It is clearly evident that the current generation is not buying the cliched Christianity of a former generation. A recent conversation with a young pastor made me realize anew that most of them don’t particularly identify with terminology that speaks of eternal salvation. It turns out that they really don’t think there is a lot of meaning to the concept of the life beyond; what they really want to know is how they might experience life NOW!
This is not really such an obtuse idea if we older evangelicals think about it. After all, Jesus said he had come that we might experience life to the full (John 10:10). John’s concept of eternal life was to know the Father. In his great prayer of John 17, Jesus prayed that his followers might know the Father, whom to know, he said, was life eternal (John 17:3). John took pains to demonstrate that the most important dimension of belief in Jesus was knowing the Father and of course this involves eternal life since God the Father is eternal.
This is a much more attractive way to think about faith than has often been true of many expressions within evangelical Christianity. Too often the most appealing aspect of Christian faith has been the assurance of heaven or even an escape from the fires of hell. While these concepts are valid, it is a concern of post-modern Christians that this emphasis has led to an ingenuous kind of faith. People have been led to believe that if they pray a prayer they will have assurance of heaven. In fact this kind of communication may actual lead to a false sense of assurance because a person may follow a ritual or form that misses the point and doesn’t result in a personal connection with the God who is eternal.
Many post-moderns want to have an encounter with the living God that is real and authentic every day of their lives. The danger is that in the process they may miss the very means by which this is possible. I have noticed that they really emphasize the matter of being a disciple of Jesus in a way that implies radical obedience in the ways that he lived and taught the spiritual life in the Gospels. They tend to think that the issue is Christ’s lordship. The problem, as I see it, is that this can become a moralistic way of thinking which is not a lot different than works theology so typical of most religious systems.
Authentic Christianity needs to take into consideration the reality of sin and atonement theology with its emphasis on the means by which Jesus has paid for the penalty of sin by his death on the cross and by his resurrection. The New Testament (and the Scriptures for that matter) taken in their entirety lead us to the conclusion that authentic faith embraces Christ as the Saviour from sin as a prerequisite to knowing Him as Lord. Knowing the Father and the eternal life which is his comes by knowing Christ as the God-man both in his atoning sacrifice as well as his triumphant resurrection.
True evangelicals of a former time have always known that the Christian faith is a lot more than a fire escape and an eternal home in heaven. And this is evident in the theological comprehension of that faith as well as in its huge impact on the world in power and mission. As was true in the past, so it is biblically true of God’s truth in this post-modern age, it is God’s will for us to have assurance of a relationship with him through the kind of belief expressed initially by a confession in prayer that acknowledges our need for his salvation through Christ as well as an ongoing submission to his glorious Lordship.