As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter, a running debate about the hereafter is raising new questions about the definition of heaven–and what it says about the meaning of life. This conversation takes a subject that has occupied humanity for millennia and places it squarely amid topics of faith that are deeply relevant today. Even in the wake of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution, many of us believe in heaven–85% of all Americans, according to Gallup. Most of us are apparently confident–or at least say we are–that life does not end at the grave.
Yet we don’t necessarily agree on what heaven is. There is, of course, the familiar image recounted by Colton Burpo. But there is also the competing view of scholars such as N.T. Wright, the former Anglican bishop of Durham, England, and a leading authority on the New Testament. What if Christianity is not about enduring this sinful, fallen world in search of a reward of eternal rest? What if the authors of the New Testament were actually talking about a bodily resurrection in which God brings together the heavens and the earth in a wholly new, wholly redeemed creation? As more voices preach a view that’s at odds with the pearly gates (but supported, they note, by Scripture), faithful followers must decide which approach they believe in.