“And these three remain: faith, hope and love.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:13
If you are like most people, you have probably heard much on biblical themes such as the “Power of Love” or the “Power of Faith.” In the 1960s and 1970s, the Jesus Movement emphasized the theme of the Love of God. The Word of Faith movement appeared soon after this to bring a message about Faith. Love and Faith are often repeated themes today. But how often do we hear a message on Hope?
Is America Cursed or Blessed?
Many Christians who are involved in social and political activism were deeply grieved this year by the ascendancy of Bill Clinton to the White House and his administration’s promotion of a long series of ungodly and anti-Christian agendas: government sponsored abortion, fetal tissue research, homosexual rights, legalized drugs, a state run health care program, etc.
Some Christians are ready to give up hope. They think: “God is surely judging our nation by giving us Bill Clinton.” And from one perspective, they are right. The fact that Clinton has broken covenant with God means that terrible retribution could be brought on our nation from a holy and jealous God who is also our rightful sovereign.
The legacy of Bill Clinton is a far cry from that which was left to us just a few years ago by Ronald Reagan who stood against sodomy, child-killing and free distribution of condoms to our nation’s school children. But Reagan’s greatest accomplishment was that he understood that we are building on the foundation of America’s Christian heritage. Reagan was consistently optimistic about America’s future. He held a belief that having a great hope for America’s future was required for reclaiming our nation’s greatness. Therefore, Ronald Reagan, from his first entry into politics, strove to instill a sense of hope in America’s people.
In his farewell address, Reagan spoke of the basis for America and our freedoms: “Are we doing a good enough job of teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? … We’ve got to do a better job of getting across the idea that America is freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile and it needs protection … So we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion, but on what’s important, on why the Pilgrims came here … If we forget what we did we won’t know who we are – I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result ultimately in an erosion of The American Spirit.”
Ever since the Reagan presidency ended, there has been a rise of conspiracy theories in America. Conspiratorial thinking is defined as the belief that national and world events are determined by a secret plot, human or demonic, to bring about an evil end.
In the world of media, we are hearing a lot about conspiracies: It is one of the short cuts to the best seller list. But no one seems more obsessed by conspiracies than the evangelical Christian. Much time and energy is spent in an effort to discover all the evil intentions of the government and other institutions. Potential frightening scenarios are explored in great detail. With all the critical tasks facing the Church, have we ever stopped to consider whether this obsession might be distracting us from more important responsibilities?
Recently, I was showing a Christian friend some computer programs I work with. One is a useful financial program which provides a check register, a bank account reconciliation, budget reports, transaction reports, financial graphs, etc. He asked me: “Why do you cut so many checks?” He informed me that I was leaving a long paper trail that could easily be traced by the government. He advised me that I should do as much personal business as possible in cash so that no one would be able to investigate me. I was told by another Christian that I should never give out my social security number since it is wrongfully used for identification and – even more frightening – “It could be the Mark of the Beast.”
The thinking behind such statements is representative of a pervasive attitude among many Christians who believe that coming persecution is inevitable and that we are entering an era when the state will begin to control every aspect of our lives. This idea is based on a flawed interpretation of Revelation 13. It has become a popular past time among modern evangelicals to try to match daily newspaper headlines with what they believe to be cryptic passages in Scripture.
Many Christians have unconsciously adopted a worldview in which they see themselves as individuals plucked out of an evil world who are now just awaiting heaven. In the meantime, their goal is to avoid being caught in a web of conspiracy. They de-emphasize their destiny in God’s foreordained historical chain of Christianity. They have forgotten their heritage. They cannot go forward as God’s world changers because they don’t know where they have come from.
Paradigm Shift 2000
Even Christians who have become more reformed in their thinking in the past few years still hold on to nuances of conspiratorial thinking. Gladly, many evangelical leaders are becoming more aware of the need for Christians to reform all aspects of our society according to biblical principles. They have shifted from a dispensational model of thinking – which often leads to retreat from the world – towards more of a covenantal model which emphasizes the responsibility of the Christian to advance God’s kingdom into every area of culture.
A shift in thinking, when it occurs on a large scale, is called a “paradigm shift.” A paradigm is a set of beliefs which act as a model for one’s sense of reality. This model or belief system will ultimately shape one’s actions. This is also commonly referred to as a “worldview.” When we are talking about paradigms, we are looking at patterns of thinking which determine conduct and lifestyle. There has been much heated debate in recent years about paradigms. This discussion has focused on the shifts which occur when an old paradigm is seen to be obsolete or false; when one paradigm gives way to another.
For instance, in the world of physics for over 100 years, Isaac Newton’s laws were the paradigm or model for interpreting all data. When Albert Einstein proposed his theory of relativity, it took almost a generation for modern physicists to forsake to old model of Newtonian physics and begin to interpret their data according to the new model.
In the business world, the transfer of influence among computer manufacturers came with the invention of the personal computer or “PC” which created a paradigm shift in that industry. Prior to the invention of the PC, computer manufacturers produced bulky, expensive computers which had to be run by a mainframe computer to a terminal. The invention of the PC provided a compact, inexpensive computer that could be run from a built-in “hard drive.” Small businesses and individuals found that the PC was much more affordable, reliable, useful and efficient than the older counterpart. Computer manufacturers have now shifted towards this innovative paradigm.
In a paradigm shift, it takes time for the old system to break down completely. Newton’s laws were not completely thrown out the window until there was so much new incoming data that didn’t seem to fit the old model. Einstein’s model seemed to explain things that physicists were seeing so much better. Slowly, the scientific world began to herald the theory of relativity as a revolution in physics. Well-established computer manufacturers, likewise, tried to compete at first with the “PC” manufacturers, but soon had to scramble to keep up with a fast changing market. We see this pattern everywhere – the first automobiles looked a lot like “horseless carriages”; the first television sets looked like radios. It takes time for human nature to let go of the old and embrace the new in a paradigm shift.
Paradigm shifts are not confined to the worlds of science and business. We can see a common historical paradigm shift which has occurred in the Church just prior to every revival and spiritual awakening. The pattern has generally followed that an old paradigm has become entrenched in the Church and God’s people are unable to discern the need for revival and reformation along with the new paradigm or vision that is carried along with it.
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better’” (Luke 5:37-39).
The Church of Jesus Christ in America is currently undergoing a radical shift in doctrine, purpose and function. This shift is bringing the Church toward her proper role as a body of reformers. The old paradigm of dispensational theology is being replaced by a “neo-Puritan” worldview which is called covenantal theology. The old paradigm of dispensational thinking leads to conspiracy theories. The new paradigm of covenantal thinking leads to a providential worldview and an understanding of progress of the Gospel throughout all of human history.
America was founded by a people who held to a providential worldview. It was this belief that led to the settling of the American colonies and the success of our nation in its early years.
Noah Webster, who compiled the first American dictionary (1828), defines Providence as: “The care and superintendence which God exercises over His creatures … Some persons admit a general providence, but deny a particular providence, not considering that a general providence consists of particulars. A belief in divine providence is a source of great consolation to good men. By divine providence is understood God himself.”
William Bradford, in his History of Plymouth Plantation, tells of the Pilgrims reliance on Providence in the midst of their many tragedies: “But these things did not dismay them (though they did sometimes trouble them) for their desires were set on the ways of God, and to enjoy His ordinances; but they rested on His Providences and knew whom they had believed.”
The Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, concludes with these words: “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
An Example From History
The Civil War was the greatest judgment of God on our nation in history. The war killed more Americans than any other. After the war was over, Abraham Lincoln showed no elation over victory. Four years of strife had cut deep lines of sadness into his face. But it had not made him despair.
By 1865, many Americans wondered: “Why had the war continued between people who read the same Bible and prayed to the same God?” In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln wisely attributed the war to the providence of God. With these words, Lincoln urged our nation to hope for a better future:
“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of the vilest offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope – fervently do we pray – that this might scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as it was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Examples from Song and Verse
The great hymns indicate that the providential worldview is a part of the Church’s heritage. Charles Wesley, for instance, described the progress of the Gospel in the following verses:
When He first the work begun,
Small and feeble was His day:
Now the word doth swiftly run,
Now it wins its widening way:
More and more it spreads and grows,
Ever mighty to prevail;
Sin’s strongholds it now o’erthrows,
Shakes the trembling gates of hell.
In a hymn of Isaac Watts, the belief is expressed that a better day is dawning. We can see there was much optimism among Christians of Watts’ age:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does His successive journeys run.
His kingdom spread from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
Isaac Watts’ famous Christmas Carol “Joy to the World” contains, in two little sung verses, the hope of the worldwide conquest of Christianity:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love.
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by E.H. Sears, contains the following line:
For lo, the days are hast’ning on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling.
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
Julia Ward Howe’s famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic” also expresses the hope of the ultimate conquest of Christianity:
He has sounded forth the trumpet
that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men
before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him!
be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Biblically Optimistic Worldview
Biblically optimistic worldview should never be confused with what the New Age movement has offered its place: positive thinking, motivational training, mind training, EST or the Forum. Even the Christian “positive confession movement” is not what we are talking about here. Our goal is not to become optimistic or positive in all our thinking but to become completely biblical in our beliefs and to promote the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every sphere of life.
A Biblically-based worldview takes the principles of Scripture and applies them to every area of life. History, for instance, is divided into two eras: B.C. and A.D. – the birth of Christ being the dividing line of history. After thousands of years of darkness, the Gentile nations first began to see the light of the Gospel shining forth again. As we trace the history of nations, we see that pagan societies without the Gospel have accomplished little but a cyclical pattern of events leading nowhere. But as we see the Gospel introduced to nations, we see literacy, the arts, science, medicine, education, law and government being established, built upon, reformed and then elevating that nation to a great state of civilization.
When we view the effect of Christianity on western civilization in the last 500 years, we have every reason to hope for a better future for the entire world. Christianity has elevated economic theory and practice, social life, intellectual life, art, music and has lifted the individual to a level of importance in society.
When we look solely at the Bible, we find that there is no other way of thinking that leads to a higher sense of optimism. As Biblical saints we have every reason to hope! Not only do we have the hope of residing in heaven in the presence of God for all eternity, but we have the opportunity to be ambassadors of Christ in our day and age. While God is shaking the heavens and the earth to bring in His kingdom, we have the honor of being His representative! We can take part in advancing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Jay Rogers is the former editor of The Forerunner newspaper. He is the founder of a network of student-run Christian campus newpapers for the former USSR, Latin America and China. For more information: The Forerunner, P.O. Box 138030, Clermont, FL 34713