"Bishop: 'Heaven Not Our Final Destination,'" read the teaser headline on ABCNews.com (pictured at right).
"Hmm, what's this?" I thought, so I clicked on the link to find a story by ABC's Martin Bashir teasing a February 26 "Nightline" story about N.T. Wright, an Anglican bishop and theologian. [It should be noted that Bashir referred to Wright by his middle name Thomas Wright rather than N.T. Wright, which is how you can search for his written works and Web site.]
Unfortunately in what was otherwise an informative and interesting article, I came across some passages that may illustrate how inaccurate Bashir's understanding of historic Christian doctrine is (emphasis mine):
Believers and unbelievers have strong views about what happens when you die. For centuries, Christians have believed that their destiny after death is heaven: a spiritual place where they -- along with a myriad of angels, -- sing praises to God for eternity. But is it possible that Christians may have gotten that part of their faith badly wrong?
In a radical departure from traditional belief, Wright says that Christians are not ultimately destined for a spiritual place called heaven. He says that at the end of time as we know it, God will literally remake our physical bodies and return us to a newly restored planet.
Here's the problem. What Bashir describes as Wright's emphasis on the new heaven and new earth is not a "radical departure" from traditional Christian teaching, it IS historical Christian teaching grounded in Scripture and in the physical resurrection of Christ (see Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; I Cor. 15).
While other points of Wright's theology are hotly contested in Reformed circles --Google "N.T. Wright criticism justification" to see what I mean, or check this item here -- Wright's read on heaven and resurrection seem to line up squarely with Christian orthodoxy.
Wright made clear in a recent Time magazine interview why he thinks many people (presumably Bashir included) have misunderstood what the Bible teaches:
...Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I've called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal.
TIME: That is rather different from the common understanding. Did some Biblical verse contribute to our confusion?
Wright: There is Luke 23, where Jesus says to the good thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." But in Luke, we know first of all that Christ himself will not be resurrected for three days, so "paradise" cannot be a resurrection. It has to be an intermediate state. And chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation, where there is a vision of worship in heaven that people imagine describes our worship at the end of time. In fact it's describing the worship that's going on right now. If you read the book through, you see that at the end we don't have a description of heaven, but, as I said, of the new heavens and the new earth joined together.