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Preaching Towards Mission: Which World View?

Every preacher does it. No exceptions, we all present a world view either through what we say or, more often, through what we do not say. Here, the concept of world view being considered is not about some of those fundamental or basic structures of culture, such as shame/honour, guilt, purity/cleanliness, spirit world, or nihilism. Rather, here I am referring to world view as an overall perspective on God’s plans for the created order,[1] for everything. Such world views across the Christian community, could be positive, negative or indifferent, thought about or simply subconsciously assumed. Or just plain confused!!

In every International Church (IC) there are people with a mix of world views. And they listen to the preacher through the perspective that they assume to be correct. What they hear is the preacher’s message reinterpreted through the world view assumptions, or filters, they carry with them. Without due attention to this mix of world views, the IC preacher may find that s/he is not preaching the message s/he thinks!!

Every IC leader who has a passion for mission, for the people of the church to engage missionally in the wider community, will find that world view is a major factor in how well Christians take up the call to go into the world. World view directly impacts on the why, what and how of mission. Consequently, to stir the church into mission, the IC preacher must routinely address world view perspectives.

One way of capturing two very common Christian world views is the distinction between dualistic and holistic perspectives.  The former divides up all things into two basic categories, those that matter and those that do not. What does not matter is usually considered to be doomed to God’s ultimate final destruction. The holistic perspective sees all of life and creation as integrated (mutually interdependent) and all included within the ultimate purposes of God. Both take the judgement of God seriously but the dualistic usually extends this beyond sin and sinners to the created order itself.

However, there is an even more fundamental divergence in world views across the Christian community. It centres on the question of the location of our final heavenly home. Where exactly is our final resting place?

First, there is the common expectation that God’s promise is to take us away to heaven. And heaven is elsewhere. In this view, all in Christ eventually abandon, or escape from, this earth forever. Our destiny is far removed from this earth. The Kingdom of God fulfilled will not ultimately be here. The consequence of such a view is that only those things directly relevant to our departure are considered priority: such as evangelism to bring people to faith and then a form of discipleship to prepare people to leave while living faithfully until they do. Coupled with this world view is the expectation that all else is doomed to the judgement of God because everything else is so bad as to be beyond redemption.

Two evangelical writers have challenged such a view, including the songs and hymns we sing that presume that heaven is our final destiny.[2] Both Tom Wright and Howard Snyder have argued that heaven is real and desirable but not, as such, the final home promised in Scripture. They criticize the escapist attitudes such a view encourages in which Christians give little consideration to the real justice and ethical issues facing humankind. Nor do they take seriously how the Kingdom might already be impacting upon every facet or sphere of the created order.

Secondly, there is the less common view that our final destiny will be here on this earth. The vision for the future is new heaven and new earth in which heaven and earth become one and the same place. In this view, when Christ returns He first purifies the created order[3] and then brings heaven to earth. So Revelation 21 talks of God coming here to live with us, the New Jerusalem descending with God to the earth in which everything has been renewed so perfectly that no more is any division between heaven and earth necessary. Here is the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The enthronement of Jesus with “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) makes possible the summing up of “all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ”(Ephesians 1:10).[4] Only with such a re-uniting of heaven and earth can “all things” (Colossians 1:15-17) be reconciled with God in the peace generated through the cross (Colossians 1:19-20). Many publications present this world view. Richard Middleton is a good place to start.[5]

This is not an escapist view but one which affirms that every facet of life matters to God. It is a view that understands permanent departure, or exile, as not for the faithful but for the unrepentant. Leaving and going to heaven when we die is a temporary arrangement until Christ returns to earth and brings with Him all who have died already in Christ.

There are many variations on the two options; to reduce the whole Christian community to just two opinions is risky to say the least! Yet there are two fundamental but opposite conceptual frameworks (world views) that shape how Christians approach everything. Do we leave permanently to go to God or does God come here to be with us?

The first option inevitably develops a dualistic outlook on everything – only those in Christ will survive the final judgement of God and so everything else is temporary at best. The second promotes a holistic understanding of the mission of God[6] – the transformation/renewal of all nations and the creation in readiness for the arrival of God and the New Jerusalem. The first is essentially pessimistic about the future for earth and society while the second confident that eventually God will put all to right. The first gravitates mostly towards personal/individual and spiritual concerns, while the second includes these but also embraces the full range of the Kingdom promises for justice and peace throughout all the nations.

Some of the more common dualisms are spiritual (conversion and relationship with God) but not physical (including environmental and technological concerns), personal (individual salvation and needs) but not social (which includes political and economic concerns), evangelism but not social action (for justice, and against poverty and violence). Increasingly, we are now seeing a rise in the dualism of partiality for one’s own group (race, gender, nation, culture, religion) to the disregard of others.

Nevertheless, it is common for dualistic perspectives to not prevent many from adopting specific nationalistic, social, political or economic ideologies. Dualistic attitudes too often result in neglect of Biblical material on a wide range of concerns, the result of which is a ready acceptance of the values and perspectives of common culture. Consequently, little difference can be seen between Christians and general society on many serious issues. Mission is compromised because Christians cannot see the extent to which culture and society deviate from a Biblical world view.

The Kingdom of God is certainly not dualistic. The expectation of the Old Testament from Genesis forward is for God’s blessing the fill the nations with every sphere of life and society renewed. Israel is God’s means to achieve this end. The central focus of this hope is the Son of God (Psalm 2). He will bring justice and healing to the nations (Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-16). Multiple descriptions of this hope can be found throughout the Psalms and Prophets. All things (Colossians 15:15-17) will be renewed (Revelation 21:5) and reconciled to God (Colossians 1:19-20) so that all the nations can take their place in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:24-26, cf. Isaiah 60). Judgement will refine and purify all things. Judgement will also remove/exile all who persist in rebellion against God. The Gospel calls all to repent and take up faith in Christ so that this Kingdom might be theirs.

But does it really matter? As long as people are coming to believe in Jesus, do we need to take up the issue of the future location of heaven? We do! Much of Christian life and hope is directly affected by how one sees this issue. All people live in the light of their hope and vision for the future be it optimistic or pessimistic, thought out or just assumed. All Christians are called to be salt and light in the world but the actual practice of this depends on what we think God is doing in the world. All Christians have expectations for the blessing of God but what exactly is included in this blessing? How we love our neighbours is directly shaped by what we think God is doing in loving them. God always loves towards the future – so must we. How we answer the world view question directly impacts on which version of discipleship we teach to the church. We are sent into the world (mission) as Jesus was, but what exactly was His mission? Clearly His mission was the work of the Kingdom. Love, discipleship, mission, spiritual life, participation in society, hope, church life, and everything else is affected by how we see the future. And this future impacts a lot on what we think the Holy Spirit is doing in us and in the world.

So as a preacher and teacher in an IC, which world view are you presenting? And which world view is your congregation hearing from you?

Furthermore, you are probably saying much more than you realize. Why? Because of what we often refer to as the hidden curriculum. That is, what you communicate not in your words but in tone of voice, in the actions and lifestyle that surround your words, and in your silence.

Silence speaks loudly – very loudly!If, in our preaching, we never address particular topics or issues, we effectively say that these do not matter. That is, our silence makes a statement that either the issues do not matter to God, or that God is incapable or unwilling to do anything about it. Silence is never neutral, silence is a value statement. And silence inevitably is an endorsement of the status quo with all its injustices and lies.

When we are silent on the issues of justice or society or environment or any number of other big concerns, we send two messages.

First, we present a small view of God. He becomes a limited God; not relevant to the major issues people are facing. In other words, we may proclaim the great sovereign power of God but because this is never applied to the big issues of the day, there is the implication that these are beyond Him or He simply doesn’t care.When nearly all the preacher has to say is about individual benefit and responsibility, a word view is presented in which God is not interested in everything else. Your IC will be increasingly persuaded on the sovereignty of God as you address the big issues and apply a Biblical perspective.[7]

Secondly, through silence we present the Christian faith as ethically deficient. The world is facing major moral issues. Injustice is a common theme every day in the media across a range of concerns. Neglect of environmental and climate issues will cost our children and grandchildren profoundly. Prejudice, bigotry, xenophobia, intolerance, and small mindedness are having huge negative impact on so many. For many in our world, the silence of the church is a moral failure. The credibility of the faith is undermined because it appears that Christianity has little to offer on the biggest issues facing humankind right now. So many have already withdrawn from the church for this very reason.

Yet the Kingdom of God directly impacts on all the issues that people outside the church are anxious about. The political agenda of the Messiah is for the transformation of all things. We have a so much so say on the issues that people are passionate about because the Kingdom is an agenda for God’s ultimate purposes for all the earth, for all the nations, and for all who follow Jesus. The Kingdom is about the rule of Christ over all of heaven and earth, not just another term for the body of Christ. The need for the big-picture Kingdom of God in all ICs means that IC leaders must be theologically well versed in all that Jesus included in His vision of the Kingdom.

Too readily people in ICs settle into a passive engagement in the church: because too little inspires them, too little hope is presented for God’s work in all the world, too little theological attention is given to what is on the hearts and minds of the whole society. The more the theological passion of the Kingdom resonates with the everyday passions of the people (whether in the church or not), the more the Gospel will transform lives and communities and nations.

World view matters hugely. Everything is shaped by how the whole world is seen. Perspective is everything.

So which world view prevails in your IC?

 

 

Graham Chipps

June 2017

 

 

 

[1] “Created order” refers not just to the physical realm but also to all facets of human society.

[2] Wright, N Thomas. 2007: Surprised by Hope, London: SPCK.

Snyder, Howard A. 2011: Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace: Overcoming the Divorce Between Earth and Heaven, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.

[3] The final judgement removes all sin and evil, all spiritual enemies of God, all the unrepentant, and even death itself.

[4] See Pennington, Jonathan T. 2007: Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[5] Middleton, J Richard. 2006: ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth: The Case for a Holistic Reading of the Biblical Story of Redemption.’Journal for Christian Theological Research, 11:73-97.

2014: A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology,  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[6] Please note that true holism must address the individual and spiritual needs as well as the social and environmental. Unfortunately, there is a version of holism which does not include the former.

[7] Obviously, we need to be sure that we present Biblical perspectives and not our culturally determined ideological assumptions! Serious research is essential. And we address the issues without taking a position on party politics.

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