Progress or apocalypse?
The can that I am about to pry open is a gigantic one, far greater than what will meet the eye at first. The implications deal directly with the belief system of millions of people in our nation and around the world, in particular as it relates to the Christian faith. Read carefully and think about it for a while before jumping to quick conclusions.
If we look at America today, it seems that we have two very different Christianities. One version of Christianity believes in societal progress and the other does not. Just to be clear, those Christians who believe in human progress are usually called Catholics, liberals, postmillenialists, kingdom-now, sometimes they are even called humanists. One of the newest forms of this line of thinking is the Emergent Church movement (a highly controversial movement within evangelicalism at the moment). The bottom line is that there are Christians who believe that Jesus came to the world to introduce a set of values (often called kingdom values) to institute a process of change that will eventually overthrow the works of darkness and restore creation to its original intent.
Those who think this way have good reason to think this way. After all, it was Jesus who went about preaching “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Since the Apocalypse did not happen in the first century A.D. (at least for the entire world) it is reasonable to say that Jesus was instituting God’s reign of overthrowing evil by overthrowing evil in the hearts of men. Jesus also saw His mission in terms of Isaiah 61, which was (and is) to “set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Isaiah also prophesied concerning Jesus, “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” This certainly speaks of linear progression. I know of very few Christian scholars who would not say that Christ’s inauguration as king did not begin with Pentecost. Lastly, consider what the Apostle John said in his epistle, “because the true light is shining and the darkness is passing away.” Again, this speaks of progress. It would be very strange for me as a Christian to believe that Jesus would take the time to give the world the Sermon on the Mount if He didn’t believe it would have an impact on society when actually lived out. I call this dimension of Christianity the kingdom dimension.
The second group of Christians in America and around the world are those who hold to an apocalyptic view of Christianity. They say that this world is going to be destroyed (in a catastrophic way in fact) so the best that we can hope for is to rescue people from this present evil age by getting as many people as possible to confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Those who think this way also have good reasons to think this way. The Apostle Peter talks about the earth being destroyed by fire. The Apostle Paul said of Jesus, “who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” Even the most liberal interpretation of the Book of Revelation can hardly look over the obvious teaching that the end of this present age will not be a picnic for planet earth. To lend even greater credibility to this idea, despite those who say this worldview leads to trashing the environment and a shirking of social responsibility, this view also is in agreement with science. The law of entropy intitiated at the Big Bang guarantees that “the form of this world is passing away” just as the Scriptures teach.
So who is right? The answer is both. To hold a kingdom view of Christianity is to believe that by following the teachings of Jesus, one can make a real and tangible difference in the world in which we live. Holding an apocalyptic view keeps us from believing that mankind is capable of creating a utopia without God’s direct intervention (as many socio-political movements have painfully discovered throughout history). As long as we are on this side of eternity, the wheats and the tares will grow side by side until God intervenes and throws the tares in the fire. In the end, only the wheat will endure. While not forgetting that we need to anticipate His coming, let’s occupy until He comes.