Will There Be Art Galleries in Heaven? Christianity, Culture and Eschatology

Culture, creativity, growth and learning will take place in the next life:

Culture matters. It did when God created the world, it matters now, and it will matter in the next life. Let me discuss all this by way of two introductory thoughts. The first is a bit autobiographical. All my life I have hated to waste anything. I just don’t like seeing things go to waste.

I take it this is something I got from my parents – they grew up during the Great Depression so they knew all about the need to always be frugal and never wasteful. It wore off on me obviously. I even dislike leaving the last grain of rice on my plate!

But bigger things also concern me. I think of various great cultural artifacts that have been lost or are under threat of being lost. It might be a great work of architecture destroyed in war, and an entire library that goes up in flames, or famous statues pulled down by militants, or wonderful paintings that deteriorate with age. I care about culture in other words and hate to see aspects of it disappear.

And that relates to my second prefatory remark: some non-Christians or atheists complain that heaven will be a real drag, and all the things that they love here on earth – literature, art, food, music, architecture, poetry, culture, etc. – will be absent in heaven. So they have no interest in going there. Well, two things can be said about their concern:

One, God will be there, which will be more than sufficient. As he is the author and source of everything that is true, beautiful and wonderful, there will be more than enough things to wonder at and be amazed by. But two, who says all these aspects of culture that we love now will be absent then?

I believe the concerns God first had when he created this world – all of which he pronounced as being very good – will be continued in the next life. It will be different and better and perfected, but it will reflect God’s original intentions when he first made man and his surroundings. That is, God is the creator of human culture.

His job description to our first parents continues not only now – even after the Fall – but will do so in the future. God wants us to be sub-creators as Tolkien put it, and continue to be creative as we develop and cultivate the world around us. For more on why I believe this is a thoroughly biblical position, see my recent piece on the cultural mandate: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/07/19/on-the-cultural-mandate/

And see also my recent piece on common grace: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/07/18/jordan-peterson-and-common-grace/

So let me take all this further. I often think when I hear a beautiful piece of music, or read a wonderful work of literature, or see an amazing painting or a marvellous piece of architecture that these are all good and great things, and I would hate to see them disappear altogether – to go to waste.

Sure, nothing will last forever in this life, but the cultural processes and interests, the yearning for creativity, and the eye for beauty and wonder – all of which God put into us – will continue. I really do not think we will just sit around quite bored as disembodied spirits, floating around on ethereal clouds forever.

I believe the work of culture making and civilisation building that Adam and Eve were first tasked with will always be with us – not just now, but in the new heavens and the new earth. Of course much of the next life is not clearly known – Scripture only tells us so much about it – so we must make do with some speculation and conjecture here.

But knowing what we do about God’s good plans and intentions at creation, it makes perfect sense to see this emphasis on culture and civilisation as being an ongoing project – from here to eternity. This has always been God’s plan for us, and the Fall notwithstanding, he will accomplish his eternal purposes – what he first set out to achieve.

If all of this sounds rather new and radical – even heretical – to you, I urge you to read the pieces I linked to above. They will give you much more of a background, as well as a feel, for what I am talking about. As is evident in those earlier articles, I am certainly not alone in thinking this way, with a number of noted Christian writers and theologians – out of so many – also saying the same sorts of things.

Let me return to some of these writers – along with a few others. First, consider two important books by Anthony Hoekema. In his 1979 volume, The Bible and the Future, he has a chapter on the new earth. He says this:

The doctrine of the new earth, as taught in Scripture, is an important one. It is important, first, for the proper understanding of the life to come…. Second, the doctrine of the new earth is important for a proper grasp of the full dimensions of God’s redemptive program. In the beginning, so we read in Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. Because of man’s fall into sin, a curse was pronounced over this creation. God now sent his Son into this world to redeem that creation from the results of sin. The work of Christ, therefore, is not just to save certain individuals, not even to save an innumerable throng of blood-bought people. The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin. That purpose will not be accomplished until God has ushered in the new earth, until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained. We need a clear understanding of the doctrine of the new earth, therefore, in order to see God’s redemptive program in cosmic dimensions. We need to realize that God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall.

And then in his 1986 volume, Created in God’s Image, he says this:

The possibilities that now rise before us boggle the mind. Will there be ‘better Beethoven in heaven,’ as one author has suggested? Shall we see better Rembrandts, better Raphaels, better Constables? Shall we read better poetry, better drama, and better prose? Will scientists continue to advance in technological achievement, will geologists continue to dig out the treasures of the earth, and will architects continue to build imposing and attractive structures? We do not know. But what we do know is that man’s dominion over nature shall then be perfect. God will then be magnified by our culture in ways that will surpass our most fantastic dreams.

Andy Crouch, in his valuable 2008 volume Culture Making, has a chapter on eschatology and the book of Revelation. He says this:

Work, in the sense we know it in human history, will not be the same in the new Jerusalem either. Yet if there is no work, there will surely be activity. Perhaps some of the ‘glory and honor of the nations,’ like a fine painting or sculpture, will be able to be simply enjoyed without new human effort. But much of the glory and honor of the nations, whether epic poetry or baroque fugues or fine cuisine, can be realized only when people ‘perform’ it—when singers sing, chefs cook and dancers dance…. It seems likely to me that part of the activity of eternity will be endlessly creative improvisations upon the ‘glory and honor of the nations’—human beings using their creative capacities to their fullest to explore the depth and breadth of all that human beings made in their vocations as cocreators with God. So culture will ultimately fulfill Genesis 1’s mandate—humanity will ultimately comprehend and have our proper dominion over all of creation.

Image of Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture
Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture by Edgar, William (Author) Amazon logo

Consider also William Edgar. In his very helpful 2017 book Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture he has a chapter on “Culture in the Afterlife.” He begins by quoting Bill Pratt: “Yes, human culture has been horribly tainted by sin, but that doesn’t mean that everything humans have created will be tossed in the garbage. There are elements of human culture that glorify God, and why shouldn’t those elements continue on with the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth?” Edgar says this:

The cultural mandate of Genesis thus has its ultimate accomplishment in the new heavens and new earth, by way of the fulfillment of the Great Commission. While finding the continuity and discontinuity in the different versions of the cultural mandate may not settle all the questions about the relation of spiritual growth and cultural activity, it goes a long way toward understanding God’s plan for the whole person in the whole of human society, and argues persuasively against any worldview that dichotomizes the holy and the profane.

Finally, something near to my heart. In his superb 2004 book Heaven, Randy Alcorn has a chapter on “What Will We Know and Learn?” He believes we will keep learning and even keep reading. Sure we will then be able to talk directly with our fave authors, be they Augustine or Aquinas, Chesterton or Colson, Tolkien or Tozer, etc. But he says this:

There’s so much to discover in this universe, but we have so little time and op­portunity to do it. The list of books I haven’t read, music I’ve never heard, and places I haven’t been is unending. There’s much more to know. I look forward to discovering new things in Heaven—forever. At the end of each day I’ll have the same amount of time left as I did the day before. The things I didn’t learn that day, the people I didn’t see, the things I was unable to do—I can still learn, see, or do the next day. Places won’t crumble, people won’t die, and neither will I…. We’ll contemplate God’s person and works, talking long over dinner and tea, on walks and in living rooms, by rivers and fires. Intellectual curiosity isn’t part of the Curse—it is God’s blessing on his image-bearers. He made us with fertile, curious minds so that we might seek truth and find him, our greatest source of pleasure. In Heaven our intellectual curiosity will surely surface—and be satisfied—only to surface and be satisfied again and again.

Hey, that sounds like my kinda place! In sum, heaven will be many things, but it will not be boring. Just because the redeemed go there with new resurrection bodies does NOT mean we become like God: omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and so on. We may well keep on growing and learning and developing – but only in one direction. Sin will no longer be an option, so we can only get better and not worse.

So when I often speak about there being books and libraries in heaven – or rather, the new earth – I am actually being quite serious. There very well may be! And many other things as well. Who knows, maybe even some of your beloved pets as well. That is speculation of course, but I did once pen an entire article musing about it: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/07/06/will-our-pets-be-with-us-in-heaven/

So if you are like me, and you have a hard time seeing some things go to waste, and you have a real passion for great music or wonderful literature or inspiring art or ongoing learning and development and creativity, you may be pleasantly surprised in what awaits you in the next world.

[1920 words]

12 Replies to “Will There Be Art Galleries in Heaven? Christianity, Culture and Eschatology”

  1. That is an interesting take and I think you may be right, but our eternity and future is upon earth and always has been never heaven .
    Gods intention has always been to restore what has been lost and he will and we see that in many scriptures. If we are to rule and reign with Jesus and he is dwelling on Davids throne in the millenium temple Ezekiels temple as shown in EZ 40-44.
    Rev 5:9-10 make it very clear who is reigning on the restored earth and it will be one over a village one over a town or city or multiple places as the word and the law go forth from Jerusalem.
    And no doubt the administrators are travelling between headquarters and the nations cities and towns to carry out their responsibilities.

    It is believers who are administrating the Physical kingdom on earth there are rivers tree animals and a temple that replicates the temple in heaven and I believe there had to be a temple in the garden before the fall.
    The waters have been muddied a lot because of the connection of the early church fathers and Greek thought rather than Jewish thought. Especially when it comes to heaven and the heavenly Kingdom. The Kingdom is called the heavenly kingdom, that is because that is it’s origin but it’s location is clearly on earth. Man was made from the earth for the earth and that has never changed he was never made for heaven.
    John P Harrigan Canadian Missionary and Theologian has great insight into this area in his excellent book “The Gospel Of Christ Crucified” “A theology of suffering Before glory.” It is available in ebook form and I highly recommend it.
    I also highly recommend Jewish pastor Theologeon Daniel Grubers Incredibly challenging “The Separation of Church and Faith” “Copernicus and the Jews.” If you can find one.Just full of scripture. Michael Brown recommends it.
    And while I am at it try Joel Richardsons Book Sinai To Zion Joel makes all his books available in hardcover or free to download in pdf. He is friends with John Harrigan.These guys are opening up scriptures we have never noticed before.
    Joel does a terrific verse by verse bible study along with Dalton Thomas on both Daniel and revelation found on the fia missions app, a lot of material free. Three excellent full length feature series documentary commentaries (with a number of scholars including M Brown and Australia’s Dr Barry Horner) on Covenant and Controversy. These younger guys are touching something!

  2. Thanks Robert. Yes, as I may have said a few times in my piece, the more precise destination for believers will be the new earth. The use of the word ‘heaven’ was used in a more generic sense of the next life.

  3. Well clearly some form of music or singing – Job 38:7, Rev 15:3, etc.

    I suspect, however, when we see what God has made we will be somewhat ashamed of what we can create. I think our creations will pale into insignificance although I too am hopeful of some form of creativity.

    There will, however, be walking, running and flying – Isa 40:38.

    I am also 100% sure our beloved pets will be resurrected and probably with increased capabilities as will we.

  4. I think the detractors down-play ‘heaven’ because of 1. the perfidious influence of the deceiver, and 2. because they think of heaven as some ethereal disembodied wafting existence. 1 is par for the course, 2 is poor teaching in and by the church. New Creation is the goal and, as Paul tells us, we can’t even start to comprehend what this will be. I just wonder about clothes. Will there be clothing shops? Will we make our own? Will we simply ‘command’ them to appear. And what are ‘spiritual bodies’ anyway?

  5. While there is fantastic beauty in this Fallen World; an amazing sunset, your child’s first smile or a kid’s first snowstorm, there is also amazing creativity, even among non-Christians. That said, what these people do with their creativity, one day they will have to give an account before their Creator…

    Yet compared to the world to come, my gut impression is that all the beauty in this world will be scrapings in a garbage can compared to the mind-blowing beauty in Heaven. Oh, an by the way, there’ll be no music in Hell… Oh, and by the way, I can’t wait to hear David perform his Psalms with the original music… Guess I’ll need Hebrew lessons for that…

    And for the bookworms, some pertinent reading material.

    Gosselin, Paul « Hors du ghetto: un regard évangélique sur les arts et la culture.” Samizdat 2003 383 p.
    Murray, C. “Art and the Early Church.” pp. 303-345 in Journal of Theological Studies Vol. 28 1977
    Rookmaker, Hendrik Roelof “L’art moderne et la mort d’une culture.” 1974
    Rookmaker, Hendrik Roelof “The Creative Gift: Essays on Art and the Christian Life.” Cornerstone, 1981
    Ryken, Leland “Culture in Christian Perspective: A Door to Understanding & Enjoying the Arts.” Multnomoah, Portland OR (coll. Critical Concerns series) 1986/283 p.
    Sayers, Dorothy (1941) Mind of the Maker.
    Turner, Steve “Hungry for heaven: Rock n’ Roll & the Search for Redemption.” InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL 1988/1995 240 p.
    Veith, Gene Edward jr. “State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe.” Crossway Books, Wheaton IL (coll. Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) 1991 252 p.
    Veith, Gene Edward “The Reformation & The Arts.” in Modern Reformation Vol. 3, no. 6, Nov./Dec. 1994

  6. Bill,
    I have been in some churches where, during the ‘worship’ of their services, artists have set up easels and created paintings as their expression of devotion and praise at that time. It captures expressions of inspiration during the service that others can share.
    Others express their worship in dance.
    Whether or not this can be categorically supported by scripture I do not know but God was being worshipped by music, dance, percussion, voices – all of which are artistic and led by artists. It is not that great a leap to visual art. PSALM 103:1-4; ISAIAH 12:4-5; JAMES 1:17; HEBREWS 12:28
    I am not condoning the worship of iconography (images of God et al) but rather wondering at the inspiration that art can convey. Art can convey reverence and awe as much as voice music and percussion.
    Though, just as with music, it can be misused and abused by those with evil intent.
    I have watched a painting of a burning bush form during worship and a night sky in another.
    Both paintings reminded me of the greatness of God and supplemented my time in worship.
    If any one would scoff we should ask if they left their eyes at the door.
    Art & culture are very important to God. He even went as far as commanding that His word was to be kept from generation to generation through parental impartation – through cultural means. (today’s education systems utilise the demonic’s tools to dismantle this very command – christians (lowercase was deliberate) who allow their children to be twisted by worldly teachings are culpable when it comes to how the children lead their lives). Deut 6:7.
    Ironically, literacy can be a stumbling block to generational cultural impartation. Children are far more likely to ask Google these days rather than their parents or elders. It is fascinating that some cultures have children that are raised by villages. This is not because they have no parents but that everyone in their village has something that can be imparted.
    Some may scoff or mock when hearing about paintings in worship but what is worship but an expression of our love to God. When David worshipped he was in a moment where the only person that mattered was God. What do we say to artists who cannot sing or orate but can create something that lasts and stands to mark an occasion where they expressed something intense to God? What would we do with the dough that that cookie cutter wanted to omit.

  7. Here is an old interview with Francis Schaeffer I put online.

    The Battle for Our Culture

    The interview does ramble around various issues, but Schaeffer bumps into one issue that has had DEEP influence on Evangelical’s views of the arts, that is the Pietist movement. The Pietists are the ones who introduced the idea that culture and the arts generally was “of the world”. Sadly this handed over culture and the arts to Enlightenment devotees… In my view, the Pietist view of the arts was primarily grounded in neo-Platonism, NOT Scripture…

  8. I love Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. As a classical music lover there is so much I haven’t heard. I would love to have a large record collection and record players to listen to them and go to Symphonies and concerts. I like certain forms of Jazz too. I love the old hymns we used to sing in church, before the CCM scrap came in because we wanted to be like the world, and many other older music. I would love to go to Operas up there too and Ballets. I would love to see live theater and read the classics. I like comic strips especially Peanuts and would LOVE to see what the Peanuts gang has been up to for the past 22 years! Animation is great too. I would love to see some old favorites share them with children there. I love paintings, drawings and even photographs. Especially of children. I love children they are fun and the best part of life. The best thing in the 3 above is showing the beauty of the human body fully clothed partly clothed or even Au Naturel it shows God made the body perfect. The Sistine Chapel would be a must to see a recreation of. Also Michelangelo’s David as well as Donatello’s David.

    As far as work well I guess it depends on what you are doing as to whether or not it is work. I have worked with kids and I would tell you it was NOT work at all. I enjoyed it. It was fun and rewarding and fulfilling. To me work is tedious, unfulfilling and drags you down. It is something you do for a paycheck but not something you want to do or enjoy doing. THAT definitely will NOT exist.

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