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.

  1. Heaven is the goal, so life on this earth is just a waiting game.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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/]



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