Given the mind and heart, evangelical Christians could become the most dynamic and decisive minority movement in present American history. They could capture initiative in the social arena, command the attention of the mass media, and confront contemporary man with both a fresh option for personal meaning and worth and an arresting vision of public godliness.
That they are not doing so—except in scattershot fashion—has costly consequences for the secular scene no less than for the Christian churches. For one thing, this neglect condemns modern man to nonevangelical alternatives in the quest for answers and solutions. For another, it adds to the mushrooming mood that the Church has had its day and should be retired as a bit of Victoriana.
However dire may be the trouble of the institutional church, it in no degree matches that of the world. Even the film industry, notes Newsweek, is using apocalyptical themes to exploit the general awareness that things just cannot long continue as they are.
At a conference of executives, scholars, and journalists sponsored in Indianapolis last year by Liberty Fund, a whole afternoon’s discussion turned spontaneously to indications that contemporary man is now groping and fumbling in a civilizational twilight. Professor John Dietze of Johns Hopkins University interpreted the modern turning from a law-based to a positivist-based culture as the lengthened shadow of the French and Russian revolutions. Others saw in the moral pollution of the noble savage, the growing world-wide police power, and the debased currency, incisive reminders of the fall of ancient Rome. Still other warnings are the reaction against rationality and logic even on university campuses, distrust of foundational principles for democratic processes, and disengagement from Christian values not only in sexual life but also in attitudes toward human life itself.
No culture has long endured without a driving interest in such ultimate concerns as spirit, reason, and conscience; when earthlings become steeped in material concerns, they soon surrender transcendent objective values and respect for divine authority. Multitudes today live fast, furiously, and infamously, with no fixed goals or clear purpose. Fascination with man’s technological competence crowds out the idea of an afterlife. Man becomes secretly yet steadily intoxicated with his own supposed divinity and views himself as maker of his own destiny. Modern science, while it has given man a first opportunity to destroy the planet on which he lives, has now enabled him, on the other hand, to dabble in experimental creativity. Whether his byproduct will be a superior genetic type, a sporting variation of his present fallen self, or a generation of monsters, remains to be seen.
The need for not simply altered social patterns but a changed man is a basic biblical theme. Both prophets and apostles insist that man’s fall need not be an irrevocable calamity, because the Living God not only demands but also offers a new heart. Growing numbers of scholars on leading American campuses are convinced that unless we recover the truth and motivation of spiritual and moral vitalities, we will hurtle ever faster toward civilizational suicide. The masses who have fallen away from interest in supernatural realities and in moral rescue are already too much the servants of Antichrist to think intermediary options effective. On many campuses, the influence of positivism and humanism has so throttled the thinking of professors that they shrug off even the viability of the Christian tradition. Committed students are the ones who are tackling the world around them for Jesus Christ; their concern for truth and values is a refreshing hope and sobering indictment.
As the history of ancient Rome makes plain, nations seem to survive for a considerable time even after the core of moral health is gone; they move inexorably, however, from ailment to ailment toward yawning terminal illness.
In America the revolt against distinctively biblical values is now racing so fast and so far that evangelicals must face a determinative decision. Are we, perhaps, too often defending a way of life that conscience frequently indicts so that we ourselves cannot wholly believe in it? Should we instead be exposing the whole of our world to the searing scrutiny of the commandments of God and initiating healing measures for the sickness of our times? Young people are searching for something that’s missing in many churches, evangelical churches included; they crave, even demand, illuminating and authentic Christian proposals to once again motivate and dignify the world of labor and economics, of education, literature, and the arts, of sex and marriage. Too often the evangelical solution dead-ends in personal evangelism, and even here conservatives sometimes engage mostly in intramural conflict over isolationist versus cooperative strategy. To the world, this hassle presents a questionable testimonial, to say the least.
We have said that the modern Church, however serious its problems, is for all that not in such dire straits as the world. At its Head and as its Heart, we must never forget, is the living Christ, and in him lie the possibilities of renewal.
The world’s heart is a dead heart needing not merely re-energizing but replacement. Only the Lord of the Church is able to meet this need. But how effectively do Christians introduce this Great Physician?
If our stock-in-trade continues to be limited to the usual Sunday “program,” we will never make the grade either personally or collectively in permeating the world for Jesus Christ. If we are convinced that evangelization of the earth is an indispensable task, but often neglected or mismanaged, we must also be convinced that continuing in the status quo can suck us and the Church only deeper into disrepute and to rejection of the Christ, the only Saviour of the world.
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