Now that my grades are in, I can give a recap of last month’s Gospel Coalition conference, “Coming Home: New Heaven and New Earth.” Click here to listen to my session, “Teaching Your People to Become Worldly Saints.”
TGC is an inspiring time of preaching, singing, and making and renewing gospel friendships. The plenary sessions were what you’d expect. John Piper was passionate, Don Carson was erudite, and Tim Keller was very cool. Keller spoke to 6,000 people as if he was speaking casually to each of us individually. I’m not sure how to describe what he’s got, but I want it. I hope the national media will increasingly turn to him when they want an evangelical spokesperson. He will make us proud.
A curious aspect of the conference is how few of the plenary speakers addressed the theme. Some seemed to go out of their way to downplay the significance of the new creation. One said, “Jesus is our home.” Another said, “Heaven is about Jesus. It’s not about visiting your mother.” One said that being heirs of God means “we inherit God.” He then skipped over the new creation verses in his text while thoroughly exegeting the verses before and after.
I’m not sure what to make of these otherwise solid sermons. I suspect the reticence to speak of the new earth may be a reaction to N.T. Wright’s misplaced emphasis (Carson suggested this when he announced the reasons he picked the theme). Wright can riff like no one else on the glories of the new creation, but I have not heard him give an equally inspiring take on the wonder of our salvation from hell and justification before a holy God. I would love to hear Wright riff with excitement about the heart of the gospel. If he gave us just five minutes on that, I think more evangelicals would be open to his thrilling portrayal of cosmic reconciliation.
I understand why Wright makes us nervous, but we must be careful lest we over-correct and steer evangelicalism into the other ditch. We must preach the whole counsel of God, which includes the promise of the new creation, this world restored. We don’t merely inherit God. We inherit what belongs to him. The meek shall inherit the earth. Heaven is first and most about Jesus, but it is also about reconnecting with loved ones. Jesus will lead you to your mother, so heaven is about her too. We won’t need to choose.
Make too little of Jesus, and we risk turning his good gifts into idols. Make too little of his gifts of creation, and we risk collapsing everything into God. We must love Jesus more than anything else, but we need a separate yet dependent creation from which to stand to love him from. This is the main point of Becoming Worldly Saints, and I hope that all evangelicals will take it to heart.