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.
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.