An excerpt from Whatever Happened to Heaven? by Dave Hunt, published in 1988.
This book is about heaven. Unfortunately, too many persons--even dedicated Christians--find such a topic of only minor interest because they consider it to be largely irrelevant to the challenges of this present life. In the following pages, we will attempt to show, on the contrary, that nothing is more important in shaping how life on earth is lived and what is accomplished, both for time and eternity, than a person's attitude toward the life to come.
Something has happened to adversely affect the way heaven is viewed, with grave consequences for the church and the world. What has happened and why? And what is the growing dilemma that now confronts so many in the church?
In attempting to answer such questions, it will be necessary to begin with a serious consideration of death, a most important but uncomfortable subject. That leads, of course, to the unique claim of Christianity that Christ, through His death for our sins and resurrection, has conquered death and offers eternal life to all who come to Him in repentance and faith. What Jesus had to say about this present life and the life to come, and the peculiar promises He made concerning heaven, gave the early church a hope unknown to the followers of any other religion. That hope, while still retained in theological and theoretical form, is so unreal to the average Christian of today that it has lost its transforming power.
Much of the reason for the present state of affairs lies buried in history and can only be understood by taking a brief excursion into the past. This will include the bitter persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire, the sudden Christianization of the civilized world of the day under Constantine and his successors with the resulting destruction of the empire, along with the subsequent earthly mindedness and corruption of the church that led belatedly to the Reformation. An understanding of the successes and failures of the Reformation and the vital issues separating Protestantism and Catholicism that remain unchanged but largely misunderstood or forgotten today is essential in our pursuit of an answer to the question "Whatever happened to heaven?"
During the Reagan years, evangelicals became more intrigued by periodic marches upon Washington and getting their candidates voted into key offices than they were with the possibility that Christ might at any moment take them home to heaven. The church succumbed once again to the unbiblical hope that, by exerting godly influence upon government, society could be transformed. It is anathema to suggest a flaw in this dream, even though it so manifestly failed in the post-Constantinian era and was a major impediment preventing the Reformation from accomplishing what the reformers originally intended. Nevertheless, sound doctrine, the voice of reason, and the facts of history--no matter how unpopular--must be faced. In this context, we will consider the current perversion of the Great Commission that has resulted from the false dream of Christianizing secular culture--and where it seems to be taking the church.
While our remarks will by no means be limited to a response to their positions, the burgeoning (and, in at least some respects deceptive and dangerous) influence upon the church by three groups of dedicated Christians will be addressed in the following pages. These relatively new groups whose beliefs and impact will be examined are: The Reconstructionists, Kingdom Now Dominionists, and the Coalition on Revival (COR). Although there are many differences among them, there are also important similarities; and all three groups are beginning to work together for the accomplishment of common goals.... COR is particularly important to understand because its membership includes many of the world's most respected Christian leaders, some of whom may not be fully aware of the true nature of the agenda which their names and reputations are being used to promote.
All three of these groups either reject the belief that Christ will one day take His church out of this world and home to heaven, or relegate it to a position of such minor importance that it has no practical role in today's Christianity. In fact, there is an increasing antagonism against eagerly watching and waiting for Christ's return, which surely was the attitude of the early church.... [A] backlash has developed against the rapture.
Within the evangelical church today the numbers are dwindling of those who retain in meaningful form the hope of the imminent return of Christ to take them to the mansions of His Father's house before the whole world explodes in the Great Tribulation judgment and Armageddon. In contrast, the numbers are growing rapidly of those who view such a hope as the negative product of a defeatist theology--a theology that undermines the "victory" they believe could be won by the church if Christians would only catch the vision of taking over the world for Christ and unite to fulfill it. The tension is building to a climax between those individuals who long to leave this earth for heaven in the rapture and other equally sincere people who believe it is our duty to Christianize society, and that until this has been accomplished our Lord cannot return. For many others, perhaps the majority, the seeming contradictions present a confusing dilemma.
Heaven remains the place that everyone hopes to reach someday, but which almost no one wants to be taken to right now. What is wrong, if anything, with such an attitude, and what are its consequences? Here we have the crux of an issue that many people are not yet aware has even been raised, but which will be the most important concern confronting the church in the immediate future.
We are now in the beginning of a growing controversy. It could ultimately prove to be as divisive and as important as the Reformation itself. Indeed, some of the same issues will have to be faced again. It is within this context that we propose to consider what surely should be to everyone a significant and vital question: "Whatever happened to heaven?"
In the process of answering that question, we may well arrive at a deeper understanding of Christ's love than we thought was possible, and find awakening within us a renewed and richer love for Him. We may even thrill to the discovery that there is a romance between Christ and His bride--and find ourselves caught up in its wonder and joy.