In this excerpt of a sermon given a year ago in Atlanta, GA, John Piper, founder of Desiring God and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, speaks directly to Christians who feel increasingly unwelcome and alien in the America we know today. It’s a call to stop expecting everything to go well and to stop trying to fit in here.
The Church in America as I at age 69 have watched her now for a long time is slowly awakening from the distortion of 350 years of dominance and prosperity in America. Let me say that sentence again, it is paradigm determining for me. The Church in America, and I’m thinking right across the board, no particular denomination – Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, the Church in America today is slowly awakening from the distortion of about 350 years, namely the length of our country, of dominance – distortion of dominance – and prosperity.
What I mean by dominance is that in most American history, most of American history, until recently being a Christian has been viewed as normal, good, patriotic, culturally acceptable, even beneficial. And what I mean by prosperous, 350 years of (being) prosperous, is that by and large being a Christian has generally resulted in things going well for you. Especially in the South, I grew up in South three hours from here in Greenville, South Carolina. I am a Southerner by birth, I grew up in the horrors of some of the stuff I’m going to be talking about here in a minute. We’re Christians in the South, we’re Americans.
And what I mean by distortion, the distortion of 350 years of dominance and prosperity, is that this 350 year history of our dominance and our prosperity has created a massively, deeply unbiblical mindset, namely of at-homeness in the world. It hasn’t been good for us. We are suffering from it, prosperous though we be.
So we are dominant, culturally and prosperous, materially and we’ve come to feel at home. This is our land, our culture, and the assumption is that it will go well for us here our place. It is the way we do things, it is the way we think about things, we are Christian here. And we very much enjoy being thought well of for that, and we expect things to go well. Poverty and sickness and suffering and death are the worse things that can happen, and there isn’t anything much worse.
We expect this Christian land to be wealthy, us to be wealthy, us to be healthy, eased, upbeat, success-oriented, and we have developed a form of Christianity – it’s a sport those expectations, engrained expectations. To be a Christian is to be accepted. To be a Christian is to be comfortable, to be secure, and to be prosperous. And that form of Christianity has focused on our needs, and whether our needs are getting met. Then we sell this, we offer this to people, come and life will go better for you.
By and large, in America, for 300 years, the call to be a Christian has not been the call to be an alien. By and large it hasn’t been the call to be a sojourner or an exile or to be out-of-step. It is a call to be a respected citizen in the community, and we get angry, really angry when… watch it, watch it is still true… we are only slowly awakening from this… people get really angry if you treat my Christianity as though it is not the norm, my views of things is not the norm. I get angry when you take away my culture, when you take away my land, my history, I get mad at you because I have developed a Christianity with assumptions that assume dominance and prosperity and normal and fitting in. It’s just our way here. If you don’t like it go somewhere else.
There is enough truth in that to give it some traction, right? If you live like a Christian. If you don’t get drunk every weekend, probably you’ll be more successful in life, right? You’ll keep your job. Your marriage will probably go better if you don’t come home drunk every Sunday night. It’s true. The Bible says don’t get drunk, and so if you do that it will get better. The Bible says work hard, you know, if you don’t work, you don’t eat. If you work hard then you are probably going to prosper in your business a little more. So being a Christian obviously brings success. It is just enough truth in this that it gets traction, and the problem is that it is totally out of proportion.
We have come to take all of those relatively minor spinoffs of devotion to Jesus and elevated them above the massive, real pleasures of loving Him, knowing Him, and dying and being with Him forever. Everything is out of proportion in typical American Christianity.
This text fills me, it has for so many years, with a longing not to be a domesticated, comfort-seeking, entertainment-addicted, prosperity-loving, security-craving, approval-desiring Christian. I don’t want to be that. It is abominable to me to be that. I don’t want to waste my life just fitting in. So low, I want to be set free from this distortion. I want to be biblical. I want to have real, spiritual, otherworldly power on my life. I want to have stunningly counter-cultural, otherworldly hope driving this engine.