A Future Without Fear, a Present With Purpose

Skye was recently interviewed by Daniel Darling about his latest book, Futureville. Darling is vice-president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as a contributing editor to Leadership Journal’s blog, PARSE. Daniel Darling: Every author has a catalyst that sparks the creativity to write a book. What launched the idea of Futureville in your mind? Skye Jethani: Both Futureville and my previous book, With, emerged from my experience with college students. Although many of these students grew up in the church they seemed inoculated to the power of the gospel. Their relationship with God was life-killing rather than life-giving. They envisioned a God who wanted to use them rather than a God who wanted to love them. Similarly, they couldn’t reconcile the Jesus of Scripture with the way they saw Christians behaving in the culture. In With I focused on how we related to God. It showed how fear is the underlying motivation for all human religion—including much of evangelicalism, but Jesus offers an altogether different way of relating to God. Futureville is the next part of that conversation. It reveals the toxic presence of fear in the church’s relationship to the world. Our cultural engagement seems limited to the “fight or flight” impulse of a threatened organism. Again, Jesus shows us a better way. Ultimately the catalyst for both books was a skeptical younger generation understandably fatigued by a form of Christianity fueled by fear. DD: Eschatology seems to be one of the most controversial areas of Christian theology—with a variety of ways to interpret what is ahead. Did that give you pause? SJ: Absolutely. For many Christians eschatology fits into a category I call “bumper sticker orthodoxy.” These are popular Christian beliefs that provoke so much passion people display them on the back of their cars, yet are held with such ignorance people think the Bible’s message on the subject can be grasped from 50 feet at 65 miles per hour. Passion and ignorance are dangerous when combined (and also why I avoid cable news, teenage activists, and one-third of the aisles at Whole Foods). Bumper sticker orthodoxy is why I had no desire to write a book about eschatology, but I also had no alternative if I was to address cultural engagement. As I traveled and spoke about recovering a theology of vocation, and the need to validate the work Christ calls his people to outside the church, I often got the same push back, “It doesn’t ultimately matter because this whole world is going to burn anyway.” In other words, many Christians hold a severely limited missiology because of their bumper sticker eschatology. That’s when I realized to address how Christians live in the present I was going to have to dissect their vision of the future. But I wasn’t happy about it. A fool and his bumper sticker are not easily parted. DD: There is a tendency among evangelicals (particularly Americans) to be gloomy about the future of the church. But you say this kind of doomsday outlook is misguided. SJ: I wouldn’t say misguided; just too broadly applied. There are plenty of things to be gloomy about as we look to the future (like a fourth High School Musical movie), but the church isn’t one of them. Yes, there are plenty of 501c3 organizations we call “churches” that are going to struggle and probably dissolve, but the church will be just fine. In addition, that which the people of Christ do through the power of his Spirit and in conformity with the Kingdom of God will endure forever. DD: I wonder if most Christians realize how their view of the future impacts their present outlook. SJ: When you talk with young adults and college students the link between present activities and the future is very obvious. This is a generation of activists. They’re thinking about how their consumer choices will impact the future climate, how their dietary decisions will impact the future of agriculture, and how their vocational choices will impact the future of God’s kingdom. I’ve found them to be more future-minded than many older people, and this is why they often struggle within evangelical churches that have a one-dimensional vision of the future. What they hear in various forms is, “Doing good matters now, but saving souls matters forever.” It is a sacred/secular dichotomy that elevates one kind of calling (evangelism) above the rest. But what if Christ has called you to be an artist, doctor, teacher, farmer, or mechanic? Does that work matter? They want help understanding their callings in light of eternity. For the most part the church hasn’t been able to answer that question. Our bumper sticker eschatology doesn’t allow a nuanced answer. DD: If readers took away one thing from Futureville what would that be? SJ: We do not worship a God who replaces, but a God who redeems. photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

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