Yes, New Earth Will Have Movies!
The Gospel Coalition has concluded its 2015 conference about the New Heavens and New Earth (photos and videos here). I wasn’t there (though CAPC was) but I know that speakers affirmed that we often neglect a robust biblical vision of human resurrection, God’s promised renewal of His physical creation, and the fact that God’s physical gifts are not unimportant or less “spiritual” but are made holy by “spiritual” tasks like Bible reading and prayer.I believe that popular culture — yes, including literal discs and books and songs — will last into eternal life.
To all this I give a hearty “amen.” But I would remind “resurrection movement” Christians that this vision applies not only to humans and Earth, but also to popular culture.
Ask this: At the end of all things, what happens to all of our pop culture, to literal items such as Blu-ray discs, books, LPs, smartphones, comic books, and game consoles? We might recall a flawed view of 2 Peter 3:10: that believes God will annihilate the earth and everything on it, and create some other eternal existence that won’t have any of that stuff. But now many Christians have gotten hold of more solid resurrection/New Earth teaching. This truth should change all we assume about popular culture. That’s why I believe that popular culture — yes, including literal discs and books and songs — will last into eternal life.
First, God’s word never contradicts this, but subtly affirms it: Popular culture and human culture from the beginning has been part of God’s gift of the “cultural mandate“ to human beings. Making stories and songs are naturally human activities, as natural as breathing or sleeping. God created man; man subcreates culture such as wine-making and feasts, and we make stories and songs to enjoy at feasts. As long as humans exist, human culture along with popular culture will exist. And on New Earth God will make us more human, not less.
Second, Scripture itself will last forever. And Scripture includes a brief history of a long-lost golden age of popular culture (Genesis 4:21-22) and even quotes from Greek pop culture writers (Acts 17:28). Clearly the Bible won’t “censor” this pop culture for eternity.
Third and best of all, the Bible specifically affirms that culture (and pop culture) will last forever when it promises kings will bring their glories into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:24). These “glories” are describing cultural goods that must include art, film, plays, novels, shows, folk and rock songs, comic art, games, and more. Just as New Earth must be an actual Earth, a city must be an actual city, which must include all kinds of human culture.
This notion seems radical. While older authors such as John Calvin remind us that “liberal arts” reflect God’s common grace, they often casually dismiss “common” culture such as novels and plays. But there is no reason to split one from the other, especially when much “classic” culture, such as Shakespeare plays and jazz music, began as pop culture.
Some have also said, “This idea will make people materialistic.” But first, if the doctrine is based in Scripture and someone uses it to justify sin, it’s not the doctrine’s fault. Second, we must fight the sin of materialism knowing that materialism comes from our own heart-level abuse of material things, not the thing itself. Third, if we view pop culture-making as God’s gift to humanity, that places this gift entirely on His terms. He can give it or take it away.
Others say, “Popular culture may last forever, but not the bad stuff.” Author Randy Alcorn, whose book Heaven reawakened me to resurrection/New Earth truth, suggests books and movies will last forever but will be theologically cleaned up. I’m not sure I agree. If the Bible shows saints in heaven who recall sin and suffering (Revelation 6:9-11), and if we won’t be “greater fools in Paradise than we are here” (as George McDonald said), why could we not have pop artifacts that still include endorsements of sin? This is more conceivable when we know that sinful people still make beautiful and truthful things. Resurrected saints would know more about sin, not less, and can clearly see sin-celebrating culture for what it is.
Finally, some may respond, “This is a Jesus juke. We needn’t over-spiritualize pop culture. It already has value because it’s Art and all that.” Then do we assume pop culture in eternity will be “beneath” us as we focus on “spiritual” things? Why then not ignore popular culture today and focus only on “spiritual” things (as some Christians still wrongly insist, contrary to Scripture and God-endorsed human nature)? Instead, if you’re like me — prone to being flippant about pop culture and abusing this gift for sinful ends — this doctrine corrects such fleshly desires. We can’t assume the Holy Spirit automatically cleans out this sinful habit. It takes effort to fight it. And sometimes it takes some potentially uncool topic “juking.”
Yet I do agree: This truth must become “background” truth. Eventually it should color our vision of popular culture even when we aren’t directly thinking about the doctrine.
If I didn’t believe that at least some stories and songs would last forever, I wouldn’t spend so much time getting excited about them or writing about them at CAPC. In fact, I suspect that what little time I spent on them would be wasted time better spent evangelizing or reading theology.
Instead this view helps me fight my own materialism. If pop culture is not ultimately man’s possession but God’s, then God has the right to withhold or grant that gift for His purposes.
This view also gives me perspective. I see more of God’s common grace in popular culture but I am bothered by bad pop culture. But I am more often bothered that human pop culture is tainted by its creators’ sinful motives, exploitation, commercialism, and lack of excellence as well as lies and pictures of ugliness about God, human beings, and God’s world. I want to anticipate the day when all those pictures of sin will either be burned away or else preserved as reminders of what godless life was like.
This view also reminds me that our anticipation for New Earth shouldn’t be based even exclusively on truthful texts about the doctrine of resurrection. As one CAPC reader helped remind me, even our “New Earth will be a physical place, really!”-style books and sermons may remove some of the joy and mystique of that fantastical future. Do we trade in pictures of floating spirits on clouds with harps, and get back pictures limited to modern Earth life with all the sin cleaned up? Rather, we should enjoy our stories, songs, and images partly because they help us anticipate the wonder of New Earth — even fantastical possibilities in New Earth such as restored lives, new creatures, fantasy quests, or interstellar voyages.
Biblical doctrine is our foundation for truth about eternity. That’s why we need preaching. But we must build on this doctrine structures of imagination. That’s why we need stories and songs. And that’s another reason I believe we will enjoy stories and songs forever — because these works help us eagerly groan for eternity and the wonders God has in store.
***As long as humans exist, human culture along with popular culture will exist. ***
I’m not sure that is a tenable position. For example, there is a lot of human culture associated with marriage. Yet there will be no marriage in the New Earth (Mark 12:25). How do you have artifacts related to something when that something will no longer exist?
Some folks aren’t entirely certain all of marriage will be done away with … but apart from that issue, we’ll surely have the memory of marriage and its cultural aspects. Surely not *all* of culture will make “the cut.” For example, porn is definitely out. So would be other cultural practices that celebrate sin. I think that if they survive they would only survive in memory form — for we ourselves will preserve the memories of sin and see them entirely in light of God’s glory and sovereignty.
A parable: This morning a pesky mosquito woke me up. We joke about mosquitoes being the only critter God didn’t create, but! seriously, we know He did create them. And we know they must have had some purpose other than being parasitic. So I’m confident mosquitoes, as a good creature God created, will be renewed in the new creation — even if I don’t yet know their redemptive purpose. But Scripture includes many more overt references to some cultural goods continuing into the After-world.
What pop culture will exist? The pop culture driven by greed, power and sex? The pop culture of today, or the pop culture of 1873? Will all pop culture from every age and culture be present within the Age to Come? Can something based in the finite exist within the infinite?
I do believe that our capacity to create art, music, etc… That doesn’t mean that the current art, in all its existent forms, will still exist in the New Earth. Not everything that is artful is glorious, or would you say that martial arts(if one argues that fighting styles can’t be art, then dancing is not longer art) will exist in the New Earth as it does today, or that weapons will exist as well? What would make our current media subsist during the Reign of Christ and not other things such as nuclear weapons(which are products of our God given gift of invention and ingenuity)?
Looking at your comment, I agree with a lot of the questions you raise. Still, those are all corruptions of natural things that can happen- and that God made to be able to happen. If we agree that we live in a world that we call “Fallen”- that is, away from the true acting presence of God- then we can do anything and we are outside of God’s immediate care. We are left to our own devices, which leads us to death since we are not with the Giver of Life. But I don’t support the implication that humanity’s act of “Falling” could create new laws or facts about Nature. The atomic bomb was created by a corruption of God’s invention of nuclear fission and nuclear decomposition. The same goes for a sword: an extension of humanity’s view for metal, and how the blade can cut through things. The intent to cause pain is the sin, really, not the sword. The image of the human form, naked, is said to be viewed in “all its glory” because it has value from God inventing it. I can’t say exactly how that real soulful change in us will happen, and how it will stay put in the New Creation, but I know that it will happen.
I guess what I want to say is: We’ll be able to fully see things as God wants us to, even if those things appear dangerous or harmful to us now. We’ll see them as God sees them: great things, corrupted, but still great in their existence.
Elias, I just answered your other comment below, but thanks much for your engagement and challenges. It’s something I always expect when discussing this!
My first thought is that, despite our further questions and wonderings based on “well the logical conclusion would be this”-style statement, is that our first challenges come from Scripture itself as I mentioned above. We already know that pop culture from pagan Greeks B.C. will be in New Earth because it’s part of the eternal word. So that alone is a challenge. But so is the whole concept (which I do more or less need to assume readers know) that New Earth will not be a foreign environment, but a familiar-one-made-new; and that New Earth will not be a “spiritual” place as in without material substance, but a “Spiritual” as in Spirit-filled place (yet God distinct from His creation) populated by saints with Spiritual bodies.
“What pop culture will exist? The pop culture driven by greed, power and sex?”
Most would answer no, and if that were the case I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. However, as I mention above, I’m not convinced that is theologically required. Surely some very good popular culture was motivated by greed, power-abuse and sex-abuse (recall that power and sex are not intrinsically bad!). It may be that the Greek poets whom Paul quoted were so motivated, and yet there they are in Scripture. Douglas Wilson notes, “It is not the path of discernment to judge things by what they used to be.” I myself am too often motivated by greed, power-abuse and sex-abuse (meaning idolatry of sex, not the technical term). Yet I hope to be there!
“The pop culture of today, or the pop culture of 1873? Will all pop culture from every age and culture be present within the Age to Come?”
Scripture says that God ransoms people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). So I expect representatives from many, many, many historical eras and cultures. Scripture also says that kings will bring their glory into the holy city (Rev. 21:24; cf. Isaiah 60, 65-66 about specific cultural goods in the After-world such as ships and wine and fine clothing and culture-refined jewels). So I expect to see glory from different nations’ cultures in the city. We’ll be one people, yet diverse. (This is not, by the way, any kind of universalism, for just as not *every* bit of popular culture will be represented there, so not every *person* will be there.)
“Can something based in the finite exist within the infinite?”
Here is where my presumption that readers are familiar with “resurrection teaching” is limited! In short: There is no biblical reason to believe that eternity for anyone other than God Himself will be “infinite.” New Earth will be a physical, finite — through renewed and filled with God’s glory. It will have time and space, air and water and dirt and animals and geographic locations and gravity and feelings.
For more on this topic, see for example The Gospel Coalition’s recent series on this topic, especially Randy Alcorn’s message Continuity & Discontinuity: How Similar or Different Might Life on the New Earth Be to Our Present Lives? and Joe Rigney’s message Strangely Dim? The Things of Earth in the Light of Christ’s Face. I was actually able to listen to both of these today, because the good folks at TGC posted the conference audio after I had written this article.
“I do believe that our capacity to create art, music, etc… That doesn’t mean that the current art, in all its existent forms, will still exist in the New Earth.”
God’s written word is a work of art, and it will exist forever. So that’s at least one form of art that will be there for certain. Again, there is no biblical case against such things as human expressions lasting alongside humanity, and a huge biblical case to support these things (with or without current copies) lasting for eternity.
“Not everything that is artful is glorious, or would you say that martial arts(if one argues that fighting styles can’t be art, then dancing is not longer art) will exist in the New Earth as it does today, or that weapons will exist as well?”
I’m not sure whence the presumption that my claim “popular culture will be on New Earth” equals *everything popular culture has ever done*. Surely there will be exceptions, as Joe Carter noted above in his comment about how marriage rituals may fall by the wayside. My own belief is that surely we’ll have the memory of all these things — Scripture never references any kind of divine “memory wipe” but simply won’t need them. They’ll go unpracticed by cultural attrition if nothing else.
I have not thought about martial-arts styles. I’m not sure why those couldn’t be there. And surely any swords that had not been beaten into plowshares could survive as museum relics. Villains used swords for bad. Heroes (including biblical saints) used swords for good. Angels are said to have swords. I should like very much to see Ehud’s infamous sword, or the actual spear that pierced Christ’s side.
“What would make our current media subsist during the Reign of Christ and not other things such as nuclear weapons(which are products of our God given gift of invention and ingenuity)?”
This seems to presume a lower view of popular culture, if I’ve read the question rightly. I can think of plenty of good and God-exalting purposes for novels and movies and video games even on Old Earth, and very little good for nuclear weapon (without getting into whether they factor into Just War Theory and such).
If you wish to continue a conversation, I welcome the opportunity. Just holler back — especially if I’ve not addressed something or misread something you said.
***And that’s another reason I believe we will enjoy stories and songs forever — because these works help us eagerly groan for eternity and the wonders God has in store.***
Stories create in us a longing for eternity, so why would we continue to read something that points towards to eternity when we ARE in eternity?! That’s like looking at a picture of ice cream and desiring it while eating that same ice cream!
Elias, I think that’s a great question. But I think this does reduce the purpose of popular culture to the one redeeming quality I mentioned. In a sinless world God established the cultural mandate when there was no need to combat sin or create longings for eternity. Rather, in the very act of creating (or “subcreation” to re-cite J.R.R. Tolkien’s term), we image and reflect God’s nature. What we create serves as a secondary reflection of Him, by way of us. Our stories and songs also reflect beauties and truths, and I believe (at least in the case of novels) also ugliness and lies, which the best stories and songs use to show beauties and truths even more.
Also, I’ve no doubt New Earth will have ice cream. But we won’t be eating it all the time. Maybe we’ll go on adventures and wait for ice cream at the end. Surely we will also look forward to things like family visits, new discoveries, and visits with particular biblical saints and the incarnate Christ Himself. If anticipation of a joy or gift can be so enjoyable on Old Earth, why presume instant gratification in eternity?
Thanks for the extra food for thought Patrick!
Thanks for the extra clarification Stephen! The concept is new to me, and still raises more questions in my mind, but I will definitely look into the articles in order to better understand this view on eternity.
I’m glad that you cite Tolkien and the idea of subcreation. There is a hefty eschatological significance to the idea of “making” in all of Tolkien’s work and thought. Have you read his short story “Leaf By Niggle”? It reflects this very idea. We make, based on a mysterious inspiration granted us by God, using the raw materials that he gave us. Still, our “subcreations” are imperfect in the here and now, but grace and love will perfect them in a way we don’t entirely understand. Anyway, it’s all in the story.
I recently wrote about the story and discussed it in a podcast:
The poem he wrote for C.S. Lewis, “Mythopoeia”, also deals with this idea, and his long essay “On Fairy-Stories” does as well. I think Tolkien sums the matter up well: “All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give home as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.”
Anyway, this is an incredibly attractive idea that needs to be more fully embraced and fleshed out by Christians. Our creativity is not an afterthought, but a critical part of our destiny.
Interesting perspective. I began reading this article with a very skeptical attitude and a rolling of the eyes, and by the end I think it’s possible you’ve changed my mind!
I must say, though, the ideas in this article seemed, to me, very rushed and hurriedly covered. Which is understandable, as this is a rather large topic to try to address in a single post. However, I would have been very interested in seeing this covered as a series of post, allowing you to take more time and include more detail. Just a thought.
Absolutely — given venue and wordcount limitations, I could only scratch the surface of the topic here. And as I mentioned above, I did presume some reader familiarity with the concepts of physical resurrection of the saints and renewal (not annihilation) of the physical planet Earth. Let this brief exploration, then, serve as a gateway to this fascinating and God-exalting field of doctrine. As I mentioned in previous comments that flesh out the topic, especially this followup, Heaven by Randy Alcorn is a great place to start, as is his most recent primer on the topic at The Gospel Coalition: Continuity & Discontinuity: How Similar or Different Might Life on the New Earth Be to Our Present Lives?.
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