The Great Escape...

That’s not a reference to my favourite TV war movie (!), but to the way Evangelicals spent the last sixty years of the 20th Century, as they tried to work out exactly where, why and how they had lost touch with the Jesus of the New Testament.

Peter Baker | 23:20, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

According to Acts 10: 38, the real Jesus, "went about doing good and healing the sick," but the Jesus of Edwardian Evangelicalism only, "went about teaching and preaching," Matthew 4: 23.

Anyone curious for a brief analysis of what happened should read John Stott’s opening chapter in his typically sane and balanced book, Issues Facing Christians Today.

As late as the 1970’s, Evangelical discomfort about social involvement, political engagement and the cultural mandate of the opening chapters of Genesis, was rife. It surfaced for example, during a discussion which Tom Sine, Christian author and commentator, had with some undergraduates at a student conference.

"Do you realise," said the student, utterly sincerely, "if we start feeding hungry people, things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, then Jesus won’t come back."

The student had clearly picked up along the way a caricature of evangelism and the timetable for Christ’s return. Tom Sine commented afterward, "The response of the undergraduate reflects what I call the Great Escape view of the future. The irony of this approach is that while it claims to take God seriously, it unwittingly moves Him outside history and turns Him into an absentee Landlord who has lost control of the world and of human history. The Great Escape becomes an incredible cop out from all that Christ called us to be and to do."

Thankfully in the last 40 years, movements like Lausanne have rehabilitated the social conscience of Biblical Evangelicals and reintegrated the works of Jesus alongside the words of Jesus into the ongoing Mission of the Church.

Now only the deliberately obtuse and insecure Evangelical would want to argue against a full and proper engagement of gospel people in the worlds of art, music, politics, the media, science, industry and medicine.

How could it be otherwise when we claim to follow the One who was incarnated and crucified!

Ironically at the same time that most Evangelicals were trying to escape from the world, Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Reformed Theologian and Prime Minister, was commenting, "There is not an inch of existence over which Jesus Christ does not say this is mine!

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If we seek a rationale for the Highfields Motto Text this year, then we will find it in Scripture:  from the foundational principles of Moses' legislation for a nation under God, through the great prophetic call of men like Micah which kept Israel alive to her heritage, to the Manifesto of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth and the Community life which the early Church established. Subsequent history simply reinforces this pattern, from the Franciscan Order in the 12th Century and the foundation of Hospitals, Schools, and Orphanages in Jesus name, to the social transformation of Britain brought about by the Clapham Sect of the late 18th, early 19th Century. 

These people did most for this world precisely because they thought most about the next. And if we want to make a difference on earth, maybe heaven has got to become more real to us too! 

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