2017 is a part of history. 2018 is now a reality. 2017 was a difficult year for the church in the United States, but rather than focusing on the past, I would like to use this space to turn our attention to the future. I love the church, and I want to see it succeed. So here is a list of things that I would like to see us do this year.
Let’s Choose Integrity Over Power
One of the great disappointments of my life has been the way that Christian leaders sacrificed their integrity during the last election cycle. I am not talking about people who felt that they had to vote for one of the major party candidates (although that, too, may constitute its own kind of compromise). I am talking about those who threw themselves behind obviously flawed candidates and used their platform to encourage others to do the same.
Decisions of this sort were defended upon the premise that the issues at stake are simply too important to allow a particular candidate to win a particular election. History has taught us, however, that such gambles very rarely pay off. Candidates without character become government officials without character, and that is bad for everyone. Besides, the church’s good name is of far more worth than a single legislative or judicial victory.
Let’s covenant together to emulate the example of people like Russell Moore. Let’s hold firm to our principles. Let’s support people who speak with consistency and integrity and protect them from the ecclesiastical powers that conspire to silence them. Let’s demonstrate to the major parties that they will not win our support by playing on our fears or by appealing to the worst within us. Most importantly, let’s demonstrate to one another and to the world that our trust is not in the government but in the God who stands over all governing authorities.
Let’s Get Some Clarity About What the Gospel Is and What It Is Not
You would think that, after two thousand years of reflection, we would have a thorough understanding of the gospel. You would think that there are no more disputes to adjudicate and no more questions to answer. Unfortunately, recent developments in biblical scholarship demonstrate that this is not the case. For example, the pictures of Paul’s teaching painted by D. A. Carson, N. T. Wright, and Douglas Campbell are quite distinct from one another, and each of these imminent scholars contends that his particular portrait of Paul represents the gospel as it really is.
The issues at stake are not merely of academic interest. As both Dallas Willard and Scot McKnight have pointed out, certain ways of thinking about the gospel have created a culture of complacency in American evangelicalism. People see their salvation experience as little more than an exchange of goods—their faith for heaven. It is no wonder that ministers and other church leaders get so frustrated about the spiritual and moral state of those they lead.
As followers of Jesus, let’s commit ourselves to a more robust understanding of the gospel. Let’s reconsider how the whole life of Jesus is good news, and let’s ask ourselves hard questions like, “Why must I sacrifice in order to be saved?” and “What is it that Jesus wants to save me from?” Let’s search out what the gospel means for us as communities of faith and not just for us as individuals, and let’s reflect upon how the gospel might impact all of God’s world.
Let’s Talk Honestly About Difficult Issues
Sustained reflection upon the gospel is going to demand that we deal with some difficult issues. In my experience, many of us are scared to talk about the hard things in life. Perhaps we are afraid that we will not have all the answers. Perhaps we are afraid that we will have to admit that we are wrong about some things. Perhaps we are afraid that we will have to give up some assumptions and aspirations that are dear to us.
Whatever the reason, we need to set aside this tendency to avoid difficult issues. We need to talk with one another—not at one another—and we need to listen to one another. More specifically, congregations need to give their leaders permission to talk about topics (sex, death, race, etc.) that have heretofore been considered taboo. And when we talk about hard issues, let’s allow truth to be our guide.
Let’s Make the Empowerment of Women a Priority
One of the difficult issues that we need to talk about is how women have been treated in the church. Too many congregations have allowed—or even encouraged—the disenfranchisement of women and their relegation to second-class status. Such practices, whether accidental or intentional, do not reflect the teachings of Scripture (despite assertions to the contrary by both liberal feminists and some fundamentalists).
Instead, the gospel is God’s tool for repairing the relationships between women and men and for allowing all people, regardless of sex, to fulfill God’s purpose for them. Admittedly, there are a number of issues that still need to be resolved, including the ontological and psychological significance of gender and the permissibility of female ordination. But our bias in these discussions should be towards empowerment and not towards preservation of the status quo. Women make many positive contributions to congregations and societies all over the globe, and it is high time that these contributions be recognized, legitimized, and celebrated.
Let’s Inspire and Empower Our People to Take the Light of the Gospel Into the Darkest Places
Too often, those of us who follow Jesus have run from the darkness that is so prevalent in our world. Instead, Jesus calls us to take his inextinguishable light into the darkness. It doesn’t matter whether that darkness is found on a hooker’s stroll in an urban slum or in a science laboratory at a prestigious university. We can trust that the light of Christ will be with us wherever we go, and there are hordes of people in those dark places who need Christ’s light. So let’s recommit ourselves to ministry in prisons, homeless shelters, and bars, and let’s also send our best and brightest into fields like quantum mechanics, evolutionary biology, and political science.