Several years ago I facilitated a training session of volunteer youth ministry people in the community in which I lived. We talked about how perspective is important to what we do and to the outcomes we hope for. In an earlier post I included a worthy saying that reminds us that perspective affects how we see things, which in turn affects what we do, which naturally impacts outcomes. My point was this: If we want to experience different outcomes in life or ministry, that only happens with a changed perspective, not just by doing things different.
To drive the point home, I showed the group the drawing of the woman below. The participants were given the task of planning an evening with her. What might they do and talk about? One younger person said she would ask this older woman what life was like as a teenager “back in the day.” An older gentleman (60ish) in the group, looking puzzled, said, “I was thinking of asking her, as a young woman, what she thinks her life might look like when she is my age.” Each person planned an evening for the woman based on their perception of her age. What they planned to do was based on their perspective.
Our perspective as to why Jesus came to our planet has a huge impact on how we do life, on all that we do. Of course the orthodox understanding is related to our salvation (or soteriology, to use the theological term). I suspect the overarching soteriological perspective of western evangelical Christians is this: Jesus came to save us so that we can go to heaven when we die. Actually, it probably sounds more like this: Jesus came to save me so that I can go to heaven when I die. We call this good news because it is. But the Good News of Jesus is much bigger.
If my perspective is “Jesus came to save me so I can go to heaven when I die” then what do I do with the rest of my life while I wait to go to heaven? If I have already accepted Jesus into my life or given my life to Him (or whatever terminology we choose to describe how we participate in his saving work), then what is there left to do? I suspect if we are honest, far too many of us simply live out life, waiting to go to heaven, maybe wishing we could go sooner than later. We hear it all the time – life will be so much better in heaven.
But then guilt sets in. We should be doing something, shouldn’t we? We hear a sermon that suggests we aren’t doing enough. Or we read a scripture that suggests a need to change something we are doing (or not doing). So we try to make changes to what we do. We work on changing the behavior that seems to need tweaking (we all need to change, right?). Problem is that behavior modification leads to moralism and moralism doesn’t work!
What if our perspective is wrong or, at least, incomplete? What if being a Christian is much bigger than simply going to heaven when we die? What if heaven is only a slice of a bigger pie? NT Wright would suggest a perspective amiss: “people often imagine the main purpose of Christianity to be getting people to heaven and teaching them to behave along the way.” * He goes on to reminds us that heaven is a big deal, but it’s not the end of the world.
So, what perspective did Jesus want his followers to come away with after hanging out with him for three years? It’s important to understand because it affected all they did and said as they went “into all the world.” Jesus did not tell his disciples to go into the world and tell people how to get to heaven. It was never his message. Read the Gospels – its not there! Jesus did not leave his disciples with a self-focused perspective of simply getting to heaven.
Here’s the thing – A theological perspective that Jesus simply came to save me so I can go to heaven when I die will not serve me well in this world. Nor will it serve those around me. Moralism is the natural outcome. Moralism doesn’t lead to loving neighbor well. And it certainly doesn’t lead to loving our enemies. We all would agree that American Christians don’t love our enemies well, which should tell us something is amiss. I would suggest it’s our perspective. The result? The Good News simply becomes good advice and the world is left wanting.
* Wright, N. T. (2017). Simply good news: Why the gospel is news and what makes it good. New York:Harper One. P. 22, Kindle Edition