In the West we seem to be going through what Os Guinness calls ‘a civilisational moment’ – a time when the foundations are being destroyed. Reading of the four horsemen of the apocalypse from Revelation at times feels like reading a news bulletin – death, war, civil strife, famine and plague no longer seem the stuff of ages past. The fears that people have about climate change, racism, economic depression or gender confusion only add to the growing sense of hopelessness and gloom.
Secular prophets like Jordan Peterson, Douglas Murray, Lionel Shriver and others have been pointing out for years where we are going, and giving a largely cogent and perceptive analysis of the culture. I am thankful for them. They have been saying what the church should have been saying. But it appears that it is only now that we are jumping on the ‘what’s wrong with the world’ bandwagon. As has been the case for far too long, the church often ends up being a pale imitation of the world, as we follow in its footsteps.
This has not always been the way. If we had listened to Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis and Os Guinness we should have been aware not only of what was happening but where it was going. But sadly, churches seem to be divided between those who look longingly at a ‘glorious’ past, or are just seeking to keep up with the current societal trends. How often do I hear a prayer which is really just a reflection of the political concerns of the day, with Jesus thrown in as an optional extra, or cure-all for everything!
One area where we are playing catch-up is in this critical/realistic analysis of where the culture is at. However, I suspect that we are too late for that. The future is already here. But we have one thing that all the great analysts do not have. Peterson, Murray, et al, are excellent in telling us what the problem is – but they have little to offer us in the way of solutions. They are literally ‘hope–less’.
However, the church is, or should be, different. We have a message which, partly because it recognises the self-inflicted mess that humans are in, brings hope to a world sinking in despair. Hope in the Christian sense is not the wishful thinking of the person who declares, in Aussie slang, ‘She’ll be alright, mate’! Nor is it the hope that is placed in false messiahs and unrealistic solutions. No – we have a hope that is focused on the certainty of Christ.
C. S. Lewis, insightful as ever, observed: ‘If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in: aim at Earth and you will get neither.’
Going through the book of Hebrews I was struck by how the persecuted and scattered Jewish Christians were reminded continually of the hope given by Christ. He is the radiance of God’s glory (1:3), the One to whom everything is subject (2:8); the destroyer of death (2:14); the builder of the church (3:4-6); the One whose word reveals all creation (4:12-13); the great High Priest who sympathises with our weaknesses (4:14-16); the submissive, suffering, source of salvation (5:7-10); the One who has gone into the holy of holies on our behalf (6:19-20); the guarantee and perfect priest (7:22-26); the mediator of the new covenant, bringing complete forgiveness (9:11-15) and, amongst other things, the one who will never leave us or forsake us and is the same yesterday and today and forever (13:5-8).
The church needs to understand where the world is at. We need to show practical compassion as well as perceptive analysis. But most of all we need to proclaim and point to faith in Christ as the only Saviour of the world. As the Indian writer Vishnal Mangalwadi observes: ‘Communication and belief matter. Revelation generates hope and effort. At times, believing what you are told means the difference between life and death. The issue is not whether there is hope for the West, but whether the West has the humility to return to revelation, whether it can recover the faith that generates hope’ (The Book That Made Your World).
In this hopeless world let’s not just scream at the darkness – let us show the Light of the World.
David Robertson is the Director of the ASK project in Sydney and blogs at http://www.theweeflea.com