My dream car is a four-door, bright blue, Mini Cooper with a white hood. Preference for the little checkered rearview mirror backs, too. It’s a fairly undemanding dream, right? If someone handed me the keys to that car and told me, “Take it. it’s yours. Go anywhere you like, explore all the places you want to go, just follow the rules of the road,” is that restriction? Or freedom?
God gives us the keys to our dream life and says, “Go. Explore. Grow. Learn. Have fun. Just follow the rules so you stay on the road.”
As we continue the discussion of truth and what it means to modern vs postmodern believers, we need to grapple with the idea of what the truth sets us free for. One of the reasons Millennials see this talk of truth and freedom and sin as restricting is the evangelical insistence that our freedoms are only from sin. It’s that word ‘from’ that sticks. They know, instinctively, that freedom isn’t free it it’s only away from something. It has to also be toward something.
I have a friend who got out of jail recently. He is free from his cell. But he is not free. Because of his record, he can’t get a job. He can’t find housing. He lives in the woods scrambling for food and praying for a break. (This too-common situation, by the way, is the real reason for the recidivism rate.) This is not freedom. There is no toward.
Boomer Christians have to start offering a toward if we want disenchanted Millennials to have interest in our truth. There is a whole lot more than freedom from sin—there is freedom toward the Kingdom.
Our Gospel has been too small to accommodate that reality.
If we believe the Son has set us free from our sinful lives, what are we supposed to do with those lives? If we believe that “The power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death,” (Romans 8.2), what will we do with that life-giving power? (Yes, beware, Arminian theology coming through here. Because that’s who I am.)
If we believe that we have been given the keys—not of a shiny blue Mini Cooper but of the kingdom of God—what are we opening the gates to? If we believe the church was destined to destroy the gates of hell, what are we waiting for?
Logically, that last part is not going to happen after we all fly away to heaven.
We need a discussion in the church about what we are freed and saved toward. We need that discussion to widen its borders beyond personal holiness and self-improvement. We need that discussion not to be tainted with fears that we are going to dilute the gospel or unequally yoke ourselves with social gospel crusaders. Truth is, we’ve already diluted the gospel by insisting that it is only personal, only individual, only eschatological. Jesus did not say, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and then when it’s time, I’ll come take you off your little rock and transport you safety to heaven.”
Part of the problem has been in the way we approach what Wesley called social holiness. In the boomer generation, there has been more of a tendency to want to spread our personal holiness around to others, so that our world could be holy. It is usually well-intentioned, out of a desire for God’s values to be in all hearts.
Millennials see it differently. They seek to spread God’s Kingdom more than God’s holiness. They believe, I think, that the latter will naturally follow the former; that, in fact, the latter is indivisible from the former. That is part of the reason for the divide between those who fight for individual moral issues like abortion and homosexuality and those who fight for community issues like justice, poverty, and racism. The younger generation would say those are moral issues. The older thinks of them as political.
We won’t understand the divide unless we understand the ‘toward’ that Millennials operate under. They believe in social holiness. They want to see us freed toward creating that freedom for everyone. A gospel that only understands personal freedom from sin will not comprehend that difference. It will also always be a decapitated gospel.
Given the keys to new life in all its potential aspects, I’m driving off with it. Especially if I get to do it in a Mini Cooper.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.