The in-reach of the world
After dinner our conversation turned to the social and moral changes we’ve seen over the years. We were all baby boomers—children of WWII era parents—so the memories of life as Christians in the 1950’s and 60’s were easy to recall. It’s a scene often repeated among aging adults throughout human history. Even in Moses’ day the leeks and garlics of Egypt were remembered fondly as the painful memories of slavery faded.
Yet there have been real changes in recent decades. Politics were once more productive—with hints of compassion and decency—rather than the impasses offered by today’s cynical power brokers. Most marriages of the earlier era lasted a lifetime even in the face of inevitable challenges. Children were raised by their own parents rather than by care centers. Men and women held that gender differences were fruitful and meant by God for good over against the militantly degendered values of today. Entertainments were more modest—less explicit, less pervasive, and treated as distinct events in place of today’s unending exposures—and media were less penetrating and powerful in shaping conduct.
The tone of the dinner conversation was actually searching rather than nostalgic: we weren’t complaining; we were looking for insight. We reflected on the loss of devotion to God’s words: the Bible no longer carries much weight even among Christians. So what does this mean for the future? Has Christianity run its course?
The old days, by the way, weren’t really all that good—each generation has its own favorite blind spots—but there are many changes since the 60s we never guessed could come: serial sexual partnerships either with or without marriage; abortions as a convenience; God’s grace reformulated as a solvent that dissolves former restraints; and unashamed pursuits of pleasure. Older sins of hypocrisy have often been replaced by new self-interests that live under the rubric of authenticity.
After the evening ended I found the conversation didn’t end. For me it continued with God. I prayed for his wisdom and compassion. Will the world ever come to see the Son’s attractiveness? Christ alone satisfies the soul—nothing gives a heart the love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness that he brings to all who know him. It’s an overflow of the bond the Father and the Son share, carried outward to and through us by the Spirit.
The brief version of all this came to mind after I prayed. I was reminded of the calling of Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see, the LORD is good!” We have an unending invitation to love God with whole hearts.
The skeptic may ask, is that really an answer?
Yes, very certainly. We were made for God and we can never find joy and peace until our hearts are united to his heart. But we don’t know that until we’ve tasted something better than what we normally feed on, something of heaven rather than the petty stimulants the world offers.
The question, then, is what holds us back from that answer? Can it be self? Our self-interests? Our personal needs? Our ambitions? Our longing to fill out our still-unfulfilled-potential? Our search for personal healing? For personal satisfaction? For personal security?
Yes. We may have become lovers of self rather than lovers of God. And we may have made churches into therapeutic centers for self-improvement when we were actually invited to become selfless: seeking God first and counting others as more important than ourselves.
All I know is that our churches don’t draw much attention from the world these days. Just the opposite has come about: the world has captured the hearts of too many Christians. As the church seeks greater prominence through outreach, the in-reach of the world is more and more apparent.
I mention all this because some Christians feel the church is most redemptive when she accommodates herself to the world as an expression of love; or, for others, when she launches moral crusades that oppose the world. But accommodation didn’t work for the German church in the 1940s; and moral crusades didn’t work for Pelagius, or for the prohibitionists in America. Sound change only comes from changed hearts.
How do hearts get changed, then? By meeting true love. His name is Jesus and he invites us to his own dinner party: the wedding supper of the lamb. And the conversation we’ll have there is sure to be fascinating.
Thoughts? You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo.
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on spreadinggoodness.org [See “Resources”].