I have to admit to a growing confusion. I often read these days about how the future—particularly a perceived continuity between the present and the new creation—ought to shape our Christian lives. Now at the risk of being told “Silly boy, go and sit in the corner of the class”, I’m not sure that I buy it.
Tom Wright argues in Surprised by Hope that the future hope, which has broken into this world in Jesus’ own resurrection, “ought to energise our work for God’s kingdom in the present world … as we seek to bring God’s kingdom to bear on the real and painful world in which we live” (pp. xii-xiii). For Wright the physical resurrection and a strong sense of continuity between the present and the new creation, means that
You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to fall over a cliff. You are not restoring a painting that’s shortly going to be thrown in the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem … accomplishing something which will become, in due course, part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation [etc.] … all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation which God will one day make. … [W]hat we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there. (pp. 219-220)
All those actions “implement Jesus’ own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation” (p. 307).
Now, I read that and think to myself, that’s truly wonderful. It’s so affirming to our present experience. Just think of that: the best of me in this world transformed and transferred to the next. There’s just one little voice in the back of my head asking, “Is it true? … Is it biblical?”
I want to affirm that Jesus’ resurrection is the pattern for our future experience (1 Cor 15:49): it guarantees the victory of God over the forces of sin and death (1 Cor 15:54-57), and so spurs us on to continue steadfastly in our work for God in the present (1 Cor 15:58). I want to affirm that God’s creation is good, and that it is to be received and enjoyed with thankfulness to God (1 Tim 4:4). I want to affirm that because God has made us with bodies, we’re not disembodied spirits longing to escape, but that we ought to serve God with our bodies, which are owned by God—bodies in which his Holy Spirit dwells (1 Cor 6:12-20). All those things are true, but none of it teaches what Wright and others suggest.
By contrast, I read 2 Peter 3:10-13:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.;
There is virtually no continuity between the present and the new creation. The new creation is truly new. The old passes away; it is burned up and dissolved. The new creation is the home of righteousness and replaces the old. Our response is to heed that warning and live lives of holiness, longing for that day when we will dwell bodily with Christ in that real, physical new creation.
It’s really no surprise that in Surprised by Hope, Tom Wright ignores this aspect of 2 Peter 3.