I was just rereading Todd Hiestand’s post that asks, “How Does the Church Engage the World? Build an Ark?” He critiques an old song by the Gaither Vocal Band called “Build an Ark,” the lyrics of which talk about bundling your family and friends into an ark where they’ll be safe from the world around them, with its villains and “killin’s.” Like Noah… “safe from the world around us.” Hoo-boy. You can just imaging what Todd said (or better still, go read it) and what I think… pretty much agreeing with Todd (except I think he means the Essenes, not the “Essences”).
It reminded me of an article I’d read a short while back by Rich Nathan, “Lifeboat Theology vs. Ark Theology.” I remember grokking the piece just by the title. He calls D.L. Moody’s lifeboat theology “both a blessing and a great curse for contemporary evangelicalism.” He observes that the ark saved not only people, but other creatures as well. After the flood, the covenant signified by the rainbow is with all living things. “Ark Theology,” he says, is that “God intends to restore all of creation, every realm, every creature, every part.” Contrasting the two, he summarizes, “Lifeboat Theology: Jesus wants to be Lord of your life.” and “Ark Theology: Jesus is Lord over the universe.”
Now, as for the photo above, it turns out some guy in the Netherlands has actually gone ahead and built a real ark. I mean, he had a dream that the Netherlands was going to be flooded, so he woke up, looked at the biblical account, and began building an ark. Uh, yeah. So why didn’t Jesus build an ark to isolate himself from the “villains and killin’s” and the rest of the evil ol’ world? Possibly because they threw better parties, but more likely because it was because he didn’t come for the sake of the ark-inhabiting in the first place, but for those who still needed an ark. Okay, that sounded lame — let’s drop the metaphor.
It turns out that the “lifeboat theology” — or the Gaither’s interpretation of an ark — is only a small part of the gospel, the hell-avoidin’ non-drownin’ people part. But the gospel, it seems, is much grander than that, and doesn’t stop with me/us. I have this strange image of Bibles being used as flotation devices… which makes sense for those who like to put stuff into the Bible rather than getting stuff out of it… in this case, inputting a lot of hot air. But I digress. The reality is more like the shack at the end of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, where in The Last Battle, the shack is so much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside… outside it appears to be a normal, small building but inside it’s a vast, spacious, and airy place. One of my Bible college prof’s used to like using this metaphor, saying that over the door to the house of salvation hangs a sign saying, “Whosoever will may come.” When you enter and close the door behind you, you see over it a sign on the inside saying, “Chosen before the foundation of the world.”
C.T. Studd famously said, “Some want to live within the sound of a church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of Hell.” Perhaps this sounds like Moody’s lifeboat theology, snatching up the drowning at the last possible moment, but at least he’s situated in the right spot. Nobody drowns on an ark, so if your goal is to shut yourself up and close yourself off inside it, you’ll be safe — but there’s no opportunity to see the drowning. But if the goal of the ark is for the preservation of those hauled into a lifeboat so that they can man a lifeboat of their own, well, that’s a whole ‘nuther thing.
Perhaps, like Moody, we’re called to man a lifeboat… but we must be cognizant that this is only a small part of the story, and we must be willing to put our boat in peril for the sake of those who are drowning. Hang on, I said I was dropping the metaphor. It just keeps creeping back in.
So we’re supposed to be out in the world, engaging with the culture around us, meeting people and getting dirty — not isolating ourselves from the people for fear of their dirt. The ark is not to protect us from the world, but to preserve a remnant of the world from destruction. Look again at the Genesis story, and you’ll find that it was God who, at the appropriate time, shut up the doors to the ark. Not Noah. Not us. Premature ark-sealing just leaves those who should be aboard with us up a creek without an ark.