Last night, while listening to satellite radio in the car, I experienced a voice from our culture that spoke to my heart in a way that compelled me to listen.
That voice belongs to a singer/songwriter by the name of Brett Dennen, whose distinctive musicianship and evocative lyrics have inspired many to compare him to Bob Dylan (much to Dennen’s consternation). Although Dennen distances himself from all “organized religions,” his songs bear witness to a noteworthy spiritual attentiveness and a unique capacity to discern the eternal in the everyday.
For his third and most recent studio album, “Hope for the Hopeless,” Dennen wrote and recorded a song entitled “Heaven,” the lyrics of which are a prophetic critique of the church’s proclivity for focusing its eschatology almost exclusively on the “there and then” and thereby losing sight of the urgency of the “here and now:”
You must lose all earthly possession
Leave behind your weapon
You cannot buy your salvation
There is no pot of gold
What the hell is heaven?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?
Brennen does not claim to be a Christ-follower and rejects a christocentric conceptualization of salvation. In fact, Brennen seems to hold some degree of disdain for what he perceives to be the “myth misconceptions” and theological “codes” of traditional Christian soteriology:
Throw away your myth misconceptions.
There ain`t no walls around heaven
There are no codes you gotta know to get in
No minutemen or border patrol
And yet, although he distances himself from the church’s doctrine, Brennen nevertheless gives poetic and, I believe, important artistic expression to one of Christianity’s most frequent prayers: specifically, the prayer for God’s kingdom to come “on earth, as it is in heaven.” According to Brennen, the church would do well to spend less time speculating about the mysteries of the afterlife and more time building a “home for the homeless” and a “hope for the hopeless,” thereby incarnating a portion heaven in the midst of current human brokenness.
I am not suggesting for a moment that Dennen’s truncated soteriology is somehow commendable. Nor am I advocating his downplaying of Jesus Christ as an expendable “code.” (In the worldview of a Christ-follower, after all, Jesus is not a code, but the Way, the Truth, and the Life.)
Still, as I listened to the song for the very first time last night, I found myself deeply moved by Brennen’s vision of a heaven in which our idolatry for institutions gives way to a network of redeemed and peaceful relationships:
Heaven ain`t got no prisons
No government no business
No banks or politicians
No armies and no police
Castles and cathedrals crumble
Pyramids and pipelines tumble
The failure keeps you humble
Leads us closer to peace
In a strange sort of way, Brennan’s “Heaven” reminds me that the eternal life that I have found in Jesus Christ is not something that I have to die physically to experience. Rather, eternal life in Christ begins today, right now. It is the life of embracing the homeless and the hopeless. It is the life of holding on loosely to earthly possessions and tangible institutions. In short, eternal life in Christ is the heaven on earth that foreshadows the new heaven and new earth that we will one day experience.