new creation

Now that my grades are in, I can give a recap of last month’s Gospel Coalition conference, “Coming Home: New Heaven and New Earth.” Click here to listen to my session, “Teaching Your People to Become Worldly Saints.”

TGC is an inspiring time of preaching, singing, and making and renewing gospel friendships. The plenary sessions were what you’d expect. John Piper was passionate, Don Carson was erudite, and Tim Keller was very cool. Keller spoke to 6,000 people as if he was speaking casually to each of us individually. I’m not sure how to describe what he’s got, but I want it. I hope the national media will increasingly turn to him when they want an evangelical spokesperson. He will make us proud.

A curious aspect of the conference is how few of the plenary speakers addressed the theme. Some seemed to go out of their way to downplay the significance of the new creation. One said, “Jesus is our home.” Another said, “Heaven is about Jesus. It’s not about visiting your mother.” One said that being heirs of God means “we inherit God.” He then skipped over the new creation verses in his text while thoroughly exegeting the verses before and after.

I’m not sure what to make of these otherwise solid sermons. I suspect the reticence to speak of the new earth may be a reaction to N.T. Wright’s misplaced emphasis (Carson suggested this when he announced the reasons he picked the theme). Wright can riff like no one else on the glories of the new creation, but I have not heard him give an equally inspiring take on the wonder of our salvation from hell and justification before a holy God. I would love to hear Wright riff with excitement about the heart of the gospel. If he gave us just five minutes on that, I think more evangelicals would be open to his thrilling portrayal of cosmic reconciliation.

I understand why Wright makes us nervous, but we must be careful lest we over-correct and steer evangelicalism into the other ditch. We must preach the whole counsel of God, which includes the promise of the new creation, this world restored. We don’t merely inherit God. We inherit what belongs to him. The meek shall inherit the earth. Heaven is first and most about Jesus, but it is also about reconnecting with loved ones. Jesus will lead you to your mother, so heaven is about her too. We won’t need to choose.

Make too little of Jesus, and we risk turning his good gifts into idols. Make too little of his gifts of creation, and we risk collapsing everything into God. We must love Jesus more than anything else, but we need a separate yet dependent creation from which to stand to love him from. This is the main point of Becoming Worldly Saints, and I hope that all evangelicals will take it to heart.

8 Comments

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  1. You’re nervous about N. T.? Both he and Keller make me uncomfortable. Keller might be “cool” but I would not want him to speak for me as representing evangelicals at large, especially if the media asks his views on a literal creation and an historical Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis. His views falls far short of what I would consider “orthodox.”

  2. Ray: I disagree with Keller on some things, especially when he dismisses the problem of physical death in the Adam discussion. But on the cultural issues, such as marriage, he would be a good front man.

  3. Three things:

    1. I’ve read (or listened to) all your books and really enjoyed them, including Becoming Worldly Saints. Thank you very much for addressing this issue.

    2. What’s the best place for a busy pastor to start in reading N. T. Wright on cosmic reconciliation? Anything to be on guard against on that particular topic?

    3. I’ve also been listening to The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney. I’ve been helped by it, and I would like to know what you think of it. Any chance of a book review?

  4. Andy: “Surprised by Hope” would be a good place. I think he is right on when it comes to cosmic reconciliation. The thing to watch out for is what Carson warned against.

    Rigney’s book has some good points, but it says the Bible teaches panentheism. This is what I warn about in the last paragraph of this post and on p. 64-67 of “Becoming Worldly Saints.” He is unwilling to say that creation is separate from God. This is a foundational issue.

  5. Thanks Mike. So Keller will cover the cultural issues. Who for the weightier things like sin, redemption and the whole New Heaven/New Earth stuff? By the way, I’m enjoying your new book. I supposeI should post something on Amazon.

  6. Mike, I think the issue is that most reformed guys are amillennial or “leaky” historic pre-millennial at best. This approach to eschatology results in a deemphasis on the literal fulfillment in the new creation and particularly a literal millennial kingdom. An over-emphasis on their Christo-centric hermeneutic leads them to fold everything over into God – forgetting that the ultimate goal of history is that God is all in all (1Cor 15:28). Paul did not say “God is in all” nor nor did he just say “God is all.” Rather he said “God is all in all” And the “in all” is the real, literal, physical millennial kingdom and new creation!

  7. Ray: Keller gets the new creation stuff too, and also sin and the gospel. He is the cofounder of TGC. I’m glad you are enjoying the book. If you do leave a review on amazon, you will be an answer to prayer (but no pressure!🙂 )

    Chris: I agree with the latter half of your post. I don’t know that premill or amill has any distinct advantages when it comes to the new earth. Many premills, especially classical dispensationalists but even Irenaeus, believed the millennium fufills all the earthly promises and so we can all go to heaven now. I first learned of the new earth from covenantal influence. I never heard it growing up dispie.

    I think you are on to something with the Christ centeredness. There may be such a strong fear of idolatry (an important fear to have) that we begin to minimize the separate yet dependent good creation. This initially seems safer–for how can you go wrong if the answer is Jesus–but it is leading some into a pious panentheism, which brings a whole new set of problems.

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