Heaven Down to Earth: Connecting This Life to the Next
Popular pictures of heaven often invoke images such as angels, halos and harps. And while such scenarios may be serene, Calvin College author Nathan Bierma says they miss the mark.
“They may be beautiful,” he said, “but they are too vague and exotic to give us a meaningful idea of what eternal life will really be like.”
Bierma explores that idea and more in his new book, Bringing Heaven Down to Earth: Connecting This Life to the Next.
Bierma said surveys show that the majority of North Americans believe there is a heaven. But few people, he said, have a clear idea of what heaven will be like, and few live with hope for heaven in their daily lives.
“Heaven is an odd element of the Christian faith,” Bierma writes. “We profess it to be eternally important and then live as though it doesn’t exist. We are runners who fear the finish line.”
Bierma graduated from Calvin in 2002 and is now communications coordinator for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
He believes that a closer look at prophecy in the Bible provides some key pieces of the puzzle of heaven that we tend to ignore. Although heaven is ultimately a mystery, he says, by recapturing some of these key biblical images, Christians can live with a greater sense of purpose.
“The Bible says our eternal life will somehow resemble our current life more than we tend to think,” Bierma writes. “It will be on earth, in human bodies, among culture, and in relationships. Our current lives, and the things that make up our current existence, are not just temporary distractions before an eternity of fluttering about on clouds.”
Essentially, heaven will be a place of restored shalom, the “way things are supposed to be,” he concludes, quoting the title of a book by Calvin Theological Seminary President Cornelius Plantinga Jr., whom Bierma cites as influential on his own ideas about heaven.
“Prophecies are often thought about as forecasting destruction, but more importantly they are wake-up calls to larger truths,” Bierma said, noting that the Greek word “apocalypse” doesn’t mean “destruction,” but “awakening.”
Bierma quotes Plantinga as saying that many Christians in the Reformed tradition avoid talking about eschatology, the study of the end times. Even John Calvin decided not to write a commentary on the book of Revelation.
“What I discovered by writing this book is that the Reformed tradition does have some substantive, well-articulated views of eschatology,” Bierma said. “But they are largely untapped resources. Voices like TV evangelists and the Left Behind series have captured the public’s imagination, including many in the Reformed tradition, when it comes to biblical prophecy. I wanted to call attention to a very different vision of eternal heaven.”
He said that the idea that Christianity is mostly about saving souls from hell is a relatively recent idea.
“In the Reformed tradition,” he said, “we preach what I call a ‘big gospel,’ the restoration of all things—nature, culture and human relationships. This broader vision for a new earth, despite all its remaining mysteries, can give more meaning to our life on this earth.”
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