Earth is Not Detention Hall, Part Two

Part One can be read here  https://toddrisser.com/2013/11/12/earth-is-not-detention-hall-part-one/

The tikkun olam (repairment of the world) is a doctrine so lost in American evangelicalism, most modern Christians have never even heard of it. In fact, it is very common for life-long church-goers to say to me at funerals “I get the heaven thing, but what’s this about the resurrection of the body?” Resurrection and repairment of the world are two doctrines that go inseparably hand in hand in the Scriptures. Somehow we’ve lost track of some major parts of the Bible’s story.

I find it difficult to enumerate in a small space the vast, profound difference between believing earth is a short rehearsal before we leave forever, and believing that earth is the locus of God’s redemption, now and forever. This has profound effects on how we view the Creation, the scope of salvation, environmental and foreign policy, and a host of issues in our lives here and now, and tomorrow.

Seeing the world as God’s beloved creation, emerging/postmodern Christian faith has a stake in the state of this world. They realize atheist Sam Harris asks a good question when he asks “Can people who believe in the imminent end of the world really be expected to work toward building a durable civilization?” (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, xii).

Rapture theology and end of the world despair is a two hundred year old rabbit trail that gained lots of traction in American folk theology, but that earlier Christians never believed. Getting back to a biblical eschatology is in itself a good thing, and of course affects our soteriology and morality here and now. Postmodern Christians, not longing to jet away to some ethereal heaven, have theologically compelling reasons to engage this world’s problems and conundrums with the Way of Jesus, and thus bring about more of the justice,  reconciliation and shalom God desires for His creation, which longs for the Day (Romans 8: 19-22).

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Earth Is Not Detention Hall, Part One

“Left Behind” theology and other questionable bible exegesis (confusing ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ with a place away from earth where we spend eternity, etc) have  created a view of this world as detention hall. Having a long and thorough personal knowledge of detention hall, I can tell you that all you want to do in detention hall is successfully get out of there. The modern evangelical Christian attitude toward earth has been boiled down to “get me out of this run down trailer park of a planet before God’s tornado touches down.” (I think I owe Rob Bell for this turn of phrase). Or, in the words of Mark Driscoll, “fortunately, the pastor told us about the rapture, and how, if we don’t watch television and do vote Republican, we can fly to heaven just before Jesus opens a can of whoop in the end. This man was on a mission, but it wasn’t very missional. His mission seemed to be simply to get off the planet as soon as possible, which didn’t sound very incarnational to me.” (Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev., 50). Believe it or not, I have actually had a missionary say to me the best thing he could have done for some ‘natives’ in his area, was mow them down with a machine gun after they received Christ. Is there any more glaring example of a heaven-focused, earth-denying salvation?

Drawn back to Scripture’s story  by such New Testament scholars as N.T. Wright, more and more mainstream Christians (led initially by the emergent movement down this road), have left off these “tired old theologies of abandonment and escape” (thanks again Rob Bell for this phrase), to embrace the biblical doctrine of ‘the renewal of all things’ (Matthew 19:28; Acts 3: 21, Romans 8: 19-25 etc), the call to doing the works of the Kingdom now (Matthew 25: 34ff), and the encouraging promise that none of that will have been in vain (I Corinthians 15:58). We are not oiling the wheels of a car about to go over a cliff. In fact, the Bible’s story ends with us here on earth, not far away in heaven. Heaven, it turns out, is vacation in between death and resurrection. Not our final home.

This is a dramatic theological shift: Postmodern Christians don’t see earth as a temporary and unfortunate part of God’s plan. With the early Christians, they don’t understand the Scriptures to say God is planning on tossing the earth in a scrap heap while we all jet off to some spiritual / non-physical heaven. They read in the Scriptures of God redeeming and restoring His good creation on the Day of the Lord and a resurrected life here on earth in the Age to Come.

A Now-Oriented Salvation, Part Two

I’ve noticed among emergent/postmodern Christian authors a consensus for a now-oriented salvation. Part One of this subject is here:  https://toddrisser.com/2013/11/06/a-now-oriented-salvation-part-one/

Last time I ended with these two questions that Nazarene pastor Dana Hicks finds more useful today than asking if someone died tonight would they go to heaven?

1”If you knew you were going to live another forty years, what kind of person would you want to become?”

2. “If you could know what God is doing in the world, would you want to be part of it?”

Regarding this second question, Dana says “I like this question, because it focuses evangelism on God’s agenda instead of our tendency to get God to focus on our agenda. I also like this question because it opens the door to talk about what Jesus talked about the most –the Kingdom of God breaking in to our world right now” (Dana Hicks, Postmodern and Wesleyan, 77).  Rob Bell’s ‘Nooma’ video called Trees highlights this postmodern search for a faith for today, not just my eventual salvation after death. My perception is that it would be accurate to say that, theologically, most emerging/Emergent/postmodern pastors have bought into the idea that the Kingdom of God was the thrust of Jesus’ message… rather than a judicial, legal approach to forgiveness.

When the 2004 Tsunami hit, I heard a Christian speaker on national television say “It doesn’t matter that they died, what matters is: did they know Christ?” The sheer lack of human compassion it portrayed, (ignoring, among other things, the thousands of children left utterly orphaned), the hyper-focus -as if the entire message of the Christian faith was just get to heaven when you die- horrified me, and most postmodern Christians share that sentiment.

I think this turn in the orientation of salvation to the here and now is a good thing.  It’s high time we made sure we aren’t making Christianity out to be just another gnosticism designed to help us escape the physical world of woe. Seeing salvation as akin to God’s shalom restoration is a return to biblical orthodoxy. While the emerging church needs to make sure they don’t under-emphasize what the Scriptures say about salvation after this life, they are, I believe, reacting to what they’ve experienced in many modern churches as an under-emphasis on salvation in this life. While you may feel that your particular church has achieved a good, solid, biblical balance of this dynamic, it is the obvious impression of the postmoderns that there’s been (in far too many churches) an overemphasis on heaven and a neglect of the call of Jesus to work for Kingdom realities here and now, as in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

a now-oriented salvation, Part One

When I read 50 of the primary works by emergent authors a few years ago I noticed a growing sense of responding to the call of Jesus to follow Him because of what that following means for life here and now on earth for myself and the world around me, not simply because by doing so I can make it to heaven when I die. Emphasizing the need for salvation around the afterlife has created, in the modern church, far too many people taking on Christian faith as just another expression of selfish, me-oriented, consumeristic society – what THEY’LL get out of it. (And we wonder why there are so many immature Christians in our churches?)

A common trend running through emerging/Emergent/postmodern Christianity is the conviction that the Gospel is not merely a set of beliefs to get you to heaven when you die. Rather, it is an invitation to a new way of life right now, a call to participate in God’s new community here on earth, and a conviction that salvation, in the Biblical sense, is about a lot more than what happens after your funeral. This isn’t to suggest that the modern church was only ever concerned about getting to heaven, but most postmoderns feel that much of the modern church focused so much on after-death soteriology, that it drowned out most of the rest of the message of Jesus, and fostered a Left Behind view of abandonment of the world.

Nazarene pastor Dana Hicks has written: “Focusing evangelism on what happens to us after we die tends to create disciples who are not concerned with either whom they are becoming or the kind of world they will leave behind. Of course, we may die tonight. But it is much more likely that we will live a while longer – a decade or two or three or more. What happens in the meantime? Will we live an abundant life? What kind of legacy will we leave behind?”(Dana Hicks, Postmodern and Wesleyan, 77). Instead of the question regarding God letting you into heaven if you died tonight, Dana  finds the following two questions to be more helpful in speaking to people about Christ,

1”If you knew you were going to live another forty years, what kind of person would you want to  become?”

2. “If you could know what God is doing in the world, would you want to be part of it?”

Do we need some new work on our doctrine of sin?

Western Christianity inherited a very strong doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ from Augustine. Eastern Orthodox Christianity has never been convinced that Augustine actually understood what Paul’s Greek meant on that subject. Our doctrine of Original Sin is so strong that some branches of Western Protestantism consider sin stronger than God’s transforming power in this life – they don’t believe a Christian can go even an hour without sinning in one way or another. I grew up with such an implicitly strong doctrine of sin that I was surprised as a young person whenever someone who wasn’t a Christian even did anything that was commendable or right. The West’s current doctrine of sin raises a host of questions theologically, ethically, and anthropologically. Many traditional cultures in the world do not conclude that people are intrinsically bad from the get go. If I understand them, neither Islam nor Judaism has a conception of Original Sin, nor an anthropology involving sin anything like what Augustine thought Paul was saying. Explaining why people do bad things required of these religions no doctrine like Augustine’s. To many people today, the idea that I am on the hook for a condition I was born with is logically,  theologically and morally repugnant, and leads to questions about the goodness of the Christian God in general.

Which brings up the question – Is it time we did some additional work on our doctrine of sin, conversed with our Jewish friends and Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters, and go back to the drawing board in examining what the Scriptures actually say about this? Probably.