Joel Edwards challenges the idea that Christians are too heavenly-minded to be of earthly use.
People sometimes accuse Christian faith of being so heavenly-minded that it’s no earthly good. And there is a very good reason, I find, why people do that. It’s because in many instances it’s true, that there are some sections of Christian community who think that the whole of Christian faith is about what happens on a Sunday morning, or a Wednesday evening bible study, or the piety of me, my Bible, and God behind closed doors. So there is a lot of good reasons why people are nervous about the relevance of Christian faith. And the fact that Christians are sitting, twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the second coming, the date as yet unspecified – you know, all of that kind of ethereal stuff will cause people to think that we can be so heavenly-minded we’re no earthly good.
The reality is that the last thing Christians need to do is to let go of that sense of the return of Christ. It’s a bit weird if you’re not a Christian, frankly, but actually it’s the motive – this eschatological hook, this future hope which burns its way into the present and says, you have something to offer now because you believe in something to come. And this now and not yet, this living in between, this creative tension of living in the enormity of the problems of our world and doing something about it because we believe in a future hope is the heart of Christian witness. Lose that tension and we become as materialistic and as temporal as everybody else. Lose the practicality of that application and we cease to bring hope into very difficult and jaundiced situations.
I remember on one occasion I was one of a party of three Christian leaders who were giving evidence to a very high profile and difficult case of a young man called Stephen Lawrence who’d been murdered by racists in London – this was about 10 years ago, perhaps. And I remember we gave evidence at the end of a very long national series of hearings which the police had initiated themselves. After we’d given our evidence and the session was over, the chief guy who was responsible, the police officer who was responsible, came up to the three of us and he said, I’ve travelled all around the UK with this enquiry, I’ve heard some really, really aggressive things. He said, you guys have given me – three black clerics, if you like – you’ve given me the most hostile time of anybody, you’ve given me a really hard time, he said, but you’ve also given me hope, he said. You gave me a hard time, but you’ve also given me hope. Can we work together? I think that’s the heart of Christian faith, that we critique with love but we also critique with hope.