Langham Partnership’s International Ministries Director Chris Wright seeks a biblical response to current world events.
Right now, we are living in a terminal phase of western civilization that is experiencing the inevitable results of prolonged idolatry: the outworking of God’s judgment in processes glaringly illustrated in the story of Old Testament Israel.
But in such a world, we are called neither to abandon hope (for the future belongs to the kingdom of God), nor to desert our mission (for Christ still sends us into the world as the Father sent him). What then will following Jesus demand of us today? I suggest four things at least, assuming we are committed to God’s mission and sharing the good news of what God has done in Christ to reconcile the world to himself.
We must be kingdom people
Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. The call to discipleship was fundamentally a challenge to accept and submit to God’s reign, and to shape the whole of life accordingly. Jesus’ first followers knew the potential cost of living as citizens of the Kingdom of God in a world that boasted the kingdom of Rome and Caesar.
For them, it meant rejecting BOTH collusion with the oppressive power and wealth of Rome, AND some radical alternatives, whether of a religious or revolutionary nature like the Essenes or the Zealots (what might be labelled in our world as hard right or hard left politics). Instead, they were called to practise the values of God’s kingdom, as taught and modelled by Jesus himself – breaking down social barriers, practising radical forgiveness, cancelling debts, turning the other cheek, generosity to the poor, loving even the enemy. These were radical and subversive of the established order, boundaries and codes of their day – both Jewish and Roman.
When we declare that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, we are acknowledging that we are called to follow the Jesus of the cross, not the ‘Jesus’ of Constantine – or the ‘Jesus’ of those who claim his name as ‘evangelicals’ to support a blatantly immoral regime. We need to re-examine our loyalties, and ask if we have submitted our political views, choices and support, to the criteria of God’s kingdom as revealed in Scripture.
We must be Bible people
The Bible is fundamentally the story of God, the universe and everything, from creation to new creation.
The Bible is like a great drama in six acts: creation (Act 1); rebellion (Act 2); promise – Old Testament Israel (Act 3); fulfilment in the gospel of Christ (Act 4); mission of the church (Act 5); new creation (Act 6).
Followers of Jesus are called to live in and for that story – and to orient our lives in relation to what it tells us about who we are and why we are here, as the people of God for the sake of God’s mission. Our lives should be governed by this great overarching story of the Bible – what God has done, is doing, and will complete in the future. This is our narrative.
However, many Christians are simply living in the world’s story and trying to make the Bible ‘relevant’ to that. We should not merely seek to apply the Bible to our lives (as if our lives were the centre of reality), but rather apply our lives to the truth and story of the Bible. We have lost the plot – the biblical plot. We have forgotten the story we are supposed to be in. Specifically, we live within ‘Act 5’ of the great scripture drama – the age of mission. We are living in the Bible’s story – what kind of people do we need to be in order to live consistently within that story?
We must be contrast people
Jesus’ followers must be as distinctive as he was. We live in a political era defined by relentless falsehoods and lies (so-called ‘post-truth’ culture). We endured mendacity on an industrial scale during the Brexit campaign, in exaggerated unfulfillable promises and false hopes, along with demonising and blaming of the weak, the poor and the foreigner for social problems they did not cause. We see corruption, self-enrichment, and moral depravity in high places; the kind of spiritual powers of evil that Paul warns us about in Eph. 6.
In such a world (which was similar in Jesus’ day), Christ called his followers to be ‘salt and light’ – a powerful combination of metaphors (Matt. 5:13-16). Probably he was echoing Isaiah 58:6-8, 10, where God looks for the light of good works, social justice and compassion, and calls it ‘righteousness.’ Both metaphors speak of contrast and distinctiveness.
Jesus’ words make two assumptions: a) The world around us is corrupt and dark, and b) followers of Jesus can make a difference – just as salt and light does. They carry two implications: a) We must penetrate society (not withdraw from it), b) yet also retain our distinctiveness within society. We must be in the world, but different from the world.
If there is no real difference, we become part of the problem itself – contributing to the division and degeneration of society. Compromised Christians raise severe questions about the nature of their Christian profession, questions that are now being asked by Christians in other parts of the world about the stance of some prominent American evangelicals in support of Donald Trump. Some evangelicals in the Majority World are struggling even to use the word ‘evangelical’, which has become so corrupted by that unholy alliance.
We must be praying people
Followers of Jesus must be people of prayer, as he was. He taught us what we call ‘the Lord’s Prayer’, but perhaps we blithely repeat it with little thought about its challenging political significance.
‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven…’ That is an astonishing prayer! – that the rule and will of God should operate on earth, not just ‘up in heaven’, or ‘eventually’. Do we understand and mean it? Do we act in relation to that prayer, in our political opinions and decisions – as citizens and voters? Do we search the Scriptures to see what God’s kingdom means, or what God’s will is, in relation to social, economic and political life, work, the law-courts, government etc.? The Bible (especially the Bible of Jesus, what we call the Old Testament) has plenty to say on all this. And when we have done our biblical thinking, do we pray for the values of God’s kingdom and will to be upheld on earth, in our nation and neighbourhood? If not, what’s the point of the prayer?
In the first ten Psalms, we find urgent, passionate, desperate, prayer to God in relation to the political realm and its evil. They pray that God would put down the wicked in power, and vindicate the oppressed (as Mary prayed in the Magnificat).
Do we have the courage to pray like David does in Psalm 10? Do we make use of the prayers in the political realm that God has given us in Scripture? Does your church ever obey Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 2:1-2? I have been in many churches where it is completely ignored.
I see no contradiction in both praying for our rulers (they are sinners in need of God’s love and mercy), and also praying against them – when their policies or actions manifestly contradict what the Bible teaches as God’s standards and values. I’ve done that for years. I think the Bible authorises both kinds of prayer.
In conclusion, we are still called to be followers of the crucified Lord, and to lift up his cross and bear witness to him. We are to lift up that cross precisely in this world of evil, folly and confusion. For it was in such a world, and for such a world, that Jesus died and rose again, and calls us to follow him.
 For a very helpful outline of the Bible story, as the drama of God’s mission, and how it should shape the way we live now, see Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014).
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2017 edition of Langham UKI’s twice-yearly magazine Transform.