One of the greatest obstacles to overcome when addressing the American culture is the approach that the evangelical church has to amassing her converts. We think that everyone wants the same thing that we want. But perhaps they don’t. Mark Twain picked up on this discrepancy between what the witness wants and what the target wants and recorded it in his boys’ novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Miss Watson would say, “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry;” and “Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry -­ set up straight;” and pretty soon she would say, “Don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry -­ why don’t you try to behave?” Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn’t do no good.

Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.

It seems that Huck didn’t have a full understanding of the concepts of Heaven and Hell, but neither did Miss Watson have a cultural understanding of her pupil. Sadly, we seem to miss the point of culture still today. Just to assume that someone wants to go to Heaven when they die is a misconception. Some people are positive that there is no Heaven and there is no Hell.

If my premise is that salvation is all about getting to Heaven, then my premise is flawed as well. Look at much of the music popular in the church today—you know, that Southern Gospel variety. Here we find songs like “Carried Away” which says, “I’m gonna let the glory roll when the roll is called in Glory,” and “Heavenbound” to name a couple. We probe our friends’ readiness to accept the message of Jesus by asking, “If you were to die tonight and stand before God in heaven, and He asked you, ‘why should I let you into my heaven?’ what do you think you would say?” Our entire focus is on heaven.

I recall a youth minister who was fond of saying (because we as Baptists immerse baptism candidates), “If heaven is all there is to salvation, then the preacher should hold you under when he baptizes you.” The point he wanted to make: there must be more than just an end game involved here.

When I think about all of these things, I come to the conclusion that not only is heaven (or a trip there) not the basic point of salvation but neither should we make it so. Heaven, as wonderful as it is or will be, when seen as the point of salvation is the selfish side of salvation, if any side at all. It becomes the carrot with which we tantalize those who are not of us.

The point of salvation, as I understand it is to draw me into a relationship with the Creator, and so that I can give Him all of who I am—including the glory for who He is. In determining that, I should begin to build relationships with people where they are so that I can glorify God in their presence. In so doing, perhaps they will become a part of Christ’s kingdom for the express purpose of building a relationship with the Creator and giving themselves to Him in the process.

That said, I must then begin to develop relationships outside the church that invite rather than alienate. To do that, I must know the culture outside my own church culture and live my life accordingly.