‘Civilizing Hell’? - Kingdom Mission in Chaos Culture


‘Civilizing Hell’?  - Kingdom Mission in Chaos Culture

From where I’m standing, there seems two emerging ‘bookends’ that are more prominently manifesting (eschatologically speaking) in the body of Christ in this season. These let’s call them missional stands are happening in this some-what unique time in world history – post-Chistian, and consequentially, post-truth Western-culture.

The two ends that I’m going to identify and language I will use are not unique to me, but have been in play over the last, arguably, 60 - 70 years, but appeared, again in my perspective, to have solidified in the last half-dozen years. 

One I’ll call the ‘White Knuckle Brigade’ (a term I first heard used about 30 years ago). This label was used somewhat pejoratively to describe what has in some ecclesial circles been commonly called Remnant Theology. 

A synoptic, but not unfair evaluation is that this demographic believe the ‘great falling away’ that the Apostle Paul spoke of in his second letter to the Thessalonians  leads the end time Ecclesia to a posture urging us to do all we can to hang-on to our salvation and wait, if not fretfully, then hyper-vigilantly, and defensively for Jesus to return. Yes, there are variants of this that are not so fretful, but fully convinced few will be saved, and mission surrounds more the remnant, not so much the lost. (This can inform, or be bought into, by hyper-Calvinist doctrine which also led to a failure to act out the Great Commission until nearly 200 years after Roman Catholics had send missionaries globally.)

The other ‘bookend’ of this potential collection of missiological perspectives we have what has become to be more widely known as the Kingdom Now brigade. 

Again, a brief overview sees this this cohort believing it is the churches job to usher in God’s Kingdom in every area of society, govern (or at least heavily influence), remediate and/or fix this broken domain. When it is as is should be, then Jesus Christ will return triumphantly to receive that – Again, there are variants on this position.

One can find scriptural leverage for both these ends and an ensuing debate could rage for days on their validities. My task here is not to malign these positions, as there are kernels, even nuggets of truth in both positions – as stated, one can mount a defence of both, all-be-it assailable. 

However, it is the in-between – not centre – of this micro-library that we need to investigate Kingdom Come processes and priorities. To do that, at the very least, we must commence with two primary, inseparable, and unnegotiable lenses, 

  • Mission and more importantly, 
  • Relationship.

For it is the great plan of Salvation and redemption to restore God’s highest creation to their rightful place that matters most. A place forfeited by choosing sin and self over King and Kingdom. Dominion was forfeited, not lost, though Paradise was.  It is this Placeholder identity that seems to generate confusion. As if our commission, mandate, and purpose became a greater imperative than our communion, intimacy, and relationship with our Creator God. 

If the relationship – the connection with Father God is distilled to form, function and fruitfulness outcomes, then my identity as placeholder coalesces around governing, ruling, stewarding, renewing, building, and dominating, to name a few. 

All these labels and/or titles are not illegitimate at all, far from it. However, enacted as highest priority, or worse, alone (separated from intimacy) then all activity and action are about doing, and whilst that is an undeniable imperative of Kingdom – our actions matter, make manifest and indeed are evaluated by the king – it is the other key and arguably seminal component of our existence that matters more, because it gives us true context and most fruitful corollary.

Clearly, these are all valid spaces, postures, and even titles, but unyoked from the primary design of our Heavenly Father – familial communion, these imperatives can be skewed. 

The primary posture of relationship is much more about being, not merely doing.

Again, whilst these two are inseparable – to use the yoking analogy – it comes down to which ‘ox’ in the yoke is leading the plough of Kingdom priority? This agrarian model of yoking that Jesus alluded to in Mattew 11 and verses 28-30 was clearly associated with productivity, but it’s not just the how, what, when, where, who and the subsequent outcomes, but the why? The ‘older’ ox teaches the younger not to just work hard and profitably, but wisely and easily with an intent more toward posture, than productivity – personhood before performance. 

This is an important qualifier as we move forward. 

I’m not going to drill down further into these two starting bookends, but I want to encourage you to investigate and reflect on where you might sit in these arenas. We don’t have to ‘join a camp’ or subscribe to a fixed ideology, but we do need generate a greater awareness of His Kingdom and its core priorities.

Some questions to ponder during that reflection.

  • Where is your focus in this space – bookend or somewhere in the middle?
  • What lens are you using now?
  • Is Father God prompting you to get a broader lens?
  • Is Father God prompting you to come a little higher?
  • Will that call higher diminish your ‘doing’ or enhance it?
  • Will that call higher diminish your ‘being’ or enhance it?

Our Post-Truth World is Descending into Chaos

I’ve written on many occasions about this particular point but to restate it here is important. Our world has never before been in this position. I’m not referring to chaos or ‘each man doing what is right in his own sight’; or global oligarchs and tyrants trying to ‘rule the world’ through foul means – history is littered with such endeavours. The latest iteration of this dictatorial tyranny is using same missives, but via unprecedented ramped up vehicles, not before available in human history, but the plot is age old – age old. 

No, what I’m referring to is the post-Christian posture of the world; that is new.

It’s not at all surprising that the Messiah incarnated when He did – Yes, God chose Israel, of course, it was His plan for them to be His ambassadors to the world, but it’s the timing. From a ‘natural’ perspective, it would appear bad timing. 

  • Rome had conquered the known world – Dictatorial military regime in charge.
  • Dominating and controlling all culture and commerce.
  • Polytheism permitted as long as Rome or the Emperor were where final allegiances landed.
  • Freedom of speech and conscience severely limited – do I need to say more?

It’s into this mess that Jesus Christ lands.

Without starting another treatise here on how Jesus operated in this space – complete antithesis to the dominant culture – He starts a global mission for redemption, change, recalibration, restoration – Salvation of the entire planet, one that through Him was created in a forsaken back-end of this new empire. 

However, that mission like no other has changed the face of the entire planet. When true Jesus Christ governing Kingdom principles and ethos and willingly embraced by the populace, society is at its best

Ah, but prideful, sin-filled, self-governing humanity with its now Kingdom originated systems that work, has decided it wants the benefits – the products, but not the relationship that imbues, empowers, and enables this all to work well. It believes it can kick out the foundations and still enjoy the benefits of a divinely ordered and sustained reality, and not see the product fail – But failing it is under the stewardship of God ignoring oligarchs.

So, ‘fixing’ it, what does that look like?

Again, quick reflect back to when, where and how Jesus The Christ incarnated gives us that model and subsequent mandate to make copies of such – disciples.

However, here I’ll want to bring to our attention one very powerful manifestation of that model. I want us to take a fresh look at a remarkable and historically profound microcosm, that I hope will help us look along the many perspectives between our bookends of Remnant and Kingdom Now Theologies about doing and being.

Civilizing Hell – The True Story

Most of you will have investigated, or at least heard of the utterly remarkable true story of Roman Catholic Priest Father Damien, and his life surrendering Kingdom mission of love to the Hawaii island of Molokai. If not, can I urge you to watch this dramatized account of his mission to get some perspective?

(You can do this now or after you’ve finished reading. click here Father Damian and Molokai Story)

What Father Damien did and many others before him, like the early disciples and the Apostle Paul, was to follow their Saviour and yoke with Him in the environment they found themselves to bring about His Kingdom. Our post-Christian culture is unique, but civilizing hell is still a Kingdom agenda, how will we go about it?

This Danish born and bred follower of Jesus wanted to serve and reach the lost. The journey to his final destination and death on Molokai is not unfamiliar to anyone who seeks and understands relationship with their Heavenly Father.

In early 1864 the Hawaiian leprosy epidemic exploded. Father Damien wrote to his family: “Leprosy is beginning to be very prevalent here.  There are many men covered with it.  . . . The disease is very dangerous because it is highly contagious.” The government responded by quarantining people with leprosy on the Kalaupapa peninsula of the island of Molokai. One chronicler reported that “[l]epers were hunted by officials, usually white men, with great zeal… whole families took to the hills and caves.  Soon there were entire communities living in hiding.”2

“Discoloured patches appear on the skin, especially on the cheeks; and the parts affected lose their feeling.  After a time, this discoloration coves the whole body; then ulcers begin to open, mainly at the extremities.  The flesh is eaten away and gives out a fetid smell; even the breath of the leper becomes so foul that the air around is poisoned with it.” – Father Damien 2

On the 4th of May 1873, the bishop, Monseigneur Maigret, accompanied Damien onto the beach. Damien had never seen individuals in the late stages of the disease and turned white at the sight of swollen and rotted features. Bishop Maigret offered him a final chance to back out, but Damien shook it off. He would stick to his word.

When Damien had arrived at the colony, it was popularly known as “the living graveyard.” The lepers suffered from almost every human need. Food, clean water, clothing, shelter, basic medical care—all were wanting on the island. They had been brought to Molokai simply to wait for death—and death’s stench was all around them. On average, about one leper died every day, and their corpses, hastily buried by those who were strong enough to complete the task, were often unearthed and partially consumed by wild pigs. (It was this ever-present reek of the rotting bodies mixed with that of the lepers’ festering wounds, that led Damian to take up pipe-smoking soon after his arrival in an effort to suppress the stench that invariably enveloped him.)

All of these people had been ripped from their families, and in the nightmarish conditions they sought to find what consolation they could through the consumption of alcohol in the form of a crude beverage fermented from the native ki root. Nightly drunkenness translated into regular sexual orgies. Women on the island prostituted themselves for shelter and companionship, and children were similarly enslaved and abused. It was, as the lepers themselves proclaimed, a land “without law.”

In the eight years before Liliuokalani visited, Damien’s presence on the island had effected dramatic changes. A former farm boy with Martin Sheen good looks, Damian worked continuously for the lepers. He built houses, schools, and a conduit for freshwater, arranged for clothing to be delivered from the mainland, taught them to grow their own food. He advocated for them with the authorities and procured the medical supplies that would better their lives. He tended them, taught them, and, against medical advice, ate with them. All of this was accomplished even as he offered daily Mass and prayers, performed baptisms and marriages, and, of course, anointed the sick and said funerals for the dead. 

By the time Liliuokalani reached Kalaupapa, although the human devastation was still apparent in the deformed faces of the children she visited, those same children appeared before her as well-fed, neatly dressed schoolgirls. They formed a choir that serenaded her with a few songs, an expression of how far Damien had brought them in that short time. That day, the princess’ tears flowed freely. She praised the lepers’ courage, and when she returned home, she sent a letter to Father Damien, offering him the title of Commander of the Royal Order of Kalakaua, Hawaii’s highest honor.4

Just here, I want to just touch briefly on ‘Jesus and Politics’, as I’ve heard a couple of key perspectives on this, and none without real merit. 

Jesus Christ, THE KING, leaves behind that position, potential, priority, performance and profile, and takes on the role of a SERVANT. This reality must be the foundational, informing factor of all our views on Christ and His Kingdom.  

You will note in the above excerpt that the ‘rulers of this world’ came to Damien and lauded and exulted him because of his Kingdom work. In this context his actions spoke truth to power. Not simply by lobbying and advocating, but more so by manifestation and demonstration to the point of losing his health and life. 

Of course, at a different, but no less legitimate end of that spectrum of speaking truth to power, we see the Apostle Paul actively pursued political advocacy, using his Roman Citizenship, Pharisee informed intellect and legal insights to lobby Rome and advocate for the acknowledgement of the Christian Way, hoping to give them legal protection from the Judaists as they serve, enabling their work to flourish and impact the society through Kingdom Mission. 

Ah, but back to Jesus. He certainly engaged the political elites in his missional context of Palestine, both Jew and Gentile, commerce and culture. Everything from turning over tables in the temple, healing lepers and a Centurian’s servant; to sending demons into the Roman garrisons’ meat supply, but simultaneously fulfilling all righteousness. He turned the other check and even paid taxes. It is, again, the posture of mission that determines the socio-political impact. Sowing into all arenas, not necessarily dominating them. 

Corruption, intimidation and coercion were rampant in Jesus’ context, but it did not stop Him completing his mission. Of course, wisdom, discernment and timing are all part of that process, but so is realizing you cannot ‘win’ in that context. The Christian mission is not to own the bakehouse, it is more the leaven of righteousness infecting and affecting all parts, though never, it seems, controlling – at least not in this dispensation. 

Perhaps the ultimate moment of speaking truth to power and overturning the ‘ruler’ of this world started in Gabatha. The KING is standing before Pontius Pilate, the physical representative of the then ‘empire’ and its ultimate authority in that space – Pilate. He was, in that time and place, Caeser. 

When given opportunity to defend, advocate, lobby, assert, challenge, even defeat this pretender and usurper, Jesus is silent. It is John 18:37 that gives us one of the most profound indicators of what must be at the fore of this posture of servant ambassador, and that is Truth. 

Now, it was our missions Architect purpose to incarnate, then manifest, then demonstrate and then implement the Kingdom way, and end up dying in doing so – The example that His servant Father Damien followed 1800 years later. 

“Be severe toward yourself, indulgent toward others. Have scrupulous exactitude for everything regarding God: prayer, meditation, Mass, administration of the Sacraments. Unite your heart with God…” — Father Damien 2

Obviously, so much more can be written here, about what, how and when and that should be explored by you, the reader. My meagre presentation here is more a primer for you to seek our Father God’s best Kingdom practice and what that looks like in your context.

However, at the risk of being prescriptive, can I prompt a starting focus? It seems in this short offering that the factor, the element that is key to effectiveness of any calling to the Kingdom work, is this going back to the First Love – the relationship with the King, not simply performing for Him.

That is ‘how’ we ‘civilize hell’.

I must ask myself, is my relationship such as to see this happen, or am I still looking for ways to use all the resources of heaven for productivity without surrendering my life?

Lord, help me surrender all.

A perspective by Shane W. Varcoe (August 2023)

Also see.



  1. Saint Damien of Molokai | Biography, Leprosy, Feast Day, & Facts | Britannica
  2. Extraordinary Man, Extraordinary Soul: The Life of St. Damien Of Molokai - Catholic Stand
  3. It Happened Today | Christian History Institute
  4. Why We Still Need Saint Damien of Molokai | Church Life Journal | University of Notre Dame