First, let me be clear. My ultimate hope is not in cultural renewal. It is in Jesus Christ and his kingdom. My ultimate allegiance is not to the “city of man” but to that eternal city—the city of God. However, that does not mean I don’t care deeply about my country or my culture and its renewal.
Last night I had the unique opportunity of spending some time with two former United States Senators from Colorado: Hank Brown and Bill Armstrong. Both men have led, or are currently leading universities. Bill Armstrong, of course, is the current president of Colorado Christian University—a local university experiencing its own renaissance. Hank Brown was recently the president of the University of Colorado. He is the one who recommended the firing of a tenured professor of ethnic studies—Ward Churchill (the one who touched off a firestorm with an essay likening some victims of the World Trade Center to Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who helped carry out the Holocaust).
Sitting next to Hank Brown, and several CCU history professors, I could not resist asking the former senator some questions. The conversation quickly moved to the troubles of our own culture.
Let’s see, we covered the current fiscal irresponsibility of our government (and the insane rate of spending money that we don’t have) , the educational insanity of many of our universities (and their unwillingness to teach about our rich Western and Judeo-Christian heritage), the moral declension of the US (particularly the corruption of great wealth—what some call “the Punic curse”). Then came talk of the parallels between our own slide and factors that led to the fall of Rome. An historian at the table made the comment that after 200 years, all civilizations wear down. Is our own slide then inevitable?
That’s when I popped the question that I came to the dinner with. What then is the hope for cultural renewal in the US and the West?
It was noted that the renewal will not come from our government. It will not come from our state universities. It will not come from the media. Nor will it come from the business world.
At this point, I didn’t even feel like eating my dessert!
I honestly awaited the senator’s next words. He has seen it all. He had been in positions of the highest influence in government and academia. What would he say?
He started talking about Jesus. He said, the renewal we desperately need is a renewal of the spirit—a spiritual renewal—and it has something to do with Christ. Though in the end, he added, our ultimate hope may not be found in this present world at all.
Let me remind you that this sense that we need a religious awakening has been echoed more broadly by many other social commentators. Looking at the depth of our troubles, many believe that only some kind of revival or great awakening can turn things around. While he was not a Christian, that was the belief of the late Irving Kristol who died last week. I have heard economists Michael Novak and Charles Murray say the same thing.
No doubt, the crisis we face is deep. But the reason why I do not give up hope is because of what the Holy Spirit has done and can do in bringing awakening to the church and its spill over effects on our culture. Revival is the “joker in the pack” of American history. In dark times, God has set revival fires burning that have brought people into his kingdom, changed the moral tone of cities, provided new impulse for world missions, given birth to universities, and changed the course of history.
Let me remind you that the church plays a pivotal role in all that is going on. I love the saying by Bill Hybels, that under Christ, “the local church (when it is healthy) is the hope of the world.” I also love the saying by Eugene Peterson that “the church is the institution God has set at the center of the world to keep the world centered.” Churches that are acting as stewards of God’s redemptive gospel in Jesus Christ and living it out are immensely constructive. Did not Jesus himself say that
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?……..You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5.13-16)
A word to Christians and Christian leaders: For all these reasons and more, we must not grow sleepy and be carried away by the spirit of the age. We must not get lost mentally with regard to the cultural crisis of our time and the important place of the church in holding forth the gospel of life and speaking the truth in love!
Whether it is the work of children’s ministries, adult spiritual formation, pastoral ministry, para- church ministries or the work of Christian colleges and seminaries, we must be at the top of our game. What we do in our churches and institutions as leaders is not just important for ourselves, but for the kingdom and for the culture God has placed us in. The stakes are high—for now and eternity. Let’s be awake to God’s life and love in Christ so that we are ready to make our short lives count in this generation.