I read an article recently written by James P. Ware titled “Paul’s Hope and Ours: Recovering Paul’s Hope of the Renewed Creation”. [1] In this article he chastises his fellow Lutherans for giving too much attention to ‘heaven’–which he understands to be a mere intermediary state for the Apostle Paul (I agree)–to the exclusion of preaching and teaching about the renewed creation. In this article he appeals to a Irenaeus and Augustine whose eschatology focused on renewed creation against the Gnostics and Manicheans respectively (who emphasized the cessation of the created order).

Irenaeus writes in Against Heresies Book V. XXXVI.1:

For since there are real men, so must there also be a real establishment, that they vanish not away among non-existent things, but progress among those which have an actual existence. For neither is the substance nor the essence of the creation annihilated (for faithful and true is He who has established it), but “the fashion of the world passeth away;” that is, those things among which transgression has occurred, since man has grown old in them. And therefore this [present] fashion has been formed temporary, God foreknowing all things; as I have pointed out in the preceding book, and have also shown, as far as was possible, the cause of the creation of this world of temporal things. But when this [present] fashion [of things] passes away, and man has been renewed, and flourishes in an incorruptible state, so as to preclude the possibility of becoming old, [then] there shall be the new heaven and the new earth, in which the new man shall remain [continually], always holding fresh converse with God. And since (or, that) these things shall ever continue without end, Isaiah declares, “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I do make, continue in my sight, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain.” And as the presbyters say, Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy.

Here we see a high view of the created order. Irenaeus understands that the creation will not be destroyed. If humans are real and resurrected our creation must also be restored. Furthermore, since the whole of heaven and earth is reunited this is our abode in heaven. We must note that he sees abiding in the new creation, seemingly, as a fulfillment of Jesus’ words that in Jn 14.2 that “in my Father’s house are many spaces”, as taking place in renewed creation.

Likewise Augustine writes in The City of God 20.14:

For when the judgement is finished this heaven and earth shall cease to be, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. For this world shall pass away by transmutation, not by absolute destruction. And therefore the Apostle says, “For the figure of the world is passing away. I would have you to be without anxiety.” The figure, therefore, passes away, not the nature.

Both Irenaeus and Augustine cite Paul in 1 Cor. 7.31 which reads, “For the present form of this world is passing away.” Both read Paul’s statement here as referring to the current state of creation (cf. 2 Pet. 3.10-13). Sadly, in agreement with Ware, I must say that most Christians I know have thought contrary to Paul, Irenaeus, and Augustine seeing the created order as something to be annihilated in favor of “heaven”. In response to this I agree with N.T. Wright that we should emphasize not life after death but “the life after the life after death”.

In all honesty, when you read the words of Irenaeus and Augustine do you shrug and think “of course!” or does it come to a surprise to think that our final destiny is primarily about bodily resurrection rather than disembodied bliss?

[1] Concordia Journal 35, no. 2 Spr (2009). 129-139.