Christians believe in Heaven. It is our final destination at the end of life, our After-After-Life, our great hope for eternity. Nevertheless we don’t all believe the same things about it. Popular images of heaven depict a whole lot of harp playing up there on those billowy white clouds.Our images of heaven and the after life are formed from pop-culture–movies, books, comics–and medieval art and literature. In contrast, Scot
McKnight wrote The Heaven Promise to give us a picture of our Christian final hope, drawn primarily from the pages of the Bible.
It was perhaps only a matter of time before McKnight tackled the topic of heaven. Several years ago, this New Testament scholar and popular blogger and author, took on Reformed evangelicalism for reducing the gospel ‘to going to heaven when you die’ (See The King Jesus Gospel). However McKnight never repudiated heaven; his problem was with the ways the gospel (and heaven) were relegated to the afterlife.
McKnight divides The Heaven Promise into four sections. Part one is essentially an introduction to the question of heaven, our assumptions about the afterlife and where we got them. Part two looks deeper on what the Bible says about heaven: that it is promised to us by God, that this promise is sealed by Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, that a bodily resurrection awaits those who share in Christ’s resurrection, and that heaven begins wherever the reign of God is. Part three unfolds six promises about heaven:
- God will be God (present in all his glory, majesty and power).
- Jesus will be Jesus (central to everything as a reflection of the God of heaven).
- Heaven will be a utopia of pleasures
- Heaven will be eternal life
- Heaven will be a global fellowship
- Heaven will be the eternal beloved community
These six promises will have implications for what heaven will be like and for how we live our lives now.
Part four was the part of the book I read first. It is kind of a FAQ section. McKnight tackles ten questions people have about heaven. He answers questions about near death/out of body experiences, heavenly rewards, ‘who get’s in,’ God’s fairness, family in heaven?, children who die, cremation, purgatory and pets. In his final question “Why Believe in Heaven?” he gives a personal account of his belief in heaven.
I found this to be a well-written account of heaven grounded in biblical theology. McKnight has a gift for presenting complicated but important theological ideas in language that ordinary readers understand. In a few places, McKnight challenged my reading of particular passages and what that tells about heaven (i.e. he gives a fresh interpretation of Jesus’ confrontation of the Sadducees).
McKnight doesn’t simply rehash Bible verses about heaven. He talks about the implications of what our vision of heaven should have for our day-to-day life. For example, his chapter on the eternal beloved community (chapter 13) expounds on how the Bible’s last book describes the end of the exploitation and injustice of Babylon. McKnight knows we aren’t there yet. We live in a world with food deserts and unjust incarcerations (McKnight gives examples of each). He suggest that our heavenly vision of Justice and Shalom should cause us to seek to live out heaven now. For McKnight heaven isn’t just ‘pie in the sky when you die’ but a vision we live towards.
This is a popular level book, so not exhaustive. You may not agree with Mcknight on every point. But if you want a book that gets you excited about heaven and presses into the implications for life, this one is great! I give it four stars.
Note: I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah and the Blogging for Books Program in exchange for my honest review.