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EDITOR'S NOTE: Stranger in a Strange Land
A writer was telling me what worried him most about the church in America today: "It's the Constantinian temptation." He predicts that the manifest corruption and disorder of our society will provoke a strong counterreaction, maybe even a theocratic power grab. In the rise of the Religious Right he sees evidence that Christians are already compromising their witness in the quest for political power.
The same day, another writer had called to pitch an article about what was most drastically wrong with the church: a steadily growing indifference to theology. I asked him how he had arrived at that diagnosis, and he referred me to a book by a prominent evangelical theologian.
Neither of these concerns strikes me as valid in the terms presented--that is, as the defining problem of the church in our time. In fact, I believe they are wildly mistaken. But both are founded on an intuition of a malaise that is truly pervasive: a chronic forgetfulness about who we are and where we are going.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:8-10).
As Christians we are strangers in a strange land, always in danger of confusing the City of Man with the City of God. But the strangeness goes even deeper: it is in our very nature as human beings, body and soul. We are creatures of this earth, clearly, and yet just as clearly something more. "Now we know," Paul writes,
that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed in our heavenly dwelling. . . . Now it is God who made us for this very purpose ...