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Guest blogger: Jon Saunders, Assistant Pastor of Campus Ministry at University Reformed Church

The non-Christian world has often accused the Church of “being so pie in the sky that we are of no earthly good.” Which considering the number of soup kitchens, pregnancy clinics, after-school programs, colleges and hospitals that have been founded by Christians, it would seem that this accusation is not true in the first place. But for the sake of this blog let’s examine the premise of the accusation.

The non-Christian world has long made this accusation, but in recent years the accusation has come from inside the Christian camp as well. Within our own circles some are claiming the church has been unhelpfully influenced by Plato. If you remember back to your college philosophy class you’ll remember Plato’s allegory of the cave. In this cave the prisoner is able to see the shadows on the wall, but never the true substance that actually casts the shadows. Christians can relate, believing that this earth is just a shadow, the substance will be that glorious day that is to come. Plato is teaching us to be pie in sky. Some scholars are saying this Platonic reading is not helpful because the scriptures teach we live in the substance now. We ought not just long for the day to come, but rather focus on the present.

Even though Augustine spoke in glowing terms about Plato, I assume we can all agree that we should not read the Scriptures through the lens of a pagan Greek philosopher. So what does the Bible have to stay about this? What does the Bible say about the relationship between longing for the day to come and this side of heaven helpfulness?

Hebrew 10:34 seems to make it clear.

For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

In terms of earthly good, the Hebrews were the best friends you could ever find. Persecution had come to their city and a number of believers had been thrown into jail. Ancient jails did not have modern amenities like we currently have, such as cafeterias. The only hope a prisoner had of surviving in jail was a fellow friend coming and visiting, often bringing food. But here’s the problem, by visiting a Christian in jail the whole city will know that you to are a Christian. No one will visit Christians except fellow Christians. And if you are marked as a Christian, you know what will come next.

Try and put yourself in their shoes. As you know Kevin DeYoung is my head pastor. Imagine Pastor Kevin has been thrown in East Lansing’s jail. His only hope for survival is that I would bring him a Hot N’ Ready (Kevin is extremely picky) from Little Ceasars. The right thing to do is to visit Kevin. This is obvious. But in the back of my mind I know exactly what will happen the moment I drop the pizza off to my friend; my house will be burned and property plundered. I have a wife at home with 4 little kids. Will my kids be safe? How will I raise them with no money? Will I to go to jail with Kevin leaving my wife helpless and my kids fatherless? This is a significant decision to make.

The Hebrews were the best friends you could find. They actively made their lives harder for the sake of relieving another’s pain. They rejoiced to have their property plundered if it meant relieving some of the pain for the Christians in jail.

The Hebrews are of extreme earthly good. We don’t get list of their other good works, but I can imagine it is lengthy in light of this one radical instance.

The question we are answering is if it is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. We see the Hebrews were of much earthly good. Is this because they we were heavenly minded or not? The answer comes after the comma in verse 34.

Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

The only way the Hebrews were able to be of earthly good was because of their conviction of a better possession and an abiding one. The hope of the day to come was the source of strength to joyfully receive the plundering of their property.

The following chapter in Hebrews is a list of men and women who lived in the same sort of way, like Abraham who looked for a city designed and built by God. All of them were looking for the “something better” of verse 40.

My favorite possession used to be a framed Detroit Free Press front-page article from the day MSU won the national championship in 2000. Our star point guard Mateen Cleaves autographed the poster. It was an awesome piece of sports memorabilia. But over time the signature has faded. Now you can barely decipher what was once clearly there.

My prized possession is fading. So is my car, my house and best electronics. Why live in light of things that fade when I am assured of something better?

If the bad guys plunder my property, that’s ok. I, like the Hebrews, have something better coming. To be of earthly good will often require great sacrifice, perhaps even the plundering of property. Humanity cannot just will up this sort of sacrifice; it must be gripped by something better. We will only be able to lose our home if we know we have a better home coming. We can only loose our lives if we are convinced our best life is ahead of us.

I’m no scholar, but I do know this: sacrificial living is hard. Please don’t rob the saints of the precious promise of the glorious day to come. Because if you do so in the name of not being “too pie in the sky,” you will likely end up with a group who is of no earthly good.

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7 thoughts on “Is It Possible To Be Too Pie in the Sky?”

  1. Curt Day says:

    Besides Kevin’s poor taste in pizza, there is a problem. That problem is that this article has made all of the discussion about what happens to us Christians and our possessions; none of the discussion was about the injustices that are happening in the world. Yes, the sacrifice of the Hebrew Christians for imprisoned Christians is a source for inspiration and model to follow. But note the focus is still on us; it is not on others who suffer injustice. I believe the accusation Kevin is trying to follow is posed because of what we have not been willing to do for those outside the faith, not those inside.

    Another problem is that while Kevin has given an example for both inspiration and a model of behavior for sacrificial giving to people. What examples has he provided to move us to work for social justice. Here, we are talking about trying to change the status quo and the systems on which it is maintained. As Martin Luther King Jr said in his speech opposing the Vietnam War, true compassion includes more than providing immediate relief to those who suffer. it also includes efforts to change the status quo’s systems that produce so much poverty and injustice in the first place. Another way King put it says that true compassion includes more than just being a Good Samaritan, it also involves changing the Jericho Road so that people are not robbed in the first place.

    So how many fellow Christians did I see participating in Occupy Wall Street or other movements that protested injustice in the world? In all of my protesting with Occupy, I talked to one possible Christian who had attended Liberty University.

    We need to note that when talking about issues of social justice, sometimes we are required to protest what is happening to us because what happens to us will affect what will happen to others. So we find ourselves in the position of what was sung about in Ecclesiastes by the music group the Byrds. Perhaps there is a time to let possessions go because of our future in heaven and there is also a time to hold on to them for the sake of others.

    The reason why we are sometimes accused of being too heavenly minded to be earthly good is not because of what we are not willing to do for each other; it is becuae of what we have been unwilling to do for the world. So the answer to Kevin’s question of whether Christians are too pie in the sky cannot be answered by just looking at the sacrifices other Christians have made for each other as individuals, it includes what we have been willing to do to promote justice in the world. And that question can only be answered by each of us on an individual basis. The example of the Hebrews which Kevin provided is both a model and inspiration. But we should add to that the sacrifices nonChristians have made to promote justice in the world. Because if nonChristians are willing to make personal sacrifices to work for justice, what excuse do we have for not doing so?

  2. Curt Day says:

    BTW, sorry I overlooked that this article was written by a guest blogger. That was my fault

  3. Neville Briggs says:

    “Pie in the Sky ” and ” Too heavenly minded to be of earthly good ” are just common clichés that don’t mean anything really. These are the mind of the world, statements about the world’s approval..
    Why should we try to debate on the world’s terms as if the world sets the agenda.

    Doesn’t the Bible tell us to have the mind of Christ.
    We know what the mind of Christ is because He talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God, the day of resurrection, the creation of the redeemed new Heaven and the new Earth. These things carry all the way through the Bible from beginning to end.

    I am convinced that if we make ourselves acquainted with these things, we will have the best idea of how we are to behave wherever we are placed.

    Who cares if the world approves or not, don’t we live to the Lord. He sets the agenda.

  4. I think Neville’s point is valid ie having the mind of Christ is the key. If we have the mind of Christ we will care for the saints and also do good works in the community which God calls us to do. Christ told us the world hated him first, We are no different.

  5. Dean says:

    You could probably measure things politically as Curt has done with specific protests but that still seems not to acknowledge all the things that are administered in secret or done on the quieter side of things without all the pomp, ceremony & press. Secular society cares little for faith based teachings anyway as it follows its own agenda..a bit like Rome & Babylon. The impression I get at times is that some political movements want a kind of communism which has its own set of ideologically minded problems. Would we really be content if we all had equal amounts…even the rich with all their wealth never seem to be satisfied enough?

    It is possible for Christians to be too heavenly minded but its Jesus who puts our feet on the ground & our hearts in heaven. Christianity is often accused of this & that as it freely gives donations, time & effort to all manner of causes but the press dont seem that interested unless there is a scandal about.

    Even if humanity got a sort of Utopia going as it consumes & consumes, it can never compare to what God gives in Christ, richer or poorer, better or worse.

  6. Kristen says:

    “Is it possible to be too pie in the sky?” In a word, I say no. I love the example of the Hebrews. It is a good reminder of how we should live. As Christians, we are called to live with our minds set on the ultimate prize of Heaven and eternal life spent with Jesus, not to get caught up in the trappings of this temporary home. As stated, in our human weakness, we are selfish. Naturally, we would not do things for others unless it would benefit us. However, we have the heart to live selflessly (or try to) because of our conscience, ultimately given to us by the Holy Spirit. Because we know that this world is only temporary, we have no true reason to live selfishly. This world is not our goal. Again, in our imperfect humanity, we still find “reasons” not to give all of ourselves to others. However, I would argue that there would be no second-guessing or guilt for living selfishly if we didn’t have a better goal to look towards.

    The thought of scholars arguing against the Platonic idea interests me. I see where they are coming from because scripture does say something to the effect of us living in the present rather than just waiting on Heaven. However, I would argue that those scholars are not fully interpreting this idea. You see, the Hebrews way of life and this idea of living in the present are not conflicting. In fact, they are very complementary of each other. To live in the present, with the end goal in mind, is to actively live day-to-day like you are only here temporarily. God has us here temporarily because He needs to use us. He needs us to be His hands and feet. The only way for us to for us to embody Christ is to live selflessly, and the only way to live selflessly is to live with the end goal in mind.

  7. Jason says:

    Absolutely it’s possible to be too “pie in the sky”. Assuming that we’re operating on the definition of “pie in the sky” that means “to set one’s hopes on something that is unlikely to occur”. We live in a culture of worriers. We want to invent our way out of disease. We support any movement that promises to end social evils. We want to fix this world up until it’s comfortable to live in.

    Even the church gets wrapped up in it. In spite of the fact that the Bible promises that the time before Jesus’s return as great trouble and hope being found in the Kingdom to come, we take our hope out of the sure thing and put it in all sorts of schemes that are nothing if not “pie in the sky”. The minute we forget that this world is irreparably broken we’re there.

    There’s still value in doing the right thing. The goal is to exemplify the character of Christ, not to make this world a better place (though that is often a side-effect). Once we get into the business of thinking we’ll undo the curse of sin ourselves we’re well in the territory of blasphemy and have our heads way up in the clouds looking for pastries.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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