There is an insidious and dangerous teaching that I’ve noticed creeping into my church, threatening my Christian hope, and stifling my evangelistic effectiveness. Up to this point, it hasn’t had a catchy title.1 But I want to correct that. I’m going to call this teaching ‘nowism’, from the English word ‘now’, meaning ‘the present age’.
Are you a nowist? How do you recognize nowistic tendencies? It’s not so much seen by what you profess, but by how you live. The fundamental feature of nowism is the tendency to live for this world and to forget about the glorious new heavens and new earth that God will bring about when Jesus Christ returns.
It’s not a particularly new teaching; there were nowistic teachers in the Apostle Paul’s day. In 2 Timothy 2:16-18, we read about Hymanaeus and Philetus who taught that the resurrection had already happened. Presumably, they were teaching that all of God’s promises (particularly his great promise to restore the dead to life and to bring a final judgement and restoration of this fallen world) have actually been fulfilled in this present age. Paul saw their nowistic doctrine as destructive and gangrenous, bringing hopelessness, death and destruction, eating away at the body of Christ, poisoning and killing—because it robbed people of their true and glorious eternal hope in Jesus, and stopped them from trusting in him and being prepared to suffer while they longed for his return.
But nowism is alive and well today too. There are nowistic books, spreading like gangrene through Christian bookstores, and therefore Christian homes. You could take the title of Joel Osteen’s book Your Best Life Now as a classic expression of pure nowism. But you also see it in that plethora of books that seem to assume that God’s plan for your life is primarily directed towards helping you with your weight loss, your business sense, your church attendance numbers, your marriage and family life, your kids’ education or your coffee making skills—as if the resurrection has already happened.
It’s not surprising that nowism is becoming influential in Christian circles. Bad teaching always ends up conforming to the pattern of the world. In the early 20th century when moralism was the rage, much of the evangelical false teaching involved an unhealthy emphasis on ‘holiness’. But now the mood has shifted. There aren’t many holiness teachers around any more. In my part of the world, at least, nowism seems to have taken over. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we live in times of unprecedented economic prosperity. Many of us have careers; all of us have peace and social security. Nobody need starve in our country. If we want heaven, we can get it now; it comes on a stick in the ice cream section of the local supermarket! In fact, most of us have quite a lot to lose when Jesus returns, and we don’t have much reason to be very keen to see him come back and spoil it while we’re all enjoying ourselves so much. At least he could wait until the kitchen extension is finished and we get back from the overseas trip!
Ironically, there’s also a kind of prosperity paradox going on. We have this ‘great life’, but we also have less time to live it. To maintain the lifestyle, to maintain the big houses, to keep the backyards, to further our careers and to fulfil our dreams, we’re working longer hours and feeling more exhausted. We’re so busy because everybody else is competing with us for this good life too. There’s that relentless competition which drives rises in property prices and soaring rents—which drives the need to work harder and longer just to keep up with the Joneses. And that combination of a great life and an exhausting schedule to maintain it means that we have no time for the future—at least, not for the future that matters.
So we’ve become consumed with questions of now (or, at most, the next few decades): what job should I get? How can I make sure my kids are happy and fulfilled at school and home? What superannuation do I need? What diet will enable me to extend my life? And so, despite our professed orthodoxy, we Christians are becoming (bit by bit through our desire to conform to the world and through our own desires and yearnings) nowists.
- The theologians have a boring name for it: ‘overrealized eschatology’. ↩