J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatol-
ogy(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014). 336 pp. $27.99 paperback.
There are no shortages of contributions to the revisionist eschatology field. It is often challenging to sift through such contributions to find some theme or argument that has not been previously discussed. However, J. Richard Mid- dleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth has managed to offer a more holistic approach to eschatology that is sure to provoke both the scholar and layper- son.
Middleton’s primary thesis is that the entirety of Scripture culminates in a vivid eschatological vision of a redeemed earth (22).Thus, a truly biblical escha- tology is one that sets aside expectations of a destroyed earth and disembodied souls spending eternity in heaven, in favour of a physically resurrected people spending eternity on a redeemed earth. This is not a new concept, certainly other works (N.T. Wright’sSurprised by Hopefor instance) have already argued for such a reading of Scripture. Where Middleton distinguishes himself is his emphasis on humanity’s Edenic mandate as the impetus for the holistic escha- tological vision in Scripture.
A New Heaven and A New Earth contains twelve chapters divided into five parts. The first chapter, which serves as an introduction, surveys how Christian eschatology has migrated from the redeemed-earth model found in Scripture to an unbiblical vision of eternity as disembodied souls.
Part one (chapters two and three), examines the Edenic call for humanity to be mediators of God’s will on earth. This mediation includes human flour- ishing and sociocultural development in all areas of life. As Middleton argues, “The royal task of exercising power to transform the earthly environment into a complex sociocultural world that glorifies the creator (the so-called cultural mandate) is thus a holy task, a sacred calling, in which the human race as God’s image on earth manifests something of the creator’s own lordship over the cosmos” (43). However, human sin breaks down this calling, infusing human society with violence and chaos. In response, God calls Abraham and, later on, Israel to pick up the Edenic mandate, to extend God’s will through sociocultural development and expansion. When Israel fails, Jesus is seen as the only heir of Abraham who can resolve human sin and restore humanity’s Edenic calling via the Kingdom of God.
Part two (chapters four through six) comprehensively examines Old Testa- ment references to God’s salvific endeavour to restore humanity to its Edenic mandate, as well as redeeming the earth in the process. First, Middleton uses the exilic texts as thematic evidence of God’s desire to lead humanity from bondage to cultural flourishing. What is most interesting is how Middleton
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identifiestheTorah(andlaterWisdom) as physicalmanifestations of God’suni- versal laws, embedded in creation for the purpose of developing a flourishing culture (101). Torah and Wisdom are thus laws focused on acts of justice and equality; both of which are later neglected by Israel (102). This understanding of the Torah may aid in further discussions on social justice within the Gospel context and is certainly worth further examination.
Part three (chapters seven and eight) observes how NewTestament eschatol- ogy presents a vision of cosmic renewal. This vision is supported by an empha- sis in both the Old and NewTestaments on bodily and cosmic resurrection.This vision also includes the restoration of humanity’s Edenic mandate (173). While Middleton uses the motif ofcosmicrestoration, he curiously neglects a detailed survey of such texts for a lengthier discussion on earthly restoration. Here he rectifies eschatological notions of the earth’s destruction through a significant exegesis of 1Peter 3, correcting grammatical and lexical misconceptions that have been misused by popular eschatology (191). Revelation 21 thus becomes the culminating vision of a restored hope because it is a return to the Edenic state for humanity, the earth, and the cosmos (171).
Part four (chapters nine and ten) wrestles with Scriptural objections to a restored-earth eschatology. For instance, how can we reconcile a vision of a restored earth, when Revelation 21 suggests that heaven and earth will “pass away”? Middleton suggests that passing away does not eliminate continuity but suggests some form of radical transformation (205). He likens it to Paul’s words in 2Corinthians 5:17, where Christians are a new creation, and their old life has passed away; there is physical continuity for Christians, though they have been metaphysically transformed (206).
Part five (chapters eleven and twelve) examines the ethical nature of the kingdom of God. While the kingdom is a future reality, it also intersects with present reality; primarily in the area of social justice. So when Jesus makes his liberating statements about the poor, the blind, and the prisoner in Luke 4:18– 19, they are not to be spiritualized, but will manifest physically as the kingdom of God breaks into our world (250).The liberating ethic of the kingdom extends even further to see a reversal of the social order. Here God deems those on the outside—the immigrant, the sick, and the poor—to actually be on the inside of God’s favour, which in Middleton’s thought, should alter the way the North American church in particular, responds to those people groups (275). As king- dom people, we are called to return to our Edenic mandate, extending justice and equality those on the margins.
I agree with much of Middleton’s theological and hermeneutical conclu- sions. Where Middleton struggles however, is to provide any pneumatological foundation. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the redemption of creation?
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How does the Holy Spirit interact with the liberating ethical power of the king- dom of God? He manages to skirt the issue, even in pneumatologically-rich pas- sages like Luke 4:18–19. As a Pentecostal, this seemed a glaring omission from his discussion. Still, his approach is informative, and transformational; a great primer for those wanting to expand and Scripturally anchor their understand- ing of eschatology. For those with a Pentecostal background however, I would suggest complementing this read with Matthew K. Thompson’sKingdom Come (Deo Publishing, 2010), which would provide richer pneumatological insight into themes addressed by A New Heaven and A New Earth.
David D. Kentie
Bangor University, Bangor, United Kingdom email@example.com
PNEUMA 40 (2018) 389–452