OFF OUR RADAR SCREENS
(excerpt from “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn)
“An overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe that there is life after death and that heaven and hell exist,” according to a Barna Research Group poll. But what people actually believe about Heaven and Hell varies widely. A Barna spokesman said, “They’re cutting and pasting religious views from a variety of different sources—television, movies, conversations with their friends.” The result is a highly subjective theology of the afterlife, disconnected from the biblical doctrine of Heaven.
I attended a fine Bible college and seminary, but I learned very little about Heaven. I don’t recall a single classroom discussion about the New Earth. In my Hebrews-to-Revelation class, we never made it to Revelation 21-22, the Bible’s most definitive passage on the eternal Heaven. In my eschatology class, we studied various views of the Rapture and the Millennium, but almost no attention at all was given to the New Earth. In fact, I learned more about the strengths and weaknesses of belief in a mid-Tribulation Rapture than about Heaven and the New Earth combined.
Heaven suffers as a subject precisely because it comes last, not only in theological works but in seminary and Bible college classrooms. Teachers often get behind in their eschatology classes, enmeshed in the different views of Hell, Israel and the church, the Tribulation, and the Millennium. No time is left for discussing the new heavens and New Earth.
Imagine you’re part of a NASA team preparing for a five-year mission to Mars. After a period of extensive training, the launch date finally arrives. As the rocket lifts off, one of your fellow astronauts says to you, “What do you know about Mars?”
Imagine shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Nothing. We never talked about it. I guess we’ll find out when we get there.” It’s unthinkable, isn’t it? It’s inconceivable that your training would not have included extensive study of and preparation for your ultimate destination. Yet in seminaries, Bible schools, and churches across the United States and around the world, there is very little teaching about our ultimate destination: the new heavens and New Earth.
Many Christians who’ve gone to church all their adult lives (especially those under fifty) can’t recall having heard a single sermon on Heaven. It’s occasionally mentioned, but rarely emphasized, and almost never is it developed as a topic. We’re told how to get to Heaven, and that it’s a better destination than Hell, but we’re taught remarkably little about Heaven itself.
Pastors may not think it’s important to address the subject of Heaven because their seminary didn’t have a required course on it—or even an elective. Similarly, when pastors don’t preach on Heaven, their congregations assume that the Bible doesn’t say much about it.
In 1937, Scottish theologian John Baille wrote, “I will not ask how often during the last twenty-five years you and I have listened to an old-style warning against the flames of hell. I will not even ask how many sermons have been preached in our hearing about a future day of reckoning when men shall reap according as they have sown. It will be enough to ask how many preachers, during these years, have dwelt on the joys of heavenly rest with anything like the old ardent love and impatient longing.”
If this was the case then, how much truer is it now? Heaven has fallen off our radar screens. How can we set our hearts on Heaven when we have an impoverished theology of Heaven? How can we expect our children to be excited about Heaven—or to stay excited about it when they grow up? Why do we talk so little about Heaven? And why is the little we have to say so vague and lifeless?