Global crisis has rarely been more obvious to the current generation as it is today. Ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libia, and Afghanistan (even in light of the death of Osama Bin Laden) tell us of the evil that still lives in our world. As a people who long for justice, Christians rightly long for a day when all this will end. Paul compares the ache for peace and justice with the agony of a mother in childbirth. It is something we all share.
In his book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, Brian McLaren talks about his own journey in search of something to address the pain and suffering he witnessed firsthand. Convinced that the message of Jesus must have something to say about it, he interviewed people from many different nationalities and poured over the Scriptures, particularly the gospel accounts. Thus, what McLaren does in the book is offer what he describes as a “reframing” of the message of Christ in order to address the world’s ills.
While reorienting the Christian message McLaren becomes guilt of the same criticism he makes of conservatives: creating a view of Christian theology that matches with a specific agenda. In “reframing” and “reintroducing” Jesus, McLaren rewrites the story of the Bible, separating the personalities of God the Father from God the Son (to avoid any shade of wrath and judgement in Christ) and challenges Christians to non-violently bring heaven to earth through a new brand of security, prosperity and equity. He also takes issue with the picture of Christ in Revelation, making the erroneous conclusion that a war-like Christ would undermine the nonviolent stance that the Christ of the gospel accounts took before Pilate.
McLaren paints a beautifully hopeful picture of a world that is saved by his new perspective on Christ. He sees a world where there are no injustices, everyone has enough to eat, and no one has to worry about their safety. This is certainly the hope of every Christian, but how is this to come about? The vast problems we face in our world may look very different and may manifest in radically more terrible ways today, but nothing is any different (Ecclesiastes 1:9). There will always be injustice. There will always be poverty (Mark 14:7). No amount of human effort can save a single soul, let alone the whole world. If McLaren is right, why has the message of Jesus not done what it was supposed to over the course of the last twenty centuries? Is it realistic to think that for two thousand years no one has understood the message of Jesus?
In what appears to be a hopeless situation on our planet, there is a glimmer of something more. As CS Lewis eloquently said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” McLaren seems to think that the teaching of biblical conservatives is that our hope is for a heaven where we will find ourselves sitting around for eternity. The Bible gives us the hope that God will remake the world (Revelation 21); that all the ills of the world will be healed. Christ himself will do what McLaren wants Christians to do; he will ensure security by eliminating sin and death, he will establish prosperity as he will be our full sustenance and our light (Revelation 21:23). Christ himself will rule and create a world of perfect equity, not allowing any to be impoverished or hungry.
Heaven Breaks Through
For McLaren holding this perspective means that God has essentially turned his back on his creation and expects us to wait in this cruel world for his rescue. If we are expected to believe that there is nothing that we can do to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, then why bother? It is a valid criticism of biblical conservatives that McLaren makes. Too many of us sit in rapt apathy about the world’s problems and keep our eyes to the sky. Christ does challenge us to make a difference in our world, but it is a mission that looks very different from what McLaren suggests. Fortunately there is a resurgance of Lutherans, Calvinists, and Baptists who are accepting the call to a more missional perspective, and yet retain their conservative perspective on the message of the Bible and the purpose of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
Here is your challenge: read through the entire book of Luke in one sitting. You may want a tall glass of water and a snack, because it will take some time. When you do, notice the miracles Jesus performs and what he, himself, says about them. All those who experienced a miracle, including Lazarus, still died thus it would be easy to conclude that the miracles were not the point in and of themselves. The miracles did not accomplish much, from that temporal perspective, they rather had a much deeper signficance. Over and over, Jesus demonstrates his power and authority with miracle after miracle. Whether through healing, resurrection, or feeding thousands of people, Jesus showed glimpses of a new heaven and a new earth, a place where the corruption of sin will have no more power. His miracles said that he is the Son of God and vividly hinted at what is yet to come.
Can you see the motivation for our work to battle these global crises? Addressing worldwide hunger, the increasing gap between the rich and poor, the arms race, and insidious injustice to bring all evil to an end. That is what Christ will do. The Bible challenges us to work toward solving these problems in order to give people an imagination, to inspire them to think beyond who they are, what they see, and what they know to something more. Giving a homeless person a hot meal tells them something of our Lord, of an end to their hunger, and a world where hunger will no longer exist.
Our mission thus becomes doing good in order to share the hope we have in Christ. When we give a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty, we share about the living water that will eliminate thirst. When we give a hot meal, we offer the anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb. Thus our mission becomes not remaking the world on our own, but fulfilling the Great Commission and all the while awaiting the one who will make all things new.