Bishop N. T. Wright was interviewed on ABC’s “Nightline” last week where he promoted his new book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. The segment was set-up to be a provocative piece about a bishop who doesn’t believe in heaven. N. T. Wright actually does believe in heaven; he just doesn’t believe that Christians go there to live forever after they die.
That may sound strange to some ears, but what he says on this point is actually orthodox Christian truth. The Bible teaches that while Christians do go to heaven when they die (Acts 7:55-56, 59; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23), their eternal destiny will be spent in physically resurrected bodies living on a recreated earth (Rom. 8:18-25; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; 50-58; 1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).
I think it’s interesting that Bishop Wright took time in the interview to express his profound disagreement with the idea of a “rapture” as it is described in Dispensational theology. Here’s a snippet from the interview to that effect:
‘But this interpretation is the exact opposite of what many American Christians believe. The hugely successful Left Behind series of movies and books is an acopalyptic vision of the end of the world — a view shared by many evangelicals. According to those who believe it, the end of the world will start with the so-called “rapture,” when all christians will be taken up to heaven in one momentous swoop. The earth then enters a period of cataclysmic wars until it eventually disintegrates, in a final chapter of fire. Wright says that is more mythical than Biblical.
‘”It’s a myth,” Wright said. “It is an attempt to make sense of some bits of the New Testament. It was always the literature of the dispossessed … it’s now become the literature of the rich masses in parts of America.”‘
Wright says that “rapture” theology leads Christians to have a careless attitude about the concerns of this life (caring for the poor, aids victims, etc.) because they are too concerned about their own afterlife. In other words, they are too concerned about “heaven,” the place to which they hope to be “raptured.” Wright argues that Christians should be more concerned about “life after life after death.” Heaven is life after death. Resurrection in the new heavens and new earth is life after heaven.
I’m not offering a full-throated defense of dispensational eschatology with what I’m about to say. But I would point out that within dispensational theology the rapture is a resurrection of believers from the dead. It is in fact “life after life after death” issuing in advance of the new heavens and the new earth. I’m wondering if perhaps there hasn’t been some misunderstanding on this point.
In any case, the entire interview is available online, and you can view it here: “What happens when you die?”
The video is also on YouTube.