A Wright on ‘World’ (3)

In a couple of previous posts I’ve been musing about continuity in the Bible between this world and the one to next.

And let me say these are musings – thought sketches and very much an ongoing conversation!

In this one the question in mind is what continuity might there be in terms of human culture between this world and the new creation?

Remember Chris Wright saying a text like Rev 21 was ‘more than metaphorical’ – the very best of human culture, purged of sin or imperfection will take its joyous place in the renewed new heavens and earth.

That’s a wonderful image with good textual support. What is the new Jerusalem but a fantastic image of a human cultural creation (the city) now perfected and renewed, beautiful and glorious in a new world where God once more dwells with man and man with God?

Here’s the ‘but’ – while agreeing with the idea of some sort of continuity and rejecting any form of world-denying pessimistic eschatology, there is also mind-bending discontinuity. This tension comes out well in Paul’s comparison of the ‘spiritual’ body versus the ‘natural’ body in 1 Corinthians 15. There is some form of continuity (the body) but flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom: the resurrection body is fitted for a different dimension of existence.

I’m questioning I guess some who seem to me to make a leap from ‘there is continuity between this world and the next’ to making this a central theological motivation for how we are to live in the here and now.

For example, some urban ministries make a big play of continuity in terms of the heavenly city being used to provide motivation, inspiration and theological underpinning for urban ministry in the here and now.

Or others do a similar thing with a strong continuity theology being used to underpin environmental action and concern.

But when you start asking any detailed questions it immediately becomes apparent that we don’t have much clue what we’re talking about.

‘What sort of purified and redeemed human achievements and culture will be in the new creation?’

– Buildings? What sort? What era? Just posh ones? Or mud huts?

– Art? I hope not just the endless religious Renaissance art of the Uffizi!

– Roads? Cars? What make, what period?

– Literature – where to begin? How can ‘this world’ literature with all its struggle with moral ambiguity, pain and sorrow ‘continue’ or ‘fit’ in a new creation?

– Music? Presumably – but Bach or Mumford & Sons or saint Bob or all of the above?

When someone says that the work we do now really matters in that it will ‘continue’ into the redeemed world to come, I’m not sure what that means.

I’m not for a moment denying the huge implications of the world to come in the ethical framework of the NT. I’m just pointing out the impossibility of seriously trying to detail how exactly continuity between this world and the one to come actually might look like.

I guest posted on this sort of thing a while ago on Jesus Creed and there was a good discussion. Scot also has a beautiful reflection on ‘Leaf by Niggle’ as a parable of the relationship between this world and the next and how what we do in ‘this world’ really matters and will be perfected in the next.

But that’s my point – that’s the best we can do. Tell parables, dream images, think in pictures, be inspired to live now with the hope of glory in our hearts.

As I think on this I’m not actually that convinced that you need the continuity argument to provide a basis for environmental concern – it is there in Genesis.

I’m not convinced you need a continuity theology to provide a foundation for urban ministry. Paul sure didn’t do that. His motive was maximising missionary effectiveness.

I’m not too convinced that you need a continuity argument for holistic mission – it is there in Jesus and his preaching on the kingdom of God: it’s there in Genesis and men and women made in the image of God.

I’m not too convinced you need a continuity argument to provide massive inspiration for living ‘the life of the future’ in ‘the here and now’ in a way that is pleasing and honouring to God.

As Stephen Williams argues, the greatest motive for all Christian service ‘now’ is built not so much a strong continuity between this world and the new creation, but on a passionate love for God and love for neighbour.

Comments and push backs, as ever, welcome!

3 thoughts on “A Wright on ‘World’ (3)

  1. Push back coming Patrick.
    While love (for God and neighbour) alone surely has the power to motivate service of all kinds, Paul sees hope as a worthwhile addition to the motivational arsenal. Both Tolkein and Lewis in their stories balance radical change and discontinuity with something that is recognisable to those who have only ever experienced this world. Resurrection bodies will clearly be of a different substance to what we have known but it seems we will still recognise each other and the “person” we have become will be displayed. Paul writes of being changed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18) – “degree” might be right – we’re in kindergarten and heaven is post doctoral (only fun!)

  2. I heard a nice sermon illustration on a baby in the womb being told of the world to come – and however much it could be described in detail (sunlight, colour, other people, air, etc etc) the baby had not the capacity to understand a totally different reality where it had never been. It was literally unimaginable.

    With you 100% on future hope shaping life now – just not too sure that this hope is built on details of continuity …

    • I think you may have hit it.

      The answer is not in the definition. It is on the description. We are world obsessed with definitions, but to define something you must limit it, give it boundaries. However, when you describe something there is room for the mystery.

      Acts if inspiration, art, music, writing, are descriptions if spiritual truths or questions about spiritual issues. They offer us a jumping point into the mystery of God.

      The fact they are inspired demonstrates they originate in God and point us to a greater reality. Ex. Bezalel and the Tabernacle, a show of a heavenly reality inaccessible without an interpreter.

      The continuity of his work is not based on a physical manifestation, but his work points us to an eternal reality. One already in existence but now made manifest in this realm.

      Perhaps the things that shall continue are those things which describe a pre-existent truth within the Father. Those things which He inspired within the hearts of man.

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