Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Technology's Threat to Spiritual Formation

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View from our room, in Cancun

Linda and I are away for a break in Cancun. We are birds of a feather, in that we both love just sitting on the beach, reading, talking, and snacking.

I brought Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society along. I am researching technology and culture, and writing a book I am now calling Technology and Spiritual Formation. 

Ellul's book is not a diatribe against technology, but rather a sociology of technique. It is not about individuals, but society and culture, the technological world we live in, and how it affects and influences everyone.

This affects spiritual formation, a subject I teach in various venues. 

In 1964 Ellul write that the technological world poses a threat "to man's personal and spiritual freedom." Now, fifty-four years later, this threat has been actualized.

That's what I am writing about in my next book. Will we "determine to assert [our] freedom and upset the course of this evolution." (Ellul, xxx) 


***
My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)


Monday, February 26, 2018

Where God's Love Is Self-Hatred Is Nonexistent


Bolles Harbor, Monroe

I have met people who have hated themselves, viewing themselves as worthless. This includes Christians. This can come from parents who failed to express unconditional love, thus abandoning them emotionally (even physically). 

There is a lot of parental failure in America. (According to Mary Eberstadt, parental failure is the main cause of today's "nones.") Add to this the cultural belief that personal worth is based on one’s accomplishments, and we see why many struggle with self-hatred. They don't measure up.

Self-hatred is one side of a coin, the other being self-love (as a form of pride). Self-love thinks, “I am really something (in the sense of being better than others).” Self-hatred is a form of shame which thinks, “I am really nothing.” Both are forms of self-obsession. Both are spiritually cancerous things that harm spiritual formation and maturity.

Unfortunately, I have personal experience in self-hatred. I have, at times, thought of myself as worthless. This is not a good place to be. It’s painful to beat on oneself. It feels more painful than having others hate me. How can this be overcome? 

Thomas Merton writes: "How are we going to recover the ability to love ourselves and to love one another? The reason why we hate one another and fear one another is that we secretly, or openly, hate and fear our own selves. And we hate ourselves because the depths of our being are a chaos of frustration and spiritual misery. Lonely and helpless, we cannot be at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we cannot be at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God."[1]

Here is a solution to self-hatred: Be at peace with God, and you will be at peace with self. Love God, and you will love self. 

This leads to the experience where, instead of flagellating yourself for faults and failures, you rejoice in the greater purposes of God manifested in them. Dom Augustin Guillerand said, "God will know how to draw glory even from our faults. Not to be downcast after committing a fault is one of the marks of true sanctity."[2]

To be free of self-hatred, know the love of God. 

Know that God loves you, that your worth is not the same as your usefulness, and your being-loved is not related to your failures and accomplishments. This brings a life of freedom. 

The more I dwell deeply in the presence of God, like a branch attached to Jesus the Vine, the more I hear God’s voice telling saying, “John, I love you.” In that reality, self-hatred withers and perishes. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Power of Repetition in Worship



I remember when Linda and I watched "The Lego Movie." We enjoyed it. And, it left a mark on my soul. I found myself humming "Everything is AWESOME!!!" I have the song in my head right now.

That is the power of repetition

Be careful of what you repeat over and over again, because it will get inside you and want to stay. BTW, in my college philosophy classes my teaching method is all about getting students to memorize via repetition the correct answers over and over and over again.

Over the years I occasionally hear some Westernized linear-thinking Christian mock the repetitive worship found in a Pentecostal church like mine. But the ancient Hebrews were tribal, and tribal worship is repetitive. "Worship," writes Calvin College philosophy professor James K.A. Smith, "is not primarily a venue for innovative creativity but a place for discerning reception and faithful repetition." (Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, Kindle Location 1256)

N.T. Wright, in his "Everyone" commentary on 1 John 2:3-5, states: 

"[S]ometimes, in some traditions at least, the things we sing in church are deliberately repetitive. We use them quite differently: as a way of meditation, of stopping on one point and mulling it over, of allowing something which is very deep and important to make more of an impact on us than if we just said or sung it once and passed on. Quite different traditions find this helpful: the TaizĂ© movement in France, for instance, uses some haunting brief songs or chants; but you find the same thing in many branches of the modern charismatic movement, where repetition is an essential part of worship. True, some people find these tedious, and want to get back to old-fashioned hymns as quickly as possible. This may be partly a matter of personality. But it may also be that such people are unwilling to allow the truth of which the poem speaks to get quite so close to them. Repetition can touch, deep down inside us, parts that other, ‘safer’ kinds of hymn cannot reach, or do not very often."
- N.T. Wright, The Early Christian Letters for Everyone, p. 139

Repetitive worship is not "mindless," but mind-shaping.

Repeat (meditate on) the truths of God and be transformed.

***

My two books are:




I'm now working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart.

Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Ontological Polarities of the Spirit (Nouwen's "Movements of the Spirit")

Monarch butterfly in my backyard.




















(My two books are:



I'm now working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart.

Technology and Spiritual Formation.)


After reading Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit I see  how indebted I have been to him regarding my own idea of "ontological dualities of the human spirit." Nouwen calls them "polarities." They have a vectorial, from-to movement. They help us understand the directionality of spiritual formation and spiritual transformation.

The


My original eight ontological dualities are:

i.      From PRIDE/SHAME to -------------- HUMILITY
ii. From CONTROL to -------------------- TRUST
iii. From REJECTION to ----------------- AFFIRMATION
iv. From EVIL to -------------------------- GOOD
v. From FEAR to --------------------------- FAITH (RISK; OBEDIENCE)
vi. From MATERIALISM to -------------- SIMPLICITY
vii. From DEATH to ----------------------- LIFE
viii. From PROTECTIONISM to ------- SACRIFICE (From SELF-CENTEREDNESS to... SELFLESSNESS)

Michael Christensen, in "Nouwen’s Place in Spiritual Development Theory" (Appendix), identifies twenty-six such "polarities" in Nouwen's writings. They include:

From LONELINESS to----------------------SOLITUDE
From HOSTILITY to-------------------------HOSPITALITY
*From ILLUSION to----------------------------PRAYER
From SARCASM to---------------------CONTEMPLATION
*From OPAQUENESS to--------------TRANSPARENCY
From LONELINESS to----------------------SOLITUDE
           From FATALISM to-------------------------FAITH
From WORRYING to------------------------PRAYER
From MIND to--------------------------------HEART
From DISSIPATION to---------------------HOMECOMING
*From RESENTMENT to--------------------GRATITUDE
From FORGIVEN to------------------------FORGIVER
From PROFESSIONALISM to------------CREATIVE MINISTRY
From ALIENATION to---------------------COMMUNITY
From COMPETITION to-------------------COMPASSION
From ANGUISH to--------------------------FREEDOM
*From SORROW to---------------------------JOY
*From THE HOUSE OF FEAR to----------THE HOUSE OF LOVE
From AGING to------------------------------DYING
*From EXCLUSION to----------------------INCLUSION
From DENYING to--------------------------BEFRIENDING DEATH

(Christensen, Appendix in Nouwen, Spiritual Formation, Kindle Locations 2119 ff.)

*In Nouwen's work, seven of the Spirit-movements predominate (indicated by *).

As we dwell in God's presence the Spirit of God meta-morphs our hearts, with a "from---- to" movement. We are changed from, e.g., a HATEFUL HEART to LOVING HEART. In this way our subhuman heart takes on the form of Christ's heart. (Galatians 4:19).

The Core Movement is: FROM SUBHUMANITY...... to HUMANITY (i.e., CHRISTLIKENESS).

Christensen writes:

"These movements of the Spirit may vary with the individual and with one’s season of life and community of faith; yet no one’s spiritual life is static, absolute, or perfectly completed, as if we must graduate from one movement to another before continuing our journey. Rather, we remain in motion and in the process of discerning which way the wind of God’s activity is blowing in our life. The process involves becoming aware of and naming the subtle movements of Spirit. To live spiritually is to seek to breathe with the Spirit’s rhythm and move in a God-ward direction on the long walk of faith.” 


Spiritual Formation & Transformation: My Method

Image result for john piippo formation
Michigan beach, on Lake Michigan

(My two books are:



I'm now working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart.

Technology and Spiritual Formation.)


***
When I teach spiritual formation and transformation to seminary students, pastors, and churches, this is my method.

1. Assumption: God is the agent of personal/spiritual transformation.

2. Point People to God's Presence: Lecturing to people or assigning books to read won't transform the human heart. But God can. Therefore: I assign people to pray. I can point people to the presence of the One who does the transforming. 


3. Share With Others What God Is Doing In You: Transformation has a corporate dimension. This is realized as we return from our solitary prayer times with God and share with others what God has spoken to us. Here we arrive at the center of biblical koinonia ("fellowship") which is, literally, sharing what we have in common; viz., Christ in me, the hope of glory.


The method God has given me to do this is:


Give people Psalm 23 and send them out to pray for an hour. Or sometimes I send them out to pray for 30 minutes. For pastors I use 60 minutes; for non-pastors I use 30 minutes.


Here's the paper I give them. I read the instructions aloud. 


I use this document when teaching seminary classes and doing spiritual formation retreats for churches.


WARNING: If you are a pastor who wants to do this kind of thing with your people you must be engaging in it yourself. 




PRAYER EXERCISE – SPIRITUAL FORMATION
Dr. John Piippo

  1. The purpose of this exercise is to enter into the presence of God for the sake of deepening your relationship with God alone. My assumption is that you need God. You need to spend much time in God’s presence. And that time is to be spent in a certain way.
  2. Find a “lonely place apart.” When you get to that place, spend 60 minutes with God.
  3. Take with you only Psalm 23 and your journal. You may also take a Bible with you. But I want you to use Psalm 23 as your focus of meditation.
  4. Leave any cell phones, computers, books, shopping lists, and xerox machines behind. They will be waiting for you when you return from this time.
  5. Use Psalm 23 for meditation.
  6. Your purpose is not to exegete Psalm 23, but to be yourself exegeted by the Holy Spirit.
  7. When God speaks to you, write it down in your spiritual journal. A spiritual journal is a record of the voice of God to you.
  8. If your mind wanders, you may wish to write down where it wanders to. Your wandering mind is a barometer of your true spiritual condition. Your mind will never wander arbitrarily, but always to something like a burden or a hope.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.
 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
       he leads me beside quiet waters,

 3 he restores my soul.
       He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
       I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
       your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 5 You prepare a table before me
       in the presence of my enemies.
       You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.


 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
       all the days of my life,
       and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The Locus, or "Place," of Spiritual Transformation

Image result for john piippo formation
My praying chair, on the river in my backyard

(My two books are:



I'm now working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart.

Technology and Spiritual Formation.)


***

As we are spiritually transformed into greater Christlikeness, what happens, and where does it happen?

1 – The transformation is a matter of “the deep waters of the heart.”


Proverbs 20:5.says: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” God’s Spirit moves in the deep waters of the human heart. Here is where the morphing happens.

This spiritual formation is not an external, physical makeover. It is internal, deep, and concerns the human heart. And, it is helpful to note that the deeper we go inside people the more we are all the same. This truth explains why, among other things, the Jesus-message has gone global.

2 – The dismantling of the false self

A major part of spiritual formation is the dismantling of the false, or fallen self. Using recent language by N.T. Wright, God wants to rescue us from our subhumanity and form Christ in us, who was truly human (as well as “very God”).

In my own process of spiritual transformation, and in coaching others, here are examples of the false self’s dismantling. God want to remove from us:

* self-love
* self-hatred
* self-pity
* self-hiding
* self-justification
* self-righteousness
* self-will
* self-centeredness
* self-seriousness
* self-attention
* self-inflation
* self-ignorance

This dismantling of the false self relates to what Jesus said about denying our self daily and taking up our cross. Jesus, the fully human One, was an other-centered Servant. As we enter into God’s presence he wants to morph our hearts into the sacrificial selflessness of Jesus.

3 – Ontological dualities
In the deep waters of the human heart we are all the same. This is why the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom speaks to all persons in all times and all places.

Spiritual transformation has a vectorial dimension in that it is a shifting or moving from one place to another. For example, all persons struggle with control and trust. God wants to shift our hearts from controlling to trusting. This movement is, precisely, the change; viz., one’s heart changes from a control-shaped heart to a trust-shaped heart.

I have discovered the following “ontological dualities” that lie at the base of the human heart. They are:

1. From Pride/Shame to Humility
2. From Control to Trust
3. From Rejection to Affirmation
4. From Evil to Good
5. From Fear to Faith
6. From Materialism to Simplicity
7. From Death to Life

As we continually abide in Christ there is a slow movement from the left ontological condition to the right side. I think that, using these deep dualities, one could thus measure spiritual transformation.


HUMILITY – the foundational attitude of authentic spiritual transformation

Finally, and in some ways back to the beginning, the foundational attitude needed so that one’s heart is “good soil” for the changes God desires to bring about is: humility. Pride, C.S. Lewis said, is "the complete anto-God state of mind." Francis Frangipane called pride "the armor of darkness." If these things are true, as I think they are, then of course the proud heart cannot expect to experience being formed into Christ.


Spiritual Formation: The Journey Inward Precedes the Journey Outward


In the spiritual life being comes before doing. This is a hard one for people who want to "do" great things for God and see time spent alone with God as wasted time. A number of pastors and Christian leaders fall into this category. They may say "I want to pray," but unless this translates into a life of actually praying their desire is an illusion. Ontologically (in the order of being) the Jesus-life works this way: 1) Abide in Christ; 2) Out of the abiding, obey (this is the "doing" part).

I like how Henri Nouwen expresses this:

"Only out of the prayerful place of solitude and introspection can we hope for community and ministry. The journey inward precedes the journey outward, and the chronology is important. Spiritually, we need to know our selves and God in order to know other people. We need to love our selves and God in order to love each other. Communion with God precedes community with others and ministry in the world. Once the inward journey has begun, we can move outwardly from solitude to community and ministry." (Nouwen, 
Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 2106-2109)


What the Bible Says About Spiritual Formation

This is from Renovare's website.

"Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand" (Matt 3:2, 4:17, 10:7).
This is a call for us to reconsider how we have been approaching our life, in light of the fact that we now, in the presence of Jesus, have the option of living within the surrounding movements of God’s eternal purposes, of taking our life into his life.

~ Dallas Willard, 
The Divine Conspiracy


The Bible has a lot to say about spiritual formation.  Here are a few relevant passages.

2 Corinthians 3:18 
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Ephesians 4:20-24 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life . . . Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

1 Timothy 4:7-8
. . . train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, 



Colossians 3:10-11
Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn't matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Titus 2:11-14
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,
 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Five Stages of Spiritual Transformation


Image result for john piippo formation
Cape May, New Jersey


(My two books are:



I'm now working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart.

Technology and Spiritual Formation.)
***
For my new friends at the Prayer Summit in Spring Arbor.

God can change human hearts. He is able, and desires, to transform (Rom. 12:2 - meta-morphe) our hearts into increasing Christlikeness (Gal. 4:9).

Since 1977 I have been developing my theory of spiritual transformation, which is about How God Changes Lives. The inputs for my theory of spiritual transformation have been and are:

1. the countless hours, over forty years, that I have gone alone to a quiet place and prayed.


2. my ongoing saturation in the Christian scriptures, studying and meditating on them.


3. the 3000+ pastors, Christian leaders, seminary students, and lay people I have been privileged to spiritually mentor and coach through class lectures, dialogue, and the submission of their spiritual journals for me to respond to.


4. my past and ongoing study of the history of Christian spirituality.

IMy theory can be applied not only to the issue of spiritual transformation, but also to the ideas of spiritual “renewal,” “restoration,” “renovation,” and “formation.” All these concepts have to do with “change,” and in Christian spirituality change is good, stasis is bad. One is either growing or dead. 


Spiritually, to not be growing is to be dying. As my friend Jim Hunter has said, “We’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” 


Or, as Robert Quinn has written, it’s either “deep change” or “slow death.”


My approach to spiritual formation (I use “formation” and “transformation” interchangeably) applies and works cross-culturally, cross-temporally (concerning both old and young; and past, present, and future), and with both men and women. This is because the locus of spiritual formation is “the heart.” Thus, change and renewal happen at a deep, ontological level. Because the deeper we go inside persons the more we are all the same, the principles of Christian spiritual formation speak to everyone, everywhere. 


This is my experience over the years as I have been privileged to teach this material to Chinese pastors and leaders in Singapore New York City, and Vancouver, to Indians in India, to African Americans at Payne Theological Seminary, Palmer Theological Seminary, and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, to African pastors (Kenyan and Ugandan) in Kenya, and to hundreds of Anglo pastors and Christian leaders from the U.S., in Canada, and beyond. In my seminary classes, I have taught this material to pastors and seminary students from every continent and, it seems, representing most of this world’s countries. All this interaction and input has served to help me refine my teachings, reducing them to the following points.

How does God change a human heart? Here is a Phenomenology of Spiritual Renewal and Transformation; viz., a description of what I see happening when lives are renewed and transformed in Christ.

1 – THE NEED (Recognize how needy you are)


Without this step growth will not occur. To recognize one’s own neediness is to be in a very good place, spiritually. Isaiah 6 serves us well here. Isaiah, who is arguably the most righteous person among the people of Israel, enters the temple and sees a vision of a holy God. The result is that Isaiah is “undone,” or “unraveled,” or “dis-integrated.” There is a huge gap between the holy-otherness of God and Isaiah with his dirty mouth.

To recognize, to internalize, the gap between self and God is crucial to one’s inner change.

2 – THE GAP (Understand the magnitude of the needed transformation)


The Jesus-idea is that God wants to morph us into Christlikeness. Paul, in Galatians 4:19, longs that “Christ be formed” in his Galatian brothers and sisters.

The issue here is not asking “what would Jesus do?” but rather doing what Jesus did, as a matter of the heart. For example, if I had the heart of a great soccer player I would do what a great soccer player does. Jesus, as he hung dying on a cross, did not have took look at a wristband and ask the question, “Now what would I do?” Rather, Jesus forgave his persecutors, and we must believe he did so not as a matter of ethical protocol but because this was, indeed, his very heart.

The word Romans 12:2 uses is, in Greek, metamorphe. Literally, this is about “a change of form.” What is needed here are not more ethical rules to follow, since one can obey laws without having a heart for them. This concerns what Dallas Willard has called “the renovation of the heart.” To be morphed into like-Christ-ness.

Because the magnitude of the transformation is so great, we realize we can’t do this by means of our own will power.

Therefore…

3. I CAN’T SELF-TRANSFORM

Spiritual formation and transformation into like-Christness is not something we can do on our own. Indeed, if it were something we could do on our own, then we will have greatly diminished Christ. When it comes to this kind of change it is good to realize that we can’t “self-transform.” This is one thing we cannot do in our own wisdom and strength.

There is some good news here. This realization, if it is a heart-reality, frees us from “striving.” When it comes to personal transformation no striving is allowed. It simply won’t do any good to “try harder.” The goal of heart-morphing into Christlikeness is so beyond us that striving is useless. If we are to be transformed, only God can do it.



4- ONLY GOD CAN EFFECT THE NEEDED TRANSFORMATION

The God who spoke and brought a universe into being is not puzzled by you and I. We pose no special obstacle to change, except that, in our created uniqueness, we could exercise free will to oppose being changed. 

God can change me into greater Christlikeness, and desires to do so.

Therefore…

5 – GET INTO GOD'S PRESENCE AND DWELL THERE/ABIDE IN CHRIST

Allow God to get his hands on you. Enter into the “spiritual gymnasium” and “exercise unto godliness.” (See 1 Timothy 4:7) But isn’t that a kind of “striving?” No, because the spiritual exercises or disciplines are simply ways of ushering us into God’s presence. Once we abide there, God himself changes us. We are like lumps of clay on a potter’s wheel, with God himself the shaper of our hearts.

John 14-16 is important here, as Jesus gives his “final discourse” to his disciples. Be a branch, connected to Jesus the true Vine. The stuff and life and resources and joy and peace and power of “the Vine” begins to course through the arteries of “the branch.” Just as a branch could not be attached to a healthy apply tree and fail to produce apples, so you and I cannot consistently dwell in God’s presence & remain unchanged.

Don't focus on change.

Don't work to make it happen.

Focus on staying connected to Christ, and you will be changed.

Mostly, this is a slow-cooker, not a microwave.



Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why God Speaks to Us

Image result for john piippo hearing god
Trinidad


First - get this devotional book and read it every day! Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, by Dallas Willard.

My definition of prayer, following Willard, is this: Prayer is talking with God about what he and I are doing together. God speaks to me about what he and I are doing together.

What are God and I doing together? We are talking about bringing his kingdom realities on the earth.

Willard writes:

"God’s speaking to us does not make us important. Just as when he spoke to the ancient people of Israel, his speaking to us gives us greater opportunity to do good and greater responsibility for the care of others. God speaks to us because he wants us to join him in some purpose of advancing the kingdom of God here on earth." (P. 45)

Seminar on Leading the Presence-Driven Church - Session 2

My book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church.


This coming Sunday, Feb. 25, 5 - 6:15 PM.

Redeemer Fellowship Church.

Anyone is invited to come learn about the presence-driven church.

If you have the book, you can prepare for this session by reading chapters 4, 5, and 6.

Chapter 1 Introduction 

Chapter 2 The Case for Experience 

Chapter 3 The “Presence Motif” 

Chapter 4 Presence Comes Before Purpose and Programs 

Chapter 5 How to Experience God’s Presence 

Chapter 6 The Marks of a Presence-Driven Church 

Chapter 7 The Language of the Presence-Driven Church 

Chapter 8 Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

Chapter 9 God’s Presence Will Win the Day



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What is Our Final Destination After Death?




What happens after we die? What does the Bible teach about this? N.T. Wright is a good place to begin, so...

Remember that Wright and other N.T. scholars are interested in, not how recent cultures (like American Christianity) view biblical texts, but on how the original Jesus-culture heard and understood the scriptures. Wright is looking for a correct biblical view. Here are some things he says about what happens when we die, especially in light of our ultimate hope and final destination.

A correct biblical view does not say Jesus-followers are ultimately destined for heaven. Instead, at the end of time, God will re-make our physical bodies and return us to a newly restored earth. Heaven is important, but it is not our final destination. The New Testament speaks far more about this final destination than it does about heaven. So, then, what is "heaven?"

Biblically, “heaven” is a temporary holding place. That is "life after death." The Bible gives us few clues about this. Paul says, in Philippians 1:21-23, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far." 

So, immediately after death, we shall be with Christ, in heaven. And that, of course, is good.

While that is important and interesting, what the New Testament is more concerned with is what Wright calls “life after life after death.” Or, the "after-afterlife." Here we have far more information about our ultimate destination upon being physically resurrected. And that ultimate destination is God's recreation of a "new heaven and a new earth."

So, to sum up:

  • When a Jesus-follower dies they go to heaven, to be with the Lord.
  • Heaven is not our ultimate destination. It is a holding-place, until the final resurrection.
  • At the final resurrection, God will re-make our physical bodies.
  • We will live, in a state of everlasting time, in God's newly restored creation. This will be the unifying of heaven and earth. When "the times reach their fulfillment" God will "bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." (Ephesians 1:10) 
Knowledge of our final destination should affect our lives in the here and now. Wright says because he believes in God’s kingdom of justice and peace, it gives him focus to work on God’s kingdom coming in the present moment. Remember that The Lord’s Prayer was never understood to be a purely future hope. Unlike the total-paradisiac-future of Islam, the Christian hope includes redemption now. This is the “age to come,” invading “this present age.” (See Ladd's eschatology here.) 

While the age to come will come in its fullness at the final resurrection of the dead, the in-breaking of the kingdom (heaven coming to earth) has been happening since the earthly life and resurrection of Jesus.

***