I’m prone to nostalgia, which means I’m prone to discouragement about the state of the church and culture. When struggling to believe Jesus’ promise to be with us to the end of the age, I enjoy sifting through history to celebrate times when spiritual giants walked this earth and compelled hardened skeptics to believe Christ’s gospel through the power of their rhetoric and example. If I’m not careful, however, I exasperate over our era of small things, growing impatient with God and ungrateful for the daily miracle of my union with Christ.
The more I study, the more I realize the danger of this nostalgic view of history. Just like we read in Scripture, every hero but Jesus is flawed. The early church dueled with seemingly endless heresies. The Reformers probably wouldn’t have tolerated a Baptist like me. Leaders of the Great Awakening failed to recognize the sin of slavery. Our day, too, aches for Christ’s return even as we observe great growth in the kingdom of God around the world. The late George Eldon Ladd helped me appreciate already/not yet dynamic of biblical theology.
But it was another former Fuller Theological Seminary professor, Carl F. H. Henry, who issued succinct marching orders for the church in culture that I could understand and obey. I knew his 1947 book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism would help me learn about the post-war evangelical movement. But I didn’t realize at the time that I would find on pages 88 and 89 such a timely, stirring call for the church to love and serve our neighbors in the same power of the Holy Spirit that enabled the apostles to turn the world upside down.
The evangelical task primarily is the preaching of the Gospel, in the interest of individual regeneration by the supernatural grace of God, in such a way that divine redemption can be recognized as the best solution of our problems, individual and social. This produces within history, through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, a divine society that transcends national and international lines. The corporate testimony of believers, in their purity of life, should provide for the world an example of the divine dynamic to overcome evils in every realm. The social problems of our day are much more complex than in apostolic times, but they do not on that account differ in principle. When the twentieth century church begins to “out-live” its environment as the first century church outreached its pagan neighbors, the modern mind, too, will stop casting about for other solutions.
We may feel small and weak compared to the mighty apostles. But the God who equipped them for every good work reigns in heaven still today. His gospel of grace transforms us just the same, so we might live to the glory of Christ and the good of our neighbors.