Monday, December 12, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 6

Ignoring The Problem
     There exists a third option that many Christians and churches opt for.  They ignore the issues all together.  They simply use the creation narratives to disprove evolution.  They roll their eyes at any discussion of eschatology and utter a dismissive statement such as “As long as I’m on Jesus’ side at the end, I don’t really care about the details.”  While there is a grain of truth hidden in the statement, it is quite a dangerous conclusion to reach.  As we have seen thus far, one’s view of Creation and Eschatology fundamentally shape one’s worldview.  Simply ignoring creational and eschatological questions creates a vague and directionless worldview.  They have no clear sense of who they are.  They aren’t really sure of the importance of where they are. They know that sin is a problem and would rather go to heaven than hell.  They know that Jesus death is somehow the solution to this problem.  In the same way as the Escapist worldview, this perspective quickly becomes individualistic.  But, additionally it is vague and directionless.  It carries with it a nebulous sense that there are things in this world that should be attended to by God’s people, but offers no clear answers as to what, how, or why.  It constructs a reality where the people of God have no real sense of the beginning of the story that they live in, and even less of where it is going.  The consequence is that they have great difficulty finding anc performing their role.

Deconstructing and Reconstructing a Worldview
     The interesting thing about the Escapist worldview is that, despite it’s popularity in North American Christianity, it’s origins seem more deeply rooted in Greek philosophy and even Gnosticism than early Christianity or even Judaism. Michael Wittmer explains, “Although the early church fought valiantly to defeat Gnosticism, it never did entirely overcome it’s deep attraction to Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato.  Plato held to a spirit-body dualism that was strikingly similar to Gnosticism.  Like the Gnostics, he believed that our eternal souls formerly inhabited an ethereal heavenly world.  At birth, these souls entered our bodies, where they remain trapped inside these physical prisons until death releases and returns them to their celestial home.  Consequently, Plato taught his students to value the eternal, spiritual world and distain this temporal, material existence.  He said that the goal of life is for our souls to rise above our bodies and contemplate the spiritual world from which they came.”  As is evidenced by countless sources, this stands in stark contrast to the Jewish and hence early Christian understanding.  The Jews did not believe in an afterlife in the same sense that the surrounding Pagans did.  They believed that God had made promises to Israel and that when those promises came to fruition, the people of God who had died before their fulfillment would be physically raised in order to enjoy them.  As Wright says in The New Testament and the People of God, “As such, ‘resurrection’ was not simply a pious hope about new life for dead people.  It carries with it all that was associated with the return from exile itself:  forgiveness of sins, the reestablishment of Israel as the true humanity of the covenant god, and the renewal of all creation.  Indeed, resurrection and the renewal of all creation go hand in hand.  If the space-time world were to disappear, resurrection would not make sense.”  There is every reason to believe that the early Christians held to a modified form of this basic belief, particularly in light of the fact that in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul offers Jesus resurrection as a “firstfruits” of ours. Paul uses Jesus resurrection as an argument in favor of ours (and vice-versa) presumable to argue against the Gnostic heresy.  Further, Romans 8:18-25 indicates that Creation itself has the same promise as the children of God and eagerly anticipates the time when both we and Creation will be freed from the curse.  As Wright points out in his commentary on Romans, “From this point we can see with astonishing clarity, the whole plan of salvation for all of God’s Creation.”  Revelation 21 pictures God as coming down from heaven to make his dwelling with men and declaring, “I am making all things new.”  In a book he co-authored with Tony Campolo called Adventures in Missing the Point, Brian McLaren comments, “If our theologies focus only on the eternal and the individual (i.e. getting my soul into heaven) so that we avoid God’s concern for the historic and the global (i.e. God’s will being done on earth as well as it is in heaven), then the more people we win to our theologies, the fewer people will care about God’s world here and now.”  Even as we look at these passages from scripture, I am aware that those with an Escapist worldview feel that they have plenty of scripture that they can point to for their position.  Indeed, they feel it is based primarily on scripture.  In an article for Biblical Review, Wright articulates the problem:  “Paul’s misunderstood metaphors present a challenge for us: How can we reuse biblical imagery, including Paul’s, so as to clarify the truth, not distort it?  And how can we do so, as he did, in such a way as to subvert the political imagery of the dominant and dehumanizing empires of the world?  We might begin by asking,  What view of the world is sustained, even legitimized by the Left Behind ideology? How might it be confronted and subverted by genuinely biblical thinking?  For a start, is not the Left Behind mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon?  Wouldn’t this be overturned if we recaptured Paul’s wholistic vision of God’s whole creation?”
(To Be Continued)

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