Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Are we overemphasising life after death?

While at university, one of my Old Testament professors used to refer to our traditional view on eternal life as “a pie in the sky, bye and bye, when you die.” I still find too many people focussing mainly on life after death instead of focussing also on life on earth. Obviously there is tremendous comfort in the knowledge that there is a life after death. This seems to be the focus of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 and especially verse 19 where he says: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. And what other comfort can we give the family of a Christian who had died than to assure them that the deceased is living with Christ. When my father died in 2000, this was really the only comfort which I myself had.
Towards the end of last year Brian McLaren published a book with the title Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. I haven’t read it yet, but I did read a review in Christianity Today about the book which you can access here. In Ron Martoia’s book, Static, which I have just finished reading he touches on the same topic which Brian McLaren also writes about, and this is (in my own words) that Jesus did not come to save souls, but that He came to save the world.
There is a huge difference between these two viewpoints. How often have you heard people saying that Jesus came to earth in order for our souls to be saved? But according to John 3:16 God sent His Son to earth out of love for the world. And it is clear, when studying the book of Revelations, that God’s interest in us doesn’t stop at the point that our souls are saved, but that He has much more in mind than this – just think of the wonderful description of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelations 21.
From my own background I know that, during the Apartheid years in South Africa, those who were discriminated against were often comforted with the words that they had to accept the hardship which faced them here on earth, knowing that in the next life things will be different! During the times of the Tsars in Russia, the peasants were also told to accept the hardship which befell them because they could look forward to life after death when things would be better.
One of the reasons why I believe the church has lost a lot of its credibility on earth is exactly because of this attitude. God, through Christ, has given us life in abundance here on earth and I believe that we have the calling from God to ensure that other people can also share in this wonderful life on earth. Contrary to many people who feel that we as Christians should not really speak about life after death, I do believe that we could and should speak about it. This theme occurs often in the New Testament. But it should not be done at the cost of keeping quiet about God’s will for people today. In short, our mission task is not solely focussed on the saving of souls but is also focussed on the saving of people and the earth on which we were placed. The church will have to regain credibility but will only be able to do it if we unashamedly stand up for the rights of people, reaching out to help the helpless, bringing health back to the sick, proclaiming peace where there is war, speaking out when the earth is being misused, etc.
I am uncomfortable when people seem to swing the pendulum to the side of only being involved in social and ecological issues, as if we may not speak about life after death. But I also understand this reaction against many Christians and churches which proclaim an unbalanced message of overemphasising life after death.

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Monday, January 28, 2008 - Posted by | Church, Death, Eschatology, Evangelism, Hope, Mission, Poverty, Racism, Russia, Social issues, Theology

1 Comment »

  1. […] which in a certain sense forms the basis of Evangelism Explosion. Ron Martoia, of whom I wrote a short while ago, is in South Africa at present and I read in a newspaper article today that he […]

    Pingback by Evangelism training « Mission Issues | Monday, February 11, 2008 | Reply


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