Hopelessness in the Political Realm
Barack Obama promised hope and change. He has delivered on change, but he has failed regarding the promised hope because the change he has delivered is not founded on truth. The ideas defining his presidency are not true, and much of what he tells the American people is not true: “You can keep your plan if you want to.” Consequently, he is leaving many Americans feeling hopeless.
Hopelessness in the Spiritual Realm
It is likewise true that spiritual hope rests on spiritual truth. Spiritual promises not founded on spiritual truths will bring disappointment and hopelessness.
My concern is that the contemporary evangelical world is offering people hope that is not founded on truth. This has engendered hopelessness for many evangelicals as evidenced by the divorce rate, addiction to pornography, large numbers of evangelicals experiencing depression and anxiety, the loss of the culture war, etc.
Two Approaches to Undermining Truth
Teaching can lack truth in two ways. It can be erroneous: denying, distorting, or misrepresenting truth. Teaching can also lack truth merely by excluding it.
My father shortly before he died resorted to eating only starches. His Irish genes oriented him in that direction most of his life. If he had bread and potatoes, everything else was superfluous. As the body shuts down, it tends not to want to do the extra work of digesting protein, and therefore during the closing days of his life that particular food group was excluded altogether. Whatever else was involved in his demise, I am convinced that this lack of protein was the ultimate cause. We can’t survive, or at least we can’t be healthy, if we exclude a food group.
We find the same with spiritual truth. If sermons, Bible studies, Christian books, and other sources of spiritual input exclude a major food group, Christians are going to develop spiritual pathologies.
The Missing Spiritual Food Group
This is precisely the case with the contemporary evangelical world. It emphasizes love and grace to the exclusion of concern regarding sin, the need for righteousness, and teaching on the judgment of God. Currently in my devotions I just started the book of Romans. This morning as I read Romans 1:18, which begins, “For the wrath of God…,” it dawned on me how strange that phrase sounds in today’s world. Who talks about the wrath of God? And yet the apostle Paul in this context mentions it almost casually, as if he were mentioning that Geico can save you 15% or more on your car insurance, and everyone knows that. However, in today’s evangelical churches people are more knowledgeable about Geico insurance commercials than the truth about God’s wrath.
The Resulting Sickness
Omitting this spiritual food group is inflicting weakness and sickness on contemporary evangelicals. Just as in the days of the explorers the lack of fresh fruit resulted in sailors contracting scurvy, likewise the omission of teaching and preaching on sin, righteousness, and judgment is producing spiritual scurvy.
It is of interest that the very three issues that Jesus stated would be the focus of the ministry of the Holy Spirit (“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” John 16:8) are the very topics that the contemporary evangelical church ignores. Doing so, failing to engage with the Holy Spirit in addressing these issues, necessarily will have dire consequences. Some have sought to exonerate themselves in this omission by arguing that this is the job of the Holy Spirit, and therefore we should not engage in it. Such a rationale hardly deserves a response. Is the Holy Spirit at work in evangelism? Then should we ignore that also?
The Necessity of Supplying the Missing Ingredient
This blog is named Hope that’s Real because my objective is to provide the foundation for genuine hope, a remedy for evangelical scurvy, by addressing these neglected truths of Scripture. Martin Luther stated:
If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. (The Battle for the Bible: Harold Lindsell, p.201)
Two factors make addressing topics such as sin, righteousness, and judgment especially difficult.
The first is that for the most part evangelicals are not attacking these issues but omitting these issues. Consequently addressing them seems to be picking a fight rather than engaging in a battle that is already raging. Candidly, it is very uncomfortable to me to feel that I am picking a fight. That is not my desire. Nonetheless, if asserting that evangelicals are failing to address these issues comes across as picking a fight, so be it.
Second, Martin Luther was blessed to live in a day when the missing food group was grace. It would be so much more pleasant if my task were propagating the need for more grace and love. Unfortunately, we live in a day when the need falls on the other side of the ledger, when the message of grace has been expanded to the extent that it has encroached upon and taken over the rightful territories related to sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Restoring Hope by Supplying Truth
Lately I have heard several sermons in which pastors have criticized criticizers. Of course this is a popular message in an era bloated by grace. It is also a very comfortable message: “No one should be criticizing me.” However, in a day lacking self-criticism, if no one criticizes, if no doctor diagnoses the symptoms, if no accountant tells the CEO that the company is in the red, individual Christians and the church will suffer harm and feel hopeless.
Hope in 2014 begins with recognition of the truth that the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The solid rock of repentance and a commitment to righteous living will bring hope to secular and evangelical worlds drowning in grace and love.