If you had asked me this question when I was a second grader, I could have answered this question just as simply as my second grade math problems. “Sin is the problem and everybody is going to hell. Jesus came to offer forgiveness so I would not go to hell but to heaven.” Answering this question was like simple math, no art was needed. I imagine many Christians today might answer in a similar way. The goal of God’s mission is that Christians escape hell by going to heaven. As a second grader living in the United States, I imagined heaven, the escape from hell, as a sort of utopian version of Disney Land meets Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in Jamaica. While I do fully embrace the promise of heaven, I wonder if God’s healing and mission seeks something broader than simply my escaping hell and getting into a place where I get to satisfy all my desires, or at least eat lots of chocolate.
~Brent Peterson (in Missio Dei: A Wesleyan Understanding)
I have to agree with Professor Peterson on this one, while adding a few more thoughts of my own on why may in the church–and here I use the world “church” to refer to all of those many people who claim saving faith in Jesus Christ–seem to be caught in the net of a form of Christianity that makes not real impact in the world and, in particular, makes little effort to move beyond Peterson’s Willy Wonka version of heaven.
- Heaven is the goal, so life on this earth is just a waiting game.
- God’s forgiveness for me has nothing to do with my willingness to forgive others because I’ve already got a guaranteed ticket to paradise.
- Same goes for loving my enemies…or people who are unkind to me…or don’t like me…or who disagree with me…or who make me nervous…or mad…or those I just don’t have time or energy to deal with.
- I don’t really have to do anything and, in fact, it’s better if I don’t. I’ve been saved by faith. Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and Goats must have a different meaning…and James, well Martin Luther didn’t think the book belonged in the Bible anyway.
- My eternal destiny is determined by a single moment when I repeated the “sinners prayer.” Yes, I know this prayer is found nowhere in Scripture and nobody that Jesus ever met ever said it. What? The sinners prayer was not even a “thing” until sometime this last century? Huh…interesting.
- God wants me to be happy, right. I mean, I deserve to be blessed, right? And by blessed I mean a nice car (or two), vacations to nice places (preferably international resorts), a large house with a giant yard, a ginormous HD television, and…no, that would be going too far…I don’t really need to a household staff. I try to maintain a modest lifestyle, after all.
- I may not know the Bible all that well and I don’t really want to follow Jesus…who really wants to carry a cross, anyway. But hey, I’m American, so everything is going to be fine.
- I’m afraid of being contaminated by the world, so I primarily live my life in the confines of my home and church building. When I must venture out I am careful to not make eye contact or initiate contact.
- Community? No, my faith is my own. It’s personal. Unity in community is not important because Jesus died just for me; he would have done so even if I was the only person on earth, my pastor told me so. I don’t need anyone else…just me and Jesus.
Note: Yes, the items above are just slightly over-the-top, perhaps, though I will say that I have met at least one person in my life who has told me each of those, or something very similar.
[Originally posted at https://elijahstevens.net/willy-wonkas-heaven/]