The World is Not Ours To Save

This brief post will likely upset some Christians. Within the Church today, there is a debate concerning the duty and responsibility of the believer to engage culture and fight for justice. The two extremes within this debate are often defined on one side by those in the deeply prophecy driven, pre-tribulational, dispensationalist camp. This camp can, (but certainly not always!) hold to an exclusively pessimistic vision of the future of the world, alongside a bit of fatalism and thus a somewhat passive, abandonment mentality. If it is all going to hell in a hand basket, why should I bother trying to save it? I’m outta’ here soon enough anyway. Why polish the brass on sinking ship?

On the other hand, and often as an over-reaction to the extreme just described, there are those who see themselves as cultural engagers, history makers. They are the post-millennialists, the dominionists. They are those who are seeking to conquer the “seven-mountains” of culture and influence. They are those who claim that they will end poverty, abolish slavery, and so on and so forth.

But between these two extremes is the thoroughly Gospel-centered, yet thoroughly premillennialist orientation of the early Church. This theological orientation sees it as the mandate of the Church to proclaim the Gospel to all the World, in both word and deed. Every word, every action, every good deed is meant to point to and bear witness concerning, the nature and characteristics of the messianic kingdom / age to come. The historical premillennialist carries out acts of justice as part of their mandate to bear witness to the kingdom to come. But the acts are not done without the correlating message concerning that kingdom to come.

The orientation of those who seek to imitate the early Christian community is such that as aliens and strangers in this age, they fight to rescue slaves, to help the poor, to impact and influence the world, without trying to conquer it. Impacting and conquering are quite different things. We are to be salt and light, effecting the world around us, but not conquerors of this world. Jesus will come back to conquer. But for now, we free slaves, because in the age to come, slavery will be abolished. For now, we minister to those who are poor now because in the kingdom that is coming to the earth, the poor will be cared for. In fact, they will no longer be poor. Once we acknowledge that our job now is to declare a message to an irretrievably wicked and corrupt generation concerning the nature and beautiful characteristics of the age to come, then we can put our hands to the plow without falling into the subtle trap of what I call “the Kingdom Now Hamster Wheel.” The Kingdom Now Hamster Wheel is a term that refers to the trap that those who are working hard to conquer the world (for Jesus) now can so easily fall in to. Those who climb on board the Kingdom Now hamster wheel always eventually reach a point of burn out and disillusionment.

All this to say that eschatology has deep relevance in terms of how we engage culture. And unarguably, it is historic premillennialism that is the most balanced and effective in motivating believers to engage the world and reach it with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Neither promoting an abandonment nor a dominionist mentality, it encourages an active Gospel-centered engagement, while recognizing the limitations of that engagement. It places the proper level of responsibility on us to be His witnesses, while allowing room for Him to come back and conquer. If the Church today would return to the premillennialism of the early Church, with the cross as its center, and the resurrection of the body in the coming Messianic Kingdom as our hope, then I believe that like the early believers, we could “turn the world upside down.” in just a few short decades.

  • wls
    Posted at 22:47h, 21 December

    Well said!

  • Peter Hartgerink
    Posted at 02:12h, 22 December

    I am just now listening to a teaching by Mike Bickle on this very subject. My wife and I are part of a wonderful Spirit-filled church full of very sincere people but it has a Kingdom Now orientation and you are right, I can see the potential for disillusionment and burnout. There’s a subtle kind of pressure placed on leaders to deliver things that match the rhetoric. I believe part of the problem is that most of these people have also been affected by the christoplatonic worldview to some extent – their view of eschatology (even if they say they believe in the resurrection) is mostly immaterial – so the only way they can envision “your kingdom come on earth” is if it happens now, in this age. So anyway, a hearty YES to your plea for historic premillenialism. Preach it brother 🙂

  • Peter Hartgerink
    Posted at 02:13h, 22 December

    BTW in case it wasn’t clear – I really appreciate Mike Bickle’s perspective – I think he brings a balance that is very similar to what you are contending for.

  • Vernon
    Posted at 13:08h, 22 December

    Well said Joel.

    Thank you for posting.

  • good4u
    Posted at 13:51h, 22 December

    What a wonderfully balanced plea to church leaders/pastors! Indeed, let us not try and do God’s job, but what He has ordained for us…to be salt and light and make a positive impact in our culture through the power of the Holy Spirit. The King will change all when he arrives to completion! So let’s do our job while we are here so we will be commended for our faithfulness to our call!

  • lheggestad2
    Posted at 17:22h, 22 December

    Thanks Joel.
    You use a lot of big words, but when I dumb it down to my level I get you – and I’m with you.
    People in the two extremes overlook this life. While the one side refuses to polish the brass on a sinking ship, the other ignores the brass and tries to right the ship by their own power.
    Those who care about the ship, and polish its brass may be lost when the ship goes down. But, perhaps, one day the ship will be raised; and those who raise it will say, “Were it not for the sparkling brass we would never have found it in the darkness of the depths. Bring us the ones who polished it so that they can be rewarded.”

  • SMA
    Posted at 18:26h, 22 December

    Good piece Joel and food for thought.
    I am reminded of such saints as William Wilberforce, the English MP in the 18th century, who after conversion to Jesus Christ as a young man dedicated himself to abolishing slavery. He knew it was his duty to do so, even though it took him twenty years to accomplish together with those wonderful members of the Evangelical ” Clapham sect”who influenced him, especially the great thomas Clarkson.
    He was contemplating a life of solitude and prayer but reprimanded by John Newton, the former slave-trader who knew Wilberforce’s personality , popularity and intelligence had been chosen by God to accomplish great things in society.

    He accomplished much more. Together with Hannah More, founded Sunday school for the unchurched children, founded the society for the protection of animals, worked tirelessly to reduce number of working hours for children but only accomplished with Clapham Sect to reduce them down from 15 to 12 instead of eight ! His dream was for all children to one day attend school. He was therefore a visionary i suppose too.
    All things we take for granted today. Once fought for .
    Wilberforce was burned out, depressed, disillusioned after 15 years fighting the slave traders until he met his future wife. She breathed new life into him. He adored her and his children. He went on together with the then also disillusioned Clarkson to achieve their goal of abolishing slave trading.
    Clarkson then went in to fight skave traders world-wide. Another amazing Christian man of those turbulent times.
    But he flirted with revolution for a while , influenced by the French,which Wilberforce fiercly rejected.It meant a break in their friendship until they once again reunited for their final mighty achievement .

    Wilberforce also used his immense inherited wealth for the good of others, never firing aged /blind servants as no pensions back then, his house full of them and injured animals, and reduced the rent of his land-tenants especially in harsh times.
    He loved as few ever have done. Yes he tried to change the world, managed to ensure the colonialists evangelised in the colonies. Not to bring God’s Kingdom to earth, but to live as Jesus expected him to.
    He worked with William Pitt, the youngest PM ever in GB, who was 24 when he took the position. Wilberforce as an MP the same age. Seems impossible by today’s standards.
    These two young men were very unique, and very mature for their age. Oh how we long for such youthly wisdom and moral character today.
    They are my heroes, mostly forgotton, rarely mentioned in fact, but the story always fired my imagination as a young impressionable girl and always has.

  • Joel
    Posted at 18:36h, 22 December

    Wilberforce is nearly always the individual or example that many point to as the basis for devoting their lives to social justice issues on a macro-level. No doubt, Wilberforce is a hero and an inspiration in this regard. But what most do not acknowledge is first that Wilberforce is an anomaly. Most who devote their lives to changing society for the positive fail. Second, few acknowledge the fact that if Wilberforce’s goal was the abolition of slavery, then we must also admit that he was a bit of a failure as well. For while he did achieve a great legal success in England, his success was ultimately rather short-lived. While the face of slavery has changed, today there are far more “slaves” throughout the earth than at any other time in human history. While many would argue that we have moved forward, the truth is that we have fallen backwards. What was primarily black slavery then is primarily female sexual slavery now. And it is a global epidemic. The lesson learned from Wilberforce is that while it is great to shoot high, such successes are not common. I would argue that most often, we are better served to seek for justice on the micro level. One individual at a time. Those who seek to free one at a time will see many great successes. But we must remember that “the poor you will always have with you” and likewise slavery will continue, sadly for now, until the Day when the Great Abolitionist returns and establishes His Kingdom.

  • SMA
    Posted at 19:10h, 22 December

    I am rather surorised by yiur reply Joel, I admit.
    He did what he could, and more than most individuals ever achieve. He was not a king, nor a tyrant of course and did not have absolute power, nor did he wish to. He fulfilled his calling. i doubt he expected to dispel all evil for all time !
    He did not expect to abolish poverty either, but used his own resources to help where he could. As i said, he achieved what most of us at least myself, am grateful for. He longed for justice as our God is a just God who listens to the prayers of his people.
    (Social justices we all I imagine are grateful for: the “blessings ” we enjoy in free societies ??
    All once fought for by good, brave , determined free men. Same goes for the US.
    Utopia we know does not exist and only will do so until Jesus returns to rule.)

    His legacy lives on. I can think of more people including many Christians, I might consider a bit of a failure, myself included.
    No doubt it was the will of God for those times, but it also took effort and faith.
    And after all, we remain human and weak. But thankfully some human rise above self-obsession, lies and greed as so prevelent in todays leadership positions. Standards of such men who went before us are good and noble to uphold.
    Role models. Not perfect. Neither was Churchill. He had failed the Jews earlier in his life, made many mistakes, again a mere human fallen man. He made up for it years later, fulfilling his calling.
    I personally thank God for Wilberforce and his sort. And for the blessings and justice we have enjoyed in free Christian societies.
    Those freedoms we are losing rapidly under cultural Marxism.

  • Joel
    Posted at 19:43h, 22 December

    I’m not sure what is surpassing about what I said. My comments were certainly not disparaging toward Wilberforce in any way. What he did was certainly good, but it must be viewed in its proper perspective. The Church today has a much less Gospel oriented focus and a much more social justice oriented emphasis. As such, many look to Wilberforce as their ultimate role model. This despite the fact that his success was, relatively speaking, rather fleeting. Far less unfortunately look to Paul as the ultimate role model, though his impact has truly transformed the earth forever. So this is not to poo-poo Wilberforce, but simply to view his contribution in a more Biblically oriented, properly balanced and realistic light.

  • Adam N.
    Posted at 19:50h, 22 December

    Good article Joel, keep up the good work! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  • David W. Lincoln
    Posted at 20:12h, 22 December

    Joel, take a look at what life was like in the Roman Empire when Paul was on his missionary journeys, Thomas was in India, and all the rest were where they were.

    The best role for the church is to be counter cultural, because we are the shock troops to triumph over the gates of hades, thereby conquering the lands usurped by Iblis.

  • Jay Ross
    Posted at 01:59h, 23 December

    Perhaps, we should be considering the instruction contained within Isaiah 58 as a guide to our actions within this present “politically correct” cultural climate.

    I think that it also tells us how we should be careful to also remain Holy during the Sabbath Day Age that will follow our/Israel’s healing by God and to keep it Holy as well.


    Jay Ross

  • Twin
    Posted at 03:46h, 23 December

    Hi Joel, Great article. I agree with your idea that the works that we do should clearly be to point to the Day of The Lord and what his leadership will look like in His Kingdom. What I find that I think we need to take a hard look at is most of the Christians that I am around and most Christian books and services aren’t talking about “The Day of The Lord “. I don’t think there is much clarity at all. Everyone is talking about how to make things better in this life. How to be Jesus, how to pray to feel His presence, but no body is really talking about Him. They are not defining who he is by His story. What I hear is mostly vague and focused on us and what we are going to do to transform things. When that happens, He gets left out ! It becomes about us and our zeal. I agree with you. Everything should be a witness to the fact that He is the ultimate answer. His return and rule and our resurrection is the good news of the Gospel. To be honest, I don’t think most Christians could clearly define the Good News. When Christians start focusing on trying to transform things, there is a silence about Jesus’ return. I think we just have to say with clarity “Jesus is coming back to earth in a resurrected body to rule and reign and make the wrong things right and there will be no peace until He comes. I just don’t think people know the story. Thanks for the article. Keep telling the Story!

  • Jeanne
    Posted at 06:34h, 23 December

    “The Kingdom Now Hamster Wheel” – excellent! It seems to me that this term could also apply to the proponents of Liberation Theology, except that Marxists aren’t really trying to conquer the world for Jesus. (They are on the other end of the extreme.) What do you think, Joel?

  • Rodney Thompson
    Posted at 13:13h, 23 December

    Hello Joel,
    I always enjoy your articles. In my “evangelistic world”, it has always seemed futile to thank someone can change (stop aborting babies or the like) unless this person has a re-born experience, and actually experience the filling or in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. It was this reality of God living in me that changed me from a 23 year hopeless drug addict to what I am today. Blessings!

  • Peter Hartgerink
    Posted at 14:03h, 23 December


    In regard to the discussion about Wilberforce and the limits of transformation in this age, here is a question for you to consider. This is something I have wrested with myself. I was raised in a liberal social gospel tradition but have come to a position very close to your own. And yet. In this age, it is possible at certain times and places that God will grant believers access to positions of power and influence. When such opportunities present themselves, what ought we to do? Ought we to turn away from the opportunity, since we know we can’t effect truly permanent change in the world system until Jesus comes back? I think I know what you would say. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Anyone who has a God-given opportunity to influence our culture for good should do it. The value of David’s or Hezekiah’s or Josiah’s righteous kingship was not diminished by the failure of their descendants. They remain as powerful (though imperfect) examples of the impact that a righteous leader can have. All of this is not to diminish or take away from your basic position which I fully agree with. My current assignments are to birth a small community house of prayer, and to disciple younger believers as God gives opportunity. Pretty small-scale stuff. But who can measure the eternal impact of obedience in whatever sphere God opens up to us? The real issue, I think, is obedience – which will mean different things for different people depending on our specific calling and circumstances – while leaving the long-term results up to God, and keeping our eyes on the coming dawn (the return of the Lord).


  • Joel
    Posted at 00:01h, 24 December


    I think we are called in be salt and light in every sphere of society. I applaud those who aspire to political positions as believers etc. But we must do so with the understanding that we are ultimately pilgrims and strangers here. We must never lose our pilgrim identity. We influence and make a positive impact on an inherently wicked and corrupt society, as we pass through, always pointing to the Kingdom to come. We are not called to establish a Kingdom here and now. If we are truly engaging culture in a genuinely godly way, the end result will be martyrdom, not conquering it. That is if Jesus is any indicator. That is not to say that there are moments of revival in certain times, in certain places, but even those are most often short lived and only partial in their ultimate results.


  • Alfred
    Posted at 04:06h, 24 December

    I have another opinion on saving this world. Most of this from C. Larkin.

    There are but two classes of people spoken of in the New testament. The children of God and the Children of the Devil. The Children of the Devil are also sometimes called the Children of Disobedience (Ephesian2:2). There is no possibility of a union between them, such as a Brother Hood of Man which is a union of all religious sects and bodies for the betterment of mankind. In order to save this world.
    The word disobedience means obstinate rebellion. How futile then is the effort of The Children of Disobedience to make the earth a more comfortable habitation for man, and bring in a Millennium by a federation of all religious Bodies, when the majority of all mankind is in obstinate rebellion against God and will not have His Son reign over them, but are spending every energy to produce a Godless Society and make way for Satan’s Masterpiece the Man of Sin.
    When the God of this Age discovered that he could not stamp out the Church by PERSECUTION, he changed his tactics and seeks to neutralize her efforts by SEDUCTION. His method is to divert her efforts for the evangelization of the world, to methods of Social Betterment, and thus make the world a better place to live in, forgetting that, as natural man cannot be spiritually saved by CULTURE, neither can the world, therefore all efforts to save the world by Social Betterment are futile.

    The Lord Jesus came to save sinners not the world.

  • Peter Hartgerink
    Posted at 13:58h, 24 December

    Thanks Joel.

    It seems to me that while the end result of faithful witness is often martyrdom, there are seasons where there can be great fruit and a degree of transformation in local areas, and we should never turn aside from an opportunity for witness in this way.

    I guess the key is to keep our eyes on the Coming One, and let Him be our love and obedience to Him be our priority.

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