I don’t want to go to heaven. Not that I’m lobbying for the other place . . . —Michael Wittmer This planet is more than just a stopover on your way to heaven. It is your final destination. God wants you to enjoy your earthly existence, and to think otherwise is to miss the life he intends for you. Exploring the book of Genesis, Heaven Is a Place on Earth gently but firmly strips away common misconceptions of Christianity and broadens your worldview to reveal the tremendous dignity and value of everyday life. Taking you from creation, to the fall, to redemption, and to glimpses from the book of Revelation, Michael Wittmer opens your eyes to a faith that encompasses all of life—baseball games, stock reports, church activities, prayer, lovemaking, work, hobbies . . . everything that lies within the sphere of human activity. To be fully Christian is to be fully human, says Wittmer, alive and responsive to the kingdom of God in all that you are and all that you do. Discover the freedom and impact God created you for. It starts with a truly Christian worldview. And its fruit is the undiluted gospel, powerful not only to save souls, but to restore them to a life that is truly worth living. Includes discussion/reflection questions after each chapter.
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About the Author
Michael Wittmer is currently Professor of Systematic Theology at GRTS in Grand Rapids, MI. He is the author of Heaven Is a Place on Earth, Don’t Stop Believing, The Last Enemy, and Despite Doubt. He and his wife, Julie, live in Grand Rapids, Michigan with their three children: Avery, Landon, and Alayna.
Read an Excerpt
Heaven Is a Place on Earth
This book is about the meaning in life. A slew of Christian books already address the meaning of life. Most of these rightly observe that we exist to love God through personal devotions and minister to others by sharing the gospel and making disciples of all nations. I wholeheartedly embrace these spiritual values. It is a privilege to ponder the Word of God, to pour out our heart to him in prayer, and to persuade other people to repent and follow our Savior. But this book is not about that.
Instead, I want to examine what these 'meaning of life' books typically overlook. They are right to tell us that we were created for worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship, but they are wrong to stop there. Look at that list again. While it more or less covers our responsibilities as Christians, it says little about what it means to be human. Does our purpose for life consist entirely in these spiritual activities, or is there also some value in showing up for work, waxing our car, playing with our children, or taking a trip to the beach---just a few of the many things we do, not because we are Christian, but primarily because we are human?
It is these distinctly human activities that this book seeks to address. Rather than encourage you to stretch forward to further pietistic pursuits (an important topic that has its place), I am more concerned here to renew our appreciation for the ordinary things we are already doing. In the process we will inevitably touch upon the meaning of life---that is, the purpose for our existence---but all the while our focus will be on the meaning in life---that is, the value within the normal, everyday activities that mark our human experience.
If I do my job well, you will come away from this book convinced of two important truths. First, God wants us to enjoy our earthly existence. We need not feel guilty for feeling at home in this world, for this planet is precisely where God wants us to be. As we learn from the opening pages of Genesis, it's good to be human and it's good to be here, on planet earth. Second, because this life matters to God, you will also be challenged to redirect every aspect of this existence to his honor and glory. No longer free to brush aside this earthly life as mere batting practice for our future, heavenly existence, we now recognize that whatever we do, regardless how seemingly small and insignificant, should be done with excellence 'in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him' (Colossians 3:17).
Both truths only make sense within a full-orbed Christian worldview, which is why I spend some time in chapter 1 explaining what a worldview is, how it works, and what might comprise its foundational beliefs. Finally, I have concluded the book with discussion questions and case studies for each chapter in a section entitled 'Expanding Your Worldview.' Those who use this material to facilitate smallgroup discussions will be able to contact me and download a free leader's guide and two bonus chapters (on the foundational beliefs of the Christian worldwiew) at www.heavenisaplaceonearth.com.
Acknowledgments It is sometimes difficult to know how far back to extend one's thankyous (witness the long and tiresome acceptance speeches at the Oscars), but I must begin with Joe Crawford and James Grier. I had attended twelve years of Christian school, four years of Christian college, one year of seminary, plus church services three times a week during that span and yet had never heard the life-changing truths of this book until I sat under their ministry at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. I would also like to thank Doug Felch, who kindly permitted me to use his informative chart on the image of God, and Neal Plantinga, whose inspiring lectures and writings have futher enlarged my understanding of the Christian worldview.
Besides these mentors, I am indebted to the editorial contributions of the gracious staff at Zondervan---Paul Engle, Jim Ruark, Tim Beals, Katya Covrett, and Greg Stielstra---and the many friends, such as Wendy Wi d d e r, Sharon Ross, Scott Morter, Jeff Lindell, Phil Wittmer, and Gary and Julie Childers, who gladly volunteered to read and comment on major portions of my manuscript. Their encouragement and insights have made this a better book.
Finally, I offer my most profound gratitude to my dear wife, Julie, who not only carefully (and critically!) read every page but, more important, daily implements its truth in our home, enabling me and our three children to enjoy firsthand the privilege of living within the liberty of the Christian worldview.
1 What You See Is What You Get
'Give me but one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth'. ARCHIMEDES (3RD CENTURY B.C.)
I don't want to go to heaven. Not that I'm lobbying for the other place---I want no part of everlasting fire and unbearable, unquenchable torment. The reason why I first repented and asked Christ to forgive my sin was to avoid going to hell. I became a Christian to get out of hell, not because I wanted to get into heaven. Before you judge me, remember why y o u said the Sinner's Prayer.
The delights of heaven may be to die for, but isn't that precisely the problem? Everyone who makes it into heaven has to leave this life to get there. Granted, death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person, but it's pretty close. All things being equal, I'd rather continue the earthly existence that I currently enjoy.
I'd love to go to heaven---for a visit. It will be unspeakably exhilarating to stand in the presence of God and sing his praises---but to do nothing except this forever and ever? That's a lot of rounds of 'Shine, Jesus, Shine.' Perhaps you think I'm being unfair. Well, what else do people do in heaven but worship God? As one preacher put it, 'I don't know what we're going to do there, but I promise you it won't be boring.' Thanks for the help. I want to believe you, but in the absence of any hard facts, I'm siding with Huckleberry Finn.
In a futile attempt to persuade a fidgety Huckleberry to behave, the stern Miss Watson warned her young charge about the hellish destiny of restless boys and the heavenly reward awaiting those who sit up straight and study their spelling books. According to Huckleberry, 'Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn't think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said, not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.'1
Huckleberry Finn is right: Heaven does sound boring. Who wants to go there? We are not cut out for the clouds. We don't make very good angels. Humans weren't made for heaven. As wonderful as it will be to praise God in his celestial glory, there is still one thing better---to kneel in the presence of God with the bodies he created us to have in the place he created us to live.
Heaven Is Not My Home, I'll Just Be Passin' Through
And this is precisely what God promises. Contrary to popular opinion, the Christian hope is not that someday all believers get to die and go to heaven. Indeed, the only reason anyone ever goes to heaven is sin. If Adam and Eve had never sinned, they would have continued to live on this planet, enjoying the beauty of creation as they walked in close fellowship with their Creator. However, as we will see in chapter 9, Adam's sin brought death into the world. Now all people must die---an event that separates their souls from their bodies. Their bodies immediately begin to decay, but their souls continue to live, either in hell with the damned or in heaven with Jesus Christ.