With my dad in the hospital this week, my writing schedule has suffered some interruptions. I apologize for that and, to keep you occupied until I can get back to some semblance of normal, I offer this entry from a earlier version of But Not Yet:
While perusing a new blog I’ve started following, Hacking Christianity, I came across the following statement. “When a former pastor of mine was asked why the church turned a predominantly missions trip into an evangelism trip, he said these words: When we make the planet better, it is temporary. When we save souls to Christ, it is eternal”. The context of the article I took this out of was about spiritualism. But, I want to use it to talk about Heaven and Hell. I suppose I should say a couple of things up front. I don’t believe in the classical view of Heaven and Hell, where Heaven is sitting on a cloud with halo and harp or Hell is a lake of fire filled with horned, pointy-tailed little demons carrying pitchforks whose sole purpose is to torment you. For me, Heaven is the presence of God and Hell is the absence of God. And, those states can exist now or in the future. As Rob Bell said in his book, Velvet Elvis, “Because with every action, comment, conversation, we have the choice to invite Heaven or Hell to Earth.” As we saw with the release of Rob’s book Love Wins, there are people who disagree with this assessment of the afterlife.
The problem I have with the statement “When we make the planet better, it is temporary. When we save souls to Christ, it is eternal” is that it’s more concerned with the afterlife than the current life we’re living. And, giving any less than 100% to the life we’re living is a big old spit-in-the-face to Jesus. Because, as Erwin McManus said in The Barbarian Way, “Jesus came to liberate us so that we could die up front and then live.” Growing up, I can remember older people talking about how much better things were going to be once they were in Heaven. They were willing to settle for less because of some far-off promise of mansions, crowns and streets of gold. And, I never really understood that. Like most people of my generation, I am cursed with a severe dose of instant gratification, couple that with a rockin’ case of ADD, and the idea of waiting for anything makes me break out in a cold sweat. So, you can see why I like the idea of Heaven coming to Earth in my lifetime.
I don’t understand the idea that “saving souls” is somehow more important that making sure people have housing, health care, schools, etc. There’s a little thing called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” that says our needs can categorized and that each level of need must be met before the next level can be achieved. Because of that, talking about God with any success to a person that’s starving, or doesn’t know where they’re going to sleep that night, or that they’re children are safe tends to be a complete waste of time. You may like it, but you have to admit that questions about God and spirituality are further up the scale than a full stomach. So, when we build houses and schools, provide food and basic healthcare or work on infrastructure, we’re laying the groundwork for later evangelical missions. Albert Schweitzer understood this. Schweitzer, as well as being a physician and musician, was a philosopher and theologian. In 1905, at the age of 30, he felt the call and went back to college and earned a medical degree. He already held a PhD in Theology and could have served any German Lutheran evangelical mission easily; but, that wasn’t the call he felt. He earned his M.D., went to Africa and spent many years building hospitals and dispensing medical care. I doubt you’ll find many who would marginalize his work because he didn’t spend all his time preaching.
Christianity in general, and evangelism in particular must walk a thin line between the spiritual and the secular. If we don’t keep in mind the secular part of the equation, we run the risk of being seen as irrelevant. While the strictly spiritual viewpoint sounds good,
it’s really untenable and not what Jesus wanted at all.