Much ink has been spilled in the writing of many books on why America is where it is today. According to a new book by Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic, reviewed by Martin Swain in The Wall Street Journal, yesterday (May 24), both sides of the political aisle consider the 1950s to be an ideal era – for some, because of high taxation; for others, because it was a time of free enterprise. Martin Swain comments that Levin sees a danger in ‘looking backward’.
‘The desire to recreate or return to mid-century’s virtues has led us into a kind of ideological stalemate,’ he says. ‘We now find ourselves in a culture of hyper-individualism which shows no signs of slowing’.
Swain notes: ‘What he (Levin) calls for, in essence, is a return to the proximate. Americans must find ways to strengthen our mediating institutions that stand between the individual and government, and especially the national government – families, churches, civic organizations and so on… Many of our most acute problems have arisen because for over half a century we have nationalized every political question… The task is to denationalize our mindset.’
If this observation is correct, it is worth asking how this might apply to Christianity in America. There are many across the country who insist that ‘religion is the problem’.
WHERE TO START
The Bible and the subsequent growth of Christianity tell us that the most effective way we can transform the ‘mindset’ about Christianity, is not to be afraid of starting small. Christianity began that way. Ask yourself: ‘How many do I know who have truly heard?’
In 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Paul challenges the human inclination that says we come to know God through reason or mystical experience. Rather, he says, we come to a faith that is awakened through hearing the gospel and by God working in our hearts. The faith the Bible teaches us is not concerned with our search for God, but with God’s search for us. Christianity is a religion, not of works, but of God’s grace.
Paul points out that he is passionately committed to the work of communicating God’s good news. Despite the obstacles and disappointments, he says, ‘We do not lose heart’.
He gives us a helpful insight into why people refuse to listen. It is because they have been blinded by the god of this age (4:4). While the god of this age can refer to the powers of evil, it is more likely Paul is speaking of the idolatrous preoccupation with the material things of this world. Men and women lightly dismiss the reality and meaning of God’s gospel because their eyes are so fixed on the present world that they are blind to the larger realities of existence and life.
CHOICES AND CHANGE
Men and women remain unbelievers by choice. They have erected a spiritual barrier in their own soul. As we read in John’s Gospel (1:9-10), ‘the Light keeps blazing away for all to see, but men and women prefer to live in the darkness of their own point of view’.
How then does anyone come to believe? In 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 we read: For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
‘It is not my gifts of preaching, my oratory, my charisma, my charm, that win men and women to faith’, Paul is saying. ‘It is their face-to-face encounter with Jesus. I tell people who he is, what he has done, and why he has done it. And,’ he says, ‘as I do this, God by his Spirit takes the veil from their hearts and enables them to see the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ’.
Most commentators understand Paul’s imagery here to refer to Genesis 1:3. If so, it is a powerful metaphor. Paul is saying that turning from unbelief to belief involves an act of divine initiative as awesome and as powerful as the act of creation. God says to our hearts, ‘Let there be light’ and there is light – and from that moment a new world begins.
Many professing Christians have lost the passion to see lives change. Churches have too often become inward looking, with a focus on music, ceremony and art. There is a lack of trust in God’s means of changing lives. Let me ask, ‘When did you last pray for and ask someone to explore God’s good news with you – perhaps by inviting them to a Christianity Explored course?’ Out of small beginnings…!
© John G. Mason