As I survey the landscape of the church, I see some encouraging things.
I see a generation of young people who are tired are tired of the status quo for the sake of the status quo. They want to know what's right. They want to know what's wrong. They want to know why. They want to know what the Bible says we ought to do and they want to do it. That's encouraging.
I see American Protestantism's bull in the china shop, the SBC, finally admitting that things aren't necessarily what they appear to be. They're acknowledging that they have 8+ million members that don't act like members. They're searching for biblical rather than programmatic answers for all that ails the denomination. They're embracing open conversation instead of straw man argumentation on the questions that nag the Convention. That's encouraging.
On the other hand, I see some things that are very discouraging. Twenty-first century Christians are a people living in a strange land and that land is called "fear." And, as we consider the desolate landscape of this foreign soil, we need to ask ourselves, "What are we so afraid of?"
Why are we so afraid to stand up and acknowledge that we are Christians? Why is it that so many of us are more afraid of the cultural elite's ridicule of our message than we are of God's displeasure for withholding it?
Why are we so afraid to stand apart from that world? Why do we so desparately want to be like the world when the world, biblically-speaking, so desparately needs to be like us?
Why are we so afraid of being labeled evangelicals, or Baptists, or Calvinists, or what ever "ist" we belong to? If these are positions that we believe to be true to the Bible, why are we afraid to publicly announce our allegiance?
Why are we so afraid to stand up for the truth and defend it? If it is the truth, isn't it worth defending?
Why are we so afraid to admit our sinfulness? Do we seriously think no one else has noticed?
Why are we so afraid to acknowledge our past so that we can get beyond it? Has anyone been fooled into thinking that we've done everything right over these last 2000 years?
Why are we so afraid to face the future? Wasn't our past someone else's future?
Why are we so afraid to change? Does change necessarily imply failure?
Why are we so afraid of the next generation? If we've done our job in teaching our children the way in which they should go, shouldn't we trust them to walk in that direction?
Why are we so afraid of confrontation? Aren't there some things worth dying for?
Why are we so afraid of … being afraid?
Fear comes easy. Ask any soldier or sailor who's done some combat time. When bullets start to fly, fear is a natural reaction. But, a time comes when one has to decide if he's going to continue to be afraid or if he's going to stand up and do something about it. Eventually you get tired of being afraid and decide to do something about it. You ignore the fear and you attack the cause. That's the real difference between cowards and heroes.
How do we do that? The Bible has the answer. "Be strong and courageous." That's what God told Joshua three times in Deuteronomy 31 and three more times in Joshua 1. The phrase appears thirteen times in the Old Testament. You see, back then, as today, fear was a common ailment.
Yet, God didn't let his people cower in their wilderness foxhole. He commanded them to "be strong and courageous." How? David offered the answer to that question to Solomon, and to us, in 1 Chronicles. "Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished" (1 Chr 28:20).
Thank God, he's not done with us yet. So, it's time for Christians to stop being afraid. I for one am tired of it. I'm ready to stand up and do something. To charge the hill. To defend the flag. To confront the enemy. To be "strong and courageous." Who's going with me?
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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