|The Difference Heaven Makes: Rehearing the Gospel as News|
|Written by CURRIE BURRIS|
|Monday, 04 April 2011 01:47|
by Christopher Morse|
New York: T & T Clark 2010. 145 pages.
reviewed by CURRIE BURRIS
Most of us carry around in our minds either an image of heaven shaped by popular culture, pictures, images, stories or movies, or an image shaped by the modern scientific world view in which heaven is nowhere to be found. We either imagine a heaven filled with clouds, harp-playing angels and golden mansions somewhere up in the sky, or we find the notion of that kind of heaven wholly at odds with the real world.
Neither of these notions of heaven is biblical. There is no angel “Clarence” seeking to earn his wings by helping a George Bailey “down below,” and modern science is correct in pointing out that there is no heaven to be found “out there.”
The fact that heaven is taken seriously by a renowned theologian is noteworthy. That Christopher Morse holds an endowed chair at Union Theological Seminary, where Bonhoeffer and Tillich held forth makes this particularly important. In The Difference Heaven Makes, Morse helps us discover the true scriptural witness of heaven as it is revealed and preached in the Bible. Focusing primarily on the Gospels and the letters of Paul, Morse reviews how the idea of heaven is at the heart of the Gospel. The in-breaking of heaven into the reality of our world is the best news anyone could hear.
Heaven is not a far-off future or an imaginary world. Heaven is at hand, right here, now. Heaven is right at the boundary between what is passing away and what is coming to be. Heaven is an active, ever-opening reality, marked by Jesus’ proclamation. According to Morse, “Heaven’s actual coming to pass is proclaimed as overtaking all that is factually passing away.” Heaven is defined as God’s coming forth into the world, remaking, reshaping and renewing all that is dying, and remaking what is real. “From the Gospel frame of reference as news today, what sounds most real about earth and the lifetime of all its inhabitants, is actually heaven” (p. 36). Morse reviews the theological expositions on heaven, particularly focusing on Calvin and Barth, Tillich and Moltmann, and he enriches our hearing of the at-handedness of heaven with the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Morse helps us to understand that Jesus’ teachings on the baselia (kingdom) of heaven, through sermons and parables, is again and again revealed not by what is passing away, not through the suffering and pain of the world, but through what is newly coming to be.
In his final chapter, on “The Hope of Heaven,” Morse quotes William Butler Yeats:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. . .
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. (p.107)
In the midst of the troubles of the world, hope is born in the coming of the baselia of heaven. Heaven is real, and it is at-hand in our lives today. We are called to be on hand for, to be present for, to attend to, the unprecedented glory of God, which is as close as our breath
CURRIE BURRIS is pastor of Silver Spring Church in Silver Spring, Md. He previously was pastor of a church in Atlanta and served on the national staff of the PC(USA).