Volume 40 - Issue 3
Eternity Changes Everything: How to Live Now in the Light of Your Futureby Stephen Witmer
Stephen Witmer’s book is part of The Good Book Company’s popular-level “How To” series, serving the everyday Christian whose desire is to live distinctively in the world. The book’s aim is to set our eyes to the gospel’s promised future so that our lives now might be transformed by the vision.
In the first part of the book, Witmer paints a wonderful picture of our eternal future, emphasizing the hope of a renewed heaven and earth rather than remaining in heaven forever (“There’s somewhere better than heaven,” p. 23). It is a delightfully earthy and attractive portrait that appeals to all our desires to enjoy the creation as we were intended to. Readers will be delivered from seeing the gospel as a golden ticket to a disembodied ethereal cloudland, and brought to anticipate millennia of friendship, global exploration, and celebration in God’s good world. Yet mouth-watering descriptions of steaks and the prospect of lounging on sun-kissed beaches rightly give way to the central attraction: the living God dwelling with his people. “The central joy of the new creation is not God’s gifts: it is God himself” (p. 26). This early section is theologically rich, but Witmer moves through biblical and doctrinal material with an impressively light touch, especially evident as he expounds material from Revelation.
The middle chapters are devoted to helping readers understand how they fit into the grand story of cosmic redemption. Those struggling with lack of assurance, the fear of death, or condemnation will be encouraged that their future is certain as they are shown how Jesus’s gift of eternal life is the life of eternity. Witmer’s exposition of the serpent on the pole and Jesus’s reference to it in John 3 will draw any non-Christian reader into the heart of the gospel. This creatively presented section is a crucial step in the author’s argument and wisely anchors our future hope in our response of faith to Christ in the present.
In the latter part of the book, we are encouraged to consider our lives in the light of our hope. Witmer calls us to live with both restless longing and patient contentment, needing the world less but loving it more. The author’s pastoral skill is clear as he carefully deals with the subjects of present suffering and unfulfilled desire, and never lapses into the kind of escapism that would flee the world for glory now. Instead, we are urged to apply the promise of our eternal reward to our workplace, family life, and future plans. Lively illustrations and perceptive applications enable the reader to ground doctrine in real life struggles and questions, such that any youth leader or student worker should feel confident in handing out copies to those they care for.
The subject of the kingdom of God is addressed, and the book rejects prosperity theology as strongly as it does Gnosticism. Similarly, while Witmer writes that the hope of the new creation ought to encourage readers to social action and creation care (and quotes N. T. Wright), we are not led to believe that the Church’s efforts in these spheres are the means of the renewal of all things. Rather, the work of Christ in redemption is central and instrumental, and any Christian efforts at conservation and others kinds of service are clearly secondary and responsive. These are compared to the messy efforts of the author’s young son helping his father paint furniture. “Somehow, God includes our modest efforts, done in his service, within his mighty transformation of the world” (p. 110).
Once or twice the book uses “heaven” to refer to the new creation, which threatens to contradict the thesis of the early chapters that the Christian’s final destination is the new creation rather than paradise. While this might prove a slight confusion to some, it is not a serious problem.
Stephen Witmer’s book is a joy to read and will refresh many. While I suspect its main audience will be students and young people, it has much to offer any reader because it so effectively frames reality with the gospel. Readers will find their eyes lifted to Christ, and perspectives biblically adjusted, because the observation that we will still be enjoying Jesus in one million years changes everything now.
Other Articles in this Issue
Rooted and Grounded? The Legitimacy of Abraham Kuyper’s Distinction between Church as Institute and Church as Organism, and Its Usefulness in Constructing an Evangelical Public Theologyby Daniel Strange
The question of the precise nature and scope of the church’s mission has been both perennial and thorny...