Acting on a Lesser God
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2010 Dec 02
The writer Douglas Coupland, coiner of the phrase GenX, offers a bleak picture of the future. Calling himself a "radical pessimist," he's created a "Radical Pessimist's Guide to the Next 10 Years."
Of the "tips for survival in a messed-up future", the first one is to recognize that "it's going to get worse"; the last is that "we will accept the obvious truth that we brought this upon ourselves."
In between are a bunch of glass-half-empty insights and predictions that include technological determinism, extreme weather, the fragmentation of North America, stupid people being in charge of everything, the end of fresh vegetables, and IKEA being an ever-more-spiritual sanctuary for us all.
Most of us are well aware that the future will be VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). But as Kevin Roberts notes, it's easy to make that same assessment from the point of view of the optimist.
"At numerous points throughout history, it was easy to make gloomy predictions about the future," writes Roberts. "Whether it was World War II, the bursting of the dot-com bubble, or the aftermath of 9/11. And yet, time and again, we find ways of banding together, harnessing our creativity, and not just persevering but thriving. The challenges of the future will no doubt be novel, but they won't be insurmountable. Whether it's breakneck technological change, environmental sustainability, or economic turnarounds, these are issues that need to be met with radical optimism and the conviction that nothing is impossible."
Roberts obviously flirts with a utopian vision that is out of synch with a fallen world and the depravity of human beings. This was, of course, the mistake of Enlightenment thinkers who felt that human progress was unlimited and could solve the world's problems. But two world wars, marked by Auschwitz and Hiroshima, proved that there we needed far more than technological advancement to address the ills of this world.
But does this mean we join with Coupland's sentiments? Many Christians would. Not his predictions, per se, and they certainly wouldn't call themselves pessimists. But they would embrace the idea that the world is in an inevitable downward spiral, and there is little worth doing beyond being faithful and persevering to the end.
But isn't there a place for hope, and a life that lives accordingly, regardless of your view of the end times?
Paul wrote to Timothy that Christ is our hope (I Tim. 1:1), a hope that speaks to our salvation and the assurance that God's kingdom and purposes will prevail (cf. Acts 2:26; Rom. 8:24-25; Titus 1:2).
But there is more for us here than a theology of hope rooted in eschatology. There is hope in the life to come, to be sure, but also for the life at hand. And specifically, hope that we can effect change, make a difference with our life and expand the Kingdom of God on earth during our lifetime.
Not in a utopian delusion, but in a robust understanding that there is a God on the loose.
The great epitaph in Acts for David was that he served God's purposes for his generation (Acts 13:36). While not wanting anyone to presume upon the future, James encourages us to do all the good we can while we still have breath (James 4:13-17), a sentiment echoed by the Psalmist (Ps. 90) and the apostle Paul (Eph.5).
And what will happen when we give of our lives this way?
Jesus spoke of what could happen with a mustard seed of faith mixed with action (Mt. 17); that with God all things are possible (Mt. 19) and that mountains could be moved (Mt. 21). The Great Commission is nothing less than Jesus putting audacious vision into the act of mission (Mt. 28). As C.S. Lewis once observed, the New Testament contains what can only be called embarrassing promises of what our lives, through prayer and faithfulness and action, can unleash.
The problem is that most of us don't pray to that God. We don't embrace His vision. We don't believe in those promises. It is as if we have decided on a lesser god, and as a result, are more likely to accept the list of predictions from a radical pessimist than we would the promises of Jesus.
We recently unveiled a ten-year vision for our church, called "20/20 Vision." By the year 2020, we hope to have 20,000 active attenders with ministry in 20 countries.
It's a vision of hope, of expectation...and of intent.
Some would be uncomfortable with such efforts as ours, and others like it in churches around the world.
I just don't think Jesus would be one of them.
James Emery White
"Choosing Optimism," Kevin Roberts, Saatchi and Saatchi, at
For Coupland's pessimism, see http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/a-radical-pessimists-guide-to-the-next-10-years/article1750609/singlepage/