T. Jeff Taylor. More Than Heaven: A Biblical Theological Argument for a Federal View of Glorification. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2022.
For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. – 2 Corinthians 5:10
And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:4
More Than Heaven by T. Jeff Taylor is a very useful and important book concerning the themes of judgement, second-judgements, rewards and punishments, both for believers and non-believers alike. It also addresses some of the current misnomers about the federal view of glorification. More Specifically, in light of the plethora of scripture speaking to such issues, are there gradients of rewards in heaven as so many Christians and non-Christians claim about the afterlife?
This book was a timely read for me personally—though I do not believe in such a tiered system of heavenly blessings or any judgement that takes into account anything other than the completed, wholistic justifying work of Christ—because there are still a few sticky and pressing Biblical passages that I certainly needed sharpening up on despite my own Reformed theological commitments and graduate work in theology. This book attempts to answer the question of whether the works of Christians are judged and if so, what are the outcomes of such additional judgements? As such, it was a welcome read for my teaching and reading as a professor and Christian.
Taylor proves that the answer to the question of different rewards is a resounding “No.” This is an interesting question that usually floats under the radar of both theologians and laypeople because the stakes do not seem to be all that high. After all, if a potential second appraisal of our earthly performance breeds more good work or supposed obedience in this life, then what is the harm? It would appear that more piety and earthly righteousness would be the result, with very little downside.
It is an important question because the truth of the gospel is at the heart of it, and the true rest and repose of the believer is what is in the balance.
The downside of leaving these questions unanswered is that the status quo answer, something like: “Well, our judgement is in Christ in regards to our salvation, but then also our works will be reviewed to reward the most obedient among us,” is what we are left uncritically accepting.
Verses such as 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad,” and those similar to 2 Corinthians 5:10 present some initial problems for those who believe like Taylor and I, that there is no tiered reward system, until they are dismantled through exegesis and contextualization. Taylor properly situates the issue as one of covenantal fidelity. Those elected and grafted into the new covenant as the bride of Christ as given the covenantal rewards of familial reputation and legacy. And those rewards and reputation and legacy are shared across the elect universally and not based on particularity.
As Taylor lays out, this line of though removes the microscope away from the unblemished Christ (in whom we are clothed in perfection) and puts it onto human beings in Adam who at their worst days are clothed in filthy rags.
While a worthwhile read in scriptural and theological exegesis, the meat of argument – or at least, the part of the book that I found most helpful as a theologian and Bible professor – is “Section Three: The Reward.” Even more rewarding is the sub-section “What Jesus Said About Degrees Of Reward.” Where those such as the disciples, the mother of the sons of Zebedee and the rich young ruler asked Jesus what must be done to get into heaven and how much will be there for them based on what they have done, Taylor shows that Christ consistently flipped the question back on them to show their lack of understanding about who they were and who Jesus is. Christ consistently held that the heavenly covenantal blessing is one complete and total package purchased and delivered by the Son of God and not based on earthly life which results in a tiered reward system.
Taylor substantiates the theologically consistent arguments of Christ in pointing out that it is worldly, temporal thinking that insists on levels and ranks. Temporal thinking is about status and rewards based on one’s earthly action but Grace upends this thinking. The followers of Christ do not work to get; rather we have because Christ has. And it is all free.
But what of the supposed second judgement? As Taylor states, the scripture is crystal clear that there is a judgement coming and that, in a very real sense, people will be judged according to what we have done. He does a great job of breaking down the “we” here. Pauline theology makes clear the Biblical truth of the two Adams, each being a representative federal head in the saga of redemption. As the lawbreakers Adam and Eve quickly fell short in accordance with any type of righteousness regarding what they have done whether good or evil; all believers, by contrast, are eternally perfect in Christ the Second Adam based on what Christ has done (only good and nothing evil). Christ was obedient unto death. Christ was sinless. Christ was the lamb without spot or blemish. Not only this, Christ is a beautifully perfect judge in that he is the judge judging himself (that is who the church is) and his bride (Christians whose identity is consumed in Christ). In this way our sins are judged and judged righteously. This is a holy scandal but it is a gracious scandal that is in our favor. This is Grace is the covenantal and federal vision of theology.
Taylor also reminds us of the typological nature of such discussions in the scripture. As Taylor writes, to not believe this is to fall into the same trap as the Judaizers of the New Testament which Paul responds so vigorously against. Tylor proceeds to do a masterful job of refuting common Protestant conceptions of layers of judgement. The Biblical phrases “according to works” are interpreted as legal language informing the covenantal promises and duties. This is covenant justice: condemnation and blessing. Taylor reminds us that the new covenant works in the same way (how could it not?) except here God’s people have been perfected by Christ and so are deserving (in Christ alone) of the crown of glory. And there is only one crown of glory and not a bunch of smaller crowns. Where Biblical passages seem to complicate this understanding, we would do well to exegete the verses in Taylor’s fashion that prove that Paul is not talking about degrees of heavenly reward but the general judgement of all men, and, more specifically, the “final execution of the death sanction of the Covenant of Works.”
Though heavy on extraneous and tangential materials throughout that can be distracting at times, More Than Heaven is extremely important and exceedingly elegant work in interpreting verses concerning the eternal glory of the risen Christ who has deemed us worthy of innocence in the one final judgement in which the covenant elect are universally rewarded based on Christ’s merit and not our own. Taylor’s work is part of the best of the federal vision and covenant Reformed understanding of salvation. I highly recommend this work to those who enjoy working through misunderstood issues of covenantal theology as well as those who seek their continued rest in knowing that all of salvation has been accomplished and that we all will share the one crown of Christ after our one judgement in him. Even those who do not agree with the covenant and Reformed view of theology will encounter this work without the polemical bias of its critics and, therefore, Taylor’s book serves as a work that is also part of ecumenical theological dialogue inviting those critics to read it from the perspective of the covenant and federal vision.
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