How should we view Heaven? How should our view of Heaven impact the way that we live now? When the Kings Come Marching In by Richard J. Mouw details an in-depth view of the Heavenly city described in Isaiah 60, which is intended to have a profound impact on the way we understand Heaven and how we are to live now in light of that glorious future.
Mouw sums up the vision of the heavenly city laid out in Isaiah 60 when he says it is a “…vision of an Eternal City in which the patterns and products of our present cultural lives are transformed, and in which a multitude that no human being can number is gathered from the tribes and nations of the earth to sing the Lamb’s praises…” (X).
Mouw’s understanding of the eternal city is conveyed in a way that is designed to reshape our eschatological viewpoint as well as our cultural engagement. Put simply, our view of Heaven should shape our view of cultural engagement.
Mouw roots the book in an exposition of Isaiah’s vision of the eschatological transformation of the city of Jerusalem in Isaiah 60. But he does this in a way that puts particular focus on the “broad patterns of social life, including political, economic, technological, artistic, familial, and educational patterns” that define culture and are evident throughout the passage (11).
In the chapter, “What are the Ships of Tarshish doing Here?”, Mouw asserts that the ‘stuff’ of culture will not be destroyed but transformed in the Eternal City. In other words, “the fruits of history, even sinful history, will be gathered into the City, and made into fitting vessels of service” (42). Therefore, if God has not given up on human culture, neither should we.
In the next two chapters, Mouw launches into an explanation of the political and racial impact that a right view of the Eternal City should have on our lives. After going to extensive lengths to portray his questionable views of the role of political systems in Heaven, Mouw concludes that, since political systems will exist in the Eternal City, our political activity in this life is significant (67-68).
Furthermore, rightly understanding the involvement of all nations in the Eternal City should have a dramatic impact on racial reconciliation now. Mouw traces racial reconciliation from its inception in the Old Testament to its transformation in the ministry of Christ to its culmination in the Eternal City (87-88).
In the last two chapters, Mouw demonstrates the central role that Christ plays in the Eternal City and then closes with a focus on how we should live in light of this new vision of Heaven. Mouw emphasizes that Christ’s sacrifice accomplished more than just the salvation of individual sinners.
Instead, it accomplished the reconciliation of a broken world (111-113). Now, He is at the centerpiece of a restored culture in the Eternal City. After using the final chapter to offer some thoughts on how the ideas in the book should impact our present activities,
Mouw finishes the book with a helpful summary (128-131) of his position on cultural engagement in which he advocates for a qualified view of a transformational position. In short, the fact that God is transforming the culture of the Eternal City should cause us to seek to transform our culture.
The strengths of this book are numerous. It’s greatest strong point is its revolutionary concept. This vision of Heaven and its implications on our daily life is likely a unique concept to most of the readers of this book. This type of book which lays out the relationship between our eschatology, our worldview, and our cultural engagement is uncommon.
The book excels because it is saturated with references to scripture. In addition to his focus on Isaiah 60, Mouw also appeals to Revelation 21-22 as well as Hebrews 13:13-16 repeatedly throughout the book in an effort to provide additional insight on the Eternal City as well as how we are to live in light of it.
From his in-depth analysis of Isaiah 60 to his broad overview of God’s intentions for the nations throughout scripture, Mouw does an exceptional job of not only focusing on the fine points of scripture but also capturing the big picture.
A final strength of the book is Mouw’s willingness to engage opposing viewpoints. Repeatedly in the book, Mouw would take the time necessary to depict contrasting perspectives on an issue before he argued for his view.
By doing this, it provides the reader with a better understanding of the situation while allowing us to reach more informed conclusions about the material. Particularly in such a brief book, Mouw’s ability to do this is commendable.
Several weaknesses are evident throughout the book. The most pervasive shortcoming of the book, largely as a result of its brevity, is that it fails to adequately outline the practical implications of the concepts he explains. He is so good at helping us understand what to do and why to do it, that the absence of any vision for how to do it is noticeable.
The weakest part of Mouw’s book is his effort to explain the role of political systems in the Eternal City. He understands the text of Isaiah 60 to indicate that political systems, retribution for political atrocities, and even non-Christian people involved in these political factors will appear in the Eternal City (58-60).
While all of these things may indeed be true, the weakness of this portion of the book is in Mouw’s lack of clarity and his failure to clearly root his ideas in the text. The ideas, particularly of punishment for political sins, that Mouw offers in this section seem to be a stretch when viewed in light of all scripture.
There are also several shortcomings in Mouw’s chapter on the nations. While he does a great job of emphasizing the need for racial reconciliation, his understanding of Isaiah 60 lacks an urgency to engage all nations with the gospel.
Though he skirts the issue, Mouw never places a proper priority on racial reconciliation coming through the fulfillment of the great commission. On a more practical level, Mouw’s repeated racial reconciliation anecdotes based on 1970’s South African apartheid seem outdated for this revised edition of his book released in 2002.
This book leaves many unanswered questions for two main reasons. First, it is so thought-provoking that it causes you to process trough an abundance of new issues. Second, it is so brief that it cannot adequately address all of the ramifications of its analysis. With those two facts in mind, here are some of the questions that remain after a thorough reading of the book:
- What are some practical ways that people can live out the concepts explained in this book?
- What role should gospel proclamation play in pursuing racial reconciliation?
- How should people balance the contrasting goals of developing cultural distinctives with pursuing unity in Christ?
- How does Mouw’s idea of maintaining cultural, ethnic, and racial identities in Heaven (96) fit with the Galatians 3:28 idea of us all being ‘one in Christ’?
- What are some ways that we can effectively cast this vision of cultural transformation to those in our sphere of influence?
How should we view Heaven? How should our vision of Heaven shape our vision for cultural engagement? Richard Mouw’s book When The Kings Come Marching In does an excellent job of dealing with both questions.
The way that Mouw incorporates a biblically saturated explanation of his unique ideas provides a brief yet powerful resource that is commendable to anyone who desires a more lucid understanding of both eschatology and cultural engagement.