As Christians we must try to balance seemingly contradictory views in many areas of our lives. We often tend to lose our balance and fall into an extreme on one side of an issue or the other. For example; it is difficult for us to comprehend the sovereignty of God in salvation and yet understand that we must invite and even plead with sinners to repent of their sins and come to Christ. Also, we strive with all our might to become more like Jesus Christ in daily life and yet realize that God is ultimately working in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
One of the main areas in which Christians struggle to maintain the proper balance is the tension between living as citizens of heaven and citizens of earth. Stephen Nichols wrote Heaven on Earth to deal with this tension. However, he does not go it alone. The entire book is based on the sermons of Jonathan Edwards. Through the explanation of several of Edwards’ sermons, Nichols expounds the vision Edwards had of living on earth as a citizen of heaven.
Heaven on Earth is a short book, but is filled with helpful explanations of Edwards’ thoughts on heaven. Nichols begins the book with the problem being discussed, namely that we live as dual citizens, and we must learn how to properly balance our time and efforts to reflect our commitment to heaven but our desire to impact this earth with the gospel. He explains the two extremes that Christians often fall into. First, there are those Christians that Nichols calls “monastery Christians.” They live a life fearful of the world around them and with no desire to interact with it at all. “They refuse to live in this world and instead construct an entirely Christian one, from which they rarely break out.” (p. 19) In contrast to these people are those Christians who live for this world so much that it appears they aren’t even aware of the one to come. “They are consumed by this world’s agenda and are driven by its passions.” (p. 19)
After explaining the two extremes, Nichols spends the remaining six chapters teaching the proper balance of living on earth while bound for heaven. Each of these chapters is based on a sermon of Edwards. Nichols doesn’t reproduce the entire sermon, but walks the reader through the major concepts presented in each one. For example, chapter two is based on the Edwards’s sermon, “Heaven Is a World of Love.” Many people perceive Edwards as the preacher who preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This is only half the picture.
In chapter two of this book we come to understand that Edwards was a man who thought often about heaven and longed to be there. Nichols walks the reader through the beautiful explanation Edwards gave of our future home. His vision of heaven is a vision of a world consumed by love. The helpful part of Edwards is that he does not stop by explaining what heaven will be like. He wants his listeners to understand how the proper vision of heaven will transform their lives on earth. “He points them to heaven with one hand, while with the other he directs their attention back to earth” (p. 32).
This is where we come to understand the vision that Edwards had of living heaven on earth. “Living in between means we take both worlds into account. We are on the way to heaven, but we are not there yet. We applaud its breakthroughs in this world, but we know there are far better things to come” (p. 37). In other words, it is our duty as Christians to bring heaven to earth as much as possible.
The remaining chapters continue to investigate the tension of living in between. These chapters deal with such topics as “On the Way to Heaven”, “Being Good Citizens”, “But to Act Justly”, “It’s Only the Beginning”, and “Meeting There at Last.” Nichols closes the book with an abridged version of Edwards’s sermon “Heaven Is a World of Love.”
I believe this book will be helpful for a number of reasons. First, most of us tend to drift to one extreme or the other when it comes to living in between heaven and earth. For those who tend to live as “monastery Christians”, this book will help to propel you out into the world to make an impact with the gospel. Nichols makes the point in the book that even though the Titanic is going down it is still our responsibility to polish the brass because it’s God’s ship. In other words, the earth will one day be burned up by fire, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be investing ourselves in others while we are on the earth. For those who tend to attach themselves to this earth, this book provides an appealing look at heaven. Living on earth is important, but we must remember it is not ultimately our home.
Also, Heaven on Earth will prove helpful because it will alter your perspective. Sometimes books are helpful because they provide specific instructions to deal with specific issues. Other books are helpful because they can spark a paradigm shift in the way you think. This book falls into the second category. Heaven on Earth will challenge your most basic thoughts about heaven, earth, and the possibility of living in between in a way that honors God. It takes purposeful effort to live out the vision Edwards sets. This book is a useful tool in catching that vision.