Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where is Home: Heaven or Earth?

I had some reservations about reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. Any book that announces in its subtitle that it is 'Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church' makes me a bit cautious. Rethinking things this essential often means saying something heretical about them. Not to mention the book has a glowing endorsement from Emergent superstar Rob Bell, and I was really thinking this book could be shady.

But when I read it at the end of last year, I found it to be a worthwhile and engaging read. I did not agree with everything in the book, but it seemed to me that there was a lot more wheat than chaff. So now I am re-reading the book again (since, if you read yesterday's post, I don't remember enough of what I read).

One of the points that Wright makes early in the book is that the hymns of the Church sometimes advance a view of the final hope of the Christian's ultimate destiny that is contrary to the Scriptural account. Among others, he cites the great hymn How Great Thou Art as an example. The final verse reads:

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,

And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.

Wright takes issue specifically with the phrase, 'When Christ shall come....and take me home...' This, he says, promotes a significant misunderstanding about what Christ will do at His second coming. As Wright puts it,

"Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life -- God's dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. And when we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21-22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace."

This idea does not seem to be captured by the words of How Great Thou Art, which describes Jesus coming and taking His people out of this world to our home, supposedly somewhere up in the sky with Him. It gives the impression that salvation is found in escape from this present world, not the healing and renewal of it. So Wright suggests that a more biblical way to state the last verse would be to say, 'When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation/and heal this world, what joy shall fill my heart.'

It's not as if I expect the words to this great hymn to be changed (although the original Swedish version does not talk about Christ coming to take me home), but I like Wright's suggested change. I think the re-wording makes a statement about our final salvation and the scope of Christ's redemptive power demonstrated in His death and resurrection that seems largely absent from our singing and our thinking about God's final goal and purpose for the world.

Thoughts? Is Wright being over-dramatic here? Is this a matter of semantics and not a really big deal? How do these two different pictures affect your thinking of the final hope of Christianity?

Leave a comment and let me know what you're thinking about this...

1 comment:

  1. Good point he makes. God's original design as in the garden was to dwell with men and women in communion on the earth. A beautiful earth with no corruption,decay or sin to mar it. As Christians we have the hope of the ressurection from the dead to be incorruptible in transformed bodies and dwell with Christ ,(1 Cor 15:51-57). This is our sure hope and longing to be with Him for eternity on the new earth and new heaven!~Steph