In a moment of piety this morning (don’t worry, didn’t last long), I read this from Martin Luther in a 1535 sermon on Romans 8:17:
And now he (St. Paul) begins to comfort Christians in such sufferings, and he speaks as a man who has been tried and has become quite certain. And he speaks as though he can see this life only dimly, or through coloured glass, while he sees the other life with clear eyes.
Notice how he turns his back to the world and his eyes toward the revelation which is to come, as though he could perceive no sorrow or affliction anywhere on earth, but only joy. Indeed, he says, when we do have to suffer evil, what is our suffering in comparison with the unspeakable joy and glory which shall be made manifest in us? It is not worthy to be compared with such joy nor even to be called suffering. The only difficulty is that we cannot see with our eyes and touch with our hands that great and exquisite glory for which we must wait, namely, that we shall not die for evermore neither shall we hunger nor thirst, and over and above shall be given a body which cannot ever suffer or sicken, etc. Whoever could grasp the meaning of this in his heart, would be compelled to say: even if I should be burnt or drowned ten times (if that were possible), that would be nothing in comparison with the glory of the life hereafter. For what is this temporal life, however long it may last, in comparison with the life eternal? It is not worthy to be called suffering or though of as a merit.
This is a perspective on this world and the world to come that seldom surfaces among the transformationalists (from Kuyper to Keller). It is supposedly too pessimistic about this world, and overestimates the differences between temporal and eternal existence. But at the same time, it is hard to deny that Luther has missed a large streak of Pauline teaching and outlook. So even if the transformers can dismiss such otherworldliness as Lutheran (as opposed to Calvinism as perpetual change machine), how do they get around Paul? And if they try to get around Paul, how is their effort different from the way that liberal Protestants tried to separate the kernel from the husk of Scripture?
As troubling as these questions may be, I do understand how Luther’s outlook on the temporal world and a Christian’s experience of it would force the revision of countless Christian school mission statements and tempt believers not to look to New York City as the new Jerusalem.