One of the enjoyable sidelines I’ve tried to develop here at Full Contact Christianity is a ferocious intolerance for theological inconsistencies. It’s one thing to just be wrong; it’s quite another, much more irresponsible thing to believe (1) A, and (2) Not-A — and loudly declaim on both topics. Granted, the two proclamations don’t usually take place at the same time.
I’d like to address a doozy this week — the idea that one can be so taken with “spiritual” matters like relationship with God or sharing the gospel with the lost that one simply has no time for “peripheral” concerns like caring for the world we live in. After all, it’s all going up in flames anyhow, and then God recreates it, so why worry about it? Where’s the contradiction, you ask? Just watch. Much as I would enjoy an opportunity to do some first-hand mocking, N. T. Wright said it better than ever I could, so with no further ado, here he is:
I’ve spoken about God’s ultimate intention, that through the renewed human beings in Christ, the cosmos itself would be renewed. This strikes very hard at those of us who grew up within some kind or other of a pietistic tradition which actually had a low social concern because it said that was just oiling the wheels of a machine which was going to go over the cliff: What’s the point in tinkering with the structures of society? What’s the point in worrying about global warming, or whatever it is, because we know that the world is going to be jettisoned, and that we the saved will go off to be with God elsewhere.
Romans 8 ought long ago to have given the lie to any such idea. God loves the world that He’s made and wants to renew it. He sees it groaning in travail, and the answer to something groaning in travail is that the new is going to be born out of the womb of the old, not that the groaning person or world is going to be left to groan forever until it dies — No!
Where does that then leave us at the moment? There are many people who will see this picture and then will say “That’s great; we’re going to get that renewal one day when the Messiah comes back. When God renews everything then it’ll happen, but there’s nothing we can do about it at the moment.”
Now listen, many of you are pastors – probably the majority of you are pastors, that’s why you’re here. [Suppose] somebody came to you and said, “I’m having a real trouble with holiness, with this sin problem. I just find I sin all the time, and I see well there is this thing called holiness, but there’s really no point in me trying very hard after it, because after all, one day, God will raise me from the dead and give me a beautiful new life in which I will never sin again. That’s going to happen, so why should I worry about it now?”
I hope that if somebody came to you like that, you would hit them with a fairly heavy dose of inaugurated eschatology. You mightn’t express it quite like that, but what you would say is, “God wants you right now in the present, to live as nearly as you can in the power of the spirit to that lovely fully human creature that you’re going to be one day. Of course you will constantly be saying ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’ But He has given you His Spirit so that you can anticipate in the present what you should be in the future. “
Now, should we not say the same about our responsibility for creation, for the world which God made and which He loves so much? Of course we should. And if we get our soteriology right, we can go to that task without any of those snide remarks that this is a derogation from our gospel duty. It is part of our gospel duty.”
(This is from Session 6 of the 2005 Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conference, available for $1.99 here, at about the 57:30 mark.)
An additional note for those of you who are interested in (or furious about) Wright’s position vis-a-vis the New Perspective on Paul. In this particular conference, Wright is addressing an audience entirely conservative, and mainly composed, from what I gather, of Presbyterian pastors. If you’ve read some of the caterwauling about how Wright is striking at the vitals of the Christian religion, this is a good place to see what he has to say for himself to a group of people who will share your concerns. He delivers five lectures (Richard Gaffin does the other five) and participates in three Q&A/discussion sessions, so there’s quite a bit of material, and some good interaction as well.