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A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology Paperback – December 2, 2014
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"Middleton tackles a huge question: is a glorious afterlife the best hope Christianity can offer, or does the promise of a new, redeemed Earth give humans hope for today? . . . To make a convincing argument for what he calls 'holistic eschatology,' he goes through both testaments of the Bible . . . and also takes on the received wisdom of many a Christian hymn that extols the far-off heavenly shore. . . . The implications for lived faith are bold, and the air this brings into theological discourse about what God intends for human creation is fresh and bracing."
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"Rooted in Scripture, chock-full of insight, clearly and fetchingly written, A New Heaven and a New Earth winsomely presents the biblical story of holistic salvation. Over against the all-too-common eschatology of heavenly rapture and earthly destruction, Richard Middleton's new book reclaims the scriptural vision of cosmic renewal. In a time when the Bible is often used to justify ecological degradation, since (it is argued) the earth will in the eschaton be burned up to nothing, A New Heaven and a New Earth could not be more timely. Simply put, this sorely needed volume is the best book of its kind. May it find a great multitude of readers."
Steven Bouma-Prediger, professor of religion, Hope College; author of For the Beauty of the Earth
"This volume is a superb theological examination of a key biblical theme that is all too often neglected in academic circles. Ranging widely across Old Testament and New Testament texts, with careful attention to the history of Christian interpretation on this issue, Middleton presents a very thoughtful treatment that deserves wide attention."
Terence E. Fretheim, Emeritus Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary
"Richard Middleton is talking about a revolution! Why should Christians settle for the anemic goal of eternity spent in heaven when the Bible's robust vision is one of a resurrected humanity on the new earth? Set your imagination free from the chains of other-worldly dualism, and enter into the brilliant and fascinating world of the biblical story, where the vision of all things redeemed breathes new life into our discipleship."
Sylvia Keesmaat, adjunct professor of biblical studies, Trinity College, University of Toronto
"Richard Middleton's book A New Heaven and a New Earth is a very fine--I'm inclined to say magnificent--example of sound biblical scholarship based on decades of intense and careful scholarship and sustained by an integral theological vision which honors biblical authority. It delivers a strong blow to the long and powerful influence of an otherworldly Platonism on the Christian eschatological imagination and celebrates God's commitment to an integral and comprehensive restoration of the creation, including all its earthly and cultural dimensions."
Al Wolters, professor emeritus of religion and theology and classical languages, Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario
"Martin Buber once reconceived the exclusionary distinction between the holy and the unholy as the potentially inclusionary distinction between the holy and the not-yet-holy. In a similar vein, Richard Middleton, on solid biblical grounds, reenvisions this present world, in all its ambiguity, as the not-yet-new-heaven-and-new-earth of God's redemptive purpose. The upshot is a radical reorientation of human hope and an exhilarating call to participate in God's 'work for the redemptive transformation of this world.' I wish I had had this book sixty years ago; it would have made a world of difference in my life. Yet even at this date, it enables me to reread my past, and live toward my future, in a new light."
J. Gerald Janzen, MacAllister-Petticrew Emeritus Professor of Old Testament, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana
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God's intention has all along been to redeem his original creation, not destroy it, and our eternal destiny is here, not in heaven. He develops his argument first from the Old Testament, with chapters on the Exodus as the paradigm of salvation; earthly flourishing in law, wisdom and prophecy; and the coming of God in judgment and salvation. Then he moves to the New Testament, focusing first on Resurrection and the restoration of rule, and then on the centerpiece of the book: "The Redemption of All Things". And that chapter (chapter 8) is the consummation. First he cites a number of NT passages to show the comprehensive scope of salvation (and please note: this is NOT a universalist salvation; unbelievers will still be cast out from the presence of God). It is sin that is destroyed, not creation. Creation is purified. He has a chart comparing five key NT passages (excluding Revelation) to show how the saving activity of God for his creation is restorative, comprehensive (all things) and holistic.
His next two chapters deal with possible problem passages to the view he is expounding: first, passages that might indicate a destruction of the existing cosmos, rather than a renewal and transformation, such as 2 Peter 3. Then he deals with passages that might seem to indicate a heavenly destiny for the redeemed. A summary chart on page 214 compares each of 9 NT passages, and concludes that the governing pattern of each is 1) preparation in heaven (now), for 2) revelation on earth (future). In that connection, he looks at passages that have been taken to teach an intermediate state in heaven between death and final resurrection. His conclusion is that the evidence for that view is less than he had expected. He cites F.F. Bruce who suggests that it might be that in the consciousness of the believer there is no interval between dissolution (at death) and investiture (at resurrection), however long an interval might be measured by the calendar of earth-bound history. So he thinks we should perhaps hold that teaching a little more loosely--possible but not clearly taught. In any case, "it does not matter, as authentic Christian hope does not depend on an intermediate state..the God who brought the universe into being is the guarantor of the eschatological future" (Amen).
Takeaways from the book 1) Distinguish the INTENT of biblical imagery from the MODE of its expression, which can be confusing if taken literally; 2) Read the NT through the lens of preparation in heaven for a future unveiling on earth; 3) Cosmic redemption is NOT the same thing as universal soteriology; 4) Heaven and earth as a cosmic temple. Eden is analogous to the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle/temple. The garden is a link between earth and heaven, therefore the garden imagery seen again in the new heaven and new earth. So the New Jerusalem is parallel to the Garden of Eden; 5) The New Jerusalem is not the entirety of the new creation--it is the central locus of God's presence. For those who ask, is the New Jerusalem a people or a place? he asks if we have to choose? Here, on the scope of the New Jerusalem, Middleton bears some contrast with Beale, showing that there is still mystery in regard to the details of these things; 6) Heaven is never used in Scripture for the eternal destiny of the redeemed. 7) God's work in the new creation is transformative, not destructive (except for sin); 8) In reading the Bible, we need to keep in mind its over-arching metanarrative--the big picture, and how it develops these themes from beginning to end, thereby seeing each of the parts in terms of the whole.
In summary, this is a book to be devoured, savored, and reflected upon, and Middleton is to be thanked for his unique contributions to the ongoing discussion of the ultimate goal of Scripture as seen in its conclusion in Revelation 21-22.
Middleton does excellent work in tying in his perspective into the biblical story. By reading the story from front (Genesis) to back (Revelation), rather than reading our post-biblical ideas (e.g., when I die I go to heaven / hell) back into the story. Middleton helps us read Jesus and the NT in context with the story. And that changes everything. When we read Jesus and the NT, not through the lens of Plato or those influenced by him, but through the lens of the Hebrew Bible - we get a decidedly different picture of the Christian hope and therefore of the present calling for disciples. Middleton's careful reading of scripture gives his work great power.
Middleton offers a holistic picture of the Christian calling, and powerfully argues that human beings were created for the rest of creation. God is concerned about the whole of creation - not just human beings. Which impacts environmental issues, community issues, and the importance of so-called "social gospel" issues, among other matters. The "salvation culture" that has permeated the modern evangelical world for the past century both falls short of the overall picture of the Bible story and creates a distorted, ultimately unsatisfying, individualist/narcissist, and even unhealthy view of both salvation and of the life to which God has called human beings. To be sure, individual forgiveness and salvation are important pieces in the story, but they are not the whole story nor the central point of the story and making them such distorts the story of the Bible, of God, and of humanity. And, therefore, distorts the way many Christians live out their lives in the here and now.
There are two areas where I think Middleton could have done better or more:
1) I would have like to have seen Middleton spend more time on the cross and the significance of that in bringing out New Creation. He touches on the cross in a couple of places but I think more could have been worked out on this subject. I would have liked to have seen him write with greater depth as to how the cross (not just the bodily resurrection of Jesus) - of central significance to the NT - impacts the transformation of all creation; to get to the "why" of the cross in God's transformation and more on how God's suffering in the cross, aside from bringing forgiveness, accomplishes this cosmic transformation.
2) I thought Middleton's work on Revelation and Jesus' apocalyptic texts in the gospels could have been better. Middleton touches on two extremes - an extreme preterist view that sees everything as having come to completion in the NT over against dispensational premillennial views. But tends to present these (except in one brief moment when touching on Wright's views) as the only alternatives. Given that this book is about eschatology, I would have hoped he'd have addressed other nuanced views in at least some more detail. There are amillennial perspectives that see Jesus' apocalyptic passages in the gospels (Mark 13, Lk. 21, Mt. 24) as relating wholly to the destruction of Jerusalem, but do not take a full-fledged preterist view of Revelation or Paul's reflections on Christian hope (e.g., 1Thess 4:13-5:11; 1Cor. 15). And, I think Middleton is not nuanced enough in his exegesis of texts in Revelation - some of which point to the present, others to the future (Middleton assumes several debatable texts as pointing to the future only).
I think Middleton would have done better to have interacted with more of Richard Bauckham's scholarship on both 2 Peter 3 (though I'm in total agreement with Middleton on his take on this passage - Bauckham's exegesis is exceptional and more detailed), and on Revelation (especially Bauckham's Theology of Revelation) as well as more interaction with arguments from Greg Beale in his massive work on Revelation.
Nevertheless, this is a book that offers, I believe, generally accessible scholarship to the average student, is vitally important, and arguably the best of its kind at present on the subject. In the end, it is a work for which I am both greatly appreciative and hope that more believers and unbelievers will read.