Escapist Theology

Escapist theology has turned massive sectors of conservative Christianity into world-fleeing saints and, in turn, our culture into a God-defying cesspool.

Dear friends and supporters:

I’ve been preparing to speak several times in Minnesota this weekend (note the schedule in the personal segment below), so I thought I’d expound on an important issue related to one of my topics: Gnosticism.


Gnosticism

Escapism is one inescapable [!] feature of Gnosticism. According to Gnostics, man’s fundamental problem is nature, or the created order, so he must escape creation in order to experience true virtue, true freedom, true humanity.

Gnosticism as a full-blown heresy was anathematized in the church long ago by church fathers like Irenaeus. Today it has retreated to the wider culture, where it is widespread. Still, it was never purged in Christianity, and even conservative churches are still influenced by it. In fact, Gnosticism seems to be a perennial heresy: just when you think it’s been rooted out, it crops up again.

The escapist elements of Gnosticism in the conservative church exist largely because they’ve poisoned Christian theology, a field that plays a vital role for conservatives. Theology is traditionally divided into particular segments, sometimes referred to as “loci” (plural of locus). As these terms relate to theology, they mean particular sub-groupings within systematic theology: Christology (the doctrine of Christ), pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), and so forth. In fact, systematic theology is often simply an articulation of these loci. (For a biblically-based example, see the systematic theology of John M. Frame). 

Escapist/gnostic elements have appeared in conservative systematic theology for centuries, but I’ll just touch on three of the loci in which the escapism is evident. 

Escapist Anthropology

First, let’s take anthropology, the doctrine of man. Escapist anthropology sees man as a collection of components, two or three parts, fairly easily separated: there’s a body, and then there’s the soul and spirit, or simply soul/spirit. “Components” is a good word, and a stereo system is a good metaphor. The system is comprised of components connected, whether by wire or bluetooth, all of which can be easily disconnected.

The critical theological issue here is the soul, a component that can (and should) be disconnected. Ancient Gnosticism, and an even older though sometimes overlapping philosophical error, Platonism, defined the soul as the vital, immaterial part of man encased in the body. The body is a disposable shell or covering for the eternal soul. It is the temporary housing that death sheds.

The Christian version

Christian escapist anthropology puts it like this: because the body is related to nature, or creation, and the soul is eternal or at least everlasting, and related to heaven, the goal is to get rid of the body so the Christian can be eternally united with the Lord. The Christian life is a march toward disembodiment.

This ancient Greek as well as Gnostic idea has been a part of Christian theology for a long, long time. The fact is, however, in both biblical testaments, the word soul doesn’t mean what it does in Gnosticism and Platonism. The soul is basically a synonym for a person, or life.

The body is not the vehicle that carts around the true person that lives on the inside, the “ghost in the machine.” Biblically, the body is the outward manifestation of the true person. The immaterial aspects of man — his mind, his will, his spirit, and his heart (the core of his being) — are all interwoven with his body to form a living human being.

The Bible teaches neither materialism (man is simply a bundle of bone and flesh and blood and nerves and chemical impulses) nor dualism (man is a system of at least two radically different, easily separable components). The former marks a Darwinian and Marxist anthropology. The latter discloses a Gnostic and Platonic — and escapist — anthropology.

Escape from the body

How is it escapist? In anthropology, a major goal for Christians is to keep themselves uncontaminated by the world, where “world” refers not to the present Satanic system (though this is one valid definition of “world” in the Bible), but rather the created world. Man’s problem is his body because it is tied inextricably to matter, the material world, and our desires for it. If we could just get rid of many of our desires for food, for sex, for external beauty, and for relaxation, we could be better Christians. While the Bible teaches that we should remain uncontaminated by the Satanic world order, escapists want to remain uncontaminated by the creational world order, because it sees these two as the same thing.

The goal is escape from the body. There’s sometimes longing for death, because we’ll finally shed this burdensome shell that exposes us to so much sin.

But the fact is that the body is no more or less sinful than any other aspect of fallen man’s being. Man’s mind and heart and will and emotions — every aspect is impacted by sin, and every aspect can be redeemed.

But if we’re committed to an escapist anthropology, we’ll constantly be looking to marginalize the body in order to draw closer to the Lord. We won’t enjoy creation as the theater of God’s kingdom operation. We’ll dislike the body itself, and holy desires for sex and food and relaxation because they have often been perverted to sinful purposes. Strangely, many escapist Christians don’t treat their emotions with this distaste, despite the fact that emotions have been just as twisted by sin as the body has.

This is an escapist, not a biblical, anthropology.

Escapist soteriology

Second, consider soteriology, salvation doctrine. If man’s main problem is creation, deliverance from that creation must be the goal of salvation.

Of course, true Christians realize that man’s main problem is sin and not creation; but if tinged with Gnosticism, they believe that sin is so inextricably aligned with creation that salvation must in some way include deliverance from it.

Some Christians believe that creation can be redeemed, but this can only happen when Christ returns. This really is to admit that creation can’t be redeemed or purged by the gospel, but requires the physical presence of Jesus Christ. In other words, this means creational redemption is not a gospel issue. But because creation was cursed because of the first Adam’s disobedience, creation is redeemed through the second Adam’s obedience (Rom. 5:12–21; 8:18–23), a truth at the heart of the gospel.

Escapist soteriology is often reduced to keeping souls out of hell. That’s a worthy objective, and the gospel certainly does that (Jude 23), but the Gospel accomplishes much more than this. Paul writes in Colossians 1:13–20,

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (emphases supplied)

God’s great creational reclamation

The gospel is God’s great creational reclamation project. The gospel redeems man, and not just man, but the entire created order, incrementally, of course, not all at once, but nonetheless comprehensively and finally, in the eternal state.

But if you embrace escapist soteriology, you’ll believe that Jesus Christ calls us away from creation to himself. His goal is to sever as many ties as possible with our created order so that we can give ourselves fully to him.

But Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Son of God is Lord of the entire created order, and salvation restores the saints to our calling as his dominion-exercising people in the earth (see Dan. 7:18, 27). Engagement, not escape.

What is God’s goal for this world? Surely, not to abandon it to Satan, whom he defeated on the cross and from the empty tomb. Rather, it is to restore and enhance the world to its righteous purposes.

Salvation, therefore, is not escape, but engagement.

Read more about creational Christianity here:


We sometimes hear the well-meaning exhortation, “Christianity doesn’t start with the Bible, but with Jesus Christ.” This might very well be true, but Christians must embrace biblical truth anterior to Christianity, and that is creation as the Bible describes it. Put another way: the Bible is bigger than Christianity. We will not understand his person and work in their greater depths if we bypass creation. This is a small book about not bypassing creation. It’s a book about thinking in creational categories, and purging contra-creational categories that infect our culture and, in too many cases, our churches.


Get the e-book here.


Escapist Eschatology

Third, and finally, consider eschatology, the study of the future. There’s a diversity of eschatological viewpoints within Christianity, and there has been for many centuries. Just now I’d like to point out the most popular prominent escapist eschatology, and that is dispensationalism. (Here is a good summary by a dispensational ministry.)

Dispensationalism is an interpretive paradigm devised in the nineteenth century to account for what it considered serious differences in God’s dealings with different humans in different historical epochs. For instance, there is the dispensation of innocence (pre-Fall Eden), the dispensation of conscience (post-Fall, pre-Mosaic), the dispensation of (Mosaic) law, the dispensation of grace (current), and the dispensation of the kingdom (post-Second Advent), all in historical sequence.

The interpretive distinction

The fundamental interpretive distinction of dispensationalism, however, is between ethnic Israel and the Gentile church. These are two separate, distinct programs for God’s people. Though dispensational distinctives have softened in recent years, this Jew-church distinction, the importance of a unique place for the Jews as well as for the church, is indispensable to the system.

Because the church is distinct, it has a distinct destiny, or future. This is most graphically revealed in the pre-tribulational rapture. Christ will return to rescue the Gentile church seven years before his actual Second Advent of a thousand years’ physical reign on the earth. This pre-tribulational rapture will snatch away the church to heaven; the church will escape. All those left behind, including the Jews, will suffer the wrath of the antichrist.

This means the Gentile church is always looking for the rapture, and it’s not looking to press the claims of Jesus Christ in all areas of life. This escapism is not merely a theoretical postulate.

Many years ago in Ohio I was delivering a lunch speech to a group of pastors. I was urging them to take a stand against and turn back the evils of abortion and homosexuality and pornography and socialism.

Afterwards a pastor engaged me and said: “You know, I agree. We pastors all need to do more because there is so much evil in the world: aborted children and rising homosexuality and pornography, and I know that’s bad. But if you think about it, this is all good, because it means Jesus is coming soon.”

An eschatology of escape led him to embrace resignation theology as opposed to a biblical resistance theology

As with anthropology and soteriology, so with eschatology: an eschatology of escape, not engagement.

Escapism as a Hermeneutic and Worldview

Escapist theology derives not so much from a different interpretation of specific biblical texts (though this also is true) but from differing theological presuppositions, often deriving from a different worldview. The source of Protestant theology should always be the Bible, but no one approaches the Bible without an interpretive framework, simple or fragmentary though it might be. That framework itself should be shaped by the Bible, but frameworks operate according to worldviews.

If we believe that creation’s curse so implicated it in sin that there’s no hope for creation before the Second Advent; if we believe that the human body is equally implicated in that creational sin-curse; if we believe that salvation therefore must be from creation; and if we believe that in the future the redeemed will be rescued from this creation by a rapture, we’ll interpret the Bible and Faith quite differently than if we believe that Jesus’ death began to overturn the creational curse; if we believe that man is a unified being designed to be saved in his totality, both material and immaterial parts; if we believe that salvation is the righteous restoration and enhancement of creation; and if we believe that the future includes just such redemption, much (not all) accomplished before the Second Advent.

Escapist (non-creational) theology is far different from engagement (pro-creational) theology, and our theological presuppositions on these issues will mold our life, family, church, expectations, and society.

Escapist theology has turned massive sectors of conservative Christianity into world-fleeing saints and, in turn, our culture into a God-defying cesspool.

Recovering engagement theology is a great need in today’s church.

Conclusion

A few years ago I heard the president of a large fundamentalist university describe his paradigm for the Christian’s responsibility in the present world by offering this metaphor. 

Imagine, he declared, a citizen from a faraway, heavenly world suited as an astronaut sent to our created world to convince earthlings to leave for his world. He lived in a space suit and a tube conveying his planet’s atmosphere stretched light years to earth from his planet to earth in order the keep him alive in the alien atmosphere of earth. 

This, the Christian educator stated, is what it’s like to be a Christian in our world. We are from another world and aliens in this world.

This is the most accurate and effective metaphor depicting escapist theology I’ve ever encountered. 

It’s also absolutely fatal to biblical Christianity. 


Will you consider a tax-deductible donation to CCL via PayPal or Venmo? Or mail a check to CCL, Box 100, Coulterville, CA 95311. God uses you to keep us going — and expanding.


Personal

God has answered so many prayers since March 2020. It would be hard to count them all. He keeps increasing CCL’s platform, for his glory alone. In my view, God has raised up CCL for such a time as this: cultural apostasy, statist tyranny, ecclesial timidity, and economic insanity. I thank God for the increasing reception for our message among Christians hungry for biblical answers.

Here’s my speaking schedule for Minnesota next weekend:


Friday, April 16, 11:00 a.m., Pastors’ Luncheon, Lewis Lake Covenant Church, Ogilvie, Joe Reed, Assistant Pastor

Saturday, April 17, 8:30 a.m., Common Slaves Spring Conference, Lifespring Church, Crosby, Eric Anderson, Pastor

Sunday, April 18, 2:00 p.m., Christ Bible Church, Roseville, Levi Secord and Ardel Caneday, Pastors


I hope next week to write on “Capitalist Marxism.”

We keep flourishing, humanly speaking, because of your prayer and money.

Thank you.

Yours for engagement, not escape,

Founder & President

Center for Cultural Leadership

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This video refutes the escapist idea that Christians are pilgrims in Satan’s world. The Bible teaches Kingdom Theology, not Pilgrim Theology:


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