N.T. Wright on Heaven
The Bible scholar N.T. Wright often emphasizes that the concept of “heaven” in the New Testament does not merely mean a place one goes after death. Rather, Wright says that heaven is more about creation being restored through God’s ever-advancing kingdom (rule).
Wright highlights that early Christians did not understand “heaven” as merely a place they go when they die. Instead of God saving us from Earth, early Christians believed God was bringing Heaven and Earth together—making creation new, restoring the whole world. Early Christians believed that God would then raise his people from the dead, to share in this rescued and renewed creation.
And they believed this because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ resurrection was the starting point of God’s great work of total renewal. Jesus embodied in himself the perfect fusion of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Earth.’ Again, the point was not for us to “go to Heaven,” but for the life of Heaven to arrive on Earth. Wright often points out that Jesus taught his followers to pray for God’s kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Is N.T. Wright Correct About Heaven?
In the above explanation of N.T. Wright’s understanding of heaven, notice that I bold and italicize the word “merely.” The reason I did this is to show that Wright does not say that the New Testament does not teach that believers do not go to heaven after they die. But Wright is simply emphasizing that this is an incomplete understanding of heaven.
To often some Christians misrepresent Wright in claiming that the New Testament does not include truth about going to heaven after we die. No, this is not true. I would also emphasize that assurance of “going to heaven after we die” is a key part of salvation in Jesus Christ. But it is not merely that. We can’t end there. “Going to heaven after we die” is rather an intermediate stage in our full salvation, as Wright would want to emphasize over and over again.
In writing about heaven, Wright is accurately saying that “going to heaven after we die” is not the whole story. We must understand that the ultimate hope in Jesus Christ is only fully completed in God’s new heaven and new earth, which is often underemphasized by Christians.
So Wright is correct in emphasizing the importance of understanding heaven in light of God’s ultimate new heaven and earth. In so doing, however, Wright is not rejecting the importance of our assurance of “going to heaven after we die,” which is an intial stage in our Christian hope.