With Good Friday and Easter upon us I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts on the significance of the resurrection. And I want to offer these thoughts by juxtaposing them with the words of someone else. My intention is not to be polemical and critical here at Easter, but to make a point on the significance of the resurrection.
I want to begin with a few words from the Amazon description of Brian McLaren's new book The Secret Message of Jesus.
He revisits the gospel material from a fresh—and at times radical—perspective. The church has focused on salvation as a means to "heaven after you die" for too long, according to McLaren; we should take Jesus at his word when he says "the kingdom of God is here now," and work to assist that kingdom by being peacemakers and loving others.
Now, for all of my disagreements with Brian McLaren, I want to say that I affirm his emphasis and the emphasis of others on the here-and-now-ness of the gospel. For too long we have given short shrift to the present day implications of the gospel. In focusing on the eternal kingdom of God we have forgotten that the kingdom is a present day reality. So, I do welcome this present day emphasis of McLaren and others, even if I will disagree on some of the particulars of what that looks like.
But having said that I am not willing to admit that evangelicals have erred or overemphasized salvation as a means to "heaven after you die." The reason has to do with Paul's words in I Corinthians 15:19:
If Paul says we are to be pitied more than all men if our only hope in Christ is in this life, it seems to me that the counterpart would be to say that we are to be considered the most blessed among all men if we have hope in Christ for after this life.
Hence, the most blessed hope we have in Christ is not a hope for the here and now, it is a hope for eternity - it is the hope of being resurrected to live and reign with Christ for eternity.
This is not to say that hope in Christ in this life, i.e. the here and now aspects of the gospel and the present reality of the kingdom, is not a blessing. But it is a lesser blessing.
The greater blessing is the eternal blessing that comes after this life.
So, I would suggest that evangelicals have been right on by placing the greatest emphasis on what happens after we die, because the blessing that accrues to us after we die is the most blessed thing of the gospel.
Conversely, to the degree that we diminish the emphasis on the "after death" blessings of the gospel, to that degree we show our misunderstanding of the most important emphasis of the gospel.
And of course this is doesn't have to be an either/or. Those who are reminding us of the present day implications of the gospel are doing the right thing, but they need not do this by contrasting their "this-worldly" emphasis with the "other-worldly" emphasis of those who have gone before.
What needs to happen in our gospel preaching is to maintain the priority of the eternal blessings of the gospel, while bring alongside that preaching a discussion of the present day blessings, as a complimentary matter.
It is the hope of resurrection that is always the greatest blessing of the gospel, and what better time to remember that than at Easter.