primarily for the occupancy of his children, for their education, development and training until they shall have reached their majority, until the end of the Messianic age has come; then it is to be purified a second time by a great washing, a mighty flood, but this time in a sea of fire. Then God will take up his abode himself with his great family upon this new, this renovated and purified earth.”
Jimmy Allen was one of my favorite teachers at Harding University; he was legendary there for his class on the Book of Romans. He was a longtime teacher at Harding, but was most famous for being a revival-style evangelist in the tradition of Billy Graham. Back in the 1960s, he would preach to overflowing arenas and baptized thousands.
Here are some thoughts from Allen in his commentary on Romans (and also, from 2 Peter):
“The point about groaning creation is that when man fell, the earth was cursed, when man is glorified, the earth will also be glorified…This means, if I am correct, that at the end of time our present system will not be annihilated…
What are the “new heavens” and “new earth” (II Pet. 3:13)? There are at least two Greek words that are translated as new. One is “neos” and the other is “kainos.” A few times they are used interchangeably…However, there is a difference in the two words. “‘Kainos’ denotes new, of that which is unaccustomed or unused, not new in time, recent, but new as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old… ‘Neos’ signifies new in respect of time, that which is recent” (Vine, III, pp. 109-110).
The word translated as “new” in connection with the earth at II Pet. 3:13 is not “neos,” signifying an object that is “brand-new” like the Ford pickup truck that has been in my carport the last couple of weeks. Rather, it is “kainos,” meaning new as to its form, quality, or nature. We will have new bodies in the next life in that they will be changed from what they are now. Similarly, we will have a new earth in eternity in that it will be this one changed by fire into what is glorious and incorruptible.”
These influential leaders from Restoration Movement history are certainly not infallible, but for me, as someone who has great respect for Campbell, Lipscomb, Harding, and others, it was a relief to see that they held these views. In a sense, it was almost like it “gave me permission” to believe this myself: “we” had historically believed this!
Again, all of these quotations—from the Early Church, the Reformation, and from Stone-Campbell Movement history—do not prove anything about the accuracy of the New Heavens/New Earth perspective. That stands or falls based on what Scripture teaches, and we have spent several posts examining that case. But these quotations do demonstrate that this is not a new perspective, and for those in churches of Christ, this is a perspective that has historical roots in our own heritage.
Other Church Fathers refer to elements of renewed eschatology as well. Papias (Eusebius, Fragments of Papias VI) was a historical premillennialist, and understood that there would be a personal reign of Christ on earth after the resurrection. The author of the Epistle of Barnabas (late first century, early second century document) believed that Christians in eternity would reign over birds, fish, and beasts, clearly suggesting a material existence.
 Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990): 285.
 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (New York: Cosimo, 2007): 421.
 Alexander Campbell, Christian System (Pittsburg, PA: Forrester & Campbell, 1839): 257.
 Alexander Campbell, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch (H.S. Bosworth, 1887): 310.
 Scott, along with Alexander Campbell, Thomas Campbell (Alexander’s father), and Barton W. Stone (the “Stone” in “Stone-Campbell Movement”) are often referred to as “the big four”. Scott is less remembered than the other three, but was of tremendous importance in the solidification and spread of the Movement and its ideals.
 This quotation comes from John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, (Abilene, TX: Leafwood: 2016): 203. The quotations referenced herein are from Walter Scott,“Of a Succession of Worlds, and of the Great Physical Destinies of Our Globe, as Spoken of in the Scriptures,” The Evangelist 6 (January 1838): 3-5, (February 1838): 34-35, and (April 1838): 77.
 David Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin (Nshville: McQuiddy, 1913): 35-36.
 James A Harding, “Three Lessons from the Book of Romans,” in Biographies and Sermons, ed. F.D. Srygley (Nashville: McQuiddy, 1898), 249.
 James A. Harding, “What Are We Here For?” The Way 5 [3 December 1903], 1041).
 Jimmy Allen, Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All (Searcy, AR, 2005): 178-80.