Friday, December 09, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 5

     As you can see, our worldview is radically affected by our creational and eschatological perspectives.  Even though we live in the same world and are working from the same source material, we end up with two fundamentally different narratives.  The world is indeed a different place depending on which lenses it is viewed through.  Worldviews, as the term itself suggests, have far reaching implications that permeate every aspect of life and faith.  We will take a brief look at those areas that are most pertinent to our current discussion.

Implications for Salvation
     The Escapist worldview sees salvation in terms of being saved from both “the world” and from eternal punishment in Hell.  Salvation is seen as an individual enterprise.  Individuals follow a prescribed “plan of salvation” so that they may be granted the salvation of their souls (spiritual essences) from everlasting torment in the afterlife. Escapists also see salvation as granting them entrance into Heaven, the spiritual realm of God.  In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren speaks out of this mentality when he says, “While life on earth offers many choices, eternity offers only two: heaven or hell.  Your relationship to God on earth will determine your relationship to him in eternity.  If you learn to love and trust God’s Son Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with him.  On the other hand, if you reject his love, forgiveness and salvation, you will spend eternity apart from God forever.”  While Warren goes on in his book to plead with followers of Jesus to live lives of service, his point here is clear.  Salvation is about individuals securing their place in the afterlife.
     In contrast, the Restorationist worldview sees salvation in more holistic terms.  Far from merely securing the eternal destiny of one’s own spiritual essence, Restorationists see themselves as partnering with God in the “restoration of all things”.   They certainly believe in an afterlife in which the children of God are resurrected and live in harmony in renewed creation.  They believe their individual place in the afterlife to be only a part of God’s salvific plan, and certainly not an end unto itself.  As Stan Grenz eloquently states in Theology for the Community of God, “We are alienated from God, of course.  But our estrangement also taints our relationships with one another, with ourselves, and with creation.  Consequently, the divine program leads not only toward establishing individual peace with God in isolation; it extends as well to the healing of all relationships—to ourselves, one another, and to nature.”   In short, Restorationist believe that God enacted a plan for the saving of everything from effects of sin.  When we enter into relationship/covenant with God, we not only become recipients of salvation, we also become salvific agents.  

Implications for Church: Identity and Mission
     Since the Escapist worldview sees salvation in primarily individualistic terms, “church” is seen as a collection of individuals who hold to the same beliefs and practices.  The primary focus of the praxis of Escapist churches is the main worship gathering.  Their buildings and their gatherings are seen as a haven from the outside world that they desire to escape.  Their programs tend to focus on the piety of the individual and their separation from the world.  The emphasis is on attaining and, in some cases, maintaining individual salvation.  The mission of Escapist churches does extend beyond personal individual salvation to the evangelism of others, but seemingly only as a secondary concern.  Escapist churches and Christians focus almost exclusively on the afterlife.  Their focus on service in this world is seen only as a means of responding to personal salvation or as a means of gaining and retaining rewards in the afterlife.  Rick Warren further illustrates this view in The Purpose Driven Life, “Life is a temporary assignment…earth is only a temporary residence, so don’t get too attached…This is not your permanent home or final destination.  You are just passing through, just visiting earth.”  In regards to service, he continues ”At that point all our excuses for self-centeredness will sound hollow: ‘I was too busy’ or ‘I had my own goals’ or ‘I was too preoccupied with working, having fun, or preparing for retirement.’  To all excuses God will respond, ‘Sorry, wrong answer.  I created, saved and called you and commanded you to live a life of service.  What part did you not understand?’  The Bible warns unbelievers, ‘He will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves,’ but for the Christian it will mean a loss of eternal rewards.”  
     Churches with a Restorationist worldview (in the sense that we are using it here) see themselves as God’s agents in the world.  They see themselves as “citizens” of the Kingdom of Heaven, but not in the sense that the phrase is interpreted by Escapists.  In his commentary on the Prison Letters, N.T. Wright explains: “’We are citizens of heaven’ Paul declares in [Phil 3] verse 20.  At once many modern Christians misunderstand what he means.  We naturally suppose he means ‘and so we’re waiting until we can go and live in heaven where we belong.’  But that’s not what he says and it’s certainly not what he means.  If someone in Philippi said, ‘We are citizens of Rome,’ they certainly wouldn’t mean ‘so we’re looking forward to going to live there’.  Being a colony works the other way round.  The last thing emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome.  The capitol was already overcrowded and underemployed.  No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.”  This is how Restorationists view their identity and mission in the world.  They are a community that exists as an outpost of the Kingdom of God.  Together they live out Shalom in the midst of disharmony.  Their lives are instances of the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of the world.  They are the covenant people of God who are blessed by God to be a blessing to the world.  They evangelize, not primarily to secure the eternal fate of ‘spiritual essences”, but to invite others to exchange their own reality for God’s and to invite them to partner with God in the realization of His dream.  They are not under the impression that this can be accomplished by human effort alone and are awaiting a day when the Son of God will return and the dream they have been pouring their lives into will become reality.
(To Be Continued)

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