Forty-seven years ago John Lennon released the single “Imagine,” one of the most-performed songs of the twentieth century. The lyrics consist of a (naïve) dream of how wonderful a totally secular world could be:
“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace …”
Of course, anyone with even the slightest historical background knows that removing religion from the equation of human life and relationships doesn’t guarantee anything good, and instead can turn things bad in a hurry.
But the Christian alternative dreams propagated by popular authors have all too often been far too weak to capture anyone’s imagination. Enter Rosaria Butterfield and her outstanding new book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018). At the end she pens her own “Imagine” (my favorite “verse” is “Imagine a world where neighbors said that Christians throw the best parties in town and are the go-to people for big problems and issues, without being invited”):
“Imagine a world where every Christian practiced radically ordinary hospitality as either host or guest.
“Imagine a world where every Christian made a covenant of church membership and honored it.
“Imagine a world where every Christian tithed, and where we lived intentionally below our means, having enough to share and moving into neighborhoods that need us more often than we need them.
“Imagine a world where living as image bearers of a holy God meant something, something that changed the way we saw ourselves and others.
“Imagine a world where neighbors said that Christians throw the best parties in town and are the go-to people for big problems and issues, without being invited.
“Imagine if the children in the neighborhood knew that the Christians were safe people to ask for help when unthinkable agony canvassed their private or family lives.
“Imagine a world where men lived as men of God and women lived as women of God, and children – including those not yet born – were valued as children of God. One where gender and sexuality roles were known to be blessings to others, even when they required great sacrifice. One where being born male or female comes with distinct blessings and constraints, and where our roles as men and women were valued as high and distinctive callings.
“Imagine a world where every Christian knew his neighbors sufficiently to be of earthly and spiritual good.
“Imagine a world where every Christian knew by name people who lived in poverty or prison, felt tied to them and to their futures, and lived differently because of it.
“Imagine a world where sexuality was safe within the confines of biblical boundaries and was not unleashed in rape, incest, pornography, and self-harm …
“Imagine a world where people take back the night in prayer.
“Imagine a world where you know the names of your neighbors, and you play cards with them and eat meals together, praying for the children in the neighborhood and lending a helping hand before you are asked.
“Imagine a world where no one languishes in crushing loneliness, where no abused woman or man or child suffers alone, where people take their real and pressing problems to Christians who have the reputation of being helpers, and where victims are not swept away, lost, forgotten.
“Imagine a world where people fear God more than men and serve God more than comfort.
“Imagine a world where the power of the gospel to change lives is ours to behold.
“This is the world that the Bible imagines for us. That is the world that Jesus prays for us to create in his name. Not because any of this – tithing, church membership, hospitality, advocating for victims – is heaven on earth. It is not. Rather, we do these things so that we can prepare, arm in arm, for what is coming next, for the return of Christ, for our inheritance in the new heavens and the new earth, so that we can warn our neighbors of the real judgment to come, so that we can honor our God and King.”
Amen. May it be so.