It was a mystical moment with sloshy streets and ice ruts guiding our car that Sunday morning. The sun was fresh, hitting the slosh, making steam rise all around us like a fog machine in a movie! We left early from the abandoned building we were living in and were on our way to something called “church,” a thing I had never heard of in all my 10 years as my Atheist parents meticulously hid all signs of God and religion. We had hit bottom, however, and this thing called “church” had recently provided financial assistance, food, clothes and were working to get us off the streets so my Mom said, “We are going to ‘church.’” Our car careened off the ice slots and bumped onto the curb as we piled out of our rickety car-what a site we must have been to those White people! I ran right up to the front door with all my wild hair, buckled shoes with no socks, and obvious lack of Sunday morning etiquette but I had to see this thing called ‘church.’
I stood with my back to the cold foggy world behind me and my face toward the strange world of pews and pulpit. The scene inside this little building was as mystical as the foggy snow outside. People stood side by side singing except it was like no kind of singing I’d ever heard! These strange people sang with a twang but their song had a mystical pull on me. Though I would not return to church again for nearly 10 years, I would remember this first encounter- I would replay the song, recall the people’s faces for years to come. Only years later, after I met Jesus Christ for myself as a an Atheist philosophy student at the University of Michigan would I fully realize what a ‘church’ was, or why White Southern Baptists would help Black kids with no socks and wild hair from Detroit. Only years later would I rediscover the song these kind people sang with a twang: “Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow? There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood; Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow; There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.”
I stand here today because I was introduced to a mystical world called the church, a magical power called the gospel, and a Majestic person named Jesus Christ! The Church’s message is of a new world and the power to live into that world through the name of Jesus Christ! Too often, our evangelism focuses merely on the individual and her need for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from hell. As an evangelist, I want to make it clear that this core element of the gospel is indispensible but it is not all there is to our proclamation. As I stood small in the middle of two worlds that day I needed a Jesus who could both save me from the hell I was in as well as the hell to come. With an open door to my back that day, the cold damp world of fatherlessness, of poverty, and of drugs stood in diametrical opposition to the mystical world those people sang about and preached. May I say to you that the Jesus we serve through the same nexus moment of the cross and resurrection is able to save to the uttermost!?!? May I say to you that we serve a Jesus who doesn’t need to choose whether or not to save a boy from the despair of this world or the damnation of the world to come? There is power in the blood!
The American Church is in need of a larger eschatology because a larger, more holistic eschatology inspires us, it free us to practice a more Biblical, holistic, integrated evangelization. The word eschaton means ‘last things,’ but our evangelical heritage has placed the emphasis on the wrong set of last things. We believe in the future personal return of Jesus Christ, the judgment of the living and the dead, the Lake of Fire, but also the re-creation of the world and the eternal blessing of the nations. Our heritage has placed its fare too much emphasis on the former set of realities to the expense of the latter. Neo-evangelicals in their pursuit for Kingdom integration and cultural relevance have begun to deny the great eschatological realities of hell and judgment and to preach a gospel with no need of the cross. This will ultimately rob the gospel of its purpose and lead to nothing more than another iteration of cultural Christianity. While this is true, the long history of our evangelical heritage placed too much emphasis on the wrath of God and far too little on the wonder working power of God to re-create the nations-to transform not only soul, but society as well. Our story doesn’t end with crucifixion, but resurrection. Our hope is not in the destruction of the world but in its re-creation. The work of evangelization is the work of bringing echoes of a mystical world to come, because there is wonder working power!
Throughout John’s vision of the eschaton in Revelation, there are still nations, there are still cities-not separated by oceans but filled with life. Trees and rivers, lakes and mountains-the new world is not some sci-fi visage of an altogether different universe (Gr: heteros). An eschatology that emphasizes life and renewal leads us to practice a more holistic evangelization of restoration and shalom.
A larger eschatology also inspires innovative and effectual evangelization. It inspires us and frees us to integrate, not dichotomize, the proclamation of the Gospel and the practice of the Kingdom. For the last 10 years, I’ve worked as a justice evangelist, an evangelist and abolitionist to bring political, business, medical, and legal leaders together with the Church and academic institutions to address the commercial sexual exploitation of children and to help people meet Jesus through the lens of justice. My calling to this integrative work of justice evangelism came in the midst InterVarsity’s global missions conference, Urbana 2000, after hearing Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission speak. I’ve had the privilege of giving the evangelistic message and call to faith for the past two Urbana conferences where hundreds have come to faith as they heard the gospel through the lens of justice, particularly the fight to end modern day slavery.
I’ve also worked to develop justiceinvitationals which are week-long campus campaigns around justice issues where the gospel can be preached in a new light. Through these campaigns, not only has the Church been mobilized for justice but the nominally churched, the non-church, and the anti-churched have heavily participated in Kingdom work while encountering the person of Christ! In the last campaign at the Ohio State University, we had both a substantive engagement of the issue of the commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as a true and effectual proclamation of the gospel.
Throughout the campaign, we empowered front-line non-profits like World Vision, the Not for Sale Campaign, Hagar International and the International Justice Mission! We raised money, a house, mobilized thousands to advocate politically for the Child Compact Act, educated over 20,000 citizens about modern-day slavery, and helped state lawmakers pass State Senate Bill 235 which will bring Ohio from the child prostitution capital of the United States to one of the states with the toughest anti-trafficking legislation. Because the Gospel of Jesus Christ was clearly proclaimed during this campaign, over 300 students repented of their sin and came to faith in Christ. This is what the gospel can do because there is power in the blood!
For the lost, when we give this generation a vision of God’s future Kingdom, of His wonder working re-creative power, it both inspires Kingdom engagement as well as repentance from sin. For the Church, a larger eschatology re-shapes our limited understanding of global evangelization, it inspires innovation as we partner with God to re-create the world around us! We don’t serve an either or Jesus-he wants it all-not just souls but society, not just the future, but the present, not just Heaven but Earth-He will not stop until “…The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ…” In God’s great eschatological vision the work of evangelization is to live into both of these realities simultaneously-not to do evangelism at the expense of the Kingdom and not to pursue the Kingdom with no care for the eternal state of the soul! Biblical, effectual, innovative, and integrated evangelization is a both/and, it is to to ping echoes of a mystic world, a magic that can transform the soul and transform society, and introduce those who are damned in this world and the world to come to the Majestic One-Jesus Christ!