The modern evangelical church in America has trouble. Yeah we got trouble. Right here in River City…with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for…
Pessimism. (Sorry. That part didn’t rhyme.)
One of the problems that the modern evangelical church in America is facing is what I call “eschatological pessimism” [Eschatological – of or relating to or dealing with or regarding the ultimate destiny of mankind and the world; Pessimism – a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future]. I find most American Christians are disillusioned by the “culture wars” and believe strongly that the world we live in right now is pretty bad and it’s because for the past few hundred years, someone has been slowly turning up the “suck” leaving us to ask, “Why is it so hot in here and how did we get in this handbasket?” Because of this “pessimillenialism,” (a term coined by author Gary North) Christians often resort to our own means to “save the culture” before it just goes from bad to worse. At a more basic level, this pessimillenialism leads us to trust our own means to save the world rather than God’s. It’s an idolatrous spirit that causes us to think we know better than God. This fundamental lack of trust in God has left American Christians with nowhere to turn but the ballot box. In the past 50+ years, Christians have resorted to politicizing our faith as opposed to proclaiming it. I see two obvious reasons for this phenomenon. The first is pessimillienialism and squishy, scared evangelly-goo-ism, as I just mentioned. The second is, believe it or not, is…it’s easier. Pessimism is easier. Trusting ourselves is easier. Getting someone you agree with elected or a policy you believe in passed is easier. And we have bought into our own lie. We’re smoking our own supply. Think about it…Do you really believe that the only way God can save America is if we have a Christian in the White House? Do you really believe only way God can save America is if we get prayer back in schools? Do you really believe the only way God can save America is if we teach intelligent design in science class? J.B. Phillips has an aptly titled book that I think fits here. Your God is too small.
You see, I think God has outlined a very different course for human history and I believe a robust understanding of that course will inevitably impact our decisions politically and otherwise. What I see in Scripture is that Christ’s coming will mean that the knowledge of the glory of the LORD shall cover the earth as the water covers the sea (Hab. 2:14; Ps. 22:27; Isa. 11:9) and the Spirit of the Sovereign LORD will accomplish this (Zech. 4:6) by the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:13-14). The Gospel of Jesus is the only thing that will bring peace, unity, comfort, joy, and everything else right down the line. I don’t think any evangelical Christian would disagree with that final sentence or any of what I just stated, come to think of it. But when it comes to the theology of our hands, we believe something very very different. We don’t believe the Spirit of God and the Gospel of Jesus to be that effective, so we must resort to alternative methods.
Contrary to the overwhelming pessimism in modern evangelicalism, I am an eschatological optimist. A postmillennialist to be precise. I recognize that postmillienialists don’t have a corner on the market of optimism, but we do own a heck of a lot of stocks. Then again, Spurgeon was an “optimillenialist” though he was thoroughly premillienialist. So there’s that.
So what am I getting at with all this? Dr. Ravi Zacharias says it well.
“Wherever religion becomes politicized, that religion is on its way out. In any part of the world where it was politicized, Christianity has been buried. There is more faith in China today for Christ than there is in Germany or Sweden or France… What I think is important is not that Bible become the ‘textbook of Congress.’ It’s unrealistic in a pluralistic society because the heart of humanity is corrupt.”
Christians need to be reminded of how to play the long game. We’ve been playing the short game for so long thinking that the game is almost over only to realize it’s only the bottom of the 2nd. Playing the short game is easy. Make Christianity the national religion and everyone will eventually conform. Playing the long game is much harder and requires more reliance on the Spirit of God. And when he changes hearts, minds, and lives, the decision cannot be overturned in 4 years when a new group of politicians walks in to Warsh-ington.
Holding all that in your mind, look at what Paul says about why Christ set us free. “For freedom Christ set you free.” (Gal. 5:1) Christians, then, should be people who love freedom and liberty. Not only that, but they should fully and implicitly trust the Spirit of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ for it is what set them free.
In a truly free society, there would not only be a free, honest, and honorable exchange of goods but also of ideas. All faiths and all religions and all perspectives and all worldviews can come and dialogue in the marketplace of ideas. When Christians become pessimistic, we begin to lose faith in the Spirit of God and the Gospel of Jesus to change hearts and minds and lives. So we resort to politicizing our religion to death.
However, Christians should be the biggest champions and proponents of the free expression of religion in the marketplace of ideas and not just of ours only, but of all religions. What are we afraid of? If Jesus is who he said he was (and he is) and can do what he said he could do (and he can) then why try to legislate the worship of Jesus alone? Yet, evangelicals get our feelings hurt when the 10 Commandments statue is taken out of a state or county courthouse (even though it’s pretty clear violation of the First Amendment). So we fight and bicker and argue that the country is going to Hell and that’s why we need to have the 10 Commandments in the courthouse. We make such a big stink that it stays. And along come the Satanists ready to build their statue. And the Christians blow a gasket and use the same arguments against this statue that lawmakers used against ours not 15 minutes earlier. It’s all or none here folks. If it’s not a violation of the First Amendment for you, it’s not for them. Then all the evangelicals around the country are affirmed in our pessismism and the vicious cycle continues. One more example? Just for kicks? Christians have championed putting prayer back in schools since…it was taken out. So here’s my scenario. Let’s say someone in Congress finally listens to you (this is the most unrealistic part of this analogy) and they pass a law permitting prayer in schools, but it can only be the Shema or all of the Salat or the Gayatri Mantra. You cool now, bro? Well why not? We have prayer back in schools. You can see how in our pessimism, Christians resort to politicizing our religion, but if another religion would try to do the same, we would flip out.
Take it one step further. Should the word “God” really be in our pledge of allegiance (Should we even recite the pledge of allegiance? We’ll save that one for another time…) or on our currency? Put yourself in the shoes of the atheist. The last thing they are going to want to do is listen to you shove your religion down their throat in the same way you would be offended if “In Allah We Trust” was written on your money and your kids had to pledge, “One nation, under Shiva…”
Do I believe the United States is “under God?” Yes. And because I believe that, I want the people of the United States to get a heavy dose of the Spirit of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ because that is the only thing that will change our hearts and minds and lives. If you are wondering if we should try to politicize that message and trust in our own might and our own power instead the Spirit and the Gospel, all you need to do is look at Europe to see the result. What this really all comes down to is how much you trust God’s Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus to effect real change. If it really does what we say it can do from the pulpit on Sunday (and it does) then let’s act like in on Monday.
So go to your voting booths. Go to your polling places. Cast your votes to the glory of God. But when you do remember this. There never has been and never will be a savior on Capitol Hill and the more we look for one there, the more we over look the one on Calvary’s Hill…the only one who can make a real difference.