Salvation: Sector 9

What is salvation?

In my first post in this series I proposed the below chart as a way of answering that important question. In this post I will comment on the ninth sector (9).

  Past
Justification
Present
Sanctification
Future
Glorification
Personal Forgiveness of Sins and Relationship with God (1) Moral (Inner and Outer)  Transformation (2) Resurrection of the Body (3)
Communal One Body of Christ: One New Society (4) Reconciliation and Social Transformation (5) The Fullness of the Kingdom of God (6)
Cosmic Resurrection and Exaltation of Jesus (7) Redemptive Emergence of New Creation (8) New Heaven and New Earth (9)

Sector 9 identifies salvation as the liberation of the comos from its bondage to decay and destruction. The whole cosmos groans, along with humanity, for relief from the frustration to which the world has been subjected. God saves the comos by renewing it, by ushering in new heavens and a new earth.

The root of this expection is the promise to Abraham. The land, the whole world, is the inheritance of Israel.  The creation belongs to the Son of David, the  Son of God. As co-heirs with Jesus, we, too, are heirs of the world.

Too often Christians have thought they must escape the creation and fly away to glory in heaven.  If, of course, one means that they want to escape the “present evil age” or escape the decaying, destructive powers of death, then I understand their meaning. I, too, want to escape that. But the biblical story is not about escape but redemption. The picture drawn in Revelation in 21 is that  heaven will come down to earth. Then the whole earth will be filled with the glory of God. Heaven will be on earth as heaven and earth are one.

That union of heaven and earth–the union of the dwelling of God with the dwelling of humanity within the creation–is the moment when the glory of God will fill the earth. Everything within it will be called “holy” and the earth will know the righteousness, justice and peace of the fullness of the kingdom of God.

This was the hope of Israel. They yearned for a time of peace and justice, of righteousness and love (hesed). They hoped for a time when the lion and the lamb would lie down together. They expected a time when all the nations would bow before Yahweh. They trusted that God would reign fully in his earth. These are the promises and prophecies that will be fulfilled when God renews the heavens and the earth and comes to dwell with the heirs of the promise.

The goal (telos) of the creation is not annihilation, but redemption.  For some God created materiality in order to ultimately destroy it. In this view God created materiality as some sort of probationary period to prepare people for lliving as purely spiritual beings. Humans, then, reach their goal in spiritual existence without materiality. Consequently, at some point, creation itself will not only be unnecessary but inherently inferior, a lower level of existence.

But this is not the Biblical story that I read. God created the cosmos in which to rest, delight in, and enjoy. He did not create it to snuff it out of existence. Though subjected to frustration, God will redeem it and the resurrected saints will enjoy the harmony, peace and wholeness of both creation and community as they bask in the love of God. Resurrected saints need a resurrected (renew) cosmos in which to dwell with God.

I do not know what that will look like. I’m not sure what resurrected bodies will feel like and look like. I don’t know all that a renewed creation will be or become. But I do think there will be substantial continuity between what is and what will be just as there is continuity between our present bodies and our resurrected ones.  Just as God will redeem our bodies, so he will redeem creation.



28 Responses to “Salvation: Sector 9”

  1.   Randall Says:

    Another wonderful post John Mark.

    You didn’t even mention the the millennium. I assume you disagree with those that expected it e.g. Harding and others. I also assume you don’t find a lot of merit to the post millennial view. Might you have the interest in sharing your views vis a vis this tipic?

    Blessings,
    Randall

  2.   John Says:

    Hi John Mark,

    Some thoughts:
    How do you harmonize this view with:
    2 Peter 3:7 NKJV 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
    2 Peter 3:10-13 NKJV 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
    Note: ‘burned up…dissolved’ etc.

    Could ‘new heavens and new earth’ simply be a phrase referring to heaven in the sense we in the church of Christ have traditionally understood it?

    If I have understood you correctly, it seems your view of new heavens and earth sounds a lot like the earth in the literal thousand year reign of the millenniumists. (That may be misspelled)

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      John,

      It is possible that “new heavens and new earth” refer to a celestial heaven but I don’t think that is probable or fits the story best or the contexts in which it occurs.

      For example, “new heavens and new earth” in 2 Peter 3 is in the context of a comparison. Just as Noah’s world was destroyed and he emerged in a new world, so this world will be destroyed and we will emerge in a new heavens and new earth. Just as the Noahic world was destroyed, so will this will be as well. The analogy runs against annihiliationism.

      I regard the melting of the elements imagery as apocalyptic drawing on the Hebrew prophets who spoke similarily of nations falling and catostrophic events like the Noahic flood and the cleansing by fire of this world. Peter speaks in the language of the Hebrew prophets here–at least that is my understanding.

      For more on this point, I would suggest reading through Bobby Valentine’s series on heaven. You can find one of those posts at http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/2007/05/heaven-12-resurrected-lord-resurrected.html

      Blessings, John. I appreaciate your testing and kindness. See my comment below about millennialism.

  3.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    John,

    If you have not had a chance to read this, pick up a copy of N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church,” New York: Harper Collins, 2008. In this very readable book, Wright takes the same view and answers some of the typical questions that are raised; he does this in the fashion of biblical theology. You may not agree with everything about Wright’s proposal and may have still have more questions but I believe you will still find much of what Wright has to say as a valuable resourse.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  4.   rich constant Says:

    looks like some big time judgment coming down the pipe,to me,and the only thing that will be left is what god considers good,righteous,and perfection of our faithful love,for him, and his love for his son’s bride.

    blessings all
    rich

  5. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Randall asked me to post this for him since he cannot, for some reason unknown to both of us, post a comment has a typically has in the past. I always welcome Randall’s comments. Here it is:

    “Another wonderful post John Mark and I look forward to the fulfillment of all that God intends for creation. I also yearn for a time of peace and justice, of righteousness and love (hesed).

    You didn’t even mention the the millennium. I assume you disagree with those that expected it e.g. Harding and others. I also assume you don’t find a lot of merit to the post millennial view. Might you have the interest in sharing your views vis a vis this topic?

    Blessings,
    Randall”

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Randall,

      The difference between myself and premillennialists (of whatevere stripe) is that I believe the “restoration” texts in the Hebrew prophets ultimately find their fulfillment on the new heaven and new earth rather than in a millennial reign upon the old earth.

      I tend to fall in a broad category of “amillennialism” though with a new creation theology. Harding was certainly premillennial, but Lipscomb–I think–was more new creation without any particular opinion about millennialism. Both Harding and Lipscomb, however, believed that heaven would be on earth.

      Thanks for your probing…perhaps more later on my form of amillennialism. :-)

      JMH

  6.   Leslie Chapman Says:

    John Mark,

    Excellent series and excellent post. I have moved to the same position over the past three years. We have neglected so much of the promises of God to Israel that are fulfilled in the ultimate victory of the Kingdom of God fulfilled in the news heavens and the new earth. Thanks for your insightful words.

    God bless,

    Leslie Chapman

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      It is good to hear from you Leslie. Thank you for your kindness. John Mark

      • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

        It seems to me that Alcorn knows more than can be known. :-) But I do appreciate the sanctified imagination that seeks to give concrete expression to the hope–provisional though it may be. Beam’s book would track in the same way as Alcorn’s, I think.

        No plans for a course on eschatology. But when I teach theology, eschatology is quite prominent. :-)

  7.   Terrell Lee Says:

    I deeply appreciate the way you have organized these posts; they are very readable. In the reading I’ve done I’ve not seen an arrangement like you propose in the 9 sectors. Thanks.

    Have you read Randy Alcorn and Joe Beam’s books on heaven? Any thoughts?

    Finally, do you anticipate teaching a whole course on eschatology, or at least a substantial section of a course, at anytime in the future? Or, would you be prepared (or desire) to teach a one or two day lecture in a church setting?

  8.   John Says:

    John Mark,

    I read Bobby’s article you linked me to. Thank you. I hope to read some more in his series.

    I’m still thinking heaven is not on this earth, but wherever God wants to put it is fine with me.

    If heaven is a renewed earth, here are a couple of questions. How would that be different from a celestial heaven except for location? How would your heaven look different from a millennium as taught by the literal reign on earth people? Or, if I looked around, how would I know which place I was in?

    It would seem that yours and the heaven I have always believed in would not have any practical difference as far as experiencing them goes.

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      With whom we dwell is certainly the more important question than where we will dwell. God will give joy and peace and wholeness wherever we dwell.

      If your view of a celestial heaven entails materiality (material bodies on a material earth), then perhaps our conceptions do not have much practical difference.

      When some believe is the millennium (such as premillennialists) is not much different than my conception of heaven (which is the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophets vision of the restoration). But premillennialists generally have a temple, restorted nation of Israel, etc.

      I think I would know where I am by the presence of God dwelling Father, Son and Spirit in our midst. An earth without violence, community without suspicion, my body without decay….I think I will know where I am. :-)

      Blessings, John Mark

    • Avatar of Nick Gill  nick gill Says:

      John,

      The literal “reign on earth” people tend to tell a story where for that 1000 years, the earth isn’t actually redeemed. It’s the same old earth just like now, only with Jesus in a new temple in Jerusalem and ruling the whole show from there.

      For me, Genesis 1 and 2 point the way towards where I think the project was headed all along. Eden was placed in the midst of Creation, as a place for humans to call home and a place for God to live with them, to “walk with them in the cool of the evening.” In the worldview of the ancients, God created a temple and then placed images of Himself in it.

      Yet humanity was never intended to STAY in Eden. God blessed us with the awesome command to be fruitful and multiply and spread out over the whole earth, to carry His image and His loving glory throughout! That’s the shame of Babel – instead of spreading and glorifying God, we gathered together to glorify ourselves. But I rabbit-chase!

      Back to new heavens/new earth. If Gen 1-2 is the original, and Rev 21-22 is the redeemed beginning of the future, then why wouldn’t the old command still hold true? We’ve already got the “fruitful and multiplied” part taken care of, but there’s a whole cosmos out there waiting for us to have dominion over, to spread God’s creative and loving glory across and throughout.

      That’s much different, in my mind, than the thin and rather boring version of the future served up by most millenialists I’ve read or talked to.

  9.   Randall Says:

    John Mark,
    Thanks for doing this series. Also, several of us are just beginning a small group Bible study using your series on Hermeneutics in the Stone Campbell Movement. I’m re-reading it now and enjoying it as much as the first time.

    As a follow up to my previous question regarding your millennial view, I am wondering if you see any large scale conversion of Jews to faith in Jesus associated with the eschaton. I am sure you are aware this belief is common among many pre and post millennialists, based especially on their understanding of Romans 11, but some other texts as well.

    Thanks for all you do. Your blogging efforts are greatly appreciated.
    Randall

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks, Randall.

      I understand why many look for a conversion of Jews in the last days. There are some texts that seem to speak of that. I’m uncertain about their meaning, however, and believe there are other viable understandings. At the same time, I have no prejudice against the idea. It may be what will happen and those texts can give credence to it (such as Romans 11).

      John Mark

  10. Avatar of Nick Gill  nick gill Says:

    The goal (telos) of the creation is not annihilation, but redemption.

    Hmm… That’s a tough one for me, JM. The Creation didn’t need to be redeemed until Adam and Eve desecrated it, right? So I think the pre-Fall telos of Creation should still be the post-Fall telos.

    The telos of the Biblical narrative is, I would agree, redemption. But as (I think) CS Lewis suggests, we seem to have, in the first and last 2 chapters, the barest glimpses of the true telosETERNAL LIFE! THE KINGDOM OF GOD!

    Does that make sense?

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I would suggest that even the original creation had a telos toward glorification, that is, towards immortal bodies in the fullness of communion dynamically progressing into the future. I don’t think the original creation was intended to be static, but what “dynamic” means can certainly have a wide range in which many conceptions might fit.

      I would agree, however, that “redemption” is more properly located in a post-fall world, though I think glorification fits pre-fall as well.

      John Mark

      • Avatar of Nick Gill  nick gill Says:

        Yes yes! Absolutely!

        I don’t think the God who is the Spirit can do anything stagnant (or static). Dynamic progression of glory — more and more increasing glory fits the story. 2 Cor 3 just leaps off the page that way.

        So we could suggest that because of the Fall, redemption became a necessary facet of the dynamic communal glorification that was always God’s dream?

  11.   cthoward Says:

    I would agree this redemptive view is more honest with the biblical story. God said creation was very good. Eden was paradise on earth. The rest of the story is always God coming down to man, to interact, heal, teach, and dwell with him.

    The thing that hangs me up, though, is calling the new creation “material.” Surely it will be tangible rather than ethereal. But the transfiguration mountain scene tells me that it will be….different. I mean, Jesus (and His clothes) glowed. And the disciples were able to recognize Moses and Elijah though they had never seen them.

    I guess it just comes down to how we’re going to define “material.” And how to interpret all that business about meeting the Lord in the air and being with Him always…:)

    Thanks for your insights and this helpful chart.

    Clint

    • Avatar of Nick Gill  nick gill Says:

      Clint, I wrestled with that hang-up for a long, long time. NT Wright’s book Surprised By Hope was the greatest help to me in working through it. His exegesis of 1 Cor 15 (especially the “spiritual” and “natural” contrast) really helped me breathe easier, understanding that it wasn’t materiality that is the problem, but futility.

      Life is running on its own emergency reserves at present (natural), so of course it breaks down – which was my problem with materiality. In the new creation, life will run on God’s infinite Holy Spirit (spiritual). That (in a TINY nutshell) is Wright’s explanation of Paul’s exposition on resurrection.

      •   cthoward Says:

        NT Wright has been recommended to me before, but I just have not had the time to get into his stuff yet…I’m stuck on Greg Boyd right now.

        And I do understand and am generally okay with calling whatever it will be “material.” I suppose I just don’t want people getting stuck thinking “the same as now.” There are fundamental problems with creation that need fixing (redeeming), and, as you pointed out, it is because of “natural” limitations.

        I have a B.S. in Biology, so I think from that perspective…that there are principles and factors like entropy and disease and genetic mutation that currently hinder us. It’s the “nature” of a “material” world. It’s the groaning of an enslaved creation (Romans 8). And I guess my limited perspective has me thinking God will have to remake us fundamentally different if we are to overcome those “natural” problems. There will be an entirely different spiritual cellular and molecular biology, if you will (and chemistry and physics).

        But I also completely agree that it must be similar in so many ways to what we have now. It will be heaven and earth, new. It will be bodies, new. It will be principalities and powers, new. And for some reason, Jesus says there will be no marriage…but I’m hoping for something similar but new.

        So I’m stuck in the middle, not really wanting to call a new creation “material,” but not wanting to relegate it to a whispy, ghost-like, floaty existence in the clouds of heaven, either. Right now I’m fairly satisfied with just calling it “similarly different.”

        • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

          I, personally, am not inclined to let present biology and its natural attendants limit my conception of materiality.

          Ultimately, of course, I don’t know what a transformed body and earth is exactly like. I am confident that it is continuous with the present earth but yet different. I tend to think that the difference is not physical vs. non-physical (or whatever word we might use), but rather one kind of physicality in contrast with a different kind of physicality (materiality).

          I, like you, would not want to leave the impression that the earth (or our bodies) will be the same as now. Rather, the earth and our bodies will experience a glorification and transformation which does not, in my mind, entail a dematerialization or a loss of physicality. It is a transformation into a different kind of physicality.

          Thanks for your dialogue. I appreciate it. And it is important, it seems to me, that we do not become too rigid in our understanding of this future since there is so much we don’t know about it. Yet, I think, the promise remains that God will redeem this earth and his saints will inherit the cosmos.

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Paul did not say we would always be in the air with the Lord, but that we would meet him in the air and forever be with the Lord.

      In fact, the word Paul uses there was a common one for meeting a dignitary outside the gates of the city and then escorting him into the city. I tend to think that Paul means that we will meet the Lord in the air and then escort him to the earth–a renewed (redeemed, transformed) one that is analogous to our renewed (redeemed, transformed) bodies.

  12.   John Says:

    Any significance to the ‘and so’ or ‘and thus’ in 1 Th 5.17? Could it indicate we will continue ‘in the air’ with Him? What is the sense of the Greek here? Thanks.

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      The adverb means “in this manner, thus, so.” Something to the effect that “in this way we will be with the Lord forever.”

      The manner, however, does not appear to me to be “in the air.” Rather, meeting the Lord in the air (in order to escort him back to the earth) is the manner in which we will be with the Lord forever.

      I don’t think we want to affirm that we will be forever “in the air” when “air” here means the created, visible reality we call “sky.” It does not mean “heaven” here as in the sense of some celestial place beyond the sky, beyond the Hubble telescope.

      That is my understanding–I could be wrong. I have been before. :-)

  13.   johnkking Says:

    John Mark,

    Your perspectives on this certainly reflect the image Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 3:10-17 (NIV):

    10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

    16Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

    There is the potential that portions of our life work will survive the fire.

    Thanks for the series. It certainly challenges the view of some believers that things like environmentalism are irrelevant since the earth will be annihilated in their view.

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