Saturday, September 3, 2016

Book Write-Up: Home, by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Elyse Fitzpatrick.  Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings.  Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Elyse Fitzpatrick holds degrees in biblical counseling: one is a certificate from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, and the other is an M.A. from Trinity Theological Seminary.  She has spoken at conferences and has written 22 books.

As the title indicates, her book Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings discusses the new earth, the paradise into which God will transform the earth after Christ’s return.
There are a lot of things that Fitzpatrick says that Christians have heard before, or even thought to themselves.  Many of us notice how ephemeral life is and desire permanence, or we look at the physical and mental limitations that come with age and wish for a different reality.  Suffering in this life can easily encourage people to hope for a better afterlife.  And believers who work hard for the Lord, sometimes at great inconvenience to themselves, may desire a reward.  Fitzpatrick addresses these longings, with her own stories and illustrations.

Fitzpatrick portrays the new earth for Christians as a place of acceptance rather than loneliness; a place where believers shine, work, and rest; and a place where they will be in the presence of God.  She refers to such authors as C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright, but she also interacts with Scripture.  She muses about the river that becomes deeper and deeper in Ezekiel 47, discussing (among other things) how that would have appealed to the desire for a regular water supply in that time.  She talks about the city from heaven in Revelation 21 and its size.

The book had its advantages, but also things that I wish it had addressed.

Here are what I see as its advantages:

A.  The book is beautifully written, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and honest.  While some of its primary insights may not be new to believers, reading the book can be an act of worship, providing them with an opportunity to appreciate, with a fellow pilgrim, the destiny that God has for them.

B.  Fitzpatrick argues that the hope of the believer is, not so much heaven, but rather a new earth where God will dwell.  Nowadays, that is the “in” thing for Christian writers to say: N.T. Wright said it, and a bunch of other Christian books have said it since then.  Reading Fitzpatrick, in conjunction with an August 30, 2016 post by Russell Moore (President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at the Southern Baptist Convention), helped me to appreciate the concept better.  Russell Moore said that he supports protecting the environment because “The physical creation…is to be, like our bodies, ultimately a temple of the Holy spirit and a dwelling place for the reigning Christ Jesus.”  Fitzpatrick’s discussion of this issue and Moore’s insights reinforced each other, in my mind.  Fitzpatrick also did well to offer a reason that the renewal of the earth is important: because God will not allow Satan to have the last word by defiling the earth that God created, and in which God has invested.

C.  Coinciding with (B.), a number of Christians say that we should work for social justice and the environment now because God cares about the earth, enough to renew it at Christ’s second coming.  A question that may occur to some people is why Christians should care about the earth now, when Christ will come back, destroy it, and recreate it anyway, a la II Peter 3:10.  An asset to Fitzpatrick’s book is that she wrestles with this question.  She questions whether II Peter 3:10 depicts a complete destruction of the earth, positing instead that it envisions a “reshaping or renewing of what already exists” (page 128).  She observes that II Peter 3:6 uses “‘destruction’ language” about the Flood during the time of Noah, but she states that this flood “temporarily cleansed” the earth as opposed to destroying it.  Elsewhere in the book (page 202), she appeals to II Peter 3:11-14 and Acts 3:19-21 to argue that Christians, through good deeds, can actually hasten the second coming of Christ.

D.  Fitzpatrick’s discussion of the presence of God throughout history was illuminating.  As she notes, in the Old Testament, there was a strict protocol about approaching God, with the Tabernacle and the Temple.  Sins and human limitations had something to do with this, but, even after Jesus came and died for our sins, we cannot, in our present form, be in the immediate presence of God, for we would die.  But that will change in the new earth, when God will dwell with people.  One can perhaps inquire whether such a perspective limits God, but it is a hope that the Bible depicts.

E.  Near the beginning of the book, Fitzpatrick had a beautiful discussion about how reading can address one’s loneliness: one’s desire to reach out to people, to understand, and to be understood.

F.  Fitzpatrick refers to hurt and brokenness that occurs in churches, without going into much detail.  At the same time, she presents reasons to go to church: to meet God, and to have opportunities to serve others (since God does not need our service, but others do).  Her discussion perhaps could have been more detailed, but it was empathetic, and it did promote what I believe is a healthy attitude towards church.

Here are some areas of critique:

A.  Fitzpatrick envisions the new earth as a place in which learning will occur: she will be able to take a class taught by C.S. Lewis, for example, and get to learn at her own pace.  That is an appealing image, especially to people who love reading and learning, and realize that there is so, so much to read and to learn!  How would Fitzpatrick reconcile that, however, with I Corinthians 13:8, which says that the gift of knowledge will pass away (since people will know God, in God’s presence), whereas love will remain?  Does I Corinthians 13:8 that there will be no need for teachers and learning because people will know God perfectly, or does it mean something else?

B.  Fitzpatrick refers to biblical passages about believers reigning with Christ.  Revelation 2:26, for instance, promises power over the nations to those who overcome and persevere in Christ’s works.  Over whom will believers reign, if believers will be the only people on this new earth?  Fitzpatrick does not really address this.  On page 214, she refers to this, and other works that believers will do in the new earth and benefits that they will receive, and she states, “I don’t know what that means, but it sounds amazing, doesn’t it?”   She could have wrestled with this, some more.  A number of premillennialists say, for instance, that believers will rule the children and grandchildren of the Tribulation Saints during the millennium, some of whom will be non-believers.  Fitzpatrick perhaps could have mentioned that perspective, since she is familiar with debates about whether certain prophecies concern the millennium or the new heavens and the new earth (which is after the millennium).

One can ask about other issues as well: what will be the role of physical Israel in the new heavens and the new earth, since some of the prophecies to which Fitzpatrick refers concern the restoration of Israel?  Fitzpatrick did speculate about issues, at times; for instance, in an endnote, she talked about whether believers will be vegetarians in the new earth.  But she did not speculate often, probably because she preferred to focus on the hope of the believer.  Her book was inspiring, but perhaps more speculation about issues would have made it more interesting, as interesting as it already was!

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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