Perhaps I should have said “Needed” instead of “Wanted.” What I’m referring to is the hunger¹ and thirst² so many American Christians have for political power, cultural influence, and the staying-power of Christendom in general. I was reading this morning from The Pleasures of God by John Piper, and in a chapter about missions, Piper quotes from Patrick Johnstone’s book The Church is Bigger than You Think:
In fact, there is little evidence in the Bible, as I see it, that before the coming of our Lord, there will be a powerful “Christendom” and a worldwide dominance of Christian influence. Rather it seems to me that Patrick Johnstone’s vision is closer to the truth:
We are being compelled to return to a much more biblical and radical position — that of being a minority in the world but not of it. . . . The church deprived of political power is free from the burden of trying to use human power to dominate and influence the world. . . . Our reference point is not territorial or church growth aggrandizement, but building a kingdom that is not of this world, yet which will fill the earth as a contrasting alternative society. We need to return to the concept of a pilgrim Church, the church that will be hated, rejected, despised, persecuted, yet be an incisive, decisive, victorious minority which one day soon, will be ready for its heavenly Bridegroom as the perfected Bride.
1. Evangelical Christians and American Politics. Austin Cline, Austin’s Atheism Blog.
2. The Christian paradox: how a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong. Bill McKibben, Harper’s Magazine, August 2005. I highly recommend reading this essay. McKibben’s insights are profound, well-written, and I would argue, biblical. Here are two excerpts to whet your appetite:
The apocalyptics, however, are the lesser problem. It is another competing (though sometimes overlapping) creed, this one straight from the sprawling megachurches of the new exurbs, that frightens me most. Its deviation is less obvious precisely because it looks so much like the rest of the culture. In fact, most of what gets preached in these palaces isn’t loony at all. It is disturbingly conventional. The pastors focus relentlessly on you and your individual needs. Their goal is to service consumers—not communities but individuals: “seekers” is the term of art, people who feel the need for some spirituality in their (or their children’s) lives but who aren’t tightly bound to any particular denomination or school of thought. The result is often a kind of soft-focus, comfortable, suburban faith.
American churches, by and large, have done a pretty good job of loving the neighbor in the next pew. A pastor can spend all Sunday talking about the Rapture Index, but if his congregation is thriving you can be assured he’s spending the other six days visiting people in the hospital, counseling couples, and sitting up with grieving widows. All this human connection is important. But if the theology makes it harder to love the neighbor a little farther away—particularly the poor and the weak—then it’s a problem. And the dominant theologies of the moment do just that. They undercut Jesus, muffle his hard words, deaden his call, and in the end silence him. In fact, the soft-focus consumer gospel of the suburban megachurches is a perfect match for emergent conservative economic notions about personal responsibility instead of collective action. Privatize Social Security? Keep health care for people who can afford it? File those under “God helps those who help themselves.”