I am 63 years old and in all those years I have never heard so much of Abraham Lincoln as I have in the last decade. From both sides of the political spectrum, candidates and incumbents alike have called upon Lincoln’s shadow in hopes of justification for their views and/or policies. It is sometimes amusing and often down right insulting to the past President, to hear the loudest voices attempt to fit their feet into his tracks. They are stumbling! And the place of their stumbling is both easily identifiable and damning. Ross Douthat points it out,
“But we must not boast of being God’s instruments, or pretend that we understand the full scope and direction of the story. Our exceptionalism must be a provisional exceptionalism, in other words— expectant but not presumptuous, perpetually tempered by humility and open to correction and surprise.”
America is in dire straits in almost every way: politically, socially, economically, religiously, etc. It is easy to slip into the apocalyptic current and become pessimistic, or, to take the messianic approach and press one’s solutions and bill them as God’s will! Abe, we need you! We need your humility. I need your humility! I hear the voice of Proverbs, ”The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility” (15:33).
Reading this book has been a humbling experience for me. I have been guilty of both the apocalyptic and messianic approaches and both without humility. What is particularly humbling is to be reminded of how powerful the gospel is and that it alone holds the cure for personal and national wholeness. In the ministry of making disciples and developing leaders it is only the life-giving dynamic of the gospel that accomplishes true spiritual formation and leadership worthy of following.
Douthat’s book also hit a chord with me when talking about the need for a renewed Christianity to be ecumenical and confessional. In that context he wrote, “‘Parachurch’ efforts and ‘emergent’ communities cannot replace institutional churches. The common ground of a ‘mere Christianity’ cannot be allowed to become a lowest common denominator. The political causes that often unite believers from different churches cannot be allowed to become more important than the gospel itself.”
At times I have allowed a cause to become larger than the gospel. Thank you, Douthat, for the rebuke! As large as the challenges are that face our society, they pale when compared to eternity’s promises. This too is applicable to the ministry of discipleship. Spiritual formation must be just that, the work of the Spirit in re-birthing and growing the nature of Christ in the believer. It is tempting to peddle one’s preferences and/or biases at the expense of the word. ”Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, …” (1 Pet. 2:1).
This book does a great job of explaining a perspective of the recent demise of traditional religion in America. It has been most interesting and challenging for the purpose it was written, to challenge the church to engage renewal, first in personal pursuit of the gospel and then for social benefits. I am very encouraged, however, for the added benefit the book offers in for the ministry of discipleship. The emphasis on humility and confession and the balance of personal and public expression is much appreciated.
After having met in the hall and discussed our common vision, let us now go into our rooms and flesh out lives in the particular ways of our calling!
Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion. Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.