Looking for Utopia?

One of the seductions that bedevils Christian formation is the construction of utopias, ideal places where we can live totally and without inhibition or interference the good and blessed and righteous life. The imagining and then attempted construction of such utopias is an old habit of our kind. Sometimes we attempt it politically in communities, sometimes socially in communes, sometimes religiously in churches. It never comes to anything but grief. Utopia is, literally, “no-place.” But we can live our lives only in actual place, not in an imagined or fantasized or artificially fashioned place.
– Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p. 73.

After posting that quote, Andy Whitman of Paste Magazine and the All-Music Guide launches into another stirring testimony….

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

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    Are there any credible Christians really arguing for utopian ideals? I don’t know, but the question Whitman raised for me is not about utopia, but rather about what are true biblical ideals, and how should they direct our lives?

    The “utopian ideal” is a distortion of the biblical longing for heaven that all of us experience. And yet, as Whitman suggests, it still influences our lives and our expectations, even though there is no utopian mandate from the NT. Instead, Jesus and the apostles taught what might be called a “virtual” ideal, as in one driven by the sumpreme virtue…love. Whatever our circumstances, we are to be driven by the “virtual ideal” of love. That is the only thing that can bring “heaven on earth” in any meaningful way.

    It’s not about finding a place to be where our surroundings are all light and love, but about reaching for a state of being where we, and others around us, are channels of light and love. That’s why we look for loving churches, and loving communities for our children, and ways to bring that love to others. And love prevents us from judging the motives of others as they reach for the biblical ideals.

    If rejecting utopian ideals also makes other biblical ideals suspect, then that argument has gone too far. If there are no valid biblical ideals that draw us forward and upward, then we will get stuck in a dull, meaningless, and cynical reality. God has put ideals in our hearts, and in his Word, to keep us, in Paul’s words, “reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Let’s not get bogged down in settling for less than God intends because we’re afraid someone might say we are “utopian.”

    Of all people, Christians should be the ones reaching for the ideals that really matter. Those are the only ones that will create a glimpse of “heaven on earth” as we live out Christ’s ideals wherever we are. Forget utopia, but never forget ideals.