What are the foundations of Great Commission Utilitarianism?
Every theme or issue has its grounding in a worldview or several worldviews. Utilitarianism was born out of a materialistic, pragmatic worldview. This was driven into Western thinking through secular humanists like Darwin, Dewey, and Freud.
Instead of defending biblical theism when atheism made its onslaught into Western culture, Christians abdicated by either embracing the materialistic worldview or the ancient Greek worldview of dualism, what might be called Evangelical Gnosticism. In this view, the secular was separated from the sacred; nature was divorced from grace, work from worship, ministry from vocation, and success from meaning. The sacred, spiritual activities were seen as “higher” or more important, while the rest of life was seen as secular and “lower.” Things in this lower area included all types of work (outside of formal spiritual ministry), economics, and wealth-creation. These “secular” things could only be redeemed if they contributed somehow to things in the higher, spiritual area. So secular work and wealth creation were seen in a very pragmatic light, with their only value (beyond a means of mere survival) in funding activities in the higher, spiritual realm.
Living as if the Bible were True!
What is faith?
“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (Heb. 11:1, HCSB, emphasis added). Or as Darby translated the same passage: “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (emphasis added). We see in these translations the objectiveness expressed in the key words of the passage. What is faith? It is living in the reality of the unseen world. It is giving substance to the things that we hope for; it is the certitude of the things that are not visible.
The word “reality” is the Greek word hupostasis which means “that which has actual existence . . . a substance, real being . . . the substantial quality, nature, of a person or thing.”[i] Something may be invisible and yet still real. In our modern way of thinking, only those things that can be apprehended by the senses are real. Not so in a Biblical frame. The word “proof” or “conviction” is the Greek word elegchos and means “that by which a thing is proved or tested.”[ii]
Too often Christians function from a distant memory of something being true or out of habit, the way their parents did it. In my early years as a Christian, I thought that Christianity was true because I believed it. My faith was in “faith;” it was merely a subjective experience. When challenged by a friend, I realized that I was thinking like an atheist, that Christianity is true because I believe it. It slowly dawned on me that Christianity was true, even if I did not believe it. It is true because God exists; there is an objective reality. Faith is to give substance to this reality by the way I live my life.
What is the backdrop before which we live our lives? It can be a small backdrop, limited by our own imagination or it can be a setting that is bigger than the universe itself. We live present day lives in light of the end we have in mind.
To live a proleptic[iii] life is to live in the reality of the future, today. In other words, we are to live as if the future were present. We are to live in the world we now see, what we know is true in the unseen world. It is our lives revealing in the now, the not yet of the coming of the kingdom of God.
Many in the modern world live with the end goal being a garage full of toys (boats, cars, snowmobiles, etc.), a large house on a hill in the best part of town, or for “retirement” to do the things one always wanted to do. It is important to note that these things are not bad in themselves; they may in fact be good things. But when they define the end for which we live our lives, our vision is too small and does not align with the ends to which God and all of history are working.
Some who have professed Christ have discovered the vision for the boundless life – the telos – the end of all of history. This is variously described as “the Glory of the Lord filling the earth” (Isa. 6:3, Hab. 2:14), “the Coming of Christ and the consummation of his kingdom” (Rev. 21) or our nation discipled (Mat. 28:18-20). Creating wealth and working for the glory of God are animated by the telos – the End!
-Darrow L. Miller
[i] Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, s.v. “hupostasis.”
[ii] Ibid., s.v. “elegchos.”
[iii] The English word ‘proleptic’ comes from the Latin prolepsis, and from the Greek prolambanein which means “to anticipate before”. In our context, we are to “anticipate” the coming of the kingdom of God by the way we live our lives, before the fullness of the kingdom comes at the return of Christ.