It’s not “good news” if it’s not good news now.

I was driving along with my wife recently and we pulled up behind a car that had a massive sticker on the rear window which read: “Come to Jesus now and avoid the rush at Doomsday – Peace Train to Heaven.” After initially turning to my wife to jokingly say “choo-choo!” I began to think more about this sticker and the message it proclaimed. I have no doubt that the intentions of this person were good but I was curious as to its effect. Here we have evident a particular engagement of the gospel with culture. It seems that what is evident here is some sort of Christian retreat from the world. Christians need to resist the world until the time comes when we will leave this place once and for all and live in some sort of disembodied state of eternal bliss. Now, the problems of this dualistic approach to the Christian faith aside, one must wonder what this gospel has to say to culture? I think a few things are being assumed here. First, culture is nothing worth getting excited about and there is not really much to affirm there. Cultures are rooted in space/time/tradition. In short, culture’s are rooted in creation, but this place isn’t our home. Perhaps there is an implicit message here that culture is bad and we need to retreat from it. Second, if the goal of the gospel is to “get us to heaven” then the material world is not really all that important. Therefore, the private life takes precedent over the public life. Of course, this fits in well with the reigning ideology of Western culture that would like religion to be confined to the private realm of values. However, the gospel challenges this escapist Christian mentality/culture. The gospel is expressed, perhaps most beautifully, in the climactic act that is the incarnation of the Son of God. Here, creation is assumed and taken on and, therefore, proclaimed once again (see Genesis 1 and 2) as good. The gospel is good news now not just in the future. As such, the gospel rejects any sort of Christian culture that might seek to reject the material world and look forward to a future departure. As a result, Christians cannot be told to check their beliefs at the door of “the public world of facts” in an attempt to confine them to the private realm of inner-experience. If the gospel is good news now then it’s truth has bearing in the public and not just the private realm. The gospel is not about escaping from creation, but rather, is about the inbreaking of God’s kingdom into creation. There is no “peace train to heaven”, but one day God’s kingdom will finally and fully be realized on earth as it is now in heaven.

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2 comments
  1. Andrew said:

    A gentle pushback:

    Couldn’t that person just be suggesting that there are a hierarchy of values in this life, and one’s eternal destiny is higher than the others?

    I don’t think that’s so unreasonable. Even within this life, many people often choose long-term pleasure over short-term pleasure. Right?

    • jt* said:

      Well, I suppose that the simple answer to your question is ‘yes’, perhaps they could be suggesting that. However, I don’t want to generalize here but I’ve met the sorts of folks who have these sorts of bumper stickers on their cars and I’m not sure they’re the type to be as nuanced as that.

      That aside, I would still hold that this sort of dualism (spiritual = good, material = bad) is troubling in light of Scripture and the person of Christ. Further, I think it’s possible to say that any “higher value” that doesn’t influence in some way/shape/form a “lower value” is perhaps a value worth questioning. Additionally, I think that to talk of heaven as an “eternal destination” is theologically problematic.

      So, in light of that, I do think it’s unreasonable in-so-far as it is inconsistent with the Biblical witness as I see it. In other words, it’s unreasonable because it’s logically inconsistent with the Scriptural narrative.

      Is that fair?

      ps – which Andrew is this, Fulford or Cockell?

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