Is it time for change? Few of us need to be persuaded that our culture is due for significant social and spiritual renewal. It seems to me, though, that we have not taken seriously enough the magnitude of the challenge. We have especially not reckoned properly with the need for change among ourselves, we who are followers of Jesus Christ. Our credibility is low outside our own communities, and is it any wonder? We have failed to fully express and employ our real power: the power of God, the power of lives lived well, and the power of transformed minds.
I suggest four priorities for deep social change. For those who are wary of simple four-point solutions for any major change, I’m with you. None of these are simple. I’m a beginner in all of them. They are broad categories, so they may coincide with existing church or parachurch priorities—or possibly not, in which case I hope this sparks some thinking.
In part, these priorities echo those J.P. Moreland spoke about in Kingdom Triangle (2007, pp. 111-112). He refers to conclusions drawn by Michael Green, who wrote that the church’s explosive growth in its first four centuries came from (1) her ability to “outthink her critics, (2) “the transformed character and biblical compassion of believers,” and (3) “the manifest power of the Kingdom of God by the Spirit…”
1. Recover a true understanding of God.
It is not just the non-Christian but the follower of Jesus Christ who needs to discover afresh who God is. We’ve domesticated God, made him a member of our own parties, and forgotten his sovereign majesty. At the risk of being overly obvious: God is God! He is the perfectly good and powerful Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Judge, Teacher, Shepherd, and Lover of the entire universe! We are fools if we proceed without taking him into account, and greater fools yet if we believe we already know and understand him well enough, cognitively, relationally, or volitionally.
Brad Bright is undertaking an initiative to help believers and non-believers discover God. He’s onto something crucial there. A growing understanding of the true God is essential for the other priorities I will propose here.
2. Call on God through extraordinary prayer.
Deep social change is not ultimately the product of votes or organizing or rallies or letters to Congress or editorials in newspapers. It comes from the hand of God. From the human side, this is a matter of prayer. The time is urgent for us to step up to extraordinary prayer, meaning just what the word suggests: more than ordinary, more than we have been doing; with a clearer focus on God and on our country’s needs, and greater intensity. Extraordinary prayer for many will include regular fasting, possibly for a meal or even a full day every week.
We cannot hope for real impact on society without God producing it, and we cannot expect God to produce it unless we call on him urgently to do so. We must pray for the church. Christians that God must show himself first, and it is the Church that must lead the way in deep change. And we must pray for our neighbors. Who knows what God might do in response? The top two reasons Muslims come to Christ in Muslim homelands are Christians’ lifestyles (for which see point 3) and the power of God displayed through answered prayers and healings.
3. Expand our acts of sacrificial love.
Jesus said (Matthew 5:16): “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” God is glorified in his people shining his light, and there is no light brighter than that of one who gives sacrificially for another. This is particularly incumbent on political conservatives who distrust government’s effectiveness and efficiency in meeting human need. To say that government should not be so involved is to say that individual Christians and churches must be, and on an even greater scale than we have been; for the need is real. Otherwise conservatism is seen (to a great extent rightly so) as thinly disguised selfishness.
I say that not in order to develop an apologetic for conservatism, but to express a correction to some forms of it. Much more than that, though, this is about letting God be seen in action through his people.
4. Strengthen our mental awareness and engagement.
Western Christianity—especially Protestant Christianity—has been plagued for some 150 years or so with anti-intellectualism. It is as if we thought we had no case to make for our faith and its importance in the world, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. For many centuries our intellectual presence was strong, but then it’s as if we walked off the playing field. Since then we’ve pretty much lost the universities, the media, and the centers of decision-making.
There is encouraging news on this front. Christian scholarship is surging where it has not done so in recent years. Christianity remains hobbled, however, by a simple Sunday School mentality that expects little actual study. Could any of us have prepared for college courses by reading over a few pages lightly with our morning donut or Instant Breakfast, the way we do for church? (It’s the ambitious ones who do even that much, I’m afraid.) What if there were quizzes and final exams in Sunday School—or in other words, what if we expected ourselves to learn something new and challenging at church? Why don’t we value that as much as chemistry or computer science?
Our mental life involves creativity as well as scholarship, by the way: it is about the arts as well as the academy. If we were to step up to the table with great ideas and imagination, I think even James Davison Hunter might think we could have a more effective voice.
These, then, are proposed four priorities for those who desire deep social change: Grow in understanding God, Call on him through extraordinary prayer, Increase our acts of sacrificial love, and Strengthen mental awareness and engagement.
Reposted from Thinking Christian