The “New Creation Now” fallacy holds the we can create “heaven on earth” while disregarding the reality that the New Creation can not be fully realized until Christ's return.
It is very common for economic critics to look at any number of issues that concern them (ex. income distribution, pollution, corporate abuse), compare them to the biblical narrative and teaching, and then declare the system in which these injustices have occurred unjust. On the surface it sounds quite convincing. Yet, simple reflection on eschatology will tell us that every system this side of Christ consummating the New Creation will have injustice within it. Therefore, while we have the New Creation as our ultimate standard, our mission is to discern what societal arrangement creates the greatest justice relative to other options this side of Christ’s culminating work in history.
Related to this problem is the tendency blame the system for decisions of people within the system. The unstated presumption seems to be that there should be a system out there that results in no injustice. Yet the entire narrative of scripture is one of God lovingly tolerating humanity’s rebellion that they may have the opportunity to respond to him in love. We are given freedom so that we may have the opportunity to choose God. Some do not. Is God an unjust God because he did not place in a system that always results in justice? The only system that achieves such results is one where human beings are automatons or where they have been transformed in the New Creation into beings who flawlessly choose God. Human freedom this side of the New Creation means injustice is a fact of life. To fault an economic system because it does not result in perfect justice is pointless. Again, we must ask which system is most just relative other pre-New Creation possibilities. Mercy, compassion, and benevolence must then supplement justice.
We live in the tension of the Kingdom of God “already, but not yet.” The Kingdom of God is among us. We are new creatures in Christ. But the Kingdom of God is not as it will be, nor are we all that we will be, when Christ makes all things new.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:22-25, NRSV)
God has placed us in a tension that we usually try to escape by gravitating toward one end or the other of a polarity. One pole has us becoming so acclimated to the present order of things that we loose any eschatological vision. With the unprecedented destruction and upheaval of the 20th Century, many Christians have adopted a pessimistic eschatological vision of the world that diminishes interest in seeking the redemption of the world order in favor of simply “saving souls” from the sinking societal Titanic. Proleptic living is reduced to evangelistic messages.
The other pole has us believing that we can usher in the New Creation (or nearly so) through pietism and reformation zeal. The pietistic response usually expresses itself in terms of separatism in order to draw the world to a new way of living. The reformation response tends to lean toward idealistic reworking of societal systems to bring them into accord with some grand new vision for ordering life. The reformers are often willing to using the coercive power of the state to compel compliance to their vision of righteous living.
Either pole of this tension can lead to horrible consequences. The acclimation approach can lead to resistance (even violent resistance) to change when God calls us into new realities. But idealism unchecked by a rigorous evaluation in light of historical insights and realistic pre-New Creation alternatives spirals off into dangerous utopianism. Idealists are right to challenge the tendency toward complacency but it is my experience that far too many idealists use resistance to the alleged complacency of their opponents as a diversion from their own lack of rigorous engagement with economic complexities. Frequently an overly pious attitude about their prophetic witness often leads them into the kind of error I described with the Piety fallacy. It sometimes makes things worse than if nothing had been done at all. Liberation theology has sometimes led to this extreme and there is a dangerous seduction toward totalitarian visions.
It is my understanding of scripture that over the ages until Christ returns we should expect to see and expansion of the Kingdom of God in the world. It will come in ebbs and flows but the expansion will have a redeeming impact on the social systems of the world. It will not be the world of the consummated New Creation. The wheat and tares grow up together. The yeast leavens the dough. Creation groans as a woman in labor awaiting the new birth.
I’ve had this discussion enough times to anticipate the dual negative response to what I’ve written. Some will be critical that I have distracted us from “saving souls” and say I’m overly optimistic about the possibility for greater expressions of shalom in this “already, not yet” time. Others will say that I’m watering down the radical message of Jesus and preventing the full expression of the Kingdom of God. I say I’m fully embracing the tension of living in the “already, not yet,” and that forces me to walk humbly with God seeking discernment, steering the way between accommodation and utopianism.
Economic analysis devoid of the transforming narrative and teaching of scripture will lead to co-option by the spirit of the age. Economic analysis devoid of anthropology and of an appreciation for the collective wisdom of past human experience will lead to dangerous utopian schemes. Discernment and prudence are important virtues in assessing economic questions.