I recently read Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God by Michael W. Wittmer. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004) It's a solid read, but well written and easy to read, with less than 250 pages. The author is an original thinker, bringing new insights to many topics.
As the title suggests, Wittmer's main thesis is that God's plan for restoring things at the end of time will be to re-establish the earth as the eternal home of humans. He also hits quite a few other areas, and the book would have been well worth reading if he had said nothing about his thesis. I'll hit some high spots.
Wittmer has thought seriously about the meaning of the image of God in humans. I'll consider that in a later post, part of a series that I last considered on April 7th.
On John warning us not to love the world: . . . John is not encouraging us to avoid the beauty of the physical, material environment -- for we couldn't if we tried. As embodied human beings, we can't help but live on this planet, so we might as well enjoy it. John is warning us not to love the sin that is so prevalent in this world of fallen people. Surrounded by sinners who foolishly abuse God's created goodness and then boast about their exploits, we must determine to obey God and thus fully enjoy the creation as he intended. Our problem is sin, not matter; sin, not stuff. (p. 62)
On Christianity and art: I am not encouraging participation in sinful forms of artistic expression. The fall has extensively damaged creation, and in few places is that more evident than in the arts. Certainly we should avoid any music, movie, or visual art that stirs up sin, such as pride and lust. My point is only that we don't need to stamp Christianity on something before we can enjoy it. In fact, our feeble attempts at baptizing creation tend to cheapen both it and the gospel. (p. 67)
On God revealing Himself through humans performing normal human vocations: Although God could directly intervene in our affairs, giving us bread from heaven the way he bestowed manna on the Israelites, he typically chooses to reveal himself within our normal human vocations. Luther encourages us to recognize, through eyes of faith, that the many hands that serve us ultimately belong to God, just as surely as if he had made a [peanut butter and jelly] sandwich appear on my kitchen table. John Calvin agrees. After a lifetime of reflection on God's providence in our lives, Calvin inserted this single line into the final edition of his Institutes. He observed that "God's providence does not always appear naked, but by employing means, God is, as it were, dressed." (p. 130-131)
Wittmer considers the Fall, and what was going on in the minds of Adam and Eve. He points out that the first thing God sanctified, or set apart, was not a person or a thing, but a time, the Sabbath. He considers why God had laws in the Old Testament covenant. He considers the poor in the New Testament.* He says that 2 Peter 3:10 has been mistranslated and misinterpreted. It doesn't say that earthly things will be burned up, but that they will be exposed, or uncovered.
The title is not just about the relative importance of heaven versus the new earth. The "everything you do" part is not an accident. Wittmer emphasizes the importance of doing normal work: What might happen if we told . . . new believers that Christ wants to redeem every facet of their existence? Not content to merely rescue our souls from hell, he intends to transform every nook and cranny of our lives, from how we perform our jobs to how we spend our discretionary time and money. What if we challenged them to deny themselves and serve Christ in every aspect of their cultural lives? What if we diligently studied both the Scriptures and our culture to see how this might go? Wouldn't such discipleship produce the most attractive form of Christianity? Rather than being insulted by our offers of cheap fire insurance, intelligent unbelievers might actually be impressed by the power of the gospel. They might recognize that we are not so heavenly minded we are no earthly good, but that it is precisely our concern for things above that drives to excel at life here below. (p.218)
This is the Amazon page for this book. It includes excerpts and customer reviews. This is the Christianity Today review of the book.
This book was a great read. It made me think about some fundamental issues. Let's put it this way. I'm turning the SWU library copy back in, and I've ordered a personal copy.
Thanks for reading!
*I made an editorial change at this point on May 7, 2006.