I love Josh Bales’ song based on the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Do you feel like that in this cultural moment, that we know that the kingdom is coming?
We know because just a couple of weeks ago, we looked at each other in the eye — like generations of Christians have done since the beginning, like our brothers and sisters around the world, including the group of Christians in a park in Pakistan did that Sunday morning — and we said four words. What do we say to each other? “He is risen indeed.”
We said this, and [yet] it’s so hard to live as if that’s not only true of our own individual spirituality but that’s actually the truth about all of life and all of reality.
A couple of years ago I wrote a book with a friend of mine named Sean McDowell on same-sex marriage. I remember, as we were writing that book, a pastor looked at me in great despair and he said to me, “John, it’s over. We’ve lost.” He wasn’t on the sidelines on this issue. He was in the middle of it in his state. He had led a miraculous, heroic effort that then got overturned by a judge.
And that’s a question we asked about the culture: Have we lost? I’m going to say that that’s a legitimate question to ask. But it’s not the first question that Christians should ask about the culture.
The first questions that Christians should ask about the culture is this: What is our salvation for? As Christians we spend time talking about what our salvation is from. It’s from sin, it’s from death, it’s from judgment, amen. We talked about what our salvation is to — that it’s to the glory of God, it’s to eternal life, amen.
One of the most important things that Christians have to decide in any cultural context they are in is they have to decide to keep straight the story in the moment. We live in a cultural moment. Many of you have heard me say this over and over, and since we are remembering Chuck Colson this weekend, I want to bring it up again, something that Chuck used to say all the time, and that is this, that Christians are to be people of hope, right?
Here’s how you know if you are keeping the story and the moment straight: If you are living from the moment, looking at the story, we are going to be characterized by a couple of different things.
First of all, we might be characterized by despair. We might have that attitude of that pastor that says, it’s over, we’ve lost, there’s nothing else we can do. We’ve got to hunker down. It’s over. But as Richard John Neuhaus, one of Chuck’s closest collaborators, used to say, despair is a sin because Christ has risen. Christians have not right to despair because Christ is risen.
There’s [also] a lot of Christians today that are just characterized by outrage. I think you can see this in the political process right now. If you go back and look at my Facebook post from just two days ago about a Colorado school that is teaching transgender things to 4-year-olds, what you will see in the comments is an awful lot of outrage. And there’s things in our culture that bring up an awful lot of outrage.
But as we are saying over and over to each other, every time we talk about BreakPoint and we say, well, what do we want to talk about on the radio, how do we want to talk about it, we say this: Outrage is not a cultural strategy. I often think — when I think about Christians that are just stuck in outrage — of Jill Pole. You know Jill Pole in Prince Caspian, right? She loses Eustace over the cliff and she starts to cry, and C.S. Lewis says something really interesting there. He says crying is good for as long as it lasts, but once it’s over, you still have to decide what to do. Isn’t that the same thing with outrage?
Outrage is good while it lasts. It may have a purpose, but what do you do next? How are we going to engage next?
And a third thing I think will shape Christians if they are shaped by the moment and not by the story is fear. Just being afraid. Maybe so afraid that we think, “You know what, if we don’t cave in on some of these issues that our culture cares so much about, if we don’t cave in on some of these pelvic issues in particular, we are going to lose our voice in the culture.” And out of fear, we capitulate.
I’m thankful for a line I read from a friend named Owen Strand, a theologian. He said this: God’s truth does not get in the way of God’s gospel. So as Christians, we don’t stand in the moment and look at the story. We stand in the story and we look at the moment, like every other generation of Christians.
How can we live in this cultural moment from the perspective of the Gospel and not get the story and the moment mixed up? Four questions. Some of you have heard me give these questions, but these are the questions that are framing our conference. First question is, what’s good that we can champion? Christians have always made an enormous difference in the culture when we champion the good. Christians should be about truth. Christians should be about art and beauty.
Another part of championing the good is what’s missing that we can add. For an impoverished nation, oftentimes the problem is not missing resources. It’s missing access to the rule of law, missing access to the resources that are actually there. What’s missing that we can contribute?
Number three, what is evil that we can stop? In fact, that’s what Wilberforce did, isn’t it? This is called the Wilberforce Weekend. What Wilberforce said is we should not have slavery after my lifetime. And he led a movement that changed the course of history.
And then the final question: What’s broken that we can restore? As we go through tomorrow morning and even through tonight, we are going to be wrestling with these questions. We’re going to try to live out of the cultural work and live out of the Gospel story and apply it to the cultural moment, and we are going to see what kind of a difference that makes.
• John Stonestreet is president of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview and a co-host of BreakPoint daily and weekly radio broadcasts. This excerpt is from his April 8, 2016, remarks at the Wilberforce Weekend in Arlington, Virginia.
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