The NT never suggests that human society would continue on Earth for thousands of years; new continents would be discovered and colonised; remarkable developments would occur in social and political relations, the arts, medicine, industrialisation and technologies such as printing, electric power, sea, rail, road and air transport, electronic communication, nuclear power, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, space exploration and virtual reality; new philosophies, theories and religions would emerge.
Today’s progressive theologians maintain that, even as we look forward to a newly-created Heaven-Earth at Jesus’ return in majesty, we should in the meantime seek to advance social justice and peace, to preserve the environment and biodiversity, and to promote scientific, artistic and commercial enterprise for the good of all.
Were Jesus and the NT writers mistaken when they maintained that this present world was wasting away and ‘the time was short’ before Jesus would ‘come again to judge the living and the dead’?
Why hasn’t God given us specific guidance about how to live in today’s very complex world with its unique challenges and dilemmas?
Why does the NT repeatedly tell us to avoid involvement with the world, and even hate it, as if it were hopelessly corrupt and anyway transient? (eg 1Cor. 7:29-31; Jas. 4:4; 1John 2:15-17).
Beginning around January 5th, we’re planning to have an open discussion in this thread about N.T. Wright’s Gifford lectures which (I think) pretty roundly address these very questions you are raising! Some of us have listened to those already, but I don’t want to steal too much of his thunder by plunging into it all here and now.
I’ll just say this though. He spends a lot of scriptural powder and shot taking down the notion that Christian eschatology was ever really about removing us from this world away to some by-and-by heaven.
That’s a good question. And an important one. Authors like Wendell Berry have taken Paul to task for allegedly taking Christianity in that direction. Though I think Wright’s thesis goes a long way toward addressing these questions by showing that none of the apostles and gospels back during that time were actually advancing this modern ‘rapture scenario’ in the way the modern imagination has now crafted it. You’ll have to be the judge of how successful Wright or others are with that critique.
Who says God hasn’t? I suppose the early apostles and prophets had no less urgent stuff also to wrestle with - and potentially complain about wanting more specific guidance from God. They and their families were being brutalized and killed. They were forced to apply Jesus message to their own personal context - which many in the fledgling movement did with joy. I remain to be convinced that we aren’t intelligent enough in our own turn to apply it to our modern situations and contexts. A struggle to be sure - as I’m sure it was for them too.
Before I can get to your questions, I do want to address your assumptions:
At what cost and to whom?
Even the writer of Ecclesiastes understood that there is nothing new under the sun.
For everything you list, as wonderful as they are for some of us, there are enormous costs involved for someone else.
While the ideas of such technologies were not known to any biblical generation, they were well aware of exploitation and abuse in order to increase power and wealth for the winner. Those matters are addressed in the New Testament.
Hello. I’m just spitballing the first thoughts that come to mind here.
Most likely. Whether Jesus expected the imminent end or his earliest followers thought his resurrection signaled the beginning of the general resurrection is hard to distinguish between. Many early Christians thought the end was nigh. Jesus may have or may not have spoken on it but instead had legitimate warnings for vigilance misunderstood.
Jesus has given us plenty of guidance on how to navigate life faithfully, fairly and in reliance on God. He taught us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us and so on. How on earth can you love your neighbor and enemy if you don’t care about social justice?
Christians also believe God has given us the Holy Spirit. Maybe our prayer life simply isn’t what it should be if we think God has not given us sufficient resources to live today? Maybe we are also meant to grow and experience life, and not be the told all the answers but allowed to discover things.
One might also suppose the great intellectual tradition in the west is what helped spawn a lot of these modern developments.
This might just be selectively choosing some scripture. The NT also tells us to be fair, just, help the poor and preach the Gospel etc.
Romans 12:1: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Gal 6:7-10 “ 7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.
I see this more as we should be storing our treasures in heaven, not on earth. The world loves money and security. The Christians is to live by faith and trust in God.
It’s not that God hasn’t told us how to live. It’s just we lack the faith. I’m not like the lillies of the field. I worry about retirement and what my family will eat and drink.i worry about healthcare.
Matthew 6:25 is just darn hard.
25“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
Also, in my understanding, attempting to chang the world through faith is not conforming to the pattern of the world.
Our society has become so warped I don’t think it’s possible to read these words and not think about those who claim this is a Christian country but reject any effort, no matter how small, to get the country to be Christlike to its own citizens. They love to introduce laws to persecute those with whim they have disagreements, but never a law to help those in need.
Have they never read?:
So, so many even avoid working for the good of “the family of faith”!
I think those of us in many church traditions have been taught that the Bible is an instruction book for life, and while there are some aspects of it that might be true to that teaching, it is really not the purpose of scripture to give us specific directions for every situation, but rather to teach us wisdom that can then be applied to changing situations and cultures. It is that wisdom that tell us how to live.
Possibly. It does seem like the early church definitely expected something different than what happened.
God gave us the Holy Spirit. I believe the it’s the corporate church’s job to discern specific guidance and that it needs to be contextualized to the specific cultures and issues of specific contexts.
The “world” in the NT referred to corrupt systems. I don’t think we were ever told to divorce ourselves from our culture or from social interactions with people who believe differently. I think that is still valid. Christians should be leading the way in dismantling worldy systems that hurt people.
I fall more into the preterist camp concerning the end if the world. I think the end of the world was just symbolic. That it was about the Roman Empire and is already done. I don’t believe in an actual new physical world. It seems that in the Bible the end happened a few times. Isaiah even mentions a new heaven and earth with death, burial and so on.
As for technology I think the Bible gave no direction on all kinds of specific topics but that as mentioned right before me, we are told to love our neighbors. You can kind of present a social argument on something being loving vs something being apathetic or hateful for anything.
The NT was NEVER intended to be a normative magic book meant to answer all questions of humanity. It was a document written at a specific time for a specific community. The problem is not with the NT but we have made of it. By making the Bible an idol we are trying to fulfill roles it was never meant to fulfill. The sooner we let go of this biblolatry the better we’ll be able to read it in its own terms. At that point, it can offer wisdom and possibly insight to our times. Until then, we’ll continue on these circular endless arguments trying to make the Bible to something that it is not.
“Seek not the paths of the ancients, seek what the ancients sought” The point is not to figure out what the Bible is saying but to what is pointing. That’s the wisdom we need.
Thanks, Elias, for your very valid warning against bibliolatry, which has prevailed in my circles, although, of course, we wouldn’t admit it. But I still struggle with the issue of why God seems to have given us neither a forewarning nor specific guidance about the rapid social, scientific, philosophical, technological developments of the last 2 millennia. Is He not interested in what we get up to? ‘Love your neighbour’ seems like an oversimplified digression from my original Q’s.
That’s a fair point. Simply pointing to “love your neighbor” is a way to stop discussion. I am a big believer in asking questions. Why do you think God would do that to us? I don’t have an answer but I am interested in what may come up to you.
I wonder if the Tower of Babel might be Biblical guidance. I wonder how far AI will take this world in 100 years. Will people be voluntarily plugging themselves into the Matrix and living virtually if they have the means to? What will it mean to be human then?
That brought a dark thought to mind, a dark idea for a science fiction novel where governments decide that in order to fix the environment a virtual world will be built, and rather than being something for the wealthy they instead make poor people get uploaded into the virtual world – killing their bodies – because it’s cheaper and less damaging to the environment to have people live in a virtual world than in the real world.
That’s something where I think biblical principles just might fail. For starters it poses a question: if a person can be uploaded into a computer simulation, what then is the soul?