I’d heard of Dallas Willard before, but I’d never gotten around to checking him out. Which, if this video is any indication of his work, is certainly to my detriment. I believe that our respect for someone varies directly with how they affirm our beliefs and I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Willard right now. In the video, he speaks about a concept that I’ve been mulling over for some time: salvation isn’t about what happens when we die, it’s about what happens while we’re here.
In the last year or so, I’ve come to believe that the church has done a great disservice to the Gospel, turning it into what amounts to a membership card for an exclusive club. I’m not sure when this started, but I suspect it goes back to Constantine and his co-opting Christianity for political purposes. Much has been made of the fact that Constantine was the first Christian Emperor of Rome and his legitimization of Christianity. His mother, Helena, was an early Christian saint and is credited with finding many relics and sites of importance in Christendom and some believe that Constantine adopted his mother’s faith as a youth. Others, myself included, doubt that. What’s more likely is that Constantine, being the astute politician that he was, saw in Christianity a wonderful political tool, one that could be used to unite the empire under a single faith. Whatever the case may be, the Edict of Milan transformed a persecuted bunch of wild-eyed radicals into accepted members of society and it’s been downhill ever since.
I’ve long believed that the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus talked about doesn’t involve harps and halos when we die, it’s about making life better for everyone right here and right now. For a long time, that idea seemed to conflict with Jesus’ frequent mentions of salvation. Then, during last Sunday’s sermon, Bryan said something that sparked an idea in me. What if the salvation Jesus preached about concerned easing the plight of the people in the present. What if it wasn’t a sop thrown poor, hungry masses to keep them in line? It makes sense, you know. People who are oppressed, poor and hungry aren’t really concerned about what will happen after they die; their concerns are with the here and now. Like, what am I going to eat tonight? Where will I sleep? Will I even survive long enough to find these things? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a psychological theory about human needs, is often portrayed as a pyramid with several different levels. Progression from level to the next is contingent on the needs of current level being secured. The first level of the pyramid deals with physiological needs, i.e. food, water, shelter. The second is about security and safety. It’s not until well into the pyramid that the more esoteric needs like the ones dealing with religion and the afterlife are addressed. I realize that, unless you’re a psychology geek, your eyes have probably rolled back in your head by now. All this intellectual posturing does have a point, however. If Jesus had merely been preaching about getting into heaven, it probably would have fallen on deaf ears. Don’t believe me? Go find someone that’s hungry and start preaching to them about heaven and see how it goes. It’s extremely hard to hear anything over the sound of an empty stomach growling.
Our job as followers of Christ is to feed His sheep. The trick is to remember that He meant literally as much as spiritually.