Two opinions vie for our attention in current Christian thinking regarding the legitimacy of social involvement and kingdom demonstration this side of heaven.[1] The escapist view proposes that gospel proclamation is the church’s singular duty and no more. Concern for this world is a distraction. Heaven, and heaven alone, is the Christian’s calling and sole domain. The Christian’s citizenship is one-dimensional (Phil. 3:20; cf. Acts 21:39; 22:28). Christ’s lordship is delayed until the millennium or the eternal state.[2] The Christian life is primarily individualistic and other-worldly, therefore there is no consideration of joining with other Christians to battle the effects of evil in this world as it relates to society. The Christian’s task is to remove himself from the world. There is no possibility of societal change since there can be no corporate response to the programs put forth by “inventors of evil” (Rom. 1:30). This view believes in God, but not in history. The decline of the church into apostasy is inevitable and unrecoverable.

The pilgrim view holds that gospel proclamation is the biblical priority, but there are further societal obligations which enhance gospel proclamation. Heaven is the Christian’s inevitable home, but during the time that God has determined that we remain on earth, we are called to faithful service.[3] The Christian has a dual citizenship (Acts 21:39; 22:28; cf. Phil. 3:20). Christ’s lordship is a present reality and will one day be consummated by His ultimate and comprehensive victory over all His enemies. While salvation by grace through faith is an individual act by God on sinners, there is corporate solidarity in what the Bible calls “the body of Christ.” The corporate nature of the church is an effective weapon against “the schemes of the devil” (2 Cor. 2:11). The pilgrim view espouses a belief in both God and history. The failure of the forces of evil are inevitable (2 Tim. 3:7–9).

Which view is correct? It is clear that the second position, the pilgrim way, is the biblical position. While we are admonished to “flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18), nowhere are we told to flee the world.

Although we must be strangers in the modern world, we cannot be self-isolated hermits. The people of God have always been strangers and exiles, seeking a city built by him (Hebrews 11:13–16), even the Jews in the Promised Land and the Christians in the “Christian” Roman Empire. But it is in this world that we are exiles, and through it that we must make our intellectual as well as our physical pilgrimage. We cannot reject it in toto, and we must not accept it or succumb to it. In short, we must heed the words of St. Paul, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). He lived in the world of imperial, pagan Rome. He could not flee it, and remain obedient to his Lord, who had commissioned him Apostle to the Gentiles.[4]

It is true that pagan Rome eventually killed Paul the pilgrim and stranger. But biblical revelation knows of no inevitable transfer of godly construction to ungodly dominion. The kingdom of God was not obliterated by Rome with the death of countless martyrs. In the end, Rome gained nothing with the death of Paul, except ruin. The church gained everything. If we wish to follow the Bible’s command, “our world may eventually kill us.

We all have to answer the important question: on whose side will you live? But we must also be prepared to answer the other one: on whose side will you die? On Nero’s? Or Paul’s?”[5] Living is the issue. Escapism of whatever kind (monasticism, pietism, or rapturism) is not the answer. Sides must be chosen and lived out in this world. There is no neutrality. There is no escape.

God takes account of how we live for Him in the here and now. Today counts forever. If the early Christians had only been concerned about heaven, then there would have been little need for Rome to deal with Christians like Paul. But the early church believed in God and history, heaven and earth, this age and the age to come. This is why Paul and his followers were considered a threat. If he had only been “other worldly” where the only legitimate sphere of Christian activity was heaven, then Rome would have dismissed him and others like him as religious mystics. But the gospel Paul preached forced men and women to choose sides, and the choice of sides had an effect on the world in which they lived.


[1] Naturalism, with its attendants Humanism, Materialism, and Darwinism, would be a third view. For the Naturalist, “nature is the whole show.” Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: Christian Faith and its Confrontation with American Society (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, [1983] 1993), 41, 141. [2] “Many dispensationalists, of course, do not hesitate to map out a divine cosmic program, but this program has little place for human activity (except for the activity of sinners), and is discontinuous with space-time history.” Howard A. Snyder, The Community of the King (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 195, note 21. [3] “Modern man has largely defected from the divine cultural‑mandate and the spiritual‑moral loyalties within which he is to exert his dominion over nature.” Carl F. H. Henry, A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971), 114. [4] Harold O. J. Brown, The Protest of a Troubled Protestant (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1969), 217. [5] Brown, The Protest of a Troubled Protestant, 217–218.