What is New Creation Eschatology, and how is it different from what has been called the Spiritual Vision model? How do these models affect our understanding of the Bible, and God’s purposes for mankind? What relevance does it have for daily living as a Christian?
Let’s begin by some basic definitions for both of these models. The Spiritual Vision Model is a term used to describe the general view that would state that God’s ultimate purposes are only spiritual, therefore disregarding the physical realm as somewhat unnecessary or even inherently evil. Whereas, the New Creation Model places emphasis on both the physical and spiritual aspects of God’s creation, disregarding neither of them as evil or unnecessary.
The Spiritual Vision Model (term coined by Craig Blaising) describes all views that focus only on the spiritual and disregard the physical aspects to one degree or another. This can be seen in the more extreme views where the physical realm is considered as being inherently evil, contrasted to a more moderate view where the physical realm is not necessarily defined as sinful, but neither is it really taken into account as being part of God’s good plan. Rather it is seen more simply as a necessity which just happens to exist, and that the spiritual aspects of all things is where our focus should be, since the physical realm will ultimately be done away with.
In the Christian church, the influence of the Spiritual Vision Model is most commonly seen in the general perception that many people have about what heaven will be like. Many tend to think of heaven as simply a spiritual existence, perhaps even sitting on clouds and playing harps. According to this model, heaven will be a non-earthly spiritual existence for eternity. However, the picture that the Bible gives us concerning heaven is quite different, specifically as describing the new heavens and the new earth as a physical, fully restored and glorified existence on earth (Isaiah 65, Rev. 21). Heaven will be a perfect mix of the spiritual focus on God and enjoying the physical blessings created by God for the good of his people and the glory of his name.
The New Creation Model seeks to emphasise both the spiritual and the physical as part of God’s good creation, something that will be fully restored in heaven. Since God is the one who created the physical world, his purposes include both the spiritual and physical aspects of creation. This model is in no way anti-spiritual; rather it seeks to affirm both the physical and the spiritual as very good (Genesis 1:31). God does not call us to desire for something that we were not created for, such as an eternal non-physical spiritual existence. For a human to long for a never ending spiritual existence only is not right, since we were created as physical and spiritual beings. We need to have a biblically holistic view in this regard.
So how did the Spiritual Vision Model find its way to the church in the first place? Firstly, there is often a misunderstanding regarding the difference of the intermediate heaven (present heaven) where believers await for their final resurrection as compared to the coming new heaven and earth (eternal state). Second, through the influence of Platonism on the Christian church. For example, Origen picked up the ideas of Plato and had a big influence on the church. Platonistic thinking also had a big impact on Augustine, who in turn has influenced the views of Christians throughout the ages, both in good and bad. Bodily resurrection, eating & drinking, walking & talking, living in houses, government, working, culture, seasons, these are some of the things that a Spiritual Vision Model rejects in regard to heaven, even though these are aspects which the Bible specifically addresses.
God created humans to live in a physical world. He created us to work and enjoy that work. He commanded us to be fruitful, fill the earth, and to take dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). However, as descendants of Adam and Even who have followed in their rebellion against our Creator, we now live in a sin cursed world with death and suffering, one that is waiting for the future restoration (Rom. 8:18-25). Yet, God has reaffirmed the original creation mandate even after the fall (Gen. 9, Psalm 8) showing that his original purpose in creation has not changed, not even in this fallen world that awaits final redemption. One day, all things, whether in heaven or on earth, will be reconciled by the blood of Christ (Col. 1:20). He is the perfect mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
When speaking about the coming new heavens and new earth, Isaiah describes that there will be building of houses, living in houses, planting of vineyards, eating fruit, living in peace, enjoyment of the work, and peace even amongst animals (Isaiah 65:17-25 see also Isaiah 11 and 25:6:8). Thus it follows, that since God created us for this purpose of dominion on the earth and that this is the future we await (2 Peter 3:13), then surely we cannot think of these ‘earthy’ aspects of life as simply unimportant in the present, somehow favouring only that which is spiritual as opposed to material. Again, we need to have a thoroughly biblical and holistic view regarding all of life and creation.
Why does it matter? Ultimately, the seriousness of the error in the Spiritual Vison Model is that it ends up downplaying the glory of God displayed in the created physical realm. Since it is God who created physical existence in the first place, we should be very careful if we think that it is something unnecessary and evil that we are to seek to escape from. A false view of heaven also robs the believer some of the excitement and joy to wait for the new heavens and the new earth. Having a wrong understanding of the physical realm also affects us here and now, in regard to how we glorify him with all aspects of our life on this present earth. The last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22 give us a glimpse to this glorious hope we have, that one day we will be with God on the new heavens and the new earth, where all of life will be restored to its God-ordained purpose.
If you are interested in learning more about this subject, I highly recommend listening to these excellent lectures by my former professor Dr. Michael Vlach:
If you’re looking for a quick overview about what the Bible teaches about the new earth, I recommend listening to Dr. Vlach’s seminar session “New Earth: The Eternal State” (46 min.) from Shepherds’ Conference 2020.
Recommended books relating to the subject:
Michael Vlach – He Will Reign Forever
Randy Alcorn – Heaven
Anthony Hoekema – Created in God’s Image
Steven James – New Creation Eschatology and the Land