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We Can't Go Back to the Garden: Critiquing Evangelicals' Over-Ruralized Eschatology

We Can't Go Back to the Garden: Critiquing Evangelicals' Over-Ruralized Eschatology

The Bible suggests we should envision the new heavens and earth as an urban landscape, not a field of lilies.

This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, the opinion journal of Cardus.

The Project for Public Places has a list of some of the best public squares in the world. On this list are well-known places such as Piazza Navona in Rome, Piccadilly Circus in London, the Hotel de Ville in Paris, and a number of less familiar places, such as Rynek Glowny in Krakow, Poland, and the Plaza Hidalgo in Mexico City.

I have visited some of these squares; they are, indeed, delightful places to enjoy a strong cup of coffee in the warm sun and watch the vibrant parade of humanity against a backdrop of stunning architecture. This list evokes some of my most cherished memories of feeling fully alive and engaged with the delights of this world.

But I also become a bit restless as I wonder about the places I haven't yet experienced. And I become nostalgic for the time in my life when I was free to travel to exotic destinations and could while away an afternoon doing nothing.

This may seem like an odd direction to divert this bittersweet stream of thought, but I wonder if I'll have a renewed opportunity to enjoy these places during the time of Christ's eternal reign. That is to ask: Will public squares be included in the new heaven and earth?

This question can be subsumed under the broader question of the relationship between creation, culture, and new creation. Over the past couple of years, I have witnessed an encouraging development in evangelical eschatology (see Randy Alcorn's Heaven and Eugene Wittmer's Heaven Is a Place on Earth).

Evangelicals, it seems, are becoming more comfortable with the idea that followers of Jesus are not going to spend eternity floating around in some kind of remote ethereal location, but will experience redeemed existence in the very physical setting of a new heaven and a new earth.

A key to this significant paradigm shift has been a reconsideration of the provocative text in the second half of 2 Peter 3:10. As the King James Version has it, "The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." One common way to understand this text is that the earth and sky (heaven) will be completely annihilated, then later replaced with a brand new heaven and earth.


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Displaying 1–5 of 10 comments


October 07, 2012  10:26pm

Build a Salon


February 06, 2012  6:23pm

Agreed that the city is part of the coming kingdom. Running through history and the bible is this tension between the city and the garden and good and evil. We must make sure that they city we aim toward is the city of the Revelation, the Holy City. The city described is interestingly a deep mix of what we call city and garden. The tree of life is there. Agriculture is there. Clean water is there. It produces its own food, perhaps even food the whole world needs. Also agreed it is a metaphor, and more than that. Finally, I suggest that all Christian visionaries and writers stop using the term 'paradigm shift' immediately.

Joe Murphy

February 03, 2012  6:08pm

Pastor Jacobsen seems to follow Jacques Ellul (The Meaning of the City) in thinking that humanity's natural, and fallen, aspiration is to return to the Garden, while God goes on to give us a City in eternity with Him. Ed Brown's comment is more to the point: Ellul and Jacobsen overlook the presence of nature in that City. While the creativity of humanity will no doubt be present in sinless splendor, why ever should that restrict God's creativity from such display?

The G

January 31, 2012  12:55pm

A careful reading of Revelation will reveal that when John describes the city, the New Jerusalem, he describes the bride, which is the church, US. The description is metaphor after metaphor for the new quality of relationship we will have with God: one of intimacy, protection, provision, nourishment, beauty, permanence, with no threat from the curse of sin, but eternal life. Heaven is a dimension we can't understand because its quality is nothing like we have ever experience. To concentrate on the physical instead of the spiritual truth is to misunderstand what heaven will be like. It's time for us to grow up in our thinking.

Marilyn Melzian

January 31, 2012  10:36am

There may be a degree of confusion in the author's mind between the physical space of the city (buildings, public squares, etc.) and the concept of city as community. I have been reading Augustine's City of God and the city he is talking about, as I understand it, is on the life of community in the presence of God. It will ultimately be fully realized and embodied, but the emphasis is on the life together. I will also say that I also love Dante's depiction of the beatific vision.


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