The Hopeless Optimism of (Some) Evangelicals
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The Power of Our Weakness is the title of an article by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson appearing in the most recent hard copy edition of Christianity Today (Nov. 2015). By “our weakness” the authors mean that Evangelical Christianity (EC) is in a culturally weak position in the United States. According to the authors, the cultural weakness of EC was evinced by the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. By “the power” of EC’s weakness the authors mean that EC is still able to have a tremendous impact for good on the world.
The authors are optimistic. Indeed they see areas of improvement in the US, entitling one section of their article “THINGS ARE GETTING BETTER.” In support of this claim they point to a decline in the rate of abortions, teen sex, and violent crimes. Thus, they exclaim “our broader culture has shown, in some areas, a remarkable ability to mend itself.”
Things are getting better! Culture is able to mend itself! Nonsense. And the authors should know better. At the beginning of the article they explain how the Supreme Court’s decision to approve homosexual marriage is the result of decades of cultural decay,
Those who felt ambushed by the decision [of the Supreme Court to approve gay marriage] haven’t been paying enough attention. The ruling was the result of cultural trends that emerged in the context of heterosexual, not homosexual, relationships. During the 1960s and 1970s, America saw a concentrated cultural revolution: the triumph of radical individualism, particularly in sexual ethics. Since then, we have seen the outworking of this shift in attitudes, behavior, and laws: on divorce, abortion, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, gender roles, and now, decisively, same-sex marriage.
Marriage was not redefined only by the Supreme Court; it was also redefined by decades of social practice. Marriage, over time, has come to be viewed as a contract of individuals based on love rather than an institution recognized by the state to serve social purposes. When gay couples sought to join a contract of individuals based on love, they were pushing on an open door. Arguments for marriage based on tradition or natural law started to sound ancient and unintelligible. And many evangelicals, we must admit, have not been immune to this changed view of marriage.
This is a devastating description of the spiritual decline of the United States. And the authors do not even fully capture the enormity of our culture’s guilt. For them it seems that redefining marriage is a transgression merely of some long standing human tradition or a law of nature. Maybe they thought they were making this point by implication, but they should have spelled out that redefining marriage is a transgression of the law of God. The number of those who approve of and live in rebellion against God in the US is widespread! The authors are right to see homosexuality as only the tip of the iceberg. Rebellion abounds in the world and in the church. The heterosexuals, for their embrace of divorce and feminism, are just as guilty as the homosexuals.
The expectation that the “broader culture” will improve is hopeless. The men and women of this world are dead in sin. They will only turn to God if God draws them to himself by his own power (John 6:44). Those who are not drawn to God will continue in sin. And even if there is an “improvement” in some statistics concerning certain behaviors, it does not necessarily follow that people’s hearts have been “improved.” It probably only indicates that men and women have an “improved” ability to prevent or mitigate some of the consequences of their sins. With their hearts they are still far from God.
Things will not get better in the US from a spiritual point of view. The Bible does not set before Christians the hope that the nation we live in will get better. The Bible tells us to expect the opposite. The darkness of this world will grow thicker. And that darkness will extend to the church, which according to the Bible will experience a great falling away (2 Thess. 2:3ff). Christians, whether culturally weak or strong, will never be able to stem or reverse the tide of the world’s wickedness.
This does not mean Christians are in a position of hopelessness. Toward the end of the article the authors rightly remind us that those “who believe in a sovereign God should be the least angry, the least anxious, and the least fearful.” And they write, “We can rest in the knowledge that God is in control and that things will unfold according to his will and ways.” They also explain that even from a position of cultural weakness Christians have the opportunity to witness to the “true, enduring, and life-giving message of the gospel.” Unfortunately the authors seem to think the positive impact of the Christian witness will be cultural. But God did not send the gospel to save the United States.
God sent the gospel into the world to save sinners! Christians are and always will be culturally weak. But God is powerful. He is sending the gospel throughout the world by means of the church. He will save his people. He will send his Son Jesus Christ at the end of time. He will make all things new. He will institute an unending age of perfect bliss and peace for all his people. This is our certain and real hope!