As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God's promised new heaven and new earth and our promised resurrection to share in that new and glorious embodied reality - what I have called life after life after death - then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence. [Surprised by Hope, p. 197]
In other words, how we envision "salvation" has much to do with what we see as the work of the church in this world. If it truly merely about "going to heaven" [which the New Testament does not see as the focus], the work of the church can easily be reduced to a future-oriented, escapism. At odds is whether the present really matters. Is salvation merely for the future? Wright summarizes it thusly:
Life after death, it seems, can be a serious distraction not only from the ultimate life after life after death, but also life before death. [Surprised by Hope, p. 198]
Salvation, as embraced by the first Christians, was not about "going to heaven someday," but about being raised to life in God's new heaven and new earth, the new creation. It was about a future rescue beginning to take place in this world, a saving not of the soul for some disembodied state, but the saving of the whole person, being raised as new creations, of which Jesus went before us in his resurrection.
For the first Christians, the ultimate salvation was all about God's new world, and the point of which Jesus and the apostles were doing when they were healing people or being rescued from shipwreck or whatever was that this was a proper anticipation of that ultimate salvation, that healing and transformation of space, time, and matter. The future rescue that God had planned and promised was starting to come true in the present. We are saved not as souls, but as wholes. [Surprised by Hope, p. 198-9.]
This has all sorts of ramifications for us. If we see salvation as mere escapism, our goal is to take as many people with us away from this world of decay. This world is seen as something that is destined to be discarded, or better yet destroyed. Unfortunately this is not the picture we are given in scripture, as the end of Revelation notes that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, joined together once and for all here on earth, not somewhere else. God will be present with his people, here on a newly transformed earth. In a real sense, heaven actually comes here. Salvation, therefore, is not about escape, but about being raised to a new kind of life.
It is the story of God's kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which he power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus' followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. [Surprised by Hope, p. 204]
As it has been said, we have been saved not from something, but for something. We have been invited to join a movement - a movement of those who have been rescued and are in process of being made whole again, who in turn are about trying to make all things new again. They are people who are trying to put into practice what Jesus said when he taught his followers to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven [or as it is in your realm, where things are as you want them to be]."
What if we saw it this way? Imagine the kind of things that could happen.