ABOUT THIS BOOK
“Bookstores overflow with accounts of near-death and after-death experiences, complete with angels giving guided tours of Heaven. A few of these books may have authentic components, but many are unbiblical and misleading.
We Christians who believe God’s Word are partly to blame for this. Why? We have failed to explore and explain the Bible’s magnificent teachings about Heaven. No wonder a flood of unbiblical thinking has rushed in to fill the vacuum. Because the human heart cries out for answers about the afterlife, our silence on Heaven is particularly striking.
The truth is, in our seminaries, churches, and families, we have given amazingly little attention to the place where we will live forever with Christ and His people—the New Earth, in the new universe. This eternal Heaven is the central subject of this book. It’s a subject I’ve found fasinating, thrilling, and life-changing.
TEST THIS BOOK BY SCRIPTURE
From the beginning, I want to make it clear that it’s vitally important that this book be true to Scripture. I believe that most of my conclusions, even those that significantly depart from current evangelical thinking, will stand up to hiblical scrutiny. Inevitably, however, some may not. In the context of prophetic statements, the apostle Paul says, “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1Thessalonians 5:21). It’s up to you to test by God’s Word what I say, hold on to the good, and reject the bad.
Through biblical study and extensive reading, dialogue, and critique, I’ve tried to detect any conclusions that don’t pass Scripture’s test, to eliminate them before this book was published. But despite my best efforts, some errors undoubtedly have slipped through. I call on readers to be like the Bereans, who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Don’t throw out the baby of truth with the bathwater of what you regard as my mistakes—but, by all means, do throw out the bathwater!
I invite you to contact me if you have biblical grounds for disagreeing with anything in this book. I am open to correction—in fact, I seek it, and I will make any warranted changes in future editions. (Keep in mind, though, that “I’ve never heard this before…” and “I’ve always thought that…” and “Our denomination teaches…” are not biblical arguements.)
Many things in this book will be new even to readers who are veteran students of Scripture. New ideas are rightly suspect because they are often heretical. However, when biblical truths have been long neglected or ignored, attempts to present them may sound far-fetched. They may appear to be adding to or misinterpreting Scripture, when in fact they are simply portraying what Scripture has said all along but we’ve failed to grasp. In these pages I will introduce some biblical truths that I believe have been long ignored or spiritualized and thereby stripped of their richness and significance.
STRUCTURE AND CONTENT
In part 1 of this book, “A Theology of Heaven,” I will explain the difference between the present, or intermediate, Heaven (where Christians go when they die) and the ultimate, eternal Heaven (where God will dwell with His people on the New Earth). Don’t be afraid of the word theology—it simply means a study of God’s relation to the world—and don’t underestimate your ability to understand what God has revealed to you in his Word. We’ll discuss whether the current Heaven is a physical place; whether people there remember life on Earth; whether they pray for loved ones on Earth and can actually see what’s going on here; and we’ll answer the question, If people in Heaven are aware of events on Earth, including suffering, how could it be Heaven?
The backbone of part 1 is a discussion of the book’s central subject, the New Earth. I’ll present foundational biblical truths concerning God’s larger plan in redemption, especially in the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and what that means for the New Earth. I will answer questions such as, What will it mean to see God? What will our relationship with people be like? What will it mean to rule the earth with Christ?
Part 2, “Questions and Answers about Heaven,” addresses specific questions about life on the New Earth that arise out of the foundational teachings in part 1—questions such as, Will the New Earth be like Eden? Will there be animals on the New Earth? What kind of city is the New Jerusalem? What will our bodies be like? Will we eat and drink? Will we work? use machinery? play? study and learn? create art and music and culture?
You may find that the material in the first part of the book is paradigm shifting. If you don’t understand the foundational principles, however, you will come to the second half with a different set of assumptions, and what I’m saying may not make sense. The soundness of my conclusions in the question and answer section depends on the biblical basis I present in part 1.
I sometimes skip around when reading a book, going straight to the chapters that deal with what interests me most. If you do this, I hope you’ll then go back to the foundational chapters to see what the book’s logic is built upon. If you are patient enough to read this book consecutively, I think you’ll be rewarded. Part 3, “Living in Light of Heaven,” encourages us to let the doctrine of Heaven transform us and fill us with joyful anticipation.
If I were dealing with the subject of Heaven in order of importance, I would begin with a discussion of God’s presence in Heaven and our relationship with him, because being with God and seeing his face is the central joy of Heaven and the source of all other joys. But there’s a major obstacle: Because of our wrong assumptions about the eternal state, we bring misguided perspectives to what it will mean to see God or be with him. We succumb to the vague, ethereal notions of eastern religions rather than build our understanding on the concrete, physical depictions of biblic and historical Christianity. We fail to envision God as forever incarnate in the risen Christ, and we fail to recognize the New Earth as a physical environment, civilization, and culture in which God will dwell with us. Consequently, I must lay the biblical groundwork before I discuss what it will mean to live with God forever and answer other key questions about Heaven.
“I’VE NEVER THOUGHT THIS WAY BEFORE”
A friend asked me the central premise of this book. When I explained it briefly, he looked at me wide-eyed, incredulous. I rephrased it, using different Scriptures and illustrations. Suddenly, the light went on for him. He said, “The more you restate it in different ways, the more Scripture you use, the more it makes sense. But I’ve never thought this way before. I don’t think many people have. You’ll need to make your case carefully, or people just won’t it.”
I will try to make the case carefully and biblically. There is plenty in this book for everyone to disagree with. But I hope you’ll find that most of it rings true to Scripture and opens up exciting doors to imagining and anticipating everything that awaits God’s children in the magnificent world to come.”
Note from Randy Alcorn: To underscore the fact that Heaven and Hell are real places, I am deliberately capitalizing them throughout the book, as I would other proper nouns, such as Chicago, Nigeria, Europe, or Saturn. I also capitalize the New Earth, just as I would New England. Not to do so would imply that Heaven and Hell and the New Earth aren’t real places. But they are—they’re as real as the places we were born and the places we now live.