Does the Church Believe in Heaven?

You know that everyone is talking about hell. And you know that Brian McLaren is turning up here on this blog on May 9th to talk about it. But a question bugs me at the moment. Does the church still believe in heaven . . . and if so . . . why don’t they act like it?

Prepareaplace - from abc site - created by tallskinnykiwi - reuse freely

Because . . . surely a belief in an actual heaven and a reward awaiting us would radically influence the way we live and especially the way we spend our money. Its possible that many church people have traded the idea of heaven for retirement, which is easier to see and comes sooner. Ohhh yeahhhh . . . they will say they BELIEVE in heaven . . . but do they really? Do we really?

Thanks to ABC.com for the image of Extreme Makeover. Team Leader Ty Pennington as a type of Jesus is an interesting thought . . .

[this was reposted from an earlier date]

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

32 Comments

  • as far as heaven, the old phrase “so heavenly minded that [we’re] no earthly good” seems all too appropriate for a lot of us, in that it reveals a dualism we don’t know we own (“earthly things” like money aren’t “spiritual” like heaven–though we wouldn’t say it so bluntly).
    of course…the whole notion of heaven is quite misunderstood i think. i’m not claiming i understand it, but i believe heaven’s going to be a lot more like earth, yeah? our “new” bodies will live on a “new” earth? isn’t that in the bible somewhere? 😉
    (an understanding of that would also change a lot of people’s attitudes toward the environment, etc.)

  • (by which I mean, believing that the earth has value beyond “this temporal existence” counteracts the tendency to think “ah, the earth’s going to blow up anyway…so who cares?”)

  • Why exactly do you think the church doesn’t believe in heaven? Although, personally I think that’s too broad of a statement to make, or a question to ask.
    Since we’re asking questions, I’ll throw one out. Why would I need treasures in a heaven if I have them here on earth?
    Brian.

  • hi brian
    i didnt say what you think i said.
    i am asking a question. Jesus told us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. I dont see a lot of evidence that the church is doing that, in general – looking at , for example, the amount of money spent on church buildings.
    For me, personally, if i believe in heaven then my belief will be reflected in my checkbook and my budget and the things i buy and dont buy.
    Do you think, judging on how you see the church in your country (i dont know what country you live in) spend its money, that they really believe in heaven? I think its a fair question, not too broad.
    your question:
    “Why would I need treasures in a heaven if I have them here on earth?”
    If Jesus told you to store up for yourself treasure in heaven, why do you ask whether you need it or not.
    My best guess??? Jesus knew what he was talking about and was giving us the heads up.

  • The question of heaven

    If the Church doesn’t act like heaven “is a real place” (Charlie Peacock) then the belief in heaven is dead. This is what happens when we apply the “faith without works” principle to a faith that heaven exists. When our time, talents, and money …

  • I am in Canada, so things may be different.
    “for example, the amount of money spent on church buildings.
    For me, personally, if i believe in heaven then my belief will be reflected in my checkbook and my budget and the things i buy and dont buy.”
    You’ll also have to look at what the church does with the big building. I think wealth is more than just about how much money you have in your bank account. It’s also about what you do with your time, and other resources.
    Anyway… I’m pretty sure that there are churches who do believe in heaven, and do let that belief influence the use of their resources. I just don’t think it’s right to group all churches together into one single question and statement.
    Hmm… later you say many “church people,” which I think is more reasonable. But as I was rereading your first paragraph, I noticed you said, “the church.” If you’re talking about The church, then wouldn’t the church always live its life to love and serve God to its fullest potential?
    Brian.

  • It is my opinion that the North American church in general would very much benefit from some strong correction in regards to materialism , consumerism, excess, etc.
    We talk all day about the effectiveness of our large facilities, our immense campuses and our gas guzzling SUV’s.
    Of Course we do.
    We are pretty darn good at justifying nearly anything that we want. The only real “moral restraint” that we agree on in America is sex outside of marriage. Other than that we refuse to have a strong voice or to live too close to the ethics of Jesus.
    It is our typical western, reductionist way of approaching life with Jesus. We take what we like and leave the rest behind. As Brian Mac points out (from Willard I think?):
    it is vampire theology…we want Jesus for his blood and little else
    We are like the rich young ruler who just wanted the code (the cheat if you will), but didn’t want to pay the price. Now, I am not talking like a typical reductionist and doubting eternal salvation for anyone. That would miss the point of 80% of the gospels. I am referring to being an apprentice of the master. The question ceases to be, “What can I get away with?” or “how much excess is too much?” and begins to be “Master, how much can I give away…how much faith do you want me to have today?” (BTW: Having “faith” for luxury seems to have little to do with the kingdom of God and a whole lot to do with the kingdom of man)
    Ok, I am done rambling. More HERE

  • (Interesting to watch this string of comments in light of our offline conversation, wouldn’t you say?)
    If I may, let me tell you why my system of belief on heaven has taken such a beating: everything here in the US — bottles, cookware, phones, clothes, babies, you name it — is disposable. Hell with it, we can always get another one. After all, have we not been assured that the old heaven and the old earth will pass away? (I get that every time a brother or sister calls me a ‘tree-hugger’ because I recycle and am currently making plans to use cloth diapers.)
    That misguided conclusion is only exacerbated by the fact that, as Isaac has observed, we in the West are so steeped in [relative] wealth from our birth that we are desensitized to the glory of Heaven. We take appraisals of our own estates, compare them to the “mansions and pearly gates” of which we’ve been told, then smile patiently and say, “What a sweet gesture, Lord, even if it is something of a downgrade.” As our desperation for a better life has abated, so has our deep longing for Heaven.
    So then, I don’t think it’s a matter of not believing in Heaven so much as a matter of losing our belief in the idea that Heaven is “all that.”

  • Another angle to consider is why do Christians speak about “when I die I will go to heaven”, in view of biblical eschatology which speaks of a new heaven and a new earth. Funny how the anti-trinitarian Watchtower Bible & Tract Society exhorts its members to look forward to the Garden of eden restored on earth as their rightful reward.
    And could it be that the “Left Behind” pop eschatology leads many believers to unwittingly regard th earth with disdain in the here and now because it is allegedly destined for the cosmic rubbish dump? And if that is so, then how does that warp believers from enacting the kingdom teachings of Jesus, and dodging the theology of the creation, creation-centred ethics, developing an animal theology (recall the wolf and the lamb shall lie down together, Isaiah 11 & 65)?
    I’d like to see more robust discussion concerning the OT prophets’ visions of the new heaven and new earth, and more reflections about Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3:13 in light of the Sermon on the Mount and the kingdom parables.
    And in view of the upsurge of interest in alternate spiritualities in things like an “Aquarian Age” and near-death encounters, what does this phenomena say back to the church about her unpaid bills in eschatology?

  • After reading The Last Word and the Word After That (a real mouthful!), I’d have to say that a renovation of heaven is a much easier pill for many to swallow than a renovation of hell (but with implications no less relevant for hell in a sense). If I may be allowed a snide remark, I think it’s easier to alter the reward so long as we still get something good.
    When we start saying that the people who we thought to be “in for it” may be off the hook, or at least receiving a more lenient punishment, I think some tend to get a little peeved. Let’s face it, we have a hard time comprehending mercy and grace when it comes to ourselves and especially when others are in our sights.
    I’d have to say that my views of heaven and hell are in limbo right now after reading Brian’s book. Maybe heaven isn’t quite as “other-wordly” as we have thought and maybe hell is something altogether different than what we thought.
    If a survey of history proves anything, it’s that the doctrines of heaven and hell have been constantly in transition, shifting with time. So while I would not dispose of the accumulated traditions of the church, I think that we need to relax a bit and not let the variations of these doctrines separate the sheep from the goats. That’s a baaaad deal.

  • Ed
    you caught me with my pants down
    this is exactly why i blogged this post – because i feel a discussion about understanding hell must be connected with a discussion about understanding heaven.
    Well done for seeing through to my secret motive.
    Thanks everyone for the other comments also. Sorry to put the focus on money and buildings – you are right – it is so much more than that – time, resources
    and what about the religious rulers getting caught short because they had “their reward in full” on earth because their reward was the praise of men? There is a a good challenge not to cash out everything too early.
    Any thoughts on Ty Pennington as Jesus-figure? Or is that a bit too much to stomach?

  • Tom Wright (Bishop of Durham) has a wonderful saying, heaven is important but it is not the end of the world. He talks about heaven not being another place but in biblical terms as the place of God’s presence. So the new heavens and the new earth will be where we will be in the presence of the Father as in Rev 20 etc. Interesting…

  • I think this shows another (in my opinion divine) oxymoron at the heart of Christianity.
    We are to live as if we can make a difference here. We are to struggle against the repressive regimes, speak up for the voiceless, put our lives on the line. Ultimately, however, my (very limited understanding) suggests this will all be in vain.
    On the counter side, we are to live as if we are here for the long term, here to make life better for the weak, and yet hold onto the fact that there is something better planned, somewhere where we can all be free and can leave behind all our imperfections.
    I think those things are held in tension. The main who thinks about heaven constantly is no earthly use. The person who spends all his time jumping from one worship event to the next to get his latest fix is… well to be frank, wasted.
    On the other hand, the one who gives himself to the the poor, but has not love is nothing.
    Somewhere in there is the difference in attitude of the Pharisees who made everything into a spiritual issue and Jesus who made a spiritual issue out of everything, however lowly.
    C

  • Andrew – I had a conversation related to this with Tom Sine whilst in Pasadena. He pointed out that the doctrine of the ‘resurrection of the body’ had been ignored by both liberals and conservatives alike. Instead, a lot of people seem to conceive of heaven in disembodied ways. This is conveyed through a lot of worship songs, which seem to speak of heaven in purely existential terms, rather than as a physical hope.
    Tom said that the effect of this was that our faith offers nothing by way of hope/aspiration focussed on the physical side of our existence which might challenge the ‘hopes’ being offered by advertising to our physical existence: the result is that we find it difficult to challenge the narrative coming from the advertisers which are offering physical ‘hope’ based on various modes of consumption. (‘Buy this product and your physical existence will be enhanced/made complete.’) In the face of this eschatological void, the Christian call to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus comes over as totally negative.
    Were we to recover a sense of the resurrection of the body (and the renewal of the physical aspect to hope), then the call to ‘offer our bodies as a living sacrifice’ would be connected up to a more rounded and embodied view of the purpose of existence, which would challenge the hopes offered by commercial materialism. I guess what this means is that by removing the physical component of Christian hope – that God will, in time, ‘give life to this mortal body’ – we’ve managed to allow Mammon to colonise all hopes related to the physical domain.
    Tom stressed the point that too much modern Christian worship just speaks in spiritual terms about heaven. So I emailed Doug Gay (him of the Late Late Service in Glasgow) who is someone whose lyrical and theological skills I rate highly. Within three days, he had written a song/hymn that does exactly this.
    This touches on a theme that has brought me into contention with Pete Ward. Pete’s essay in his The Rite Stuff takes issue with a distinction I made in my now-rather-old Grove Booklet (Alternative Worship in the Church of England) that we were seeing, in this kind of worship, an approach that is embodied/incarnational, distinct from the approach of a lot of more traditional charismatic worship, which is ecstatic. What I meant by this was that there is a difference in the intuitive model through which we understand ourselves as ‘accessing’ God. In the embodied/incarnational approach we come to God through engaging with our existence in the physical domain (through the use of physical elements, art, dance, sculpture, image, sacraments). In the ecstatic approach, we come to God through the domain of feelings, mental images, visions. In the context of the present discussion, I would suggest that the embodied approach has a link to an eschatology which sees ultimate redemption as embracing the present physical world, whereas the ecstatic approach sees the domain as more ‘in heaven’ as a less-embodied state.
    Pete’s essay takes me to task about this distinction but isn’t really clear about what he thinks is wrong with it (apart from the fact that he doesn’t like it). I was not implying that one approach was superior to the other (indeed I think they’re complementary), but that they can act as mutual correctives to an imbalance in theology or spirituality. That said, my guess is that the New Testament writers seem to prefer an embodied eschatology (because of their belief in the physical resurrection of the body of Jesus) to a disembodied one.
    Returning to the main thread: I think Tom Sine has stumbled on an important point, which is that our worship mediates a view of heaven which either funds our spiritual struggle in a materialistic world, by countering its shallow hopes with the hope for eternal physical redemption, or it locates our future hope outside of physicality in the realm of concepts or a disembodied soul-life, leaving old Mammon to play and prey upon our present desires in these bodies of ours.
    How this understanding of ‘heaven’ relates to our understanding of ‘hell’, I will leave for other posters to fathom out.

  • Geo -thanks – i cant watch that program without thinking of the look on Jesus’s face when he shows me what he has prepared for me (whatever that is)
    and i am thinking of the group of cheering people who “welcome” me into my reward – people who have entered in through my investment on earth. I call them the “Grateful Dead”. Jesus said to spend your money on people so that you can be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
    And Paul – your deep and wide comment has surpassed my measley blog post and I should probably offer a link to something more substantial. Let me know if you know of a web page that takes this conversation further.
    For those of you who dont know Paul, he is the guy (an elder!) behind much of the alternative worship scene in UK.

  • Thanks Andrew, and sorry for the long post. Tom’s comments have stayed with me these past few days, and I just had to scribble it out somewhere. Your post just triggered the scribble.

  • I know this is an “old media” answer, but SU have a great wee book, “Heaven:it’s not the end of the world” by David Lawrence (ISBN 0-86201-950-8). This picks up on lots of the issues Paul Roberts makes.

  • Ragamuffin Ramblings presents a possible answer … are we going to be people who stand around staring up in the sky, as in Acts 1:7-11 – or people turning the world upside-down, as in 16 verses later?
    With, perhaps, that occasional hope-filled upward glance?

  • Frankly, the thought of Ty as Jesus frightens me. To me, he’s one of the most annoying guys on TV. That said, I think the analogy is generally a helpful one for the church. I’ve heard stories of Mormon churches paying off people’s debts, paying for children’s schooling, etc. I’ve never heard of a Christian church doing the same. In that area the church has certainly failed.

  • annoying? yes. and honestly, i have watched the show one single time and cant stomach any more
    ok – one and a half times
    but what i saw did make me think about Jesus welcoming in to heaven, into my CUSTOM BUILT HOUSE – with really high ceilings. really high.
    and the excited look on his face when he sees me look at the height of the ceiling
    . . . do you think i am reading too much into the idea of heaven???

  • While you may say Ty is annoying and I won’t argue with you there, Extreme Home Make Over is one of the few shows that is truly redemptive in nature. This show truly changes the lives of the people who are blessed with a new home that is custom designed with them in mind. Yes that would be a good picture of heaven. I think the better question for us to consider is how are we blessing those in our communities with the love and resources of Jesus? Whose “house” are we making over with his love? This challenges me to be a better neighbor…whether you like the show or not.

  • I was raised on TV and am usually sucked into whatever’s on, but I just haven’t been watching much lately. When my wife and daughter said, “Come watch this ‘Extreme Makeover; Home Edition’!” I was reluctant. I ended up in tears because of the good done by the people on the show for a needy family. All I could think was, “What if more TV show budgets were used for tangibly good things in society”. Then I thought about church budgets…

  • Most people I know think about heaven and hell about the same, not much. Your analogy may be a good one, I really have no idea. I’d be happy just to kneel at His throne in worship for eternity. Of course the Bible says He gives us rewards and such as well. If it ends up like Extreme Makeover, I’ll be stoked. If not, I’ll still be stoked.

  • Good threads on heaven and hell.
    What has occupied my mind when I think about this topic of late, besides the shifting tides over the centuries — where heaven is either high society or penguin-looking saints all erect and hands folded and praying and worshipping ever and ever — besides this, I say, is a central question that deserves to be on the table here:
    What is heaven like?
    Well, I suggest two things. First, from the ancient Orthodoxy: heaven is like the perichoresis — the doctrine that God, in eternity past, now and forever, is essentially an interpenetrating and mutual indwelling in love of the three persons of the Trinity (though the ancient emphasized Father and Son, and if you about the filioque clause you’ll know why). Thus, God exists essentially in the interpersonal relations of the Trinity.
    This thought will absorb the mind for a long time in a satisfying way. Somehow I think Francis Schaeffer taught this, but I read the book in about 1973 and I can’t remember which one: He is There and He is Not Silent?
    My second is from Jonathan Edwards whose sermon, “Heaven is a World of Love,” is one of his finest ever (and has every bit of the power that his famous Sinners sermon had). Here, heaven is understood as the Orthodox understood it, but from a much later and different set of theological categories.
    Now, if heaven is about this interpenetrating personal love, then living for heaven is about union with God and communion with others.
    Which means this: and I adapt from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead: “You were too intent… to see the celestial consequences of your worldly endeavors.”
    When God’s End becomes Our End our lives become God’s.

  • Eternal Sunshine of a Heavenly Kind

    Andrew at TallSkinnyKiwi asks an interesting question: “Does the Church Believe in Heaven?” I think he may be on to something there. So what is the practical ramification of all of this eternal probing? C.S. Lewis offers us an interesting thought …

  • Laying up for ouselves treasures in heaven means understanding that the kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God are 2 different things. Heaven (your heavens IN you can be mixed up with all sorts of spirit influences that affect your mind and life in this death realm (with all its laws and governing forces that Jesus totally overcame…for us, as well as for himself). The Kingdom of God (Him…Jesus as Spirit) comes into the heavens (the kingdom of heaven IN YOU) to rule there and oust all the other forces that, among other things, make you believe in a far away “heaven” you go to later! Laying up for ourselves treasures “in heaven” is dealing with getting our own heavens in us sorted out and bringing the Kingdom of God into our heavenly places inside us so that it isn’t a hell there…and a lot of hell (smoke-screens) is made by religious spirits! Get real people!…life is Spirit, not a place.
    You want more?…more on this theme and other loving, sane and non-churchianity stuff at:-
    http://boltono.typepad.com

  • Post of the Week

    Continuing with our tradition of linking a post on reality TV from around the blogsphere, we’ve got a new “Post of the Week.” From TallSkinnyKiwi, we present Does the Church Believe in Heaven?…

  • Post of the Week

    Continuing with our tradition of linking a post on reality TV from around the blogsphere, we’ve got a new “Post of the Week.” From TallSkinnyKiwi, we present Does the Church Believe in Heaven?…

  • I have just discovered this forum and I like it. This discussion has been helpful for me.
    I was born in 1981, so as a kid at church camp, “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline was the cool song and the main mode of theological teaching about Heaven. It teaches that Heaven will be a “big, big house, with lots and lots of rooms. A big, big table, with lots and lots of food. A big, big yard, where we can play football.” I think that the idea of Heaven as a physical reward to people of my generation has lost its appeal because we have all of these physical things and are still so unsatisfied. For us, this is offering and ice pop to an Inuit. Even the rural poor, whom I teach in a public school, have access to “things”. Whereas this is very appealing to people in the developing world, to us it has lost its gusto. Perhaps if we focused on the redemptive elements of Heaven which our generation longs for, such as redeemed relationships, it would find it’s appeal again.
    The discussion of Ty and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is an interesting comparison. The few episodes that I have watched have blown me away and I think there is an un-discussed aspect that is important. On that show many of the people whose homes are “made over” are helped BECAUSE and SO THAT they can help others. This moves me. That is the redemption, as I see it in the Gospel, which Jesus calls for. Our lives fixed now SO THAT we can be redemptive agents in society.

Leave a Reply