Over the long course of Christian history, the most depressing thing—because repeated so often—has been how tragically far short of Christian ideals we ordinary Christians so regularly fall. Over the long course of Christian history, the most remarkable thing—because it is such a miracle of grace—is how often believers have acted against the pride of life to honor Christ. Of all such "signs of contradiction," the most completely Christlike have been those occasions when believers who are strong—because of wealth, education, political power, superior culture, or favored location—have reached out to the despised, the forsaken, the abandoned, the lost, the insignificant, or the powerless. Christianity has sometimes made a difference by surrounding the use of power with humility.

Yet although such occasions are the most completely Christlike, they only rarely feature in the kind of history that gets written up in the most noticed books. In such books, however, alongside much that shames the name of Christ, have also appeared "signs of contradiction" that do in fact testify to the presence of gold among the dross. One of the most remarkable of those signs has been the recurring ability of the Christian faith to act against the normal ways of the world in the exercise of power.

Throughout Western history, power has been a far more potent narcotic than the multitude of physical means that humans have used to get high. Power feeds on itself. It is never satisfied. It is almost never relinquished voluntarily. (The Roman Catholic Charles V, who in 1556 gave up the Holy Roman Empire for a monastic life of prayer, and the Presbyterian William Jennings Bryan, who in 1915 resigned as Secretary of State ...

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