A Wright on ‘World’ (1)

In the July edition of Evangelical Review of Theology, Chris Wright, who is chairman of the Lausanne Theology Working Group reflects on the word ‘World’ in the Bible.

This is part of an ongoing conversation about the contemporary meaning of three phrases in the Lausanne Covenant ‘The whole church taking the whole Gospel to the whole world’ for the upcoming Lausanne III Congress in Capetown 2010.

With typical lucidity, Wright unpacks five meanings of ‘world’ in the Bible.

  1. The world of God’s creation
  2. The world of humanity
  3. The world of sin and judgement
  4. The world of God’s salvation
  5. The world to come

The bit I want to talk about in a couple of posts is the link between 1-4 and 5.

Chris Wright is strong on arguing for continuity between this world and the new heavens and new earth.

He argues that it is NOT God’s plan to obliterate this created world, but to ‘purge, purify and renew all of creation’ (Is 65:17-25; Rom 8:18-25 and 2 Peter  3:10-13; Rev 21:1-4).

‘The world to come’ will not be a blank sheet … with all that humanity has accomplished in fulfilment of the creation mandate simply crumpled up and tossed in the incinerator.’

No, this continuity, argues Chris, is more than metaphorical. He suggests that all that a passage like Rev 21:24-7 is best read as saying that the citizens of the new creation will bring with them ‘the accumulated treasures of their civilisations and cultures’. He says

‘I think they {these texts} mean what they say.  The world of humanity, of nations and civilisations – so shot through with sin and pride, with violence and greed … will be purged of all of those things so that that which truly reflects the image of God will remain, for the glory of God and for our everlasting enrichment.’

There sure is strong biblical support for some sort of continuity between ‘this world’ and the ‘world to come’ and I want to do another post reflecting on how far this can be pushed. But certainly, obliteration, incineration or annihilation of this world does not make sense of those texts or of God’s declaration that the creation is ‘good’. Creation is to be redeemed, not destroyed.

So is this how you think of the world to come – a rather physical, recognisable sort of place filled with the best of human culture? And what difference does it make in the here and now how we understand the relationship between ‘this world’ and the ‘world to come’?

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2 thoughts on “A Wright on ‘World’ (1)

  1. Is the view that expects the destruction of the current created order based on a misunderstanding of the cosmos – that heaven is “up there” – “way beyond the blue” “the home in gloryland” “way over yonder”? If that’s where we’re going then who cares if this place gets burned to a crisp? Maybe you should file this under cosmology!

  2. Yes, into the Left Behind territory here. How 2 Peter 3:10 is interpreted is a factor. Big debate over the texts but most persuasive view seems to be that just like the earth came through judgement in Genesis 6 (water), so it will come through judgement to come (purifying fire).

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