Christians who desire to change or transform the world too often fall into an anthropocentric outlook in which they see themselves as central and as the main actors of social change.
Change is possible, evil can be pushed back, and the quality of life improved.
Yet, complete, lasting and sustainable social transformation on this side of eternity will never be a reality because we live in the in-between times where evil and the Kingdom of God co-exist in this world.
Jesus described it as the wheat and tares growing side by side till the end of time (Matthew 13:2-30).
It is disconcerting to see a new generation of Christians naively believe that this world can be transformed on this side of eternity, as it shows a lack of understanding of the concept of sin and how insidious, corrosive and destructive evil is.
They are unaware of the frustrations and disillusionment that are involved and do not know how to address the issues of sin embedded in society or how to confront evil without it destroying them in turn.
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr writes about the flawed nature of individuals and society, which prevent transformation from happening.
However much human ingenuity may increase the treasures that nature provides for the satisfaction of human needs, they can never be sufficient to satisfy all human wants; for man, unlike other creatures, is gifted and cursed with an imagination that extends his appetites beyond the requirement of subsistence.
Human society will never escape the problem of the equitable distribution of the physical and cultural good, which provides for the preservation and fulfillment of human life.
There is a major difference between believing that one can transform the world and being a partner with God in the transformation that he is bringing about.
Ron Sider provides perspective and identifies what the true motivation should be when he stated, “Working for peace and justice is not based on naive thinking that there will be transformation – but with an understanding of where history is going.”
God is in the process of establishing his authority in a rebellious world, and one day he will reign here on earth in glory.
Theologian N.T. Wright roots the transformation that God is bringing about in the twin doctrines of creation and judgment.
It is striking how the earliest Christians, like mainstream rabbis of the period, clung to the twin doctrines of creation and judgment: God made the world and made it good, and one day he will come and sort it all out.
Take away the goodness of creation, and you have a judgment where the world is thrown away as so much garbage, leaving us sitting on a disembodied cloud playing disembodied harps.
Take away judgment, and you have this world rumbling on with no hope except the pantheist one of endless cycles of being and history.
Put creation and judgment together, and you get new heavens and new earth, created not ex nihilo but ex vetere, not “out of nothing” but “out of the old one,” the existing one.
It is reassuring that amid a flawed human race and decaying creation, God has not forgotten the goodness of what he had created.
He is dealing with evil and will one day complete the new creation (“ex vetere”) that he has inaugurated with the resurrection of Christ. He calls us to partner with him in his work.
I yearn for the day when “a crescendo of voices in heaven [will sing] out, the kingdom of the world is now the Kingdom of our God and his Messiah! He will rule forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15).
As we co-labor with God in the transformation that he is bringing about, may our prayer be what Jesus taught us: “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. … For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
This is the only way transformation can actually happen.
Rupen Das is research professor at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto and the national director of the Canadian Bible Society. He is author of several books, including “Compassion and the Mission of God.” A version of this article first appeared on his blog. It is used with permission.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. Part one is available here.