Ed: A lot of believers feel like everything is changing, often for the worst. Why do you think there is so much fear?
Caleb: We’re usually afraid of circumstances and people that we don’t understand or cause us feel out of control. Fear launches us into uncertainty and forces the acknowledgement of our limits as humans. For instance, despite our valiant efforts to reverse societal trends, many of us may not know why the ethics and moral compass of our society are drifting away from Judeo-Christian values.
Reacting with fear allows us to stabilize our fearful emotions in sinful ways. People pleasing, bashing society, throwing out truth, micromanaging, legalism, and isolating ourselves from others are just a few of our destructive solutions that hurts others and brings more fear. Loving God and focusing on him is a much better response.
Ed: You emphasize in your book God of Tomorrow that although our society is rapidly changing, God never changes. What are the implications for our faith of an unchanging God in this frenetic world?
Caleb: Society’s trends, people’s opinions, and the severity of injustices are always changing. However, our current and future circumstances don’t negate God’s power, plan, or promises. Revelation 20-22 promises God’s justice and fulfillment of his redemptive plan.
Unlike everything else in life, God never changes and is completely trustworthy. If he is good, unchanging, and has our back, then we can trust him, love others, and be courageous. Cultural tragedy and everyday life will punch us in the gut again, but our expectant hope is that our unchanging God will guide us and work all things out to His glory. Such hope transcends today’s trials and points to what God will do tomorrow.
Ed: What do you say to people who seem to think they can go back to the “good ole’ days”? How can this nostalgic mentality unintentionally hurt people?
Caleb: Our “good ole’ days” might have been terrible days for others. Were the “good ole’ days” when shows like “Leave It to Beaver” aired? Could Latino, African American, Korean, interracial, or single-parent families relate to our days? Were abused kids and women listened to and their abusers dealt with?
Were the “good ole’ days” when a conservative wasn’t in the White House? Were they when abortion was more accessible and our government began to fund millions of abortions?
I’m not sure when the good ole’ days were. Having a mentality of going backwards always sidelines somebody… and it’s unbiblical. Following Jesus forces us to walk forward—towards God’s redemptive plan. We must lovingly engage today’s society and boldly share truth.
Ed: When we talk about engaging society, a big part of the tension is in politics, but you say that we need to honor our leaders—no matter what. How can we honor our leaders when we disagree with them?
Caleb: Honoring leaders—even if we don’t like them—helps our society. In a society where the “left” seems more left and the “right” seems more right, my idea sounds strange. But honoring leaders is worshiping God. He establishes and removes all leaders (Dan. 2:20-22). Leadership is temporary and leaders have momentary influence, while God has everlasting ultimate authority.
Honoring our leaders acknowledges our faith in God’s unfolding plan. Peter told first-century Christians to “honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17) and that emperor was Nero. Our leaders are like us—sinful broken people who need our prayers. Believers shouldn’t use media or private conversations to bash leaders. While we can’t be silent about injustice or needed criticism, and we should never withhold truth, our respect for positions of authority highlights our faith and is an example to society.
Ed: You say “since tomorrow belongs to God, we can graciously offer hope to people today.” Why do so many people find that difficult to engage?
Caleb: Let’s face it—tomorrow can be a jerk! It’s unstable and brings either blessings or tragedy. We’ve also experienced pain and rejection from others. The news, political extremists, and social media trigger us. As such, we’re prone to react with fear as a defense mechanism. Toxic fear lies to us by making us feel like our options for relating to society are limited.
So a lot of us end up changing our beliefs and morals to align with society. Others might become crusaders and use truth as a weapon instead of a loving path to God. The most effective way to offer Jesus’ hope to society is to engage with truth, grace, and empathy.
Ed: Paul’s experience with the philosophers in Athens is very unique. As we think about our approach to any context we might be living in, what principles from Acts 17 could help us to engage people well?
Caleb: Paul related the gospel with them differently than he did the Sanhedrin. Why and how was he able to do this? Paul never assumed that he had a “home field advantage” and neither should we. He understood Athenian culture because he had studied the context and people he would be ministering to. Paul was intentional with words he used for teaching. His message was both appealing and counter-cultural. His teaching immediately got their attention because his preparation helped him engage the Athenians.
Christians should imitate Paul and operate like missionaries in our own context.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.