For those who frequent my blog, it’s obvious I have been working my way through the words of N.T. Wright in his Surprised by Hope. Well, I’ve posted three other articles with significant quotes from Wright.
And though I will go back and post some of his thoughts on hell and judgment, last night I read something that really struck a chord in my heart. Though the first two-thirds of the book deals with the deeper theology of things like the soul, the body, the resurrection, heaven, hell, etc, the last third of the book deals with what this all means practically for the church in its mission. And this is just as important.
We all should be aware that theology is not proper theology unless it brings about change in our lives and practical orthopraxy. And Wright takes up this endeavour beginning in his ch.12, which looks at rethinking what salvation and the kingdom of God are really all about.
It is these words that struck the chord:
Precisely because the resurrection has happened as an event within our own world, its implications and effects are to be felt within our own world, here and now. (italics his)
Our mission is not about getting souls saved to go to heaven ‘up there’. Or mission with regards to salvation is, as Wright says:
(1) about whole human beings, not merely ‘souls’; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us. (italics his)
We are involved in something here and now. So when Wright says in #2 above that salvation is ‘about the present, not simply the future’, he is not referring to the simple message that, when one gets saved, they get saved by grace now in this life (though such is true). He is talking about the reality that, when we step into the bigger picture of God’s redemptive plan, this means we are being called, in God’s power, to effect change here and now on the earth. We are not now just waiting for the ship to sink and then to get on the heaven island one day when we die or Christ returns, bringing as many ‘souls’ as we can with us by throwing life-preservers. The central message of the gospel of the kingdom is that the kingdom rule of God is coming on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
As Wright goes on to later say:
He [God] did not want to rescue humans from creation, any more than he wanted to rescue Israel from the Gentiles. He wanted to rescue Israel in order that Israel might be a light to the Gentiles, and he wanted thereby to rescue humans in order that humans might be his rescuing stewards over creation. That is the inner dynamic of the kingdom of God. (italics his)
Thus, we are to be participants with God in seeing His rule come on earth as it is in heaven. This includes not just seeing whole people saved, though that is very important, but being stewards of the creation which God has entrusted to us. This harkens back to what I would call the first Great Commission found in Genesis 1:28:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This is so essential to our mission. As one church leader reminded a group of us one day: Recreation [in the sense of enjoyment or having fun] deals with re-creating in creation.
God already promises He is going to restore the whole of creation (Romans 8). He already promises that one day there will be a restored heaven and earth together (Revelation 21). Just as we see the kingdom coming already in the here and now through the salvation of human beings, so we can see the kingdom rule of God coming already in the here and now through faithfulness and stewardship of this earth which is God’s (Psalm 24:1).
Of course the question arises: Why take care of the earth if He is going to restore it all one day?
It’s a good question, one I have recently been thinking through with the strong focus on being green amongst many in recent years, something I’m not opposed to but still something I would not intrinsically equate with the kingdom of God, rather seeing it as a part of our call.
But let me counter with some other questions: Why take care of our bodies if one day the resurrection will take place with new bodies? Why pursue maturity in the faith if one day Jesus will do it fully when we see Him face to face?
Well, I think we can answer those questions pretty easily.
If our answer to the one about caring for our bodies is that we don’t need to, then we have moved into gnostic territory. The kingdom of God is about the goodness of all things, not just ‘the spiritual’. And we pursue maturity in our faith because we are called to walk out the gospel of God’s rule that has effected major change in our lives. We are already part of the new creation, aren’t we?
So, why not take up also embracing the reality of being stewards of all things, even bringing foretastes of the one future day into the here and now by seeing God’s rule exemplified in the physical earth. Remember, He is going to restore our bodies and the earth. Why not give a taste to the world now of what will one day be a full reality?
This all goes back to the initial words that I quoted from N.T. Wright, some very powerful and profound words:
Precisely because the resurrection has happened as an event within our own world, its implications and effects are to be felt within our own world, here and now.
The Son of God became flesh and blood for a reason. The Son of God lived a human life on the physical earth for a reason. The Son of God was resurrected in true bodily form for a reason. In modern day terms, we might describe it as a PowerPoint display of what God intends to fully and finally accomplish one day with all creation as His rule and glory cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
So let’s take up this call now. Let’s provide a taste, or maybe even more than a taste, of what God will one day consummate in Jesus Christ.