“Heaven on Earth” — A Stone-Campbell Tradition

David Lipscomb believed that eventually the “earth itself will become heaven” (Gospel Advocate, 1903, p. 328).

I recently noticed that someone will be speaking at the Freed-Hardeman lectures on the topic “heaven on earth.” I do not know what he will say, but I think it is at least helpful to know that many of our Stone-Campbell forebearers believed that God would ultimately dwell on earth with the redeemed. Right or wrong, this view is not dependent upon Jehovah’s Witnesses (which I hear a lot–indeed, it predates JWs) and is not some kind of weird, cultish ideology.

That perspective is often radically different from many hopeful expectations among members of Churches of Christ who believe that God is preparing a home in some kind of celestial (immaterial) reality beyond the Hubble telescope. I understand that view and its rationale as I once held it myself. Now I think some of our eminent forebearers had a better understanding of the biblical story than I once did.

Here are just three examples.  First, David Lipscomb in his Salvation from Sin (pp. 35-36):

God is holy. As a pure and holy being, he cannot tolerate guilt and sin. The two cannot permanently dwell together in the universe. When sin came into the world, God left this world as a dwelling place. He cannot dwell in a defiled and sin-polluted temple. He has since dwelt on this earth only in sanctified altars and temples separated from the world and consecrated to his service. He will again make this earth his dwelling place, but it will be only when sin has been purged out and it has been consecrated anew as the new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness. [Quotes Rev. 21:3-4.]

Second, James A. Harding (“What Are We Here For?” The Way 5 [3 December 1903], 1041):

…the earth is God’s nursery, his training grounds, made primarily for the occupancy of his children, for their education, development and training until they shall have reached their majority, until the end of the Messianic age has come; then it is to be purified a second time by a great washing, a mighty flood, but this time in a sea of fire. Then God will take up his abode himself with his great family upon this new, this renovated and purified earth.

 Third, Alexander Campbell (Christian System, p. 257):

The Bible begins with the generations of the heavens and the earth; but the Christian revelation ends with the regenerations or new creation of the heavens and the earth.  This [is] the ancient promise of God confirmed to us by the Christian Apostles. The present elements are to be changed by fire. The old or antediluvian earth was  purified by water; bu the present earth is reserved for fire, with all the works of man that are upon it. It shall be converted into a lake of liquid fire. But the dead in Christ will have been regenerated in body before the old earth is regenerated by fire. The bodies of the saints will be as homogeneous with the new earth and heavens as their present bodies are with the present heavens and earth. God re-creates, regenerates, but annihilates nothing; and, therefore, the present earth is not to be annihilated. The best description we can give of this regeneration is in the words of one who had a vision of it on the island of Patmos. He describes it as far as it is connected with the New Jerusalem, which is to stand upon the new earth, under the canopy of the new heaven:–[quoting Rev. 21:1-4].

This is not premillennialism; it is new creation theology. Rather, it affirms that God will renovate this present earth. Heaven does not yet fully dwell upon this earth although there are many tastes of it and we continually pray that the reign of heaven will break into the reality of this earth…and it does at times.  Our hope is that God’s reign will fully come to this earth. Our hope is that heaven will come to this earth. And when it does, it will be a fully renewed and renovated reality. This is no mere return to the a past Eden but a glorified regeneration of the earth itself where the redeemed will live in God’s good creation with God.  There will be no need for a temple since the whole earth will be “holy to the Lord.”

53 Responses to ““Heaven on Earth” — A Stone-Campbell Tradition”

  1.   Jeremy Says:

    Thanks for the post, John Mark. I have been hearing more about this view, and it is compelling to consider. I have read from a couple of Wrights (N.T. and Christopher) who make strong cases for it, and 2 Wrights don’t make a wrong (or so I hear). It’s interesting to see that this is not a new teaching but one that is found in our own history.

  2.   Jeff McVey Says:

    Wow, good post, John… and pretty brave stuff.

  3.   Tom Atkinson Says:

    Great posting!

  4.   John Says:

    It would be helpful if you would comment specifically, and perhaps in some length, on 2 Peter 3.10-13. Our English uses ‘pass away, melt, burned up, dissolved’. It would seem the most straightforward interpretation is that this place would be destroyed/annihilated and a new place provided. I know you and Bobby see this different, but I am afraid I remain unconverted.

    •   Robert (Bob) Odle Says:

      Don’t forget the ending of Peter’s statement, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” (2Pe 3:13 NIV). I’ve heard the first part cited as a proof text for the “earth annihilated, then we go to heaven” position all my life. Only recently has it been pointed out that it also talks of a new earth after this one is destroyed.

  5.   mattdabbs Says:

    Romans 8 has some interesting stuff in it as well that often gets passed over by people who think anything hinting at this must be heresy.

  6.   billy lejeune Says:

    Perhaps, as the resurrection body emerges from a mortal flesh-material body into an immortal spirit-neo-material body (not immaterial) so the earh and creation will resurrect into the kind of home suitable for such immortal human beings.

  7.   Steve Wolfgang Says:

    It seems the texts cited by the authors you quote do not say exactly or explicitly what the writers deduce from them (at least not without a series of hidden or masked inferences — necessary or not).

  8.   Adam Gonnerman Says:

    Thank you! I plan to share this post far and wide. Good to know I’m not alone.

  9.   Steven Hunter Says:

    They speak of a “purification” like unto that of the flood, but Peter wrote of a burning up and dissolution of this earth and heaven (2 Peter 3:10), so it seems to me that this heaven and earth will be totally destroyed (cf. Rev. 21:1) and a new one created…not a recreation. If it were a recreation then it would be like the former which is flawed would it not? Have I missed the point altogether?

    •   mattdabbs Says:

      In Revelation 21:5 Jesus says he is making everything new. Many commentators conclude that Jesus is not saying that the old is replaced with something completely different (it was either Witherington or Metzger who wrote that it is not like you had an old pair of shoes and got a new pair) which would imply that the old is no longer used and the new something entirely different. Instead, the word means something more like a “new kind” rather than something entirely new. God is making a new kind of world. Also, he says he is making it, not that he will some day make it (Kind of like the present tense in John 14:1-2). It is a statement of certainty that should give us hope about what is so sure that it is like it is already taking place.

  10.   rich constant Says:

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
    Rom 8:19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
    Rom 8:20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
    Rom 8:21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
    Rom 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
    Rom 8:23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

    1Co 15:38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
    1Co 15:39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
    1Co 15:40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
    1Co 15:41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
    1Co 15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
    1Co 15:43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

  11.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks for the inquiries. I am only interested in the historical point at this moment. Perhaps at some future point I will have some time to think specifically about the texts, especailly 2 Peter 3 and how to read Revelation 21. These are good and common questions. Recreation/renewal means something of the former [old] reality (the pain, death, tears) passes away and what remains is renewed for habitation by God and creatures. It is not the same old world but it is the same world renewed; the earth itself has become suited for the dwelling of material, immortal bodies. I’ll leave at that for now until I have time to deal exegetically with the texts. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    •   Steven Hunter Says:

      JM, thanks. That makes sense.

    •   billy lejeune Says:

      “It is not the same old world but it is the same world renewed; the earth itself has become suited for the dwelling of material, immortal bodies.”

      Exactly, the body undergoes resurrection; the cosmos undergoes recreation; the newly immortal humans find themselves in a re-created and non decaying world.

    •   Richard Roland Says:

      John, have you gotten the impression that this view was dominant in the Stone-Campbell movement at one time? If so, have you found evidence of an evolution or drift in the movement over time (or a rapid change in a particular era) to the view that is definitely dominant now?

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Richard, I think the dominant, though not exclusive, view in the Stone-Campbell Movement in the 19th century was new creation, but this changed quickly in the early 20th century. I would suggest that one motivating factor was the premillennial controversy. The spiritualization of all Hebrew hopes and locating them exclusively in the church militant resulted in no resource for thinking about a new heave and new earth. Once you spiritualize Is 65 as the church, then you do the same with new heaven and new earth in the NT. The fear of premillennialism is what hinders many from hearing about new creation and it is the immediate reaction I get. In fact, I got that reaction on Monday in Oregon–“You are a premillennialist!”

  12.   rich constant Says:

    to me these two scriptures speak to “change” not annihilation..

  13.   aldenlee Says:

    Posts such as these are refreshing and a great encouragement to me. Thanks.

  14.   D'Angelo Joyce Says:

    https://bashahar.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/the-day-the-world-was-destroyed/ a fitting article on 2 Peter 3 and the destruction of the world, as compared with the flood and the destruction of the world.

  15.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Alexander Campbell believed earth would be redeemed too.

  16.   hebrewdaylight Says:

    This is interesting historical info. to have. The more I have been able to investigate eschatology in the scriptures, the more I have found that the biblical writers did not usually set out to prove this view—they assumed it. The new reality we look forward to is that this creation will be made new and God will fill his temple (his temple being the renewed heavens and earth together, as a whole). This exciting eschatology is intertwined within the whole narrative of the Bible, and it is refreshing to see others coming to similar understandings. Blessings.

  17.   Jerry Weldon Says:

    II Pet 3:10ff; I Thess. 4:14ff. If it is a new earth then it will not be this one ! Right? It is not as if it makes a lot of difference because is going to have a great place for us. I disagree with this earth’s regeneration.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      It is this one, I think. The flood destroyed Noah’s world, and fire will destroy our world, but neither annihilates the earth. Rather they are renewed for habitation. When Jesus returns, we meet him in the air and escort him to earth, as the term “meet” means in that text (same word used for those who met Paul on the road to Rome and escorted him to the city). I think it makes a difference, but it is not the most important thing.

    •   hebrewdaylight Says:

      In Romans 8:18-25, Paul describes the entire creation as being in slavery similar to Israel’s slavery in Egypt. He echoes Egyptian slavery in several ways in this chapter and speaks of the creation being freed from its slavery (he also mentions humans within this picture). The creation is even groaning as Israel groaned in her slavery in Exodus 2:23-25. As Paul affirms earlier in the letter, the cosmos is the inheritance promised to Abraham and his family (4:13). Here he expands on this idea and gives some description of what inheriting the cosmos will look like (NB as Paul is discussing our inheritance, this would be the perfect place for him to describe going off to heaven, the ethereal place where we will sit on clouds and sing forever, but such description is strikingly absent here; instead, he is very creation-oriented). All this would suggest a renewal of the creation, not a replacement.

      It is similar in concept to how Jesus’ body was raised from the dead: his body was raised (or else he would have rotted in the tomb), but at the same time his resurrection body was different: it was raised incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and animated by the spirit. The creation will be ‘resurrected’ in a similar manner, if you will, transformed but still his creation; it will still be his creation but freed from its slavery.

  18.   John Says:

    In the NKJ in 2 Pe 3.6 it has ‘perished.’ Is the same Greek word in 10-13? I thought of the flood analogy when I reviewed the text earlier. It would seem we would need the same word to carry the analogy as far as John Mark carries it. I don’t read Greek.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      cognate terms are used to compare Noah and the fire in 3:6-7–the word for destruction. The language in 3:10-13 is more expansive and the “new earth and new heaven” language indicates continuity since it is the idea of “renew” rather than “new ex nihilo or out of nothing”. The earth will loosened (dissolved) and melted, but reformed. I think this is apocalyptic language that gives us a picture of destruction that is refining and reconfiguring, but it is still the same earth

    •   hebrewdaylight Says:

      Too, Peter says the earth and all the works on it “will be found” in verse 10, and in verse 14 we are to be eager “to be found,” as well. Verse 14 is a continuation of Peter’s discussion of renewal of creation and is often not noticed in discussions of this text. I see Peter as describing a smelting fire that purifies, similar to the Flood which “destroyed” (Peter’s word, cf. 3:6) the world.

  19.   John R. Gentry Says:

    Wolf, can you elaborate please? I believe if I were reading the three quotes for the first time, without the context of Hicks’s article, that I would possibly walk away with the impression Hicks makes of them.

    Hicks, besides N.T. Wright and yourself :), what other articles/books make the strongest case for this “new creation theology”?

    Someone has recently attempted to lay the foundation of this concept (along with a huge argument from 1st century Judaism–I’m assuming this comes from Wright) before me to consider.

    I must confess that right now it sounds like a premillennialist trying to make non-premillennial arguments that will allow him to eventually bring his premillennialism through his newly created back door.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      John, there are many good books on this topice these days. Randy Alcorn has published on this point, and some older works would include Hokema (Bible and the Future), Bavinck, and Al Wolters (Creation Regained). More contemporary would be Ben Witherington’s book on eschatology in the NT as well as many contemporary theologies such as Grenz and Grudem.

      It is definitely not premillennial. Premillennialism identifies the millennium as material but not new creation. For most premillennialists, heaven is a celestial reality outside of this cosmos. New creation is not millennialism. Rather, it is about the transfiguration of the present creation and dwelling with God for eternity (not simply a 1000 years).

  20.   theitinerantmind Says:

    I was converted to this position some time ago, but was unaware that so many of the Restoration leaders held it. It shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose, given their attentiveness to Scripture and their willingness to breach theological norms. It is hard to look through the Bible and not see strong “new earth,” recreation impulses throughout.

    Something I do not see many people mentioning in these comments is how this position accords even with Old Testament “eschatological” teachings. Consider, for example, the parallels between the visions in Micah 3-4 and Revelation 20-21. Both move in near perfect unison from sweeping judgment into a renewal of creation, God’s descent to earth and presence among His people, and the resultant reign of peace. Certainly new creation thought isn’t as obvious in the Old Testament, but it is much easier to spot their than Plato’s escapist vision of the soul’s flight from the body which dominates Protestant thought.

  21.   Richard Roland Says:

    How sad that it takes bravery these days to articulate core tenets of the orthodox faith in our fellowship.

  22.   A. W. Says:

    You might also consider a thought in a similar vein from J. W. McGarvey, “Redemption in Christ,” Sermons Delivered in Louisville, KY:

    “Let me say, my dear brethren and sisters, that this redemption in Christ goes even further than I have yet intimated. It not only enables God, when we come to Christ in His appointed way, to forgive our sins, blotting out all the past, to take away the threatened penalty and grant unto us everlasting bliss and peace of mind; and, what is strangest of all, to take out of our hearts all remorse on account of the many sins we have committed; but it goes beyond that. For we are told that the whole creation travails and groans in pain, until this hour, and we ourselves, who have received the first fruits of the spirit, groan within ourselves, waiting, because there is something yet in the future that we have not obtained. What is that? “Waiting for the adoption, even the redemption of the body.” (Rom. viii. 18-23). The body is to be redeemed as well as the soul, in Christ, and by His precious blood–by His death for us. The redemption of the body from the corruption of the grave. It is sown in corruption; it is to be raised in incorruption. It is sown a weak body; it is to be raised a strong body. (I. Cor. xv. 42-44). It is to be raised in the likeness of Him who [53] will descend from heaven in glory; for when He comes, we shall be like Him, and we shall see Him as He is. (I. John iii. 2). You and I do not know how much value there is in that. Sometimes we depreciate our bodies. Be careful how you do that, my dear friends. When God created Adam from the dust of the earth, He made him in some mysterious way in the image of God; and if Christ died to redeem our souls, he also died to redeem our bodies. Our souls will not live any longer in eternity than our raised and glorified bodies will. They will be united together, never to be separated. I do not know anything in the Bible to teach me that God thinks any less of my body than He does of my soul. Brethren, take care of your bodies. They are the temples of the living God. Do not abuse them; do not use them for vile purposes. Preserve the health and strength of your body as long as you can, for God regards it as a precious thing; and when it is laid in the grave, although it shall become food for worms, not one particle of it shall ever be lost sight of by His divine eyes. It can not be lost, but will be raised again in glory on the Great Day; and then in a body that can never know any pain, shall dwell the soul that can no longer feel remorse on account of sin, or fear of anything in all eternity to come. The creation that is now travailing and groaning and waiting, will that day be seen in a revelation of God’s power and wisdom more glorious than has ever been witnessed in this universe of which we form so small a part. This is the redemption that is in Christ.”

  23.   Tony Lawrence Says:

    I am the one who is to give the lecture at FHU next week to which John Mark refers. You who embrace the “heaven on earth” position could greatly help me better understand your views. Where do you believe Hell will be located? N.T. Wright is logically forced to end up with a sort of conditionalism that results in the wicked dead not be raised at all (cf. For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed, pp 42-46).

    I read the McGarvey quote above and its fuller context posted elsewhere, where does he advocate heaven will be on earth?

    Thanks in advance for your assistance.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks, Tony. I appreciate the inquiry. Wherever Hell is seems to me immaterial to the discussion. Does it matter where Hell is if God promises to renew and transfigure this earth into his own dwelling place?

      I don’t know where Hell will be. I don’t think one is logically committed to conditional immortality. There have been many in the history of Christianity who have affirmed both an eternal Hell and a renewed earth, including David Lipscomb and James A. Harding. Neither one of them were conditionalists.

      I have not investigated McGarvey on this question so I can’t help you. I do remember be a bit confused by him at some point. Perhaps it was his renewed creation comments on Romans 8 and his resurrection comments on 1 Corinthians 15. See his commentary, edited and completed by Pendleton.

      Blessings on your speech, brother.

      John Mark

      •   John Says:

        John Mark: Tony and I have known each other since we were quite young. Why don’t you consider linking to 2 or 3 of your articles where you discuss renewed earth. I am sure Tony wants to present that view accurately. Personally, I don’t think it makes any difference where heaven is, I just hope to be there. Heaven will be wherever God wants it to be.

      •   Jeff McVey Says:

        …which is what I was telling you, John, when I told you that “you should just get on the Jesus train and ride it to wherever it takes you.”

        The discussion about the “new heavens and new earth” is indeed interesting, and probably worhwhile. However, you should do what you can to make sure that it doesn’t become a point of division among brothers…

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Well, I do think it makes a significant difference, but I will not press that here except to say it does have implications for the mission of Christ, nature of salvation and ecology (among other things). It makes a difference for how we now live. But I will leave that alone for the time being…that deserves its own blog. 🙂

        Here are some links at my blog those interested, and I am happy to know that Tony is investigating the literature for his presentation. Hope it goes well.


  24.   Tony Lawrence Says:

    John Mark, thank you for your quick responses. It is only honest that one fully consider various points of view even if one might disagree with part or all of them. As you well know, there are many “flavors” of those who hold the “heaven on earth” position. I want to fairly and honestly portray the various viewpoints and then discuss how I believe Scripture relates to them. Having read much from N.T. Wright, Randy Alcorn, Michael Wittmer, and Rob Bell, I wanted to see how your views compared.

    By the way, we were classmates at FHU. I remember you in my Seminar for Bible Majors class, perhaps others.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I appreciate your willingness to engage the discussion and read in the literature. It is a vast literature but worthy of reflection. I don’t know what Rob Bell has written that is on point but perhaps I have not yet read it. Generally, I think Alcorn overreads a bit and thinks we can know more than I think we can, but I find N. T. Wright fairly traditional on the point about renewal of heaven and earth. I have not read Wittmer’s response to Bell, but if he has traditional Reformed views (like the Horton who prefaces his book), he should have little problem with new heaven and new earth.

  25.   Kelly King Walden Says:

    I’m just now reading this entry. I became convinced of this position several years ago, maybe 10 or 12, after a series of sermons by our minister at the time. He also linked it to the nature imagery connected with heaven in the Bible, as opposed to many people’s image of clouds, harps, etc. He stated that many would associate this with the view of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but felt on this point, they were closer to biblical truth than some of our views.

  26.   James Craven Says:

    John 14:2&3 “I am going THERE(?) to prepare a place for you. And if I go … I will come BACK and TAKE you to be with me that you may be WHERE I am.

  27.   Tim Haile Says:

    1. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians that at the return of Christ, living saints would be caught up together with raised saints “in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). Contrary to what Hicks said above, saints will not “meet” the Lord in order to bring Him back to the earth with them. Rather, the saints will “meet” the Lord in the air and will forever be with Him in that realm. The “New Creation” theory needs this verse to say that we will be caught up with the Lord in the air, but then be with the Lord forever upon the earth!

    2. Jesus ascended up into heaven (Acts 1:11; Ephesians 4:8-10), and He remains there now (1 Peter 3:22). In going to “heaven,” Jesus departed from the earth. In order to reenter the spiritual realm of heaven, Jesus’ physical body had to be transformed into a spiritual body, for “flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:50). In order for us to be with Jesus, our “vile” bodies must also be transformed “to be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). The apostle John adds that though we do not know what our post-fleshly essence will be, we do know that “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2). Our citizenship is “in heaven,” and from heaven we await the Savior (Philippians 3:20).

    3. In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul said that “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” He went on to describe what the saint has if his “earthly home” (physical body and existence) is destroyed — “we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). Heaven is always contrasted with physical earth.

    4. Jesus was leaving the earth and returning to heaven after His earthly ministry (John 17:5; Luke 24:26). In John 14:1-3, Jesus promised to “prepare a place” for His disciples in His “Father’s house” and that He would “come again” and “take” them to Himself. Earth is merely the “footstool” of God (Isaiah 66:1). Heaven is His actual “throne” and abode.

    5. The plain and obvious meaning of 2 Peter 3:10-12 is that the material universe will melt and dissolve. Glorified spiritual beings have no need of a material universe. As in Isaiah 65:17, the expression “new heavens and new earth” has reference to great transition and change. The Isaiah passage had reference to the cessation of Judaism and the rise of the Messianic kingdom. While an argument can be made for a spiritualized application of Peter’s words, based upon the word “elements” being used of the Jewish system in Galatians 4:9, there is no scriptural basis for God’s dwelling being upon a mere renovated earth. A “dwelling with man,” yes (Rev. 21:3), but not a dwelling on earth.

  28.   Tom Says:

    Excellent article!

  29.   LindaGreer Says:

    Ps 102:25-26 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain;they will all wear out like a garment.You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.
    Been reading some of NT Wright’s stuff. So interesting and quite exciting.


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