How I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the decline of American civilization. Russell D Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission thinks it’s not so bad for the church:
The nominal Christianity that marked the Bible Belt of the South and Midwest and provided social benefits in the past is giving way to a Christianity that has “a social, a cultural, a political, an economic cost…”
While the Bible Belt’s collapse “is bad news for America, because the Bible Belt hemmed in a lot of things from happening that were socially destructive,” Moore said, it “is very good news for the church. It will enable the church to reclaim the freakishness of Christianity in a way that I think is going to be helpful in moving forward with the mission.”
Such a dramatic recovery of the church’s oddness may not be far off, he said.
“Right now, it’s really not all that strange that a group of Christians who gather together in the United States Capitol have this conversation,” Moore told the mostly young audience. “In 10 years, 20 years, a group of people gathered here who believe that a dead man in the Middle East is alive again and is the rightly appointed ruler of everything might seem freakish and cult-like.
“And praise God if it does, because the power of the Gospel is found in the freakishness of the Gospel. When people don’t stop and say, ‘Wait a minute! What?’ that only means they don’t understand what we’re talking about.”
Where do we begin? I get should start off with a proviso. The article at Baptist Press is clear that this isn’t all that Moore said. Indeed, we can’t just pretend a national moral consensus exists nor can we disengage from the political process.
Yet, the opening graphs is disturbing for the following reasons.
First is the tininess of God that he describes. It hasn’t yet happened that the Bible Belt has crumbled and completely lost its way, but Moore says it’s going to happen. From whence does Moore get this knowledge? Is it some weird spiritual revelation ala Pat Robertson’s mountainside New Year’s “prophecies?”? No, and the rest of the speech doesn’t indicate that he thinks this is some sort of end times thing.
The only real basis for this is demographics and public opinion surveys, studies, and general trends in American life. In one way, it’s as if Moore’s saying, “Well, we all know we’re doomed because God can’t do anything about that.”
In generations past, a major Church leader with America’s largest protestant denomination on realizing the entire nation was headed for apostasy, and that evil people would move into places of authority more and more, you’d see calls to pray and seeking God for revival.
Instead, we get “embrace the coming freakishness.”
Secondly, is how callous the statement is. When he talks about this stopping ” a lot of things from happening that were socially destructive,” that sounds really euphemistically nice particularly when contrasted with the spiritual thing of being great for the church and the freakishness of the gospel.
But what do socially destructive things to do. We can take a look at see what social costs look like? Consider some of the costs of fatherlessness, one of the great gifts left us by the sexual revolution. Some of things Fatherlessness increases are: teen suicides, drug use, poverty, low educational achievement, and crime.
So how about saying that reclaiming are freakishness is great even if it means that more teenagers commit suicide, more will die of drug overdoses, more will live in poverty, and more we’ll end up rotting away in prison and the influence of Gospel wanes.
How is that consistent with the second Great Commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves? What is Moore saying? Do we view all the people who will suffer, die, and perish without Christ as only collateral damage so we can get to the point where everyone thinks we’re crazy freaks.
But perhaps this leads into the biggest problem with Miller’s statement is that he continues one of the more pernicious doctrines to permeate Evangelicalism: the illogical persecution fetish. It is the belief that American Christians, due to the country Christian founding, history, and relative tolerance.
In other lands, the Christian faith is more vibrant where it is persecuted. So what American Christians need is some persecution and marginalization in order to make them spiritually stronger and lead to growth in the church. It has a logic. The problem is that the whole thing is absurd and unscriptural.
First of all, if as Moore says “the power of the Gospel is found in the freakishness of the Gospel,” then this suggests that in order for the Gospel to be “freakish” Christians had be careful not to be too successful in spreading this gospel and certainly pray that God doesn’t mess things up by drawing too many to Christ. If a majority of people in an area actually accept Christ, churches will need to take steps to ensure that enough Christians are led astray that the gospel is quickly marginalized lest it loses power through actually changing the course of civilizations. The Gospel loses power when people think its not insane to believe it, so we have to make sure that most people think that.
There is a nugget of truth to what Moore suggests here. It is possible for the Gospel to become commonplace. It’s possible that “the fact that he is risen no longer stirs our soul” as Steve Camp once sung. But the good news in American civilization when Christianity was at its strongest was that the bits of truth that permeated every bit of life would often serve as landmarks that pointed the way home because the Gospel permeated culture.
I don’t believe that power of the Gospel is in the freakishness of the Gospel. It’s in the truth of the Gospel. I don’t believe that the strength of the Church comes from persecution, I believe the strength of the Church comes from walking in the Spirit. The, “persecution will fix our problems” school of thought seems to kind from pastors and lay people who are sick of the apathy of the church and figure the only thing that will shake us out of it is if persecution comes and we should let it happen and welcome it because that’s what we need.
Again, this is putting too much faith in us and on external forces to bring about the move of God. When we do that, the Holy Spirit becomes something we can manipulate according to some process. Persecution=growth. What we need is persecution.
Yet, the scripture wouldn’t seem to indicate that. We’re not the first church that’s gotten fat and happy. Christ encountered two such churches in the Revelation when Christ is speaking to the churches. In Sardis and Laodecia both had gotten comfortable in self-satisfied riches and it’s interesting to note what the Spirit writes to both of them:
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. -Revelation 3: 2, 3 (to Sardis)
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. -Revelation 3:18-20 (to Laodecia)
Nowhere does he say that persecution or marginalization are what those churches need, he says what we need is repentance which is neither a word nor a concept that will make it past the church demography experts who have advised churches for takes on how to tailor their messages with such great results for the world around us.
There’s one other question that begs itself. Shouldn’t the church suffer and isn’t there something wrong with us even if we don’t suffer? I think the church absolutely should suffer and it does suffer. It suffers all over the world. The problem with many of us in America is that we don’t enter into that suffering as we really ought to. The Bible calls us to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Those who suffer in other nations should have their needs met in part by us as Paul laid in 2 Corinthians 8 we advised the rich Corinthians to help out the poor Macedonians. We can and should do more to enter in and share in that suffering by meeting those needs for Christians around the world. That doesn’t mean that we need to have a culture overrun by pagans.
I can understand that all the trends and where they point. It’s discouraging and I feel that discouragement. But a leader of the country’s largest churches doesn’t really have any business telling a group of young people to throw in the towel and accept a future of biblical illiteracy and a slow cultural into hell that will destroy scores of lives and souls.
Rather than putting our faith in worsening circumstances to bring out the best in us, we need to trust God to do what only he can do. We need to have the faith of Ezekiel who when the Lord asked him if the Valley of dry bones would live again answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Or of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who said they knew God could deliver them “but if not” they would still not worship the king’s idol.
If persecution and marginalization should come, we should endure and stand firm in the face of it. We shouldn’t invite it as some way to fix what’s wrong with the church. Our faith should not be in power of freakishness, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.