Four Views on Heaven (Counterpoints)

Four Views on Heaven by John S. Feinberg, J. Richard Middleton, Michael Allen, Peter Kreeft, Michael E. Wittmer, Stanley N. Gundry
Published by Zondervan Academic on January 18, 2022
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Theology
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Discover and understand the different Christian views of what heaven will be like.
Christians from a variety of denominations and traditions are in middle of an important conversation about the final destiny of the saved. Scholars such as N. T. Wright and J. Richard Middleton have pushed back against the traditional view of heaven, and now some Christians are pushing back against them for fear that talk about the earthiness of our final hope distracts our attention from Jesus.
In the familiar Counterpoints format, Four Views on Heaven brings together a well-rounded discussion and highlights similarities and differences of the current views on heaven. Each author presents their strongest biblical case for their position, followed by responses and a rejoinder that model a respectful tone.
Positions and contributors include:
Traditional Heaven - our destiny is to leave earth and live forever in heaven where we will rest, worship, and serve God (John S. Feinberg)Restored Earth - emphasizes that the saved will live forever with Jesus on this restored planet, enjoying ordinary human activities in our redeemed state. (J. Richard Middleton)Heavenly Earth - a balanced view that seeks to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of the heavenly and earthly views (Michael Allen).Roman Catholic Beatific Vision - stresses the intellectual component of salvation, though it encompasses the whole of human experience of joy, happiness coming from seeing God finally face-to-face (Peter Kreeft).The Counterpoints series presents a comparison and critique of scholarly views on topics important to Christians that are both fair-minded and respectful of the biblical text. Each volume is a one-stop reference that allows readers to evaluate the different positions on a specific issue and form their own, educated opinion.

I love a good debate, which is probably why I own all of the Counterpoints books and have read most of them. Biblical/theological positions aside, the Counterpoints books stand as an example of how to debate and how to disagree within Christianity. Every single volume is full of irenic, measured discussion that exhibits both a passion for their topic and respect for their colleagues who have come to different conclusions. Four Views on Heaven is no different, bringing together four different contributors with four different perspectives on Heaven.

The contributors to this volume are:

  • John Feinberg (representing the traditional evangelical Protestant perspective), a professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical.
  • Richard Middleton (representing a New Earth perspective), a professor of biblical worldview and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary.
  • Michael Allen (representing a Heaven on Earth perspective), a professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological.
  • Peter Kreeft (representing the Roman Catholic perspective), a professor of philosophy at Boston College.

Each author is given some guiding questions for their initial essay. In this case, the questions guiding the contributors were:

  1. Where is the final destiny of the saved?
  2. What will we be there?
  3. What will we do there?
  4. How, what, and who will we see of God?
  5. How does our view of our end relate to the intermediate state?
  6. How does your view of our end relate to our present life?
  7. Will we possess special powers?
  8. Will we remember traumatic events of this life or loved ones who are not with us?
  9. How will we relate to our spouses and other family members?
  10. Will we be able to sin in our final condition?

After the initial essay by each contributor, the three other contributors write a short response. Then the original author is given a short amount of space to respond to those responses. Initial essays are about 20-30 pages each; responses are 5-8 pages; with the final rejoinder being around 5 pages. Michael Wittmer, professor of systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological serves as the book’s editor.

Feinberg chooses to begin his essay with an overview of End Times events from a premillennial viewpoint. After this, he discusses the intermediate state—the period between physical death and bodily resurrection. He then moves into a discussion of the Rapture and the Millennium. Are you seeing the problem? It is not until 10 pages into his 18-page essay that Dr. Feinberg actually begins a discussion of Heaven. Feinberg makes the peculiar claim that, in the New Heavens and Earth “all distinctions based on ethnicity, race, gender, etc., won’t matter.” He does not explain this claim, and the phrase “won’t matter” is exceptionally vague. Given that Revelation speaks of a diverse group of people worshipping God in heaven, I think it same to say that ethnic and gender distinctions will continues to matter—but in the sense that they will be positively celebrated. Overall, Feinberg’s focus on his dispensationalism means that his argument for the traditional Protestant perspective isn’t very good or compelling.

Middleton’s perspective on heaven involves the New Earth being central to what Heaven looks like. He writes that we will engage in ordinary cultural pursuits that God intended from the beginning. In other words, Heaven will be Eden restored—humanity on earth the way God envisioned from the beginning. He spends a lot of time developing the idea that creation is God’s cosmic temple and the heaven is about God’s permeating presence. Middleton also makes sure to directly address all of the questions in the prompt, concluding his essay by summarizing answers to questions answered in the essay proper and providing short answers to ones not answered prior. In my opinion, this is the most well-written response.

Allen’s perspective isn’t too much different than Middleton’s though he takes a much stronger view on all things being done for God’s glory (as a good Reformed theologian would). Like Middleton, Allen addresses all the questions in the prompt, making the essay more easily contrasted with the other contributors. His high view of God’s glory and lack of desire to imagine what we might do in heaven outside of Scripture explicitly says limits his answers to many of the questions.

As a Roman Catholic, Kreeft’s perspective is markedly different from his Protestant friends. His perspective is also marked by the fact that he is a philosopher by training rather than a theologian. Both of these differences are immediately apparent in Kreeft’s essay, as is his more laconic and relaxed writing style. Kreeft takes the ten questions in turn and gains my interest with the sentence “Life is a game, a bowl of cherries, a work of art, a war, a dance, a mystery, and many other things, but above all it is a story.” The main difference for Kreeft is his belief in the doctrine of Purgatory. While he doesn’t quite convince me, this was the most compelling and understandable treatise I’d read on the doctrine and I learned much from it.

In the end, I find myself somewhere between Middleton and Allen. Kreeft offers an intriguing response. Feinberg, however, goes rogue with the assignment and offers an essay about eschatology that ignores many of the given prompts. Like all Counterpoints books, Four Views on Heaven is an intellectual journey that will likely alter or deepen your views on some of these important second-order doctrines.