Thanks to Andrew Rogers of Zondervan for this review copy of Michael Wittmer’s Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything you do Matters to God (Zondervan, 2004). Wittmer is professor of systematic and historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary since 1996.
Michael Wittmer’s book on Heaven is a book about the meaning in life as opposed to the meaning of life. Well, it ends up combining the two but starts out developing the first and then integrates the second.
Wittmer seeks to help shape a proper Christian worldview about the world on which we live, otherwise known as Earth. Whereas the significant majority of Christian books discuss the meaning of life, Wittmer seeks to take it beyond all that and talk about what it means to be human and why we live on Earth. Those Christian books that discuss the meaning of life all address key aspects of the Christian life such as reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, sharing your faith with others and going to church (to name a few). These are all good things and are important but it seems it may be that God intends more for us in this life than just the practice of the spiritual disciplines. He writes in he preface:
Instead, I want to examine what these “meaning of life” books typically overlook. They are right to tell us that we were created for worship, ministry evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship, but they are wrong to stop there. Look at that list again. While it more or less covers our responsibilities as Christians, it says little about what it means to be human. Does our purpose for life consist entirely in these spiritual activities, or is there also some value in showing up for work, waxing our car, playing with our children, or taking a trip to the beach – just a few of the many things we do, not because we are Christian, but primairly because we are human?
It is these distinctly human activities that this book seeks to address. Rather than encourage you to stretch forward to further pietistic pursuits (an important topic that has its place), I am more concerned here to renew our appreciation for the ordinary things we are already doing. In the process we will inevitably touch upon the meaning of life – that is, the purpose for our existence – but all the while our focus will be on the meaning in life – that is, the value within the normal, everyday activities that mark our human experience (pg 12).
So, the two main goals Wittmer has in writing this book are to help the reader realize:
- It is okay to enjoy life here on Earth and love God too.
- Everything you do in life (work, family, church, etc) matters to God and should honor God.
For me personally, I need this. I need to realize it is okay to enjoy life (especially given I have a melacholy personality) and that it is just as important to take care of things and take care of the Earth God put us on as it is to pursue pietitistic activities – both are equally important. Why? Because Earth is our home.
The all too common Christian view is that the Earth is a evil and fallen place and nothing about it really matters since after all, it’s all gonna burn, right? All we need to do is ask Jesus into our hearts, evangelize as many people as we can, and wait for the great escape (aka: the ratpure). How wrong this view is, and how much it must hurt the heart of God that his own creation calls evil what he called good (cf. Gen 1). This reeks of Gnosticism and Witter gets into that bit. Gnosticism never really died – it’s still quite ingrained in some Christian groups.
To help us understand all this, Wittmer shows us the flow of the biblical story from the view point of creation – fall – redemption. Wittmer argues that for us to truely understand the depths of the fall, the necessity of redemption, and the end goal of redemption, we must first have a solid understanding of creation. When we realize God’s original intentions for creation, all of creation and not just humans, it helps us see just how far we’ve fallen and how desparate is our need for redemption. So he starts with Genesis 1 and works his way through the Scriptures to the Revelation.
So, the flow of the book is he starts out explaining what a worldview is and why its imporant. He then explains who we are in the larger picture of creation and God’s plan. We are made in the image of God. Moving on he talks about why we are here: to love God, serve others, enjoy the creation, and reap the benefits of our labor. Now you can’t stop here and get all upset. Read the book – it works well. He talks about the effects of sin on the original creation and closes it out explaining God’s ultimate plan for the world: the redemption and restoration/renewal of creation (the only humans to benefit from the renewal will be those who are “saved”). Finally, he ends the book with a section that answers objections and integrates the roles of discipleship and evangelism with the enjoyment of creation.
I faced many challenges in this book and its been weighing on my mind – I have to admit I grew up in circles that tended to despise creation and overemphsize the pietistic life. I tended to think the only truely spiritual thing to do was read the Bible and spend time in prayer when I needed to realize it could be just as spiritual to spend time with family and friends, to tend the yard and pull the weeds, go for a hike (and come home and take a nap -Wittmer talks about the Sabbath too) or even enjoy a good cup of coffee. We’ve so confused spirituality we’ve confused ourselves (well, some of us, certainly not all of us) about what it means to be human and to enjoy life. So, for me I have to realize sometimes the most spiritual thing I can do is get my nose out of a book (even the GNT or the BHS) and go play with my daughter!
So there you have it – go enjoy life!