John Murawski - Religion News Service Review of this Book
Christian apologist and theologian Bishop N.T. Wright, "How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels," insists that Christianity has got heaven - a blissful realm of harp-strumming angels - all wrong, "An awful lot of ordinary church-going Christians are simply millions of miles away from understanding any of this."
"Our picture (of heaven), which we get from Dante and Michelangelo, particularly of a heaven and a hell, and perhaps of a purgatory as well, simply isn't consistent with what we find in the New Testament," Wright said. "A lot of these images of hellfire and damnation are actually pagan images which the Middle Ages picks up again and kind of wallows in."
Wright notes that there are many clues to an early Christian understanding of the Kingdom of heaven in the New Testament, most notably the phrase "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," from the Lord's Prayer. Two key elements here are forgiveness of debts and loving one's neighbor. When we act in these ways heaven comes closer, is the sense we take from Wright's thesis.
Other clues have been obscured by sloppy translations of scripture, such as the popular text - John 3:16 - God so loved the world he gave his only son so that people could have eternal life.
Wright offers a translation that radically recasts this message... God gave his son "so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God's new age."
"And so (heaven's) not a Platonic, timeless eternity, which is what we were all taught," Wright said. "It is very definitely that there will come a time when God will utterly transform this world -- that will be the age to come."
Once the Kingdom is complete, he wrote, the bodily resurrection will follow with a fully restored creation here on earth. "What we are doing at the moment is building for the Kingdom," Wright explains.
So what is the Christian hope with regard to heaven?
If I understand what Wright is saying, two clear understandings emerge:
1. In this life my hope is that I am participating in creating heaven as a more present reality - I believe and live as Jesus modelled and taught.
2. I will share in the future earthly kingdom. Death will be but a miniscule moment in time. At the end of the age I will share in the bodily resurrection.
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