Heaven is not my Home: Gnosticism and Building 429

 

I do not really listen to “Christian music,” but my wife does. The other day, she was driving when I heard the following lyrics:

All I know is I’m not home yet.
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus.
This is not where I belong.

As far as music goes, I guess this is a pretty good “hook.” But the lyrics are pure heresy.

I know nothing about this song or the group that sang it. So I am not trying to pick on them. For the record, I do not think they or their fans are going to hell. I just think they are giving voice to a popular misconception that has somehow worked its way into the Christian faith.

The heresy at work here is called gnosticism. Gnostics were a pretty diverse group, but they had a couple of characteristics in common. They thought the soul was more important than the body, that the material world “blocked” the spirit, and that death offered an escape from matter to a new, higher plane of being.

That’s pretty much what I hear in the lyrics by Building 429: When life gets you down, just remember that this world is not your home.

But according to the Bible, this world is exactly where you belong.

The Bible places humanity in an intimate relationship with this world. Adam and Eve were not created out of puffy white clouds. We are walking clay, quickened dust. God has breathed life into dirt, and so dirt is good. Fallen? Yes. But still good.

The Fall of the world does not mean the world is lost. That is why Paul wrote that even “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:28). Building 429 suggests that we are liberated from the world when, in fact, we are liberated with it!

That is why God renews the earth. In the last part of the Bible, the book called Revelation, John hears the voice of the triumphant Christ declare, after the final victory of good over evil, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). As I’ve heard the Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann say more than once, Christ does not declare, “I make all new things.” The lyrics of Building 429 suggest this world is not worth saving. God seems to think otherwise.

John “the Revelator” continues, “And he [the angel] carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God…” (Rev. 21:10). The Bible does not depict our final salvation as a flight from earth to a spiritual realm called “heaven.” Rather, “heaven” comes to earth.

If this world is not where you think you belong, then eternity is really going to suck!

Maybe I am overreacting. Maybe Building 429 means that this fallen world is not where we belong, but I doubt it. One reason the Left Behind series was so popular earlier this century is that many evangelicals are functionally gnostic. They hope for Rapture because, for them, salvation is getting the hell out of here.

I hope I am wrong about Building 429, because there is a lot at stake in how we think about this world and our place in it. If we do not think this world is where we belong, then this world is not worth saving. Relatedly, if we think salvation is basically escape, then we end up with an anorexic view of the Christian life, one that reduces sacraments to mere “symbols,” prayer to pop psychology, and worship to emotional exuberance.

God could have chosen to make Adam and Eve disembodied souls floating somewhere among the stars. If the stars are where we think we belong, if we think our souls are the only thing worth saving, then at best we can only be concerned with getting half-saved.

This world is not your home? I don’t think so! It is exactly where you belong. It is where God has chosen to place you. It is where you will spend eternity. So get used to it!

25 Comments

  1. David J Dunn November 18, 2013 1:44 pm  Reply

    Jürgen Moltmann points out that Revelations 21:5 says, "Behold, I make all things new," not "Behold, I make all new things." Of course, I am Eastern Orthodox. So I am inclined to see this world as beautiful in its fallenness, not a place of sin and degradation. This world has never ceased to be "good." The fall did not change that. If the world were no longer good, then we would cease to exist.

  2. Jerry Roethler November 16, 2013 6:24 pm  Reply

    I agree with Valerie. Revelations is pretty straight forward that this world is going to be burned and a new earth will take it's place. I am ONLY visiting this planet and convincing fellow travelers to take the road to Jesus and not another that leads to destruction…..

  3. Valerie Valerie July 2, 2013 12:00 pm  Reply

    I don't have a problem with the song as it is using the wording of scripture to gather it's meaning of the world. It is not referring to the round ball of dirt encircling the sun, but the world system.

    The Bible uses "world" (cosmos) as man's system—of government, economics, religion, education, culture, etc.—established apart from the Creator God.

    I think that the song is referring to our Heavenly Kingdom, the one that our spirits should be yearning for, our souls are destined for, and into which our hearts and minds should be being conformed. This kingdom will physically also become a physical reality when we either die or are carried away, and finally, permanently, when the Lord actually physically comes to rule here on the earth.

    The kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
    We are IN this world, but not OF this world.

  4. Joe Iverson May 4, 2013 3:56 pm  Reply

    Thank you for your post. When I heard this song, at first as you mentions, it has a good hook, and it sounds pretty good. I liked the song. Then I actually started paying attention to the lyrics…oh, crap, I can't buy this song, the theology is just too terrible.

  5. Joe Iverson May 4, 2013 3:56 pm  Reply

    Thank you for your post. When I heard this song, at first as you mentions, it has a good hook, and it sounds pretty good. I liked the song. Then I actually started paying attention to the lyrics…oh, crap, I can't buy this song, the theology is just too terrible.

  6. Lisa truitt February 18, 2013 7:57 am  Reply

    People are way too loose with the word heretic or heretical. It has become a convenient attack word to throw at those dont share your view or your churches supposed orthodox view. In reality almost everyone can be called a heretic, because convoluted, confusing nonsensical beliefs such as the trinity are so convuluted and confusing that even.people who say they believe it will each tell you something different when asked for a definition. Many of those definitions given would actually be considered heresies, even though they affirm a belief in the trinity. And to make it even more confusing what is considered orthodoxy regarding this doctrine has changed tjrough the ages and different varients exist today.

    I think you are reading too much into this song. I dont think there is any gnostcism in it at all. Hebrews speaks about how Abraham saw himself as a pilgrim, not of this world, and looked for city in the future whose builder and maker was God. The song is about how this world and time is temporal and will pass away, and as christians we are to be focused on that which is eternal, which is Christ and our life with him in the eternal kingdom. We are to be eager for this to happen, for Christs appearing and to enter into his kingdom, and this song appears to me to be nothing more than an expression of that sentiment.

    • davidjdunn February 18, 2013 7:41 pm  Reply

      I could have read into it, I suppose. What I did not say when I had posted it originally was that I was also partly inspired by a friend’s post which basically said, “I cannot wait to leave this earth and be in heaven with Jesus forever.” The bible is very clear that we are not human without bodies. At minimum this song accidentally encourages a gnostic attitude among Christians.

      As far as orthodoxy and heresy go, the Protestant reformation led to some novel accusations, and in some cases there was not agreement about the bounds orthodoxy, but it is not as if at one moment it was okay to say Christ was fully God and and another moment to say he was a robot. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed has long been understood to set the minimum bounds of orthodox dogma. About this, there has agreement among pretty much all Christians for at least 1700 to 1300 years, depending on what part of Europe you were in.

  7. flappingdinglehatch February 12, 2013 8:59 pm  Reply

    the problem with those saying that the author should have simply gone to the source and asked is that not every person listening to this song has the time, nor the ability to go straight to the source.

    if there intent of the song is worship, edification of the church, or sharing the gospel, these lyrics dont really support any of the three all too well. perhaps the intent was pure, but the final product misses the mark.

  8. Tina Parker February 12, 2013 11:15 am  Reply

    “Maybe I am overreacting. Maybe Building 429 means that this fallen world is not where we belong, but I doubt it.”
    I do think you’re overreacting, and making a HUGE assumption without asking the source. Examining the song is fine, but be careful when sharing judgement without having all the facts. Personally I DO believe they are referring to “this fallen world.”
    Instead of bashing these guys in a blog post, why don’t you write the band a public letter asking them of their intent? State your concerns and see what they have to say? Starting a constructive conversation (instead of bashing) seems like a better blog post to me. Build each other up, not tear others down. Christian music does need to be held to a high lyrical standard theologically. Use your knowledge to be part of the solution.

    • davidjdunn February 12, 2013 11:38 am  Reply

      Thanks for your thoughts, Tina. I think few artists expect their songs to be embraced by all. Most welcome sober criticism. I think the charge of “bashing” can only be sustained by a highly uncharitable reading of my critique. The fact is that there is pervasive gnosticism in the church, and I felt obligated to point out that, at minimum, their song contributes to it. To that end, their intent is largely irrelevant.

      Naturally, I would welcome a dialogue with Building 429 on their song, but I am pretty sure I am not important enough to be on their radar.

  9. Margie February 11, 2013 1:07 pm  Reply

    I listen to Christian radio and I have to say the idea of this song has always brought to mind the old hymn “This world is not my home” which probably has supported this idea as the first verse is very telling: “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.
    My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
    The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
    And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore…”

    That said, I understand what you’re saying about being made of clay and placed here on this earth by a Good God who Loves Mankind, as the Orthodox Christian Church teaches. I haven’t really worked out the logistics of it all.

    I do appreciate your pointing out an aspect of much modern Christian thought, that to die a Christian is to “escape”. Jesus did say “lay up for yourselves treasure that moth and rust cannot destroy” and that seems to indicate something “other worldly” but maybe it’s just “perfect as God created it to be worldly”.
    God bless your efforts!

  10. bjp October 25, 2012 2:05 pm  Reply

    Thank you for posting this, David. I don’t know what the intent of Building 429 was in writing this song but the words they chose are just plain horrible. Some comments here suggest that we really don’t belong “to” this world and that this isn’t our ultimate “home”. I wouldn’t argue with either sentiment. We do have a “new” (renewed) home that is being prepared for us. The problem is with the English language. The song doesn’t say anything about not belonging “to” the world, it says “this is not WHERE I belong”. If you check the dictionary you will find that if something is “where” it belongs it has been placed in the correct “location”. If it is *not* “where” it belongs then it has been placed in the wrong spot. So I ask everyone defending this song, who placed you where you are? Did God place you in the wrong spot? I don’t think you can find any Biblical support for such a notion. We are exactly “where” we belong and God absolutely demands that we do something useful with our time right “where” we are (see the parable of the talents) no matter if the task is difficult. In fact he tells us over and over that the task WILL be difficult and we can EXPECT to be hated, etc. I also hate the lyrics “take this world and give me Jesus”. Whom exactly are we asking to “take this world”? The devil? Some would argue these lyrics are like Fernando Ortega when he writes “you can have all this world, but give me Jesus”. Once again the problem is with the English language. If I yell at you “take this apple and give me a peach” would you not immediately assume I want nothing to do with the “apple” and all I care about is getting a “peach”? If I say to you “you can have my apples but give peaches” would you not assume I probably care about apples, but peaches are much more important to me? This song says “I don’t care anything about this world and what happens to it, I’m just tolerating my time here until I can get to heaven. That’s so very anti-Christian I can’t believe they keep playing this song on Christian radio.

  11. Toni Álvarez September 23, 2012 2:34 pm  Reply

    Hello David,

    On the whole I would agree with you in your critique of songs of this kind. Even some earlier American hymnody shows some gnostic leanings. For example the second verse of the 18th cetury American hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:
    Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
    Till released from flesh and sin,
    Yet from what I do inherit,
    Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
    Here I raise my Ebenezer;
    Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
    And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
    Safely to arrive at home.
    Or I’ll Fly Away from the early 20th Century.
    And I would also like to say with you that that heaven is not our home. But as has been mentioned above there is biblical theme of sojourning. And that theme is picked up by the Fathers and others. So how do you understand the biblical language such as that of Hebrews 11:16?

  12. Robert Smith August 13, 2012 4:38 am  Reply

    My friend you need to John 17:14-17 John 14:1-6 John 15:18-19 These verses tell us that this world is not our home. Also that there is a rapture. And that heaven is real.

    God Bless you.

    • Robert Smith August 13, 2012 4:41 am  Reply

      That is not to say we should not care or be involved in things. And it does not condone suicide either. Suicide is a sin. It is self “murder”.

    • davidjdunn August 14, 2012 1:08 am  Reply

      My friend, you need to read Rev. 21:1-3, and pay closer attention to the prepositions.

  13. Sarabhealed July 30, 2012 9:16 pm  Reply

    Thank you for your insightful commentary. I had a similar reaction to the song–obviously catchy and can stick in your head-but the theology is terrible! This escapist theology is why so many evangelical Christians don’t care about global warming or environmental causes. Think about what these words might mean to a depressed teenager contemplating suicide. Our VBS leader was teaching preschool and elementary school kids this having them shout “This is not where I belong.” Very disturbing.

  14. Taylor July 25, 2012 6:17 pm  Reply

    This isn’t our “home”…. Heaven is my home and can’t wait to go someday! Right now Iam trying to live a Christian life and helps others learn about Jesus Christ and what he did for us.

  15. Wilson July 19, 2012 3:14 pm  Reply

    As per ur comment u seem to be highly conversant with the bible but i thnk you are interprating it to favour ur own thoughts n more so excluding scriptures that may help you,,If what ur sayn is true did jesus say that he was goin 2 prepare a place 4 us He then prophesied of His second coming,,,,,,wach out,,,ur very same words will b used 2 judge u,,,b blessed

  16. Kevin May 13, 2012 8:54 pm  Reply

    I think you are very confused. The song is an encouragement for most christians who see how evil and corrupt the world had become and how much worse it will inevitably become. It reminds us that one day we will be reunited with Christ. That we are not to embrace the world but embrace Jesus. That we font belong to the world but to our Savior. God bless.

    • Matt June 23, 2012 3:41 am  Reply

      It’s an interesting thought that you put forward but I see it as incomplete and I don’t think the lyrics mentioned are gnostic in the sense you suggest. The apostle says in Hebrews 11:16 that the folk mentioned in the hall of faith in particular Abraham were looking for a heavenly country. This is a better place than what we have now. So whatever you’re interpretation of that is this world is not our home. The one to come is. Thanks for tackling this issue.

      • Arifah West February 8, 2013 3:21 pm  Reply

        I do not think building 429 means this is earth is not the place to be. God created the earth for us to live and have dominion over. when sin came in all things changed. Now we struggle with of this evil and sin of this world. The followers of Jesus Christ will be with him John 14:1-7, 17. When we die we all go some where, we do not stay here on this earth…..we are spiritual beings…God blew his spirt in us a gave us life……II Corinthians 4:12-18…I know when it is all said and done…well will not be living on this earth full of sin even if God has to create a new one….No one knows tha plans of God but God…We can assume, try and figure out his plan but we will never get it until he tells us….Oh!, and the best way to figure out what Building 429 is saying is to ask them…..Never assume…ask the source!

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