1 Is Christianity dying?
Start reading directly below, or jump to:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
Have you heard the one about God dying? This revolutionary notion was immortalized by Friedrich Nietzsche. And how about Christianity—is it dead as well? If we confined this question to the United States, the evidence appears overwhelming—at least for the organized church in America. A June 2015 Gallup poll reported:
Americans’ confidence in the church and organized religion has fallen dramatically over the past four decades, hitting an all–time low this year of 42%. Confidence in religion began faltering in the 1980s, while the sharpest decline occurred between 2001 and 2002…In addition to serious scandals that have come to light…the increase in the share of Americans identifying as nonreligious or as members of a non–Christian faith is another reason that confidence in the church has declined.[i]
Yet when viewed more broadly, beyond the United States, nothing could be further from the truth. In an article by The Washington Post in May 2015, the editors debunked this popular myth in an article entitled, “Think Christianity is dying? No, Christianity is shifting dramatically.”[ii] They went on to point out, “While Christianity may be on the decline in the United States, the world is becoming more religious, not less. Religious convictions are growing and shifting geographically in several dramatic ways.”[iii]
For a religion that began with a rather unpromising launch—the gruesome death of its founder and the hunting down and martyring of most of its early followers—Christianity has defied the odds for more than two millennia. As of 2010, those identifying themselves as Christians account for 31.4 percent of the world’s population. That’s 2.17 billion people, and it’s projected to increase to almost three billion by 2050.[iv]
So what might account for Christianity’s survival, despite centuries of the most intense persecution imaginable? If it was just another religion founded by just another Messianic pretender, why hasn’t Christianity landed on history’s rubbish dump, forgotten by all but stalwart historians bent on endless trivial pursuits?
The Uniqueness of the Christian Faith
Ask any professor of comparative religion, and they will tell you that Christianity is just one of many religions—and not particularly unique. Is that true? Consider:
- Christianity’s founder claimed to be God in the flesh.
- Christianity’s founder was also in every way a man.
- Christianity’s founder returned from the dead, as personally witnessed by his earliest followers.
- Christianity’s founder stated unequivocally that he provides the only way to God in heaven.
- Christianity’s founder promised that he will someday personally return to rule the earth.
- Christianity’s founder takes up residence in the body of every one of his believers to personally live the Christian life through them.
- Christianity’s entire “benefit package” is transferred through faith—not earned through any form of human effort, especially religion.
- Christianity was foretold thousands of years in advance in the Old Testament scriptures of the Hebrews and revealed, to the letter, in the New Testament of the Christians.
- Christianity’s founder is currently raising up a special cadre of followers to take part in ruling the universe for all eternity.
These are hardly the claims of just another religious also–ran. He leaves us to decide whether he was an outright liar, a raving lunatic, or God himself.
Even a casual reader of the Bible will observe that Jesus towered over everyone else, with each encounter. Kings, religious rulers, prostitutes, and peasants were halted midstride by his piercing insights and otherworldly wisdom. No one was his equal. Had Jesus met up with the likes of Aristotle, Plato, Einstein, Archimedes, Newton, Darwin, Hawking, or Sagan, the results would have been the same—this humble carpenter from the sticks would have silenced them all.
But Jesus’s most audacious claim, the one that would eventually lead to his arrest and execution, was his claim to be God in the flesh. Now don’t get the wrong idea. This notion of his Godhood was not a retrospective invention of his followers, nor was it a fanciful interpretation of what he said. Because in that day, in that culture, such daring assertions were likely to result in public execution or an extended stay in the Roman version of the funny farm. Yet people today persist in discounting his claims and have reduced him to a far safer “great moral teacher” or some such politically correct diminution. C. S. Lewis, a British novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist, would have none of it:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[v]
Remember, this was the same Jesus who said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter–in–law against her mother–in–law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”[vi]
So much for the Hollywood Messiah, dumbing down his message to attract screaming crowds as he uttered sappy platitudes. Jesus spoke bluntly and unapologetically, leaving little room for doubt about his identity or his message.
The paradoxical exclusivity and inclusivity of Christ’s message
The following words of Jesus have drawn clenched fists and spitting rage among the religious and non–religious alike since they were uttered two millennia ago: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[vii]
Such exclusive claims did not go down well with anyone, particularly the religious leaders of his day. He was sweeping all other religions off the table with a single stroke. Any other approach to God was declared to be futile, regardless of its popularity or the sincerity of its followers. Period. These were either the words of a madman or of someone who knew that his claims would be eventually backed up by verifiable results.
But equally sweeping was the inclusivity of his many invitations to follow him and to be with God in heaven: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”[viii]
That word “whoever” is as unconditional as his claims to be the only way to God.
The Global Impact of Christianity
It was once written:
Two thousand years ago, a Man was born in a small village that most people of the world had never heard of, and the Child of a woman who owned nothing. He grew up in another village where He made things from wood until He was thirty years old. For three years, He was a teacher who traveled from village to village. He never wrote a book. He was never elected to be the leader of any group or organization. He never had a family or owned his own home. He did not go to College, or have any diplomas or degrees. The world didn’t think of Him as a great man. He never traveled far from the place where He was born.
He was only thirty–three years old when many of His friends turned against Him. His close friends ran away, leaving Him alone. He was turned over to His enemies and went through a trial without any real reason. He was nailed to a cross between two robbers. While He was dying, those who nailed Him to the cross gambled for His clothes—the only thing He owned on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Almost two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is the most important Person in the human–race. Time is divided by His birth and death. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the governments that ever governed, all the kings that ever ruled, put together have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as Jesus Christ.
In the roughly two thousand years since Christianity came into existence, its effect on the cultures around it has been profoundly positive and transformative. R. R. Palmer, distinguished American historian at Princeton and Yale universities, stated:
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the coming of Christianity. It brought with it, for one thing, an altogether new sense of human life. For the Greeks had shown man his mind; but the Christians showed him his soul. They taught that in the sight of God, all souls were equal, that every human life was sacrosanct and inviolate. Where the Greeks had identified the beautiful and the good, had thought ugliness to be bad, had shrunk from disease and imperfection and from everything misshapen, horrible, and repulsive, the Christian sought out the diseased, the crippled, the mutilated, to give them help. Love, for the ancient Greek, was never quite distinguished from Venus. For the Christians held that God was love, it took on deep overtones of sacrifice and compassion.
The history of Christianity is inseparable from the history of Western culture and of Western society. For almost a score of centuries Christian beliefs, principles, and ideals have colored the thoughts and feelings of Western man. The traditions and practices have left an indelible impress not only on developments of purely religious interest, but on virtually the total endeavor of man. This has been manifest in art and literature, science and law, politics and economics, and, as well, in love and war. Indeed, the indirect and unconscious influence Christianity has often exercised in avowedly secular matters—social, intellectual, and institutional—affords striking proof of the dynamic forces that have been generated by the faith over the millenniums. Even those who have contested its claims and rejected its tenets have been affected by what they opposed. Whatever our beliefs, all of us today are inevitable heirs to this abundant legacy; and it is impossible to understand the cultural heritage that sustains and conditions our lives without considering the contributions of Christianity.[ix]
Interestingly, the effects of the forced removal of Christianity after its assimilation have proven to be devastating to the very fabric of what is left of those societies. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal concerning the ISIS–driven persecution and exile of Christians in Iraq illustrates this point:
Iraq is home to one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world…But their numbers have plummeted to around 200,000 from 1.5 million before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. A Christian exodus, if it isn’t reversed, would be a devastating loss for Iraq. Iraqi Christians are well–organized, and for years they’ve tended to the educational, cultural and social needs of the wider society…“Christians have always played a key role in building our societies and defending our nations,” Jordan’s King Abdullah has said.[x]
How striking that these comments came from Muslim leaders!
From another, equally tortured part of our world, comes a memoir from Joseph Kim, Under the Same Sky, describing his upbringing in, and eventual escape from, North Korea. After suffering years of smothering repression, starvation, even cannibalism under the whims of the brutal Kim family regime, he manages a harrowing escape to China. But there, the official policy is to track down and repatriate North Koreans. However, he discovers a ray of light amidst all the darkness in his life:
In China, Mr. Kim’s luck turns. A stranger advises him that Christians help North Koreans, so he “wandered the streets of Tumen City looking for crosses.” When he found one, he writes, “I walked into the church. I saw a verse on the wall, Matthew 11:28: ‘Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ I felt it had been written especially for me…His Chinese church friends fed and sheltered him for a year—all the while risking arrest and imprisonment for the crime of helping a North Korean.[xi]
In his rather exhaustive study, How Christianity Changed the World, author Alvin J. Schmidt traced the impact of Christianity on values that many in the world take for granted—none more evident than in the value we put on human life. As one reviewer of Schmidt’s book commented:
Our modern–day value of human life was rooted in teachings of Christ and the actions of early Christians in rescuing newborn babies abandoned on the trash heaps of Rome. Whether through infanticide, gladiatorial games, glorification of suicide or human sacrifice there was an almost global attitude that human life was cheap before Christianity.
The most beneficial institutions of our society find their roots in the influence of Jesus Christ. Early Christians founded the first hospitals, orphanages, and feeding programs combating the pervading view of the time than it would be better to just let the sick, the poor, and the orphans die. Monastic libraries provided the inspiration for the first universities in the twelfth and thirteenth century. Even government institutions and our concepts of liberty, justice, and equality are rooted in the law of God and biblical patterns.[xii]
The list goes on, as Schmidt points out the impact of Christianity on labor and economic freedom, science, art, architecture, literature, music, holidays, words, symbols, and expressions. And today, the church continues to give voice to the voiceless on critical global matters, holding national and business leaders accountable for the effects of their policies on the poor and underprivileged. For example, in an article in The Wall Street Journal, the head of the Catholic Church spoke out about long–simmering frustrations over global inequality:
Pope Francis issued a broadside against the global economic system, denouncing a structure based on worship of money, blaming it for inequality, military conflict and environmental degradation…the pontiff called for a “globalization of hope” that would guarantee the needs of all…Pope Francis illustrated the world’s problems in personal terms, invoking the “endangered peasant, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child” …casualties of a system that has “imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.” [xiii]
Who else can match that singular voice for its scope, clarity, and moral force in the world today? Regrettably, although the world unhesitatingly holds the church accountable for its faults—and rightly so—it tends to ignore or minimize the overwhelmingly positive effects it has had, working quietly and unassumingly around the world.
Considering the cumulative good that the Judeo–Christian worldview has delivered over the millennia, one would expect that it would be universally welcomed with open arms. Such, as any casual reader of world history will attest, is not the case. In fact, things seem to be worsening. In his book, What’s So Great about Christianity, Dinesh D’Souza set forth a chilling summary of the current war on religion that is being waged on a global scale:
The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control school curricula so they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion—and especially the Christian religion—disappear from the face of the earth.[xiv]
But amidst all the darkness there is hope…
“To see beauty is to see light.”
In a futuristic passage of Old Testament scripture, the prophet Isaiah writes, “But there’ll be no darkness for those who were in trouble. Earlier he did bring the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali into disrepute, but the time is coming when he’ll make that whole area glorious—the road along the Sea, the country past the Jordan, international Galilee.”
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
light! sunbursts of light!
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us! He’ll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.[xv]
In his characteristically unequivocal manner, Jesus declares, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”[xvi]
This light, this precious light, has been leading the blind into the bright uplands of God’s blessings for thousands of years.
The principal reason Christianity has flourished for millennia is that it delivers on its promises with astonishing regularity. Josh McDowell provides many examples in his book, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. After a lifetime of hating his father for what his alcohol addiction had done to their family, Josh became a Christian in college and, like millions of others, was instantly changed from the inside. He wrote:
The love of God inundated my life. He took my hatred for my father and turned it upside down. Five months after becoming a Christian, I found myself looking my dad right in the eye and saying, “Dad I love you.” I did not want to love that man, but I did. God’s love had changed my heart.
Soon afterward, Josh’s father became a Christian, as well. Josh added:
My father’s life was changed right before my eyes. It was like someone reached down and switched on a light inside him. He touched alcohol only once after that. He got the drink only as far as his lips, and that was it—after forty years of drinking…over a hundred people in the area around my tiny hometown committed their lives to Jesus Christ because of the change they saw in the town drunk, my dad.
You can laugh at Christianity. You can mock and ridicule it. But it works. If you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions—Jesus Christ is in the business of changing lives.
Why the Decline of Religion in Modern Societies
So, what accounts for the statement by a researcher that “confidence in the [U.S.] Church has been steadily declining since the 1980s. As Americans become less religious, confidence in the Church as an institution is plummeting”?
Perhaps it has something to do with what Mahatma Gandhi observed, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
—C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
By way of illustration, how do you cook a frog? S l o w l y. Otherwise, he’ll jump out of the boiling water. The Christian church in America, and that of other so–called “advanced” countries around the world, has been slowly cooking in a mesmerizing stew of its own making. Material comforts, terminal busyness, ceaseless entertainment, and the relentless accumulation of “stuff” have exacted a devastating toll on spiritual life. Although many people identify themselves as “religious” in surveys, they live their lives as practical atheists. Increasingly, Christians withdraw to gated communities, exclusive retirement compounds, and affluent congregations satisfied with preaching to the choir. Gone is the evangelical fervor of early church history and, with it, the willingness of ordinary believers to confront the world and its secular culture in the streets and back yards.
I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, “I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,” oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless. Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half–naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see. The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God![xvii]
And to make matters worse, to increase the appeal of Christianity to the masses, many mainstream denominations have dumbed-down the central message of salvation and morphed it into a social gospel that sounds more like a pop psychology self–help seminar than a matter of life and death. H. Richard Niebuhr put it this way: “We have made Christian faith the story of how a God without wrath brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment, through the ministration of a Christ without a cross!”
A particularly corrosive trend among all too many Christian churches is to deemphasize—if not deny altogether—the presence of virulent evil in the world. The notion of Satan as a person who is actively perpetuating evil seems so far–fetched, even to Christians, as to be relegated to the dusty shelves of theologians and mystics and best left out of the public discourse for fear of being viewed as “weird.” Yet here we sit every night, helplessly watching CNN parade an endless cavalcade of murder, mass slaughter, mayhem, global chaos, and apocalyptic threats by those promoting Islamism—and we assign it all to mere human dysfunction and political vagaries. What is behind this state of institutional denial? In an article in The Wall Street Journal, entitled, “How to Beat Islamic State,” Maajid Nawaz offered valuable insight:
I call this the Voldemort effect, after the villain in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Many well–meaning people in Ms. Rowling’s fictional world are so petrified of Voldemort’s evil that they do two things: They refuse to call Voldemort by name, instead referring to “He Who Must Not Be Named,” and they deny that he exists in the first place. Such dread only increases public hysteria, thus magnifying the appeal of Voldemort’s power.[xviii]
We tend to fear the supernatural, the immaterial, especially if it tends toward evil. This is what gives it its power. Anyone with a child knows the only way to dispel the fear of the “boogeyman” is to let them look under the bed. But the Bible declares, and Jesus repeatedly emphasized, that there is a cosmic boogeyman known as Lucifer, or Satan, who is bent on chaos and destruction. Jesus put it this way:
A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.
I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary.[xix]
Yes, there is real palpable danger from Satan and, without divine protection, you and I are hopelessly outgunned. That of course is why Jesus characterized himself as our shepherd, willing to give his life. How can we possibly grasp the full meaning of his ministry without first accepting the fact that we are in spiritual danger? To discount this peril is to unintentionally assist Satan in bringing us under his power.
People need life and truth—not rules. Churches that fail to deliver what Jesus promised are suffering the consequences of empty buildings and widespread irrelevance in a culture that isn’t easily fooled by pretense.
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”[xx]
Hamstrung by a yawning disconnect between what they say they believe and how they live, all too many Christians are barely distinguishable from their counterparts in the surrounding secular societies that threaten to snuff out what remains of their hollow religious profession. The modern church has frozen Jesus in a two–thousand–year–old time capsule, preserving his memory in idealized statues, illusory paintings, make–believe nativity scenes, velveteen Sunday school images, and trumped up Hollywood movie productions. But what if Jesus were to be incarnated today? Would he not be a man of the times as he was back then? He was a brilliant, cutting–edge, disruptive figure, who made everyone he encountered sit up and take notice. He challenged intellectuals with dazzling insights. He commanded diseases to leave, storms to calm, and demons to go back where they came from. He feared no one and had command of everything that came against him. Where is that Jesus today?
Two millennia ago, Jesus commissioned his followers to “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”[xxi]
For many, doing so in their pervasively pagan cultures would lead them to a most unpleasant death. Others suffered unrelenting persecution at the hands of governments and religious sects bent on Christianity’s eradication.
Today, in modern industrialized nations, the problem is not so much persecution as it is polite marginalization. In the face of this ever–darkening cultural minefield wrapped in political correctness, Christianity is tolerated, if it judiciously stays safely out of the halls of power. And many of the faith have simply resigned themselves to their role as a silent minority. Yet they remain the only mouths Jesus speaks with, the only feet he uses to carry the gospel, and the only hands with which Jesus reaches out to the lost. He promised, “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age,” yet many believers remain sequestered.
Christianity is unlikely to have significant impact on modern culture until Jesus is perceived as relevant and engaged in the here and now. Jesus’s great commission (or, as Dallas Willard quipped, “the great omission”) clearly implied that Christians were never meant to sit on their hands and wait for Jesus to come back again. He effectively said, “I’m already here, in the hearts and minds of all true believers, and I want to engage in the streets with real people to demonstrate the kingdom of God.”
When Jesus walked the earth, he didn’t come like so many religious leaders of his day, longing for the past and cursing the darkness—he embraced the challenge and engaged with the world as it was, lighting a light that still burns brightly today. Then, he trained others to follow him and to connect their faith with their lives as actually lived and to bring his Kingdom to earth as a living reality, miracles and all. How else could the works of the Devil be defeated? Things looked rather bleak when Jesus arrived on the scene back then—he was a low–born citizen of an enslaved people group. Yet he turned the then–known world upside down. You can almost hear him saying to believers today, “Hey, the battle for hearts and minds is not lost—it has hardly begun!”
So why, after two thousand years, hasn’t Christianity swept the world like wildfire, pushed back all opposition, and emerged master of the field? Evil still reigns, world wars still threaten, crime, discrimination, and hatred stubbornly refuse to release their grip on even the most technologically advanced cultures. Maybe we should take a closer look…
Pastor Dr. Jon Wilson shared this inspirational insight:
“One of the most powerful thirty minutes of film I have ever seen is the opening sequence of the film, Saving Private Ryan. An unbelievable price was paid just to gain a toehold, just a few feet of Omaha Beach in Normandy. That price was paid in blood. At the end of D–Day, at the end of that one day, in one sense nothing had really changed. The vast majority of the continent of Europe was still as it had been the day before, under the power of the swastika. Evil reigned through the whole continent. There was only this one little plot of ground, a few feet of sand on an obscure stretch of beach in one lonely country that was not under the domination of the enemy. However, that one tiny stretch of land, that one tiny little beach was enough. The truth is, at the end of that one day, everything was changed because now there was an opening, just a crack, a tiny little crack at first. But, it would get a little larger the next day, and a little larger the week after that. The forces would get stronger every day. There was still a lot of fighting to do, and a lot of suffering, and a lot of dying. But, from that day on, it was just a matter of time.”
“Then the day came when Paris was liberated; then the day came when all of France was liberated, followed by the days when the concentration camps were overrun and prisoners were set free. Then the day came when Hitler destroyed himself in the bunker and judgment came to that particular beast as it always does, as it always will, and then came V–E Day, victory when the soldiers would come home. The war was over and the enemy was defeated. However, the truth was that the victory was all sealed on D–Day. It just took a while for the battle because the battle raged for a season. But after D–Day, V–E Day, victory, that was just a matter of time. The apostle John says this earth has fallen under a dark power and then one day a woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who was to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. He taught about, and he lives in a kingdom.”
“One day, at a cost that none of us will fully understand, Jesus took upon himself, on the cross, all the brokenness, all the suffering of D–Day, and all the suffering and all the sin and pain of every other day of the history of the human race since the Fall of man in the garden of Eden. At the end of the Sabbath day, when his friends went to care for his body the stone was gone and in one sense, nothing had changed. Pilate and the Chief Priests were still in charge of Palestine; Caesar still reigns in Rome. He didn’t even know the name of this obscure Messiah in some remote country. The Herods and the Neros and the Hitlers would come and go, and pain and suffering and death go on today as they went on then, and nobody knew at first except a couple of women. Nobody knew it, but that was D–Day.”
“There was an opening in this fallen world, tiny at first, no bigger than the entrance of an empty tomb. But now there was an opening and the truth is friends, every time you resist sin, every time you proclaim the Gospel, every time you give a portion of your resources for the spread of the kingdom, every time you offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to the poor, that opening gets a little larger and the darkness gets pushed back a little more, and the light gets a little stronger. That’s why we exist as a church. That’s why we are called to struggle and pray and work and suffer and labor because one day liberation will come, make no mistake. There will be a lot of fighting and a lot of suffering and a lot of dying, but D–Day already happened when hardly anybody was looking. At the end of that one day, everything was changed and now it is just a matter of time. There is no victory without a battle, but God will not be defeated.”[xxii]
Hey buddy, got a light?
I once went with my family to underground caverns somewhere in Colorado. We went deep into the ground, guided by a young college student with a lantern. After we reached the deepest chamber, he lined us all up and said, “I’m going to turn this lantern out for one minute to show you all what total darkness really feels like.” The light went out and I embarked upon the most terrifying sixty seconds of my life. Nothing had prepared me for the visceral, bone–chilling reaction I was to have. Struggling to remain composed and not to show panic, I held on for dear life for what seemed an eternity. The young man eventually terminated my agony by lighting a match, a tiny match, and the huge chamber was almost totally illuminated. I was so relieved, I wanted to run out of there and never look back.
What struck me most was the preciousness of that light and how much one little match could illuminate in total darkness. The world has been feeling more and more like that cavern lately. But something I learned down there: darkness is nothing in itself—it is simply the absence of light.
How about you? Need a light? Songwriter Joel Sczebel perfectly captured this thought:
Jesus Christ, shine into our night
Drive our dark away
Till Your glory fills our eyes
Jesus Christ, shine into our night
Bind us to Your cross, where we find life…
…Reveal the depths of what You’ve done
The death You died, the victory won
You made a way for us to know Your love [xxiii]
NOTES: Chapter 1. Is Christianity Dying?
[ii] The center of Christianity has shifted from Europe to the global South…A century ago, 80 percent lived in North America and Europe, compared with just 40 percent today. In 1980, more Christians were found in the global South than the North for the first time in one thousand years. Today, the Christian community in Latin America and Africa, alone, account for one billion people.
One out of four Christians in the world presently is in Africa…Asia’s Christian population of 350 million is projected to grow to 460 million by 2025…demographers estimate that more Christian believers are found worshipping in China on any given Sunday than in the United States.
[iii] “Think Christianity Is Dying? No, Christianity Is Shifting Dramatically.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 29 May 2015.
[iv] Pew Research Center, “The Future of World Religions,” Population Growth Projections: 2010–2050
[v] “A Quote by C. S. Lewis.” Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2015.
[vi] Matthew 10:34–36 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
[vii] John 14:6 New International Version (NIV)
[viii] John 5:24 NIV
[ix] Palmer, R. R., Joel Colton, and Lloyd S. Kramer. A History of the Modern World: To 1815. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2002. Print.
[x] “The Assault on Christians, and Hope, in Iraq.” WSJ. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2015.
[xi] “A Boy and a Girl Who Escaped the Worst Place on Earth.” WSJ. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 July 2015.
[xii] Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World (formerly titled Under the Influence). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print.
[xiii] Rocca, Francis X. “Pope Calls for ‘Globalization of Hope'” WSJ. Wsj.com, 09 July 2015. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
[xiv] D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s so Great about Christianity. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2007. Print.
[xv] Isaiah 9:1–2, 6, 7 The Message (MSG)
[xvi] John 8:12 NASB
[xvii] Revelation 3:15–19 MSG
[xviii] “How to Beat Islamic State.” WSJ. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
[xix] John 10:10–14 MSG
[xx] John 10:9–11 NASB
[xxi] Matthew 28:18–20 MSG
[xxii] By permission: “Why is There Evil in This World?” Dr. Jon H. Wilson, Senior Pastor, Canoga Park Presbyterian Church, 2008.
[xxiii] © 2011 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)