Last week was a week of deer hunting with my kids. What a great week. In the meantime, standout Nazarene preacher and President of Trevecca Nazarene University (Nashville, TN) Dan Boone did a nice write-up concerning the idea of “the rapture.” This is a great little post. The only thing is, Dan constantly says he’s in the minority view. The thing to note is, the “minority” happens to be virtually everyone who is actually paid to study the New Testament. I’ll stick with the minority! I remember about ten years ago when I slowly discovered a better story in the Scriptures than what the “left behind” American version had taught me growing up, and what a radical, wonderful, joyful story the Bible’s story became, instead of the disheartening, dreadful one so commonly believed by American evangelicals. A friend of mine and I were talking and we agreed it literally changed our lives, and our understanding of the Gospel, in incredibly wonderful ways. Another friend of mine this weekend said “I am more hopeful these days” because of this re-discovered storyline the Bible tells. Thanks Dan. Here’s the link
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).
“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.
In America the last couple hundred years Christians have by and large traded the Bible’s hopeful vision of beauty and salvation in a world redeemed by God Himself for an alternate story about Earth. We’ve traded a story of hope and beauty and salvation for a story of abandonment, destruction and hopelessness. But “ancient Jews were creational monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself” (N.T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. 2012). Genesis tells us earth is where God placed humanity. This is our home. It is not some detention hall, waiting for school to be over. It is not a dress-rehearsal. All such images are unworthy of the biblical narrative.
Often overlooked by American Christians, the story of the Bible ends with humanity and God dwelling on earth, not humanity flying off to strum harps forever in some faraway disembodied heaven. The Bible’s vision is of the world being fully healed and set right in the Age to Come. Charles Spurgeon, one of most famous and beloved pastors from the 1800s understood this:
“ I wish you now to observe that we are linked with the creation. …. Now, God will one day change our bodies and make them fit for our souls, and then he will change this world itself. ….We expect to see this world that is now so full of sin … turned into a paradise, a garden of God. ….earth will be renewed in more than pristine loveliness.”
– 1868 (Sermon 788 “Creation’s Groans and Saints’ Sighs”)
Martin Luther, when asked what he would do if he knew the next day was the Day of the Lord, said “Plant a tree.” This is the biblical vision Jesus is referring to when he says in Matthew 19:28 “… at the renewal of all things…” He also reminded us “The meek will inherit the earth.” Acts 3: 21 refers to “the final restoration of all things.” Here’s a few of the many Scriptures in the Bible about this joyful vision:
Romans 8: 19-21 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.
Revelation 21: the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth and the abode of God is with men.
– “And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
– “…and all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city”
This is the fulfillment of the OT expectation expressed in places like Habakkuk 2: 14 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” and “On that day Yahweh will become King over all the earth—Yahweh alone, and His name alone” (Zechariah 14: 9). And don’t forget Isaiah 2: 2-4
In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of all—
the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
3 People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
his word will go out from Jerusalem.
4 The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.
The Scriptures tell us God will make all things new. Not make all new things. Rock on, Pine Creek Gorge. The God who made the universe delights in you.