351. an unhealthy focus on the afterlife?


So as part of my preparations to plant a church, I’ve started up another blog called Church Plant 2013 with the hopes of finding support and dreaming about what this church could be.

I’m going to be cross-posting entries here when I think they’ll be of interest even though they’ll have a different “vibe” from the way I normally write in this space.


(Originally posted at Church Plant 2013.)

Here’s a provocative thought to get your weekend going. So one of the classes I have this semester is a kind of world religions class and I’ve been noticing something. Some religions place little emphasis on the afterlife. For them, the question of who’s going to the good or the bad place after death (their own version of the Christian heaven or hell) isn’t a huge priority and that profoundly shapes the way they approach their faith in the here and now.

For example, we had a Jewish rabbi come in to talk to our class and when asked about the Jewish conception of the afterlife, he kind of brushed off the question saying that most Jews don’t really think about it.

What strikes me about this is that by not focusing on what happens after death, they spend a lot more time thinking about how they live out their life and their faith before death. Making this life on this earth a better place is more important to them than making sure they get into the right place in whatever happens after death.

I find that this stands in stark contrast to some of the (Christian) church experiences I’ve had where there is a huge emphasis on making sure that people know that they are getting into heaven. For these churches, the primary work of the Body of Christ is evangelism which means getting people to go through four spiritual laws or walk down the Roman road and then pray a special prayer that then gets them a ticket into heaven.

The problem is, when there is so much focus on the afterlife, the church becomes about who’s in and who’s out. It becomes about exclusion rather than inclusion. It becomes about being right rather than being in relationship. It creates an us versus them vibe.

It also makes for churches who believe that social justice work is a distraction from the task of evangelism. Because if the next life is all that matters, the problems of this life don’t need to be addressed. Or worse, the problems of this world are just seen as opportunities to do more evangelism. I’m thinking of stories I heard about churches volunteering at River of Life and making the people who went through the food line say, “Jesus loves me,” before serving them. That way, when they go to bed at night, they rest comfortably thinking that they’ve done their Christian duty to share the gospel while the person they served rests uncomfortably on a park bench or a downtown doorway. But that’s okay because that homeless person is now “saved.”

What do you all think?

Has anyone read Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins? He suggests that maybe this life isn’t the only chance people get to choose to follow God.

Any other thoughts, questions, push back?


One thought on “351. an unhealthy focus on the afterlife?

  1. Reminds me of a short video clip I saw of NT Wright immediately after some the rapture prediction came and went. http://vimeo.com/24115469

    Wright asks why we’re so obsessed here in the United States about “who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be” especially in light of the ways we as a nation have made other people’s lives hell by the injustices we commit.

    When we look at Matthew 25:31-46, for example, it’s pretty clear what kind of criteria will be used to judge us: whether or not we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, visited the imprisoned.

    If we become so concerned with what happens later/after, we forget that there’s much work to be done now.

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