side-by-side splendors and terrors of heaven and hell

We think the church is already the kingdom of God and, if only better organized and motivated, can conquer the world. But nowhere in Scripture or history do we see a church synonymous with the kingdom of God. The church in many instances is more worldly than the world. When we equate the church and the kingdom and the identity turns out to be false, we feel “taken in.” Little wonder that anger and cynicism are epidemic behind the smiling veneer of American pastors. We need refresher courses in Barthian critiques of religion and Dantean analyses of sin….

Early church Christians believed that the resurrection of Jesus inaugurated a new age. They were in fact – but against appearances – living in God’s kingdom, a kingdom of truth and healing and grace. This was all actually present but hidden from unbelieving eyes and inaudible to unbelieving ears. Pastors are the persons in the church communities who repeat and insist on these kingdom realities against the world appearances, and who therefore must be apocalyptic. In its dictionary meaning, apocalypse is simply “revelation,” the uncovering of what was covered up so that we can see what is there. But the context in which the word arrives adds color to the black-and-white dictionary meaning, colors bright and dark – crimson urgency and purple crisis. Under the crisis of persecution and under the urgency of an imminent end, reality is revealed suddenly for what it is. We had supposed our lives were so utterly ordinary. Sin-habits dull our free faith into stodgy moralism and respectable boredom; then crisis rips the veneer of cliche off everyday routines and reveals the side-by-side splendors and terrors of heaven and hell. Apocalypse is arson – it secretly sets a fire in the imagination that boils the fat out of an obese culture-religion and renders a clear gospel love, a pure gospel hope, a purged gospel faith.

From Eugene H. Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor.

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