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
The Left Behind version of Christianity claims God will destroy the world. (As if John 3: 16 read “For God so hated the world he sent his only Son into it to snatch a relatively few people out of it and then burn it to a cinder… not to save it through him!”). Here are John Wesley’s comments on Romans 8, and the whole Creation longing with eager expectation to be set free, liberated, when the sons of God come into their own, from the bondage to death and decay. As in our day, many people in Wesley’s time thought the world itself will end. In contrast to that, Wesley understood the great biblical expectation of God mending Creation, what Jesus and his generation called ‘the renewal of all things’ (Mt. 19:28) in the age to come. Wesley argues that a woman in labor doesn’t long to be destroyed, she longs to give birth to new life! And whatever is destroyed isn’t delivered at all – so it’s not the Creation itself that will be destroyed, but rather delivered from sin, death and decay.
“For the earnest expectation – The word denotes a lively hope of something drawing near, and a vehement longing after it. Of the creation – Of all visible creatures… each kind, according as it is capable. All these have been sufferers through sin; and to all these (the finally impenitent excepted) shall refreshment redound from the glory of the children of God. Upright heathens are by no means to be excluded from this earnest expectation: nay, perhaps something of it may at some times be found even in the vainest of men….
The creation itself shall be delivered – Destruction is not deliverance: therefore whatsoever is destroyed, or ceases to be, is not delivered at all. Will, then, any part of the creation be destroyed? Into the glorious liberty – The excellent state wherein they were created.
22. For the whole creation groaneth together – With joint groans, as it were with one voice. And travaileth – Literally, is in the pains of childbirth, to be delivered of the burden of the curse. Until now – To this very hour; and so on till the time of deliverance.”
– Founder of the Methodists, John Wesley (1703-1791) Commentary on Romans 8
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.
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?”