I spent the last couple of hours responding to perceptive questions from a pastor who wants to share Becoming Worldly Saints with his congregation. I thought that the answers might interest some of you and encourage your faith. I’ll post the first half now and the second half tomorrow.
1. The question driving your book Worldly Saints is stated as “Can you serve Jesus and enjoy your life”. What prompted this question?
I have asked this question my whole life. I want to follow Jesus, but I also want to have fun. I think everyone asks this question, at least subconsciously. Every time we sin, it’s because we don’t really think we can serve Jesus and still get what we want out of life.
More recently, the question surfaced for many Christians after reading books such as David Platt’s Radical and John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. Well-meaning Christians wondered if they had sacrificed enough. Was their house too large, their car too nice, or their vacation too long? Becoming Worldly Saints attempts to free Christians from false guilt, without minimizing the real sin we should feel guilty for. I want to show Christians how they can integrate the high purpose of heaven with the ordinary pleasures of earth. We don’t have to choose between serving Jesus and enjoying life. In fact, serving Jesus is the only way we can.
2. What do you suppose drives the biggest wedge between these two concepts: serving Jesus and enjoying life?
Too many Christians mistakenly divide creation and redemption. They are suspicious of the material world. The driving theme of Becoming Worldly Saints is the goodness of creation and the earthiness of the Christian life. Redemption is more than creation, but it is not less. Without a good creation, we can’t have an incarnation or resurrection. Without a good creation, the gospel doesn’t even get off the ground.
Chapter 7 is the key to the book. There I explain how to read the Bible in a Christian way. When the Bible says we are “aliens” (1 Peter 2:11) who must not love the “world” (1 John 2:15) it doesn’t mean we are Martians who are only visiting earth, so try not to become too attached. It uses those terms ethically. We are earthlings, for heaven’s sake! Scripture commands us to live on earth and thank God for the pleasures of this world. Our problem is sin, not stuff.
3. In the book you speak about the redemption of creation as the key to integrating “the purpose of heaven with the pleasure of earth” (22). Could you elaborate on the relationship of the gospel to the resolution of this tension?
Redemption means to restore something, to buy it back. What is redemption restoring? This entire creation. Scripture repeatedly promises that when Jesus returns he will restore all things (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:20; Rev. 11:15; 21:1-5).
If redemption restores creation, then the whole point of being a Christian (redemption) is to restore my human life (creation). There will always be a tension between my human life and my Christian life, because in a finite world I only have so much time and money. The resources I spent building a shed is time and money I didn’t give to the church. But these two aspects of life are also complementary. The more I flourish as a human, the more attractive the gospel becomes (Titus 2:10).
Ultimately, the gospel frees me to be myself. I don’t need to worry that I’m not doing one of the more “spiritual” jobs, such as pastor or missionary. My salvation does not depend on what I do for God. If I am accepted by God because of what Jesus has done on my behalf, then I am free to do whatever callings God has gifted and called me to do. This insight lies at the heart of the Reformation. If you are a Protestant, you have to believe this. Do what God has called you to do, then go to bed.
4. In the book you argue that pop-theology has misunderstood heaven and earth. What do you mean? How does this relate to our tension with spiritual and earthly things?
It’s not just pop theology. Academic theology regularly misses this too. Scholars and pastors who should know better continue to say that our final home is in heaven. The Bible nowhere says this. Instead, Scripture repeatedly says that our final destination is here, on a restored earth (Isaiah 65:25; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-5).
Praise God for the comfort of knowing that the souls of our loved ones who died in Christ are now with him in heaven. But praise God even more that they are on the first leg of a journey that is round trip. The Christian hope is for the resurrection! We believe that at any moment Jesus will return. He will bring the souls of our loved ones with him, resurrect their bodies, and put them back together. They will live with Jesus and us as whole people on this restored earth.
Most of our leaders still miss this crucial biblical point. Their sole focus on a spiritual, heavenly home devalues earth and the physical world. It’s no accident that nearly half of “born again” evangelicals do not believe their bodies will rise again. In our well-intentioned desire to be spiritual, we are losing the Christian faith.