What Are Your Thoughts About the Future for Christians in America?


As usual, Wanda’s café was crowded during the lunch hour, so my student and I decided to head outdoors under the breezeway to enjoy our fresh-grilled meals, which, in my case, included a side order of crispy fries sprinkled with that patented bay seasoning lightly coating them, giving them a salty, spicy kick to accompany the ham and melted Swiss on ciabatta—Sorry! I digress…

WandasSign Conversation PersecutionAs we enjoyed our meals outside, in the cool of the shade, Jordan and I spoke—as best we could envision it—of the future of Christianity in America. Neither of us felt any hint of an Eeyore complex, where we lived under a cloud of gloomy expectations; yet we invariably returned again and again to the concept of Christian suffering. Regardless of where our topic began—he was asking me questions related to a research project he was conducting—we always came full circle back to the idea that the future of Christianity in the next half century would be markedly different from that of its recent past. The future of Christianity in America includes increased marginalization and, most likely, increased persecution.

This sentiment is one that is “felt” or “sensed” at the grassroots level in evangelical churches because Christians are feeling isolated and silenced at work.  However, it still is not fully on the radar of Christian academics. Increasingly, as a result of the Supreme Court DOMA decision last summer, academics are realizing that conflict over the sinfulness of homosexual behavior is on the horizon. Dr. Mohler made the point plainly this past week with his post, “No Third Way.” His message in that post was that churches will be forced to decide one way or the other on the acceptableness (or sinfulness) of homosexual practice. There will be no third way of holding firmly to the truth of Scripture while also keeping in step with the cultural norms of sexual practice.

Still, even with prominent evangelicals beginning to notice the clash ahead, I think that too few scholars are paying attention to persecution itself. I have presented a paper on the topic at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in the past. And, Lord willing, I may do so again this November. ETS is the largest annual gathering of evangelical scholars in the U.S. Even if my paper is accepted, it will represent only the slightest exposure in the overall scheme of Christian academic research.

At the ETS annual meeting, there will be about 700 papers presented. There will not be even 7 papers at ETS which discuss persecution in the New Testament. There will be dozens of papers discussing the biblical doctrine of inerrancy and authority (as there ought to be). There will be dozens more discussing the doctrine of ecclesiology (and rightly so). But there will also be a great many papers dealing with esoteric, navel-gazing topics which amount to nothing more than “straw,” as Thomas Aquinas put it.

Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim is likely to be killed in Sudan for maintaining her faith in Christ. Asia Bibi has been separated from her husband and children for 1,250 days, locked in a Pakistani prison with the death sentence hanging over her head. Christians in Eritrea are confined in metal cargo containers, being allowed so little room that they cannot even lie down for sleeping.  Christ’s sheep are being slaughtered by the wolves of the world, and we’re mired in conversations about how Christians might best care for whales.

–I’m not opposed to whale care. I love whales. I paid a hefty sum of money at Newport Beach so my family and I could see these massive creatures. They truly are an awesome feature in the splendor of God’s creation. They are living beings and, thus, warrant our proper stewardship of them. Yet, they are not people. They are not human beings created in the image of God, and, more importantly, they are not the threatened and oppressed church of God which was purchased by Him at the cost of His own blood!

I expect that more and more Christians in America will soon be wrestling with what it means to lose a job on account of Christian faith. More and more, we will be faced with needy Christians in our churches—Christian teachers who get fired because of Christian convictions. Christian churches that are smaller, poorer, and, likely, pastored by a bi-vocational minister.

We all need to be thinking and speaking soberly about what persecution means. Why does persecution happen to the righteous? Why do all of the China Christians persecutedNew Testament writers (with the possible exception of Jude) think that persecution is a topic which they need to address in their sacred writings? How should Christians respond to suffering on account of Christ? What do the blessings—which Jesus, Peter, John, and James reference—mean for those who suffer for the sake of righteousness? Christian scholars can help us answer these soon-to-be pertinent questions.

In the face of an ever-intensifying fury against Christ and His church, there is an urgent need for writing and thinking about persecution and pastoral ministry.  I think now is the time to focus on such work.

Christians are losing their freedoms at a record pace all over the world. They are on the verge of being extinct throughout the Middle East. And we all—I, too—have been guilty of a little too much whale-watching.  We need to focus more attention where Christ is intensely at work—caring for his abused Bride and suffering Body, loving His Church.

If Jordan and I had any foresight at all, then a new day for Christianity is rising quickly in the west. Fading like a distant dream is the vision of a moral majority. In its place is a moral—and persecuted—minority.  The future of Christianity will look less and less like the evangelicalism of 1994 and more and more like that found in Acts 14 and Hebrews 10 and 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 12.

“Do not be deceived. Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

I’m curious. Do you agree with me and Jordan? Is there a growing sense of persecution increasing in the U.S.? Does this seem right to you?

Are You Blessed


How do we know when we are blessed?  On first blush, we might respond that we know we  are blessed when we have peace with God and peace with our wives and families.  Many of us would think we are blessed when we have plenty of money.  We think of NFL players making $6 million a year as the ones who are blessed.

But what about Abera Ongeremu, is he blessed?  Ongeremu—a traveling evangelist—was visiting at a church in Olenkomi, Ethiopia, when members of the Orthodox Church there stormed the evangelical church building where he was staying. They ordered him to burn his Bible.  He replied that he would not burn the word of life. So, they decided to burn him.  They tied his hands, poured diesel all over the room, started the fire, and locked the doors.  Ongeremu was certain this was his day to die, but the persecutors weren’t satisfied that this was a sufficient manner in which this evangelical Christian ought to die.  Instead, they dragged him back out and beat him until he fell unconscious on the ground.  He did not die that day (you can read his story here).

The question is whether we would call Ongeremu blessed, or cursed.  According to the Scriptures, Jesus calls this man blessed:

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).

I doubt that we mean for anything like this to happen to people when we say “God bless you” to folks.  Indeed, when we seek the Lord’s favor and ask His blessing for ourselves, we are not at all hoping to be treated by the world the way Ongeremu was treated.  Quite the opposite, in fact, we are usually hoping that the blessing will cause the world to look on us with favor (thus giving us the job, the contract, the admission to the school, etc.).

In the New Testament, however, persecution is a blessing.  “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).  As we contemplate persecution (and the persecuted) we realize that blessedness is something more than (and something strangely different from) what we had imagined.  Blessedness is directly related to relationship with Christ—not to material prosperity.  The Lord does not say “rejoice and be glad” when you become rich.  Instead, He warns that it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 19:24).  But Jesus does tell us when we are persecuted that we should “rejoice and be glad” for our reward in heaven is great.  This is, in fact, the way it has always been for the people of faith (Matthew 5:12).

To be blessed in Christ means to be invincible.  It means to be in right relationship to the Living God.   When we are made alive in Christ, no death will be a final threat to us (Hebrews 2:14-15). We cannot be threatened with death because death only promises to bring us into the presence of Christ.  To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).  In Christ, we, too, are blessed like Ongeremu and can never be defeated.

Excellent Explanation


I wrote a blog post last week about the latest Barna poll and how I basically think such polls are worthless.  However, taken on face value, they may be able to identify trends in our culture.  Dr. Mohler speaks in response to this latest poll by Barna, and his commentary is outstanding.  Read this article, and you will understand what worldview talk is all about.  You will hear many themes explained which have been trumpeted here. Dr. Mohler is excellent.

 

Destroying the Destroyer


I can’t really say I want you to go to the Huffington Post.  I guess I don’t.  However, there is a post located there today that will probably anger you and cause you to grieve.  The title of the post is “Bush: The Destroyer of Christians.”  In it, Franky Schaeffer–yes, he’s the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer–blasts President Bush and all evangelicals for being political junkies with a junky theology of “magic” conversions.  Years ago, Franky left the ranks of evangelicalism and went to Eastern Orthodoxy.  He is right that the Eastern Orthodox Church faired much better under Saddam Hussein.  Saddam supposedly allowed the Eastern Orthodox to operate liquor stores in Iraq (because the Muslims were too pure to own the stores, even though they may have been loyal customers).  Now, the whole thing is a mess, and the Eastern Orthodox have been displaced.  This certainly is not good, just as it is not good that the Eastern Orthodox have worked against evangelicals who have tried to evangelize Iraq.  These are not good things, but one can hardly blame George Bush for these failures, and it is certainly irresponsible to charge him with destroying Christians.  Come on, Franky!