Reclaiming heaven

What can we say about the afterlife?
When Rudolf Bultmann observed in 1941 that “there is no longer any heaven in the traditional sense of the word,” he was speaking accurately about the spirit of his age. For much of the 20th century, heaven has been treated as the theological equivalent of Timbuktu. With the phrase “from here to Timbuktu,” popular speech reduced an actual city in Mali to a synonym for the impossibly far away, the totally foreign. Something similar has happened to heaven in mainline churches. We no longer speak of heaven as an actual destination, a hope to be realized. Now heaven is a figure of speech, a consoling metaphor to pull out for funeral services. I am not saying that we have stopped believing in heaven. Rather, I am suggesting that like Timbuktu, heaven is treated as if it were a term for something foreign and far away.


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