The Advent of Justice

Back when I was working on my PhD in Canada I was asked to contribute to a book of Advent meditations in honor of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a Canadian justice organization run by Christians. To that end Sylvia Keesmaat, Brian Walsh, Mark VanderVennen, and I each wrote meditations for one of the four weeks of Advent readings from the daily Lectionary (seven meditations apiece); all of us had been involved in some way with this important justice organization.

I had been personally impacted by CPJ, including their published literature on a Christian approach to the political sphere and the helpful guides they provided to the various issues as each Canadian election approached. I was also impressed by their political advocacy in the name of Christ on behalf of those negatively affected by unjust social policies in the context of our modern consumer society. CPJ had been an important voice in helping me think through the political implications of my own Christian faith.

Since the Old Testament readings for that Advent season all focused on passages from Isaiah, which connected faith with justice, we decided to make this the focus of our meditations, while also drawing connections to the Gospel readings for each day.

These meditations were published back in 1993 by the CJL Foundation (an arm of CPJ), as a short book called The Advent of Justice. That book was then adopted by the Anglican Diocese of Toronto as an Advent study guide for that year.

A well-known Toronto artist, Willem (Bill) Hart, graciously contributed watercolors for the book cover and as introductions to each week’s meditations.

The Advent of Justice was reprinted the following year (1994) by Dordt College Press; and it’s been used on and off by lots of different people over the years as a guide to reflecting on the meaning of the Advent season.

The Advent of Justice has just been reprinted by Wipf and Stock publishers in time for this year’s Advent season. I was delighted that Northeastern Seminary decided to give copies away at their annual alumni reception (held a week ago). And they have just this past week posted my own Advent reflections from the book (with permission from the publisher) on the Northeastern Seminary website.

For anyone interested, the post for the first day of the week (Sunday) can be found here. The posts for the other days (Monday through Saturday) can be accessed from the right hand column of the website.

A flyer about the book can be accessed here.

Wishing you a blessed and meaningful Advent season.

Recent Middleton Posts on the Baker Academic Blog

While I’m getting ready to post some substantial reflections on evolution and the fall (via a book review), I thought I might just note that Baker Academic, which published my eschatology book, A New Heaven and a New Earth, recently posted a number of items relevant to the book on their blog.

I’ve been struck not only by the high quality of the editing my manuscript received (extremely careful, and attentive to my needs), but also by the significant publicity and marketing Baker has done on behalf of the book (including giving away over 300 copies at the reception of the Institute for Biblical Research in San Diego this past November—seeding the market, they called it).

I’ve also been consistently impressed by the quality of my relationship with the various editors I’ve worked with at Baker Academic (kudos to Jim Kinney and Brian Bolger) and with the marketing and publicity people I’ve got to know (Steve Ayers, Bryan Dyer, Mason Slater, and Trinity McFadden).  This is a great press, and I’d work with them again in a minute.

So here’s what they posted at the Baker Academic Blog concerning my book.

First they posted my own introductory reflections, which they had me write specifically for the website:

J. Richard Middleton – “Whatever Happened to the New Earth?” (posted on December 8, 2014)

Then they posted a notice about the book’s publication, with advance reviews; then a list of some of my upcoming speaking engagements; then an excerpt on cosmic redemption, that gets at the heart of the book:

New Release: A New Heaven and a New Earth (posted on December 9, 2014)

Upcoming Events with J. Richard Middleton (posted on December 10, 2014)

Colossians 1 and The Redemption of All Things – an Excerpt from A New Heaven and a New Earth (posted on December 11, 2014)

If you’re interested, you might check some of them out.

Whatever Happened to the New Earth?

Here is  a post I wrote for the Baker Academic Blog, introducing my new eschatology book (it covers some ground I have previously blogged about). You can read the post in its original context on the Baker Academic Blog here.

My book, A New Heaven and a New Earth, has been a long time coming.

I wrote it over the last few years. But I’ve been working on it most of my life.

I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and enjoyed the beautiful Caribbean Sea ever since I was a toddler. But it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I began to go on hiking trips to Blue Mountain Peak, the highest point on the island.

On one such trip, I watched a breathtaking sunrise at seven and a half thousand feet above sea level. After some minutes of silence, my friend Junior commented wistfully, “This is so beautiful; it’s such a shame that it will all be destroyed some day.” I still remember the dawning awareness: I don’t think it will be. It did not make sense to me that the beauty and wonder of earthly life, which I was coming to embrace joyfully as part of my growing Christian faith, could be disconnected from God’s ultimate purposes of salvation.

Cover ArtTracking a Worldview Shift

This basic intuition or theological insight was confirmed by my study of Scripture during my undergraduate studies at Jamaica Theological Seminary.

Most contemporary Christians tend to live with an unresolved tension between a belief in the resurrection of the body and an immaterial heaven as final destiny. Many also have in the back of their minds the idea of the new heaven and new earth (from the book of Revelation), though they aren’t quite sure what to do with it.

I myself started my theological studies with this very confusion. But as I took courses in both Old and New Testaments and tried to understand the nature of God’s salvation as portrayed in the various biblical writings, it became increasingly clear that the God who created the world “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and who became incarnate in Jesus Christ as a real human being, had affirmed by these very acts the value of the material universe and the validity of ordinary, earthly life.

More than that, I came to realize that the Scriptures explicitly teach that God is committed to reclaiming creation (human and nonhuman) in order to bring it to its authentic and glorious destiny, a destiny that human sin had blocked.

It was during my junior year of theological studies that I came to the startling realization that the Bible nowhere claims that “heaven” is the final home of the redeemed. While there are many New Testament texts that Christians often read as if they teach a heavenly destiny, the texts do not actually say this. Rather, the Bible consistently anticipates the redemption of the entire created order, a motif that fits very well with the Christian hope of the resurrection—which Paul calls “the redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23).

It was after this startling realization that I first challenged an adult Sunday School class I was teaching at Grace Missionary Church (my home church in Jamaica) to find even one passage in the New Testament that clearly said that Christians would live in heaven forever or that heaven was the final home of the righteous.

I even offered a monetary reward if anyone could find such a text. I have been making this offer now for my entire adult life to church and campus ministry study groups and in many of the courses I have taught; I am happy to report that I still have all my money. No one has ever produced such a text, because there simply aren’t any in the Bible.

The Bible’s Best-Kept Secret

After my theological studies in Jamaica I moved to Canada to pursue graduate studies. During this time I coauthored a book with my friend Brian Walsh on developing a Christian worldview entitled The Transforming Vision. This book not only advocated a holistic worldview, without a sacred/secular split, it also explicitly grounded this worldview in the biblical teaching of the redemption of creation, including both the physical cosmos and human culture and society.

After writing The Transforming Vision together, Brian and I teamed up some ten years later to address the implications of this same holistic vision for postmodern culture in Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, which, like the former book, combined biblical studies with cultural analysis.

Since that time the focus of my research has shifted more and more toward biblical studies, particularly Old Testament, the primary academic field in which I teach and write. In all my teaching and writing the consistent background assumption has been the same basic vision of holistic salvation that I have been working with since my undergraduate days in Jamaica—though in recent years I have been able to flesh this out in much more detail.

This holistic vision of God’s intent to renew or redeem creation is perhaps the Bible’s best-kept secret, typically unknown to most church members and even to many clergy, no matter what their theological stripe.

Having had to explain that the Bible envisions a new earth as the final destiny of the redeemed in many different settings and to different audiences, I finally decided to write an article that would marshal the central biblical evidence (as I understood it) for a holistic understanding of salvation, with a focus on eschatology. The article, entitled “A New Heaven and a New Earth,” was published in 2006.

The Time Is Ripe

Soon after its publication Rodney Clapp, who was then senior editor of Brazos Press/Baker Academic, suggested that I turn the article into a book. “The time is ripe,” he said, over a spicy dinner of Thai food, for an accessible and clear book-length statement of holistic eschatology. This book is my attempt to respond to Rodney’s eschatological-sounding challenge.

Whereas earlier centuries have attempted to clarify theological topics such as the incarnation, the Trinity, or justification by faith, the twentieth century has seen more intense focus on eschatology than ever before. Yet much of this eschatological reflection has been confused and inchoate, conflating an unbiblical impetus to transcend earthly life with the biblical affirmation of earthly life. This is true among both professional theologians and church members, and also among Christians of differing theological traditions.

The time is ripe, therefore, for a clearly articulated Christian eschatology rooted in responsible exegesis of Scripture, which is also attuned to the theological claims and ethical implications of the Bible’s vision of salvation. This eschatology will also need to be serviceable for the church, pointing the way toward faithful living in the here and now.

This book is one small contribution toward such an eschatology. Its primary purpose is to clarify how New Testament eschatology, rather than being a speculative add-on to the Bible, actually coheres with, and is the logical outworking of, the consistently holistic theology of the entirety of Scripture. It is the primary purpose of this book to sketch the coherent biblical theology (beginning in the Old Testament) that culminates in the New Testament’s explicit eschatological vision of the redemption of creation.

Along the way the book also explores some of the ethical implications of holistic eschatology for our present life in God’s world. And it investigates what happened to the biblical vision of the redemption of the earth in the history of Christian eschatology, tracing the loss of this vision and its partial recovery in recent times.