Welcome to the Big Picture Podcast. I’m Joel Fieri and this podcast seeks to begin and hopefully sustain a conversation about current trends, ideas and issues in the Church and greater society.
This week’s podcast is part two of a mini-series we’re doing on the problem of ‘Utopianism’, and if you tuned in last week, you heard our friend, “the Late ‘Boomer’s”, take on his generation’s misguided utopian crusade known as The Great Society.
Well, one person tuning in was his friend and alter-ego, the Backrow Baptist. He’s the guy in the back of the Church who’s always tempted to throw a few extra dollars in the offering plate so he won’t feel convicted for leaving early. But that never works for him, so once again he’s staying to the end.
And he’s back on the Big Picture to chime in on a few utopian trends he’s seen recently in the Christian community.
Christians aren’t immune to the trap of thinking we can make a paradise here on Earth.
We can see this mostly in the social justice movement that’s so popular with Christians today.
As I said, it’s easy for us to fall into this trap, and I think the best example of this happened not too long ago with so many Christians getting caught up in the Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 film and campaign to publicize and eventually capture war lord Joseph Kony in Uganda.
So many Christians I know were caught up in KONY that when I first became aware of the film and its purpose, I assumed that Invisible Children was a missions agency and that the whole effort was Christian.
But as far as I can tell, it’s completely secular.
As commendable as their goal was, the film was very utopian in nature, with slogans like “Nothing is more powerful than an idea” (well, actually, God is), or “The better world we want is coming – waiting for us to stop at nothing.” (well, it’s actually waiting for Jesus) and “This is what the world should be like.” (but, of course, it never will be).
I think it’s crucial for Christians to avoid this kind of thinking, which is really more like emoting.
The Bible, and Jesus, make it crystal clear that in this world there will always be trouble, there will always be the poor and there will always be injustice.
The mistake social justice Christians tend to make is that they believe they can change that reality, that they can somehow eliminate the external conditions that they believe cause poverty and injustice.
And in many cases they can affect them, for a time at least.
But the causes of poverty and injustice aren’t all external. They’re internal as well. They’re the result of human brokenness. That’s why merely changing circumstances with well-intentioned assistance won’t get it done.
But just like secular utopians, Christian utopians have a hard time facing that reality.
I think that’s why so many relief agencies fall into questionable funding and administration practices. After raising all that money, you can’t really tell your donors it’s not working, so you fudge a little. Then you fudge a lot.
Eventually the choices come down to letting the crusade and the enthusiasm die (as in KONY), forcing temporary fixes through political means (as many of the left-leaning of social justice leaders advocate), or realizing that the top priority is the Gospel, the Good News that saves people’s souls for eternity, not their circumstances here on Earth.
But we don’t really like to face that, because temporary fixes are often easier and sometimes even more satisfying.
We get more donations, and we get better feedback – smiles, hugs and good publicity that we feel will earn us ‘the right to be heard’.
But really, Jesus already gave us that right.
Actually He gave us a responsibility, and we have no right to keep the Good News under wraps until someone’s circumstances improve.
The social justice movement isn’t anything new. Christians have been doing what we today call ‘social justice’ for centuries.
Missionaries have always gone out into every corner of the world building hospitals, schools and churches, healing the sick and feeding the hungry when no one else would even consider helping others.
But those good works weren’t ends in themselves. They were subject to the Gospel, which was priority number one.
Today’s social justice philosophy too easily flips that priority.
This world is not our home, and we’re not here to build or re-build a dream world, or a utopia. When we lose sight of that, the Gospel is minimized and eventually, it’s lost.
In closing, it’s time for the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews chapter 11-12 in your Bible).
And today’s witness, like so many others we tell you about, is un-named. He’s from Iran, and this is his story:
“We are the clay, He is the Potter”. One believer stood at the window, watching the midnight streets for movement that could signal the police closing in on the worshippers. The Christians were meeting secretly in the southern part of Iran. The foreign visitor added to the danger, for Iranian police would be furious to know Christians were sharing fellowship with an outsider.
One believer had recently been released from police custody, and the bruises on his body told about the treatment he had received. Although the police watched him closely and knew of his Christian work, he continued, ministering as much as he could when he wasn’t under arrest.
He spoke with passion and urged the gathered believers to grow more like Christ, regardless of the cost. All of them knew that the cost would be high, for all of them knew Christians who had been arrested, beaten, or murdered. Others had simply disappeared.
The wonderful service was long and worshipful. Afterward, the amazed foreign guest asked the speaker about his prison experiences and the suffering he had endured. “How can you,” he asked, “keep such a spirit of hope and cheerfulness in the midst of these troubles?”
“These trials are just ‘tools’ in God’s hands,” said the Iranian believer. “Who am I to criticize the tools that God uses to make me more holy?”
This unknown Iranian believer, I think, shows that what the world needs most is the Gospel, which is the most powerful tool to affect the circumstances of this world, even in the most unjust places, like Iran. And for his great faith and willingness to be used by God, he is hereby nominated to The Great Cloud Of Witnesses, of whom the world is not worthy.
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