If you pay attention to Christian publishing, you’ll observe that certain themes come and go, rise and fall. One author will write a book on a subject and that may ignite interest so that several others follow up to challenge that person’s view, to affirm it, or to pursue it from a different angle. A recent theme, at least in one little corner of the Christian world, has been the notion of “home.” And now Ian K. Smith has added an excellent little volume that examines earth as our home and the renewal of the earth as God’s plan for it.
To be clear, this is not a book on the environment or on environmentalism. Rather, it is a book that essentially asks whether the ultimate home for God’s people will be heaven or earth, something entirely new to our experience or something familiar. Christians like to talk about those who die as “being in heaven” or “being called home,” and our eternal destiny as being “going to heaven to live forever with Jesus.” And while none of these statements is exactly wrong, neither are they precisely right. While we can be confident that Christians who die are immediately ushered into the presence of Jesus, they do so in an “intermediate state” where body and soul have not yet been reunited. They go to a temporary home, not yet a final one. As for that final home, the Bible seems to indicate that it is not “out there” but right here on earth. In other words, God’s plan is not to destroy the earth and create us a new place to live, but to restore the earth and put us right back here.
This distinction may seem pedantic, but sound theology always has real-world implications and real-life applications.
An understanding of the future of the earth has significant implications for how we see it now. When we understand that the end of all things is the renewal of all things, then all things become important. No longer will we see the spiritual as more important than the physical; such a dualism is more indebted to Greek philosophy than to the Bible. God is committed to his creation. It’s all important, whether Bible study, employment, church, hobbies, family, the arts, or community involvement. When we understand that the impact of the resurrection is much bigger than we ever imagined, our worldview will be changed. No longer will our sermons be just about what happens after death (important though that is), the gospel will also resound with relevance to this life, to the earth, to the places we inhabit and call home. The knowledge that our home will be renewed will give relevance to life.
The purpose of this book, then, is “to reawaken (resurrect even), a biblical understanding of the earth and God’s mission to it.”
To do this, Smith first lays a solid foundation of biblical theology—a survey of the notion of home as it stretches from creation in the distant past to new creation in the distant or not-too-distant future. He shows how earth was meant to be our perfect home, how its perfection was disrupted by the fall into sin, how God chose to make a place and a land his home, and how we are given the promise of an even better home to come. He shows—convincingly, to my mind—that God’s intention for the future is to restore this earth to its former glory and to dwell with us here forever. Our mandate to exercise dominion over God’s creation on God’s behalf will remain, but this time we will be able to carry it out perfectly and eternally. “When we understand that the earth was made by God and declared to be very good, and that it will be renewed, and that many of our current achievements will be purged and have eternal significance, the merit of our activities is measured very differently. Such a worldview is holistic and gives so much meaning to so many of our current pursuits.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was challenged by it. So, too, was Sinclair Ferguson who indicates as much in his endorsement, which I’ll borrow as a fitting conclusion to this brief review. “Home must surely be one of the most emotion-filled words in the English language. It is where we belong. But where is home for the Christian? Are we living in a far country here on earth, just waiting for a better day when we can leave the earth and simply enjoy heaven? Think of Ian Smith as your friendly theological realtor. He knows about the home God has created for us. With theological skill and deft simplicity, he can explain its long history. He understands where we fit into its story. He is also sensitive to the responsibility Christians have to our ‘home,’ even though we have not yet seen its final reconstruction. Brief as Not Home Yet may be, you will find it instructive and challenging beyond its size.”
(Not Home Yet is available at Amazon, Westminster Books, and wherever else you buy good books!)