In a sermon on “Cultural Renewal,” Dr. Tim Keller explains his understanding of the purpose of salvation. You can listen to the whole sermon here.
I’m trying to overcome a typical, wrong, unbiblical attitude on the part of Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, toward this material world. There’s a tendency for many Christians to think of this material world – the world we’re in now – as a temporary theater for getting saved so that some day you can escape this material world and live happily in heaven forever.
An awful lot of Christians say, ‘this world is going to die, it’s going to burn up, and while we’re here basically the only thing that’s important is to get people saved, and if they get saved eventually they’ll be able to leave this world.’ So it’s a temporary theater for salvation.
Instead, let’s start at the end. At the end of time when we actually see what the triune God has been doing in creation and redemption through Jesus Christ, when we get to the very end of the Bible we see not human beings individually rising out of the material world and going to heaven forever. Instead we see heaven, the power of God, coming down and renewing this material world. That the whole purpose of everything God is doing in redemption is to create a material world that’s clean, that’s right, that’s pure. A material world in which there’s no disease and there’s no death and no injustice, there’s no unraveling, there’s no decay. The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world.
Jews and Christians believe that this material world is permanent – it’s a good thing in itself. That an eagle’s flying and great music and the ocean pounding on the shore and a great cup of wine are good things in themselves, because God is not temporarily ‘God is here so someday we’re going to live in heaven’ but the whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place.
God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation.
Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal. Does the Christian church understand that? I’m not sure.