Hans Boersma continues his project of retrieving and promoting traditional Christian beliefs in an era where many of these beliefs have lost their lustre. In this most recent book, Boersma advances historical and dogmatic arguments for our telos of seeing God in the face of Christ. While Christians of all ages have understood the beatific vision to be our final destination, some today question the validity of the beatific vision.
An Argument against the Beatific Vision
As the argument goes, Greek philosophy and Platonism corrupted the simple biblical teaching of the future. This argument finds its inception in German liberalism and specifically Adolf Harnock. But among evangelical Protestants, dispensationalists have taken up the mantle of Harnock to dispute the traditional doctrine of the visio dei.
The Bible, they claim, teaches a new creation model of the future in which we will live on physical earth. The spiritual vision model of the medieval church gainsays biblical truth by overemphasizing the spirit and downplaying the physical body (or physical universe).
One problem with the dispensational critique is that it does not comport to reality. In fact, Christianity adopted language within Platonism to build an independent Christian culture that sees God as creator, controller, and preserver of all. And in fact, the Spirit has led the church into all truth which includes the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation.
Although traditional Christian language describes these doctrines by using biblical and platonic language, it does not do so in imitation of Plato but simply because language is the tool of theology. We talk about gravity today not because we believe in the entire system of enlightenment science! But just because it is the common language to describe the world around us. Likewise the same is true for Christians who use the language of substance and persons.
The truth of the matter is that the modern-day underemphasis of the spiritual vision derives from an un-enchanted view of reality, a modernistic approach to Scripture (historical-critical or sometimes grammatical-historical when it imitates the historical-critical approach), and denial of Christian metaphysics.
Boersma’s Retrieval of the Beatific Vision
Boersma introduces the traditional idea of sacramental ontology to restore Christian convictions about the universe. The vision of God is just one more victim of naturalistic thinking that has already attempted to silence the doctrines of simplicity, immutability, and the Trinity.
In Seeing God, Boersma exegetes the history of the church from the Fathers to modern theologians to demonstrate the consistent dogmatic witness to the teaching the visio dei. What Boersma emphasizes and perhaps corrects within the tradition is that seeing God happens only in the face of Christ. Thus, the vision of God is Christological.
Unfortunately, Boersma does not spend much time proving the doctrine from Scripture, although he frequently turns to Scripture. What he does do is show how Christianity has perceived this teaching throughout history with gentle criticism throughout.
Seeing God represents a success in historical and retrieval theology but will not satisfy those who want a robust biblical defence. For that, read Book IV of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. Or simply read any Christian from the last 1,900 years who spoke of our heavenly reward, our goal in life and our future repose in God. It is nearly guaranteed that they will unfurl the rich teaching that we will see God face to face.
We will experience what John speaks of in his first epistle: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). At that time, we “will see his face” (Rev 22:4). Although “now we see in a mirror dimly” when Christ returns, we will “then [see him] face to face” (1 Cor 13:12). Boersma shows us the profundity of this simple teaching by listening to the luminaries of the Christian faith throughout the centuries.
Just buy it already. I recommend it.
Disclaimer: Eerdmans provided me a review copy of the book.