A Comprehensive Biblical Look At Heaven
Book Review By David P. Craig
Having already read Suffering and Goodness of God (2008); The Glory of God (2010); The Deity of Christ (2011); The Kingdom of God (2012); and Fallen: A Theology of Sin (2013) I was anxiously anticipating this sixth installment of the Theology in Community Series. Heaven (as all the other books in this series) did not disappoint. Each book in this series features chapters written by different theologians; pastors; and scholars that demonstrate how the particular theme is taught in history, systematically, biblically, and its practical relevance and ramifications for the modern Church.
Robert Peterson (PhD, Drew University; is Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary) opens the book up with four ancient and modern stories of how false teaching on Heaven has resulted in some cases tragically. He then examines the Noetic effects of sin on our understanding of Heaven. In closing his chapter he asks and answers seven common questions people ask concerning Heaven: (1) Will everyone go to Heaven? (2) What happens when believers die? (3) What about purgatory? (4) Will we recognize others in Heaven? (5) Will we be married and enjoy sex in Heaven? (6) Will there be sorrow in Heaven over those in Hell? (7) What kind of bodies will we have in heaven?
Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. (PhD, University of Aberdeen; is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN.) tackles six key texts on Heaven in the Old Testament: Genesis 28; Exodus 24; 1 Kings 22; Job 1-2; Isaiah 6; and Daniel 7. In each passage Ortlund mines exegetical, theological, and practical principles that we learn about Heaven as taught in the Old Testament. Earth and Heaven are currently very distinct, but the unfolding revelation of Heaven from the Bible as Ortlund makes clear is that Heaven and Earth will one day be transformed together into the dwelling place of God.
Jonathan T. Pennington (PhD, University of St. Andrews; is Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) writes about the language of Heaven in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. The word we typically translate as “heaven” in English from the Greek is used 161 times in the Synoptics and Acts. Pennington demonstrates in his chapter that the word for Heaven conveys various ideas. He brings out the crucial aspects of how the worldview of the biblical writers and of our own day are in conflict and how we need to return to a biblical worldview in order to make sense of Heaven as a real physical and non-abstract place.
Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; is Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) approaches Paul’s teaching on Heaven in three distinct ways: (1) How Paul understands Heaven according to the Old Testament; (2) How Paul thinks about Heaven in a Systematic and meditative way; and (3) How Paul hones in on Heaven as the believer’s final, and future state prior to and as a result of Christ’s Second Coming.
Jon Laansma (PhD, University of Aberdeen; is Associate Professor of Ancient Languages and New Testament at Wheaton College) writes concerning how the 8 general canonical epistles (Hebrews, 1&2 Peter, James, Jude, 1-3 John) represent the distinctive perspectives on heaven by sketching out their primary concerns and contours with references to their pastoral intentions. He is very helpful in showing how the Christological elements of Heaven are tied to the practical concerns of Christians on Earth.
Andreas J. Kostenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) explores the distinctive contributions that John makes in his Gospel and the book of Revelation to helping us understand what Heaven is and what it is like.
Robert A. Peterson writes his second essay in this compilation on Pictures of Heaven that are portrayed throughout the Scriptures. Taking into consideration the story line of the Bible (creation–fall–redemption–consummation) Peterson demonstrates how the Bible is a picture book that sketches the gospel story of these four stages of the story line by using five pictures to illustrate the gospel: Heaven and Earth; Sabbath Rest; The Kingdom of God; The Presence of God; and The Glory of God. Peterson presents a masterful biblical theology of Heaven and ties it into the macro-storyline of the Gospel from Genesis to Revelation.
Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne; is Research Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School) writes about two themes in his essay: (1) Heaven as Understood before the Coming of Christ; and (2) Heaven as Understood since the Coming of Christ.
Stephen F. Noll (PhD, University of Manchester; is Vice Chancellor Emeritus of Uganda Christian University) gives a biblical theology of angels (good and evil) and about their relationship to God and us in Heaven as revealed in the Scriptures.
Ajith Fernando (ThM, Fuller Theological Seminary; is Teaching Director of Youth For Christ in Sri Lanka) addresses how the reality of Heaven helps Christians who are being persecuted historically and in the present. He spends the bulk of his chapter showing how the “biblical foursome” of (1) Evangelism triggers (2) persecution. (3) The presence of Christ helps us bear the persecution and gives a foretaste of heaven. (4) The Heavenly vision helps us be faithful amidst persecution. Fernando reminds us the prospect of Heaven is a great motivation to be faithful in taking up our crosses and following Christ.
David B. Calhoun (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary; is Professor Emeritus of Covenant Theological Seminary) closes out the book by writing about his own struggle with cancer and how suffering and pictures of the hope of Heaven are crucial when going through the hard trials and tests of life.
All of the essays in this book were biblical; theologically thought-provoking; dealt with current practical scenarios; and were gospel centered and Christ exalting. I highly recommend this book for Christians who want to learn what the Bible has to say rather than much of the subjective drivel that is being churned over Heaven in many of the popular books of our day.
*I was furnished with a copy of this book for review by the publisher and was not required to write a favorable review.