Sunday, January 17, 2010

False Extremes

When thinking about God's Kingdom here on earth Jay Richards in his book 'Money, Greed, And God' argues that Christians must avoid two tempting but false extremes.

"The first temptation is to quarantine God's Kingdom safely in the distant future up in the clouds...sealed off away from the blood, sweat, and tears of the present. In this view we should expect the world to be beyond repair. There is nothing we can do about it. Don't bother polishing the brass on a sinking ship. The best we can hope for is to be that in the end we'll be saved, maybe raptured before it goes really bad, and perhaps we'll be able to to bring a few converts with us. In this telling, Christian faith is at worst a story about me-and-Jesus, about saving my soul and little else, and at best it's about a gospel message that can save souls but has little power to transform the larger world for good. On this model God's kingdom has little to do with worries about poverty, injustice, and the physical struggles that mark our earthly lives."

The second extreme we must also avoid Richards titles the 'Nirvana Myth.'

"The Nirvana Myth is not simply the belief that good will triumph in the end (here on earth) or the belief that the kingdom of God is already present in history. It's the delusion that we can build utopia if we try hard enough and that every real society is intolerably wicked because it doesn't measure up to utopia."

We must jettison both of these "false extremes."

To seal off God's Kingdom in an air-tight distant future is dangerous because it encourages us to forget about the needs of those here and now (think crisis in Haiti). This type of theology creeps into our world frequently. Have you seen it? Perhaps a conversation in a Christian group, "This life is just a test. What really matters in the end? Joy is the answer, period." as a member who just had a parent die of cancer draws away. Or an individual infatuated with the end times and the precise moment of the rapture. Not only do Christians lose credibility when another end times prophecy fails to be fulfilled (think Y2K), we become so obsessed with the future that we forget about loving our neighbor (who needs a friend, lost a job, or struggling with an addiction) as ourselves (God's second greatest commandment). Maybe we recall a sermon declaring a natural disaster or pandemic disease a curse on an unrepentant culture. This theology fans the flames of blame and fear rather than encourage the needed response of help, love, and relief.

Even more tempting and perhaps more dangerous is the ‘Nirvana Myth’ If we come to belief that if we try hard enough our society can have heaven on earth (think John Lennon) we are sorely misinformed. Do we think that the right politician, party (republican or democrat), or government can bring complete justice to our world? Can the rock star, talk-show host, self-help guru, or prominent author bring ultimate Joy?

Even despite our best efforts, free clinics, and mission hospitals...medical needs will be unmet. Despite the excellent work of micro-loans, charitable aid, and relief agencies poverty will exist. Despite social programs and better police force we will still see violence on our streets. Even though we have hard working teachers in the inner cities, school vouchers, and after school programs kids will still fall behind.

Let’s not stop trying to reach these noble goals, but if we endorse the ‘Nirvana Myth’, who will need God? If we don’t need God then we certainly don’t need his son Jesus of Nazareth either.

This line of thinking can also happen in our presence. If so, the crosses come down from the church. Prayer will cease. Ministers become organizers. Phrases like sin, forgiveness, salvation are replaced with social justice (an ambiguous phrase anyway) fair trade and protest. Evangelism becomes an outdated and unattractive idea, instead replaced by the modern and fashionable notion of inclusiveness. Perhaps most tragic in this delusion is that if we think we can do it all by ourselves. We will fail. When we do fail, we will have already rejected our need for God’s grace, when we need it most.