My time at Fuller Seminary has dramatically shaped me in many ways. One of the ways that it has formed me is the profound realization that Christianity is not concerned primarily with “going to heaven when I die.”
Please hear me out before you send off a tweet like, “Farewell @jeremydriley” or “@jeremydriley has gone heretical. Next he’ll be talking about how Five Guys is better than In-n-Out.” (For the record, In-n-Out beats Five Guys every day of the week)
I’ve noticed that there is an underlying theme to the New Testament, a tune that recurs in the Gospels and Epistles. As symphonies and movie scores use a recurring theme under a piece of music, the constant tune that reappears and reinvents itself in so many different ways in the NT, is that of union with Christ.
One thing you need to know about me is that I enjoy classical music. I love the emotion that captures me, it’s so unlike any other type of music. One of the pieces that caught me at a particular event was when the Pacific Symphony in Orange County played Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (If you haven’t heard, you really need to give it a try). There is a part in the piece that the music grows in intensity and it left me emotionally paralyzed in my chair (it starts at the 6:30 mark in the video). As it builds, the crescendo is finally reached and the music slowly winds down for the next couple of minutes.
If the New Testament was like a symphony, Paul would see the high point, the crescendo of our lives, as union with Christ. Reading through his letters, we see this constant theme, this steady refrain of “in Christ.” Go ahead and give it a look. You’ll find Paul pressing this point many times in his letters.
Yes, I believe we will “go to heaven.” But heaven is not the end. Heaven is only the beginning. If you are in Christ, there will be a life after this life after death, as NT Wright would put it. Think about this for a moment: there will be a new heavens and new earth. Our bodies will be resurrected, just as Jesus’ body was restored to life on Easter morning. Thankfully, we won’t be like zombies with a hunger for brains, but instead we will be physical like Jesus, our bodies will be restored and renewed.
If we have been joined to Jesus, in his death, then we will be joined in his glorious resurrection.
Think of it this way, Jesus is like a prototype. He is the firstfruits, as Paul would write in I Corinthians 15. His resurrection means for us (if you are in Christ) that we too can be raised to newness of life and experience a form of it now. We too can go through death without the sting, for Jesus the crucified Messiah has given us victory. That, my friends, is something you can hold onto.
But what does union with Christ mean for us here and now? Head over to part 2 for the thrilling conclusion!
What other themes do you find in the New Testament?