Standing Firm, Moving Forward
When the first issue of Christianity Today appeared 40 years ago, none of us could have imagined what the future held. Small in number and insignificant in influence, evangelicals then were an ignored minority in most ecclesiastical circles. Those who claimed to take the Bible seriously were often labeled hopelessly obscurantist or unloving and insensitive to a world in need.
And yet God was at work, sometimes in surprising ways. After the Second World War, new evangelical organizations and a new generation of leaders began to emerge. Spiritual hunger became evident among large numbers of people.
Repeatedly in those days I came across men and women in virtually every denomination who were committed to the historic biblical faith, believing it was not only spiritually vital, but socially relevant and intellectually defensible. And yet they had no standard around which they could rally, and no place they could look for spiritual encouragement and intellectual challenge. Christianity Today came into being to help fill that vacuum.
As Christianity Today enters its forty-first year, our first response should be one of great gratitude for all God has done. Who could have envisioned the almost explosive growth of evangelicals during the last four decades? Who could have foreseen the impact this magazine would have, not only in evangelical circles but far beyond? God alone must get the credit.
But what of the future? Where will evangelicalism be in another 40 years-or even four years from now, when we stand on the brink of a new century?
Only God knows the future, and thankfully, God is the God of the future. Try as we might, our speculations about the future will be only that-speculations. If we went back a hundred years we would be amazed how far off target many predictions were concerning the twentieth century. History is full of surprises, and the next century will be no exception. Many leaders openly question whether or not there will be another full century.
Population growth will bring new pressures and new ethical problems. Technological advances will probably be staggering, providing new opportunities for the furtherance of the gospel, and new dangers as well. Progress always has its dark side, for the human heart has not changed.
But technology alone will not determine the future of evangelicalism, nor will any other outside influence-social, political, economic, or intellectual. Yes, these will all affect us, but whether or not evangelicals once again become an insignificant minority will depend on one thing: whether we allow God to shape our hearts and minds and to guide us as we respond to a changing world. Let me mention six factors that I believe will determine the future impact of evangelicals.
First, the evangelical future will depend on our vision. The twin enemies of vision are always complacency and discouragement. Complacency makes us lazy; discouragement paralyzes us. Few things cripple us like pride and self-satisfaction in the face of success, or despair in the face of evil. We evangelicals are no longer an ignored minority, but success should drive us to our knees, for its dangers are enormous.
How can we be complacent when over two-thirds of the world's population is not Christian, even in a nominal sense? Or how can we be discouraged when God is still at work, and has promised to be with us to the end of the age?
I often think of the words of James at the Jerusalem Council, that God was at work among the nations "to take out of them a people for his name" (Acts 15:14). This is still happening all over the world. Often these new believers are a very small minority, and yet they are still a part of God's great plan.