The ‘This World Is Not Your Home’ Fallacy
I saw the following posted on Facebook with a number of Christians responding with “Amen”:
“This world is not your home. God is your father. Heaven is your home. You’re going there. Be hopeful.” — John Piper
It looks like Piper’s statement is a promotional introduction to the T4G (“Together for the Gospel/Distinct From the World”) April 2018 conference that’s going to be held in Louisville, Kentucky. I understand the sentiment, but some Christians are going to take this statement and become Christian quietists in the name of Christian piety.
You can read the “Affirmations and Denials” to gain some understanding of the theological positions the conference sponsors are taking and promoting. “Elementary principles of the oracles of God” that should have been taught in churches (Heb. 5:11-14). I wonder if there will be any discussion about education, politics, media, journalism, film, law, economics, science, technology, the dominion mandate, etc. Does the Bible address these areas? If not, why not? If it does, in what specific ways does the Bible apply?
Too many Christians are caught between “This World Is Not My Home” (false) and “This Is My Father’s World” (true), and it’s destroying the impact the church could and should be having on this world. Richard V. Pierard comments:
In the nineteenth century . . . German Lutherans made a strong bifurcation [separation] between the realm of public and private concerns…. Religion was the domain of the inner personal life, while the institutional and external, the public, so to speak, belonged to the worldly power. Redemption was exclusively the province of the church, while the law, determinative for external conduct of human affairs, was solely the province of the state. Religion was a private matter that concerned itself with the personal and moral development of the individual. The external order—nature, scientific knowledge, statecraft—operated on the basis of its own internal logic and discernable laws.1
For decades before the rise of Hitler, Christians were subjected to arguments like the following from pastors and theologians based on the “this world is not your home fallacy.” Sound familiar?:
- The Gospel has absolutely nothing to do with outward existence but only with eternal life, not with external orders and institutions which could come in conflict with the secular orders but only with the heart and its relationship with God.”2
- “The Gospel frees us from this world, frees us from all questions of this world, frees us inwardly, also from the questions of public life, also from the social question. Christianity has no answer to these questions.”3
- Once the Christian understands the moral significance of the state, Wilhelm Hermann declared in 1913, “he will consider obedience to the government to be the highest vocation within the state. For the authority of the state on the whole, resting as it does upon authority of the government, is more important than the elimination of any shortcomings which it might have. . . . For the person who is inwardly free, it is more important [that] the state preserve its historical continuity than that he obtain justice for himself.”4
This world is the Christian’s home. We were born here. God wants us here. We live here. Our homes are here. We work here. We’ve been a part of God’s created order since Adam and Eve. To claim otherwise is to deny the Bible and all common sense. While our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), it didn’t stop Paul from appealing to his earthly citizenship, including his Roman citizenship (Acts 21:39; 22:25-29). God saved us in the here and now. We are to live in terms of this world created by God and declared by Him to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31) that has not been declared otherwise because of sin (1 Tim. 4:3-5). We are told to pray, “Thy kingdom come. They will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). The moral standard is in heaven, where God dwells. His will has been revealed to us in an earth-bound book called the Bible. The Bible is for an earth-bound living (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
If Christians are to be “distinct from the world,” will there be a call for Christians to abandon government schools? You can’t be distinct from the corruption of the world if you’re sending your children to the world’s schools.
Charles Francis Potter, who founded the First Humanist Society of New York in 1929 and signed the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933, made no secret about the purpose of the American public schools:
Education is thus a most powerful ally of Humanism, and every American public school is a school of Humanism What can the theistic Sunday-school, meeting for an hour once a week, and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?5
Theodore Roszak used an apt phrase to describe much of modern-day Christianity: “Socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.”6 It wasn’t always this way:
The Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, comes out of the background of a Hebrew mindset. The basic idea behind the Hebrew mindset is that God and accompanying spiritual principles permeate all of life here on earth…. I believe one of the causes of [cultural disengagement is a Greek mindset], which tells us Christians should be concerned about saving souls and going to heaven rather than paying much attention to material things like transforming our societies.
[James Davidson] Hunter, to the contrary says, “Most Christians in history have interpreted the creation mandate in Genesis as a mandate to change the world.”7
William Edgar, a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounts the time in the 1960s he spent studying at L’Abri, Switzerland, under the tutelage of Francis A. Schaeffer8 (1912–1984):
I can remember coming down the mountain from L’Abri and expecting the stock market to cave in, a priestly elite to take over American government, and enemies to poison the drinking water. I was almost disappointed when these things did not happen.9
Edgar speculates, with good reason, that it was Schaeffer’s eschatology that negatively affected the way he saw and interpreted world events. It’s true of many of today’s big-name Evangelicals. One of Schaeffer’s last books, A Christian Manifesto, did not call for cultural transformation but civil disobedience as a stopgap measure to postpone an inevitable societal decline. “The fact remains that Dr. Schaeffer’s manifesto offers no prescriptions for a Christian society…. The same comment applies to all of Dr. Schaeffer’s writings: he does not spell out the Christian alternative. He knows that you ‘can’t fight something with nothing,’ but as a premillennialist, he does not expect to win the fight prior to the visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish His millennial kingdom.”10
Tom Sine offers a startling example of the effect “prophetic inevitability” can have on some people:
“Do you realize if we start feeding hungry people things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, Jesus won’t come?” interrupted a coed during a Futures Inter-term I recently conducted at a northwest Christian college. Her tone of voice and her serious expression revealed she was utterly sincere. And unfortunately I have discovered the coed’s question doesn’t reflect an isolated viewpoint. Rather, it betrays a widespread misunderstanding of biblical eschatology . . . that seems to permeate much contemporary Christian consciousness. I believe this misunderstanding of God’s intentions for the human future is seriously undermining the effectiveness of the people of God in carrying out his mission in a world of need…. The response of the (student) . . . reflects what I call the Great Escape View of the future. So much of the popular prophetic literature has focused our attention morbidly on the dire, the dreadful, and the destruction of all that is.11
Eschatological ideas have consequences, and many Christians are beginning to understand how those ideas have shaped the cultural landscape. A world always on the precipice of some great and inevitable apocalyptic event is not in need of redemption but only of escape. As one end-time speculator put it, “the world is a sinking Titanic ripe for judgment.”12
The sad thing is, change the phrase “Secular humanists” with “Today’s modern churches” in the following quotation, and you have defined the problem:
Secular humanists have no objection to our Christian faith at all, provided we reserve it strictly for ourselves in the privacy of our homes and church buildings, and just as long as we do not try to live up to our Christ principles in our business and public life. On no account must the Spirit and Word of the Lord Jesus Christ be allowed to enter the ballot booth or the market place where the real decisions of modern life are made, nor must religion interfere with such vital matters as education, politics, labor relations and profits and wages. These activities are all supposed to be “neutral” and they can therefore be withdrawn from sectarian influences so that the secular spirit of the community may prevail.13
We have met the enemy, and he is us.
- Richard V. Pierard, “Why Did Protestants Welcome Hitler?,” Fides et Historia, X:2 (Spring 1978), 13. [↩]
- Christian Ernst Luthard (1867). Quoted by Pierard from Karl H. Hertz, Two Kingdoms and One World: A Sourcebook in Christian Ethics (Minneapolis: Augusburg, 1976), 83. [↩]
- Quoted in Hertz, Two Kingdoms and One World: A Sourcebook in Christian Ethics, 87. [↩]
- Quoted in Hertz, Two Kingdoms and One World: A Sourcebook in Christian Ethics, 91. [↩]
- Charles Francis Potter, Humanism: A New Religion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1930), 128. Quoted in David A. Noebel, J.F. Baldwin, and Kevin Bywater, Clergy in the Classroom: The Religion of Secular Humanism (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Press, 1995), vi. [↩]
- Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends (New York: Doubleday, 1973), 449. [↩]
- C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2008), 40, 41. [↩]
- See Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 42. [↩]
- William Edgar, “Francis Schaeffer and the Public Square” in J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 174. [↩]
- Gary North and David Chilton, “Apologetics and Strategy,” in Tactics of Christian Resistance: A Symposium, ed. Gary North (Tyler Texas: Geneva Divinity School, 1983), 127–128. Emphasis in original. [↩]
- Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy: You Can Make a Difference in Tomorrow’s Troubled World (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 69. [↩]
- Jan Markell, “Kingdom Now: We’re Not Returning to Eden” http://tinyurl.com/yr4c27. For a response, see Gary DeMar, “Is the World a Sinking Titanic?,” Biblical Worldview (May 2007), 4–6. [↩]
- E. L. Hebden Taylor, “Religious Neutrality in Politics,” Applied Christianity (April 1974), 19. [↩]