Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blanchard's Surprise

In John Blanchard's article, "Whatever Happened to Heaven?" he noted the scarcity of the topic of heaven within historic Christian discourse. While Blanchard sees this as both a surprise and a great tragedy, I see it as neither. Rather, it makes sense when we  realize that bodily resurrection, not heaven, is the primary locus of the Christian hope according to the New Testament (a point I have developed in my other posts about resurrection). This is what Blanchard notes:

It is surprising to find how little most of the best-known secondary standards and major Christian doctrinal statements have to say on the subject [of heaven]]….The Apostles' Creed limits itself to two words-"life everlasting." The Athanasian Creed does the same. The Nicene Creed speaks merely of "the life of the world to come." John Calvin's monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion (1266 pages in the Beveridge edition) has less than two pages directly devoted to the subject. The magisterial Westminster Confession of Faith does not even use the word "heaven" with regard to the final state of God's people, but merely states that "the righteous will go into eternal life and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord." The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, largely based on the Westminster Confession, adds very little, indicating that "the righteous shall go into eternal life and receive that fullness of joy and glory with everlasting rewards, in the presence of the Lord." John Owen has been called the greatest theologian in English history, and the sixteen volumes of his Works line the studies of thousands of preachers hundreds of years after their publication. Yet in over 9,000 pages I have found only 20 or so which focus directly on the subject of heaven as the eternal dwelling place of God's elect. Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology contains more than 800 pages, yet his presentation of the subject is contained within just one of them.
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