The Gospel Isn’t About Escaping This World, It’s About Transforming It

The Gospel Isn’t About Escaping This World, It’s About Transforming It March 1, 2015

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 As a teenager, I was taught that the Gospel was “Good News.” While they were right in calling it Good News, learning about Jesus as an adult taught me that they were right– but for all the wrong reasons.

Yes- it’s Good News. Unfathomably Good News. But, it’s different news than what we grew up with.

Like many of you, I grew up an “end times” believer. The Good News of Jesus was tangled up in a mess of destruction that became good news– but only because this good news was communicated against a backdrop of some really terrible, no-good, absolutely horrible, very bad news.

The bad news? Well, that usually starts out with the message that you’re headed to hell and that God is going to torture you for all of eternity and that it’s going to be like being set on fire, except you’ll never die from it. That news is bad enough, but it gets worse: the narrative many of us are raised with is that not only are we headed to hell, but the entire planet is too.

Things are going to get progressively worse, they taught– and no matter what one does, there’s no stopping this train from leaving the station. The world is completely and utterly doomed, and all we can do is get as many people into the boat as we prepare to get out of here.

The “Good News” a Christian named John Nelson Darby invented in the 1800’s, was that God will provide a way of escape for Christians– an escape called the “rapture of the church.”  Unfortunately by the 20th Century, end times theology caught on and it didn’t take long for the Good News that Christ came to bring to get perverted into a theology of detachment and escapism. Of all the negative things that have occurred in church history the invention of rapture doctrine and the modern end-times movement that was born from it ranks among the worst, as it ushered in an era where Christians waited for the Good News (escape) to be realized, instead of making good news for the world around us. 

The end times version of Christianity that many of us grew up with has been immensely popular, not because it’s true, but because it’s easy. Prior to the invention of end times fanaticism, Christians were busy trying to change the world on a massive scale- changing broken social systems, uplifting the poor and oppressed, and addressing all sorts of other problems they referred to as “social ills.” They labored to help those around them experience God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, the presence of the Kingdom of God here-and-now, and the transformative nature of God’s reconciliation– all things that were truly Good News in every respect.

But Christianity within an end times paradigm? Things went radically down hill after Darby’s teachings caught on because the alternate version of Christianity is so much easier. I used to live that kind of Christianity, and it was cake.

In fact, I remember traveling on a missions trip to the former Soviet Union just within a year or two after the fall of communism. The economy was in shambles, people were hungry, unemployed, and desperate. What did we bring them? We brought them a message of “good news” conveyed through street skits/silent drama and singing “People Need The Lord” to a boombox (remember those?). After our presentation we’d grab a translator and quickly try to get as many people as possible to ask Jesus into their hearts before moving on to the next place.

Supposedly, that was all good news. However, what I’ve learned as an adult is that the Good News isn’t about escaping the world, it’s about transforming it. The Good News is an invitation to empty oneself the way Christ did, and to be agents of reconciliation who act as a soothing balm on hurting lives.

The message of Jesus was never about raptures, escaping, or even going to heaven when we die. Instead, the message of Jesus was always about the fact that the Kingdom of God has come– and that we’re invited to enter in, and live in that reality, right now. Instead of leaving for heaven, Jesus invites us to reproduce it, “on earth.”

It’s an invitation that is soooo much more difficult than escapism, end-times Christianity, which is why for the past century, most evangelical Christians have preferred the easier version invented by Darby.

However, the past few days I’ve been witnessing Christians living out the original calling to bring heaven to earth, and spreading “Good News” everywhere they went, as I’ve traveled with World Vision in Armenia. Ironically, I have returned to the former Soviet Union, to the place where I once brought a faux version of the Good News. This time however, I’m witnessing what the real Good News looks like when the people of Jesus become determined to transform the world instead of helping people to escape from it. I’m experiencing the joy of Christians revealing the Kingdom of God by fixing that which is broken, instead of offering false hope in the message of escape.

IMG_3103
The mother of a child registered with World Vision. Armenia, 2015.

And the transformative version of Christianity I’m witnessing is simply beautiful. To see the joy on the face of one of my Armenian brothers and sisters as they see what the Good News of Jesus really looks like, has been something that will stick with me the rest of my life.

It’s the “Good News” that their electricity (and heat) can be turned back on because a World Vision donor bought them a month’s worth of electricity.

It’s the “Good News” in the form of hats, mittens, and warm sweaters for children who have none.

It’s the “Good News” that sponsors have been found for their children, and that they will be experiencing a lot more good news, because of that sponsorship.

Watching fellow Christians roll up their sleeves and invest in the messy work of spreading Good News that’s actually Good News right now, is one of the most encouraging and inspiring things one can witness, and I’ve been so thankful to be a part of it.

Now, what about you? My hope and prayer is that if you’ve grown up with escapism, end times Christianity, that you’ll be able to break free from that and experience an entirely new way of living– one that is dedicated to building God’s Kingdom and experiencing everlasting life, right now. (You can find my full archive on end-times/rapture theology, here.) It will inspire you, and reinvigorate you as you realize that the Good News found in Jesus was never about escaping this world, but about transforming it.

And while you’re at it, why not join me in sponsoring a child through World Vision? Your monthly sponsorship will change their life– and you can do it quickly and easily, right here.

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  • nyxalinth

    Thank you. hen I was a kid until age 10, I thought being a Christian was the greatest thing ever. Then I caught wind of the whole end of the world and the rapture etc stuff and being told it didn’t matter if you were overall good or not you went to hell if you sinned and it scared me so badly that I didn’t have a relationship with god for 20 years, only to be put off it again by a tiff I’d had someone in the Mormon church I was attending at the time. Only in the past twp years have I started to come around again. Reading this helps.

  • David C. Moorman

    Excellent article Benjamin. So very true.

    Yes, the Good News is two fold. Indeed Christ died for the remission of our sins in which He had no share. More important He died to demonstrate that God is not arbitrary, vindictive or severe and can be trusted. He is not who Satan and His enemies have made Him out to be.That God is the ultimate respecter of “freedom of choice” and that He does not use force, fear, intimidation or manipulation to get people to love Him. Love cannot be forced here on earth or anywhere in His vast universe. He lived and died to share that God the Father is just as He is, to share the Father’s nature and character with us, that “Eternal Life” is to know them intimately like friends.

  • LimeyDave

    Thank you.

  • Mary Hanner

    The Christian Church to which I ‘belong’ has always preached this idea that The Good News is about not going to hell because our sins are forgiven by Jesus’s death. There is little sense of celebration that we have a world that is beautiful and home to millions of people, each of whom is our responsibiIlity and our privilege to care about. I like Ben’s article, but I think the issue is more than just the ‘rapture’ idea.

  • Herm

    Ben, this is so real and sharing your adventure in service makes it that much more real today, thank you! I too have come to know the Kingdom of God here and now. I am mortally old (spiritually infantile), more frail, less time in the day, and have fewer adventures on this Earth but I do share and savor in service as the Spirit leads over the Way prepared. I have been around the world and attest to all you have related.

    I can testify, in your support, that the Lord lives in and through us who have received the Spirit of Truth full time in our hearts and minds.

    The following scriptures are only to show that it is written as Paul showed it was written in our Old Testament. The true Gospel can only be proclaimed directly from the hearts and minds baptized by the Holy Spirit. Who anointed and baptized John the Baptist to baptize Jesus in the water? Was Jesus baptized by the Holy Spirit to fulfill His mission given to Him by the Father? So can such and more be for and from each of us, today and eternally.

    “”You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life….”” John 5:39-40

    “Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” John 3:5-8

    “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” Matthew 28:18-20

  • David Gates

    Ben, I appreciate your article and your work that you are doing with your hands and your words. I know God is using you to cause others to rethink what they have been taught, but isn’t the Gospel that Christ is our full propitiation that saved us from the wrath of God because of His deep love for us. The Lord Jesus did great works and fed the masses, but He also said take up your cross, die to self, and that the world is condemned already. We can give out sweaters and food, but if they do not hear that the Lord Jesus bore our sin and took upon Himself our well deserved wrath, they will die separated from this loving God in a literal hell, not a symbolic one. God is love, but He is just and holy. I pray you keep on giving with your hands to the needy but also proclaiming that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans starts with our position in Christ and the wrath of God upon our sin in 1:18. I know we should not just focus on the rapture and hell, but this is also in the word of God and must be preached as well. We can lift up the King and His kingdom, with our actions of love, but also through the bold proclamation of the truth that is so deeply seen in the witness of the apostles in Acts. I am glad that we have anGod that died for our sins so we can have peace with God. I know the Gospel is today, but it is also eternal. It is proclamation of peace today that saves us from our sins of the past, present and future. It is one that saves us from a literal judgment while we serve Him and live for Him with peace today and tell others of Hid grave and love through our words and actions today(John 3:15-21, Rom 1:18-32, Rom 3:21-31,5:1)

  • Kevin Thomas

    Sounds like you are a penal substitution guy….I respect that as I used to believe that. I know hold to the Christus Victor view. It has given me a more truer and beautiful picture of God. I used to believe in an eternal conscious Hell as well–but Annihlationism seems to be more biblical AND provides a truer picture of God as well. When we serve, and ascribe unsurpassable worth to all through self sacrificial love we are furthering the Kingdom. Eternal life begins NOW–it isn’t only something that happens after we die.

    “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” – Francis of Assisi

  • Herm

    David, how do you know who to share the Gospel with, as well as, how you must share tailored to needs of those you are led to? How do we best share the love felt within us of our Lord with an other, mugged and near death, laying by the side of the road, invisible to the passers by too busy parading their pride of Christian membership and certificated Bible study?

    I repeat: John 5:39-40

    Love you very much for your sincerity and for that reason I suggest that you ask our Rabbi for the answers you seek.

  • Very well said. I grew up in similar background and believed until relatively recently that the world was headed into destruction. Ironically, what began to shift my perspective was my love for the Earth and desire to care for it. I’ve learned along the way that life is so much more refreshing when lived in the here and now.

  • Hang in there. You’re not alone.

  • David C. Moorman

    “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3

    Some people just can’t stop majoring in the minors.

  • Someone I follow on tumblr pointed something out that was just so interesting. When Jesus came the first time, one of the reasons that people rejected him was because he didn’t look like what they were expecting; he wasn’t the violent warlord of a Savior they wanted, who would come to overthrow the evil powers of this world. And now the Church talks about anticipating Jesus’ second coming, where he’ll be a violent warlord who overthrows the evil powers of this world.

  • “Love never fails.” Love is the ONLY thing that never fails. If we want to draw people to God, we love. Leave justice to God; he earned that right on the cross. He can choose to let no one go to hell if He so desires. We are called to love. And with love, we will not fail.

  • Guy Norred

    I have found my understanding of the Good News has evolved from “there is this way that you can escape the terrible things you fear even though most of us won’t” to “you are so greatly loved that your fears are of no consequence and now you are free to try to love as you have been loved”. I wonder, and to be honest sometimes worry, where this might take me if I fully accept the idea, but I am very glad I have come this far.

  • Please do research on Christus Victor, I think PSA has poisoned your theology.

  • Dogov

    Agreed. Apocalyptic situations will only occur if You allow it. Dominion is the key word. Very Cool Image!
    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NABRE

  • wakingdreaming

    This is wonderful!

    I hope you get a chance to visit an Armenian Apostolic Church while you are there. They have a wonderful Christian tradition in that country. It’s one of the oldest forms of Christianity in the world.

  • Jeremy Olson

    I like this. I grew up in a home very much into the rapture…but when I actually asked myself the question “Do I believe this because it’s in the bible or because I was told it was in the bible” then studied it for myself and saw it really isn’t in the bible unless you take a few things out of context. I’m so glad I ditched that stupid, false belief.

  • MrBultitude

    It couldn’t possibly be on of those both/and kinda things, could it? I mean, there are those parts of the Bible that talk about Christians leaving this world to go be with God, right? And then there’s that thing in the Revelation about this Earth being consumed by…what is it…oh yeah, fire. Then a new heavens and a new Earth.

    Nahhh…couldn’t be.

    But seriously, I hear you, and I’ll meet you halfway. Our focus is not escapism, our focus is Christ. We are to minister to all the lost and hurting this side of heaven in the knowledge that there is another side where there will be no more death and every tear shall be wiped away.

  • zb

    I believe the bible definitely mention an element of “escapism” though definitely not a secret rapture type of escapism. There is a definite scriptural basis for eschatology. However in Matthew 25 31-46 Jesus has some pointed words about those who look forward to his coming yet do absolutely nothing to transform the world they’re in.

  • Lisa Martinez

    Ben…thanks for everything. So glad to be on the journey with you all. Just curious…which organization did you go with to be “a mime for Jesus”? Do you know Cathy Falsani? That’s a quote from her…she and I were on the same team in London as teens. So glad you went back to do right.

  • gimpi1

    Which goes to show that human beings haven’t changed much in the intervening 2,000 years. Well-spotted.

  • Kevin Thomas

    Rapture was invented by Darby in the 1800’s..

  • Linnea912

    The Rapture is total BS. If you want to read something that backs that up (i.e., written by an actual theologian!) I’d highly recommend “The Rapture Exposed,” by Lutheran minister and professor of theology Barbara Rossing.

  • MrBultitude

    True, but I didn’t say anything about the rapture.

  • Kevin Thomas

    Oops my comments in the wrong place…sorry

  • Benjamin, this is so refreshing and such a revelation. I’m so glad I found your blog. I’m putting it in my RSS reader. Thank you.

  • Jack Beans

    Ben,

    I wish more preachers would preach this here and now good news. So glad I found this blog. Never knew there are Christians out there who share my views.

  • God made us stewards of our earth so why would He destroy it if we did our best to preserve it all this time? That seems a waste to me.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    Nope. In the 1830s John Nelson Darby greatly popularized the doctrine and made it a core part of his larger theological framework, but the rapture had previously been taught by the late 18th-century Baptist minister Morgan Edwards. It seems to have originally been invented by Cotton and Increase Mather in the early 18th century, although they did not so much preach it publicly as use it to try to calm the nerves of a parishioner who was obsessed with fear that judgement day was fast approaching.

  • http://www.followingjesus.org/the-two-gospels/

    See this blog about the two different versions of “good news” found in the New Testament — thr gospel “of” Jesus and the gospel “about” Jesus.

  • Amen and amen to your title.

    What was Christendom (Christians dominionizing all levels of society on behalf of their King) in 17th-century America has devolved in merely 4-walled Christianity, aka Christendumb.

    Today’s Christianity is best depicted in Matthew 5:13. by Christ as salt that’s lost its savor, good for nothing but to be trampled under the foot of man. But all is not bad news in this in that a good foot stomping tends to bring back some of the saltiness.

    For more, see blog article “Self-Imposed Impotence” at http://www.constitutionmythbusters.org/self-imposed-impotence/.

    Then “10 Reasons the Kingdom Here On Earth Isn’t Mission Impossible.”

  • Steve Bailey

    Thanks, Ben. I was trapped by the ‘end times’ heresy stuff for many years until more fully understanding the Scripture and the Good News of Jesus. You are quite right. This stuff is nothing but easy escapism from the hard work of the Kingdom. “Ticket o heaven” stuff is always bad and always heretical, yet the dumb mouths of the TV evangelists and the right wing evangelicals who really have no interest in the meat of the gospel continue to bleat it out to the sheep.

  • When I was in a sect of Christianity that focused on saving as many souls from hell before the rapture, there was little emphasis on meeting people’s needs. There was morality enforcement among members, and witnessing to those on the outside, but little hands on helping meet needs. When I joined a Christian group focused on feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, etc, that felt like being Christ like more than carrying a message of believing the right things or suffering eternity in hell