One of the reasons people decide to leave Christianity is that for far too long we’ve painted a picture of faith that is largely disconnected from life in the here and now. For many people, Christianity has become an other-worldly faith; a faith that anchors its existence almost entirely in another world, making the world we live in increasingly irrelevant.
These people view earth as a temporary residence and a place destined for complete destruction. In essence, Christians are waiting to one day be evacuated from the earth. And, Jesus’ return is believed by many to be the event that will signal this removal.
In this scheme of things, faith and matter are seen to be in opposition. Matter is viewed with suspicion because it is seen as a hindrance to faith, rather than the location where faith can be developed, experienced and expressed.
As a result, if faith finds its primary expression in the life to come, that same faith will have a limited ability to interact with and impact life today. For many, Christianity has become little more than a means of escape from this world. And for this reason, among others, some people have decided to walk away from Christianity.
Finding a More Balanced Approach
What we need is a more balanced approach. One that does justice to the world that is and the world to come.
First, let me say that the world as we know it is indeed broken and in need of repair. While God’s beauty and love can be seen everywhere, we are also keenly aware that things are not as they should be. “Creation itself is groaning” for the promised redemption of all things (cf. Romans 8:22).
Secondly, it is also true that God has promised to renew and restore all things. And, Jesus announced and enacted this cosmic renewal, referred to in the New Testament as the kingdom of God, throughout the entirety of his public ministry.
Throughout Jesus’ public ministry he demonstrated the reality of this in-breaking kingdom in everything he said and did. Every healing, exorcism and miraculous provision, combined with his teachings, pointed to the reality of the world to come finding expression in the world that is. In Jesus, God’s redemptive project for global restoration entered into its final stage – often referred to as the last days.
In God’s renewed world, sickness, disease and death will be no more. Equality and justice will reign supreme and Jesus will be all in all. However, we can and should expect to see signs of the kingdom come within the kingdom now; glimpses and echoes of the promised world expanding into the world that is.
Yet, for so many Christians, past and present, the world that is has little too no connection with the world to come. In fact, these worlds are diametrically opposed to one another. In their minds, this world is destined not for renewal, but destruction. As a result, it is little wonder why these same people have created a faith that is largely detached from the world.
The Church as the Outpost of the Kingdom of God
The world as we know it will never be everything it should be. However, the church can and should become outposts of the kingdom, showcasing to the world that is what it one day can become.
As N.T. Wright once said,
The community (the church) is supposed to live in reality how all humanity is supposed to live in theory.
Therefore, rather than choosing to view this world as a place to escape from and defining faith along the lines of detachment and separation, maybe we need to start seeing the world through the life of Jesus and choose to continue to live out the work he began – a work defined by renewal and reconciliation – in the grace and enablement of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
The world that is is not completely at odds with the world to come. There is certainly a disconnect between the two, but they are not completely disconnected.
As I’ve said many times before, the church is called to be emissaries of Jesus’ kingdom. We are to be embassies of God’s redemptive work in the world and are called to invite others to join the restoration project. We “are to be in reality how all humanity is supposed to live in theory.” We are called to demonstrate what the world can look like when God is in charge.
When we make this transition, in both what we believe and how we live, only then will we have a faith that is no longer defined by separation from the world, but a faith that seeks to bridge the gap between the now world and the then world.
Faith will no longer be about escape, but reconciliation, renewal and peace. Church life will center on living out the kingdom ideals of Jesus the King and look for ways to see “God’s kingdom come and God’s will being done upon the earth as it is in heaven.”
And, when we do, the other-worldly emphasis the church has carried for far too long will give way to a theology and life that will do justice to the work Jesus began. A work of bringing the life of the world to come into the life of the world that is.
Even so Lord Jesus come.
For further reading, here are a few outstanding books to consider:
How God Became King by N.T. Wright.
The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight.
Heaven on Earth by R. Alan Streett