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Revive the Church, Revive the Culture: One Before the Other

An ever-present danger in doing cultural commentary is, as the saying goes, “to miss the forest for the trees.” I’ll confess: Sometimes instead of seeing the work we do here at BreakPoint as part of the larger task of the church’s proclamation of the Good News, we can let cultural change become an end in itself.

Thankfully, BreakPoint listeners are willing and able to remind us of what matters the most.

Case in point: a recent letter and article we received from a listener who asked a vital, yet often neglected, question: “Can the contemporary culture be led back to a Christian worldview without the church being spiritually revived first?”

And the answer, of course, is “No!” So why don’t we talk about the need for spiritual renewal more often? Well, the truth is that most worldview and culture discussions proceed as if cultural renewal is, if not independent of spiritual renewal, only tangentially related to it.

We talk a lot about reading the right books, mastering the right arguments and otherwise knowing what to say. And these really are important. But what’s more important is the disposition of our hearts.

As my correspondent rightly points out, “only a revival of faith in the living God can change the mood of society, and only a revived church can bring that about.”

And history backs that up: The Wesleyan revival in 18th-century England and the first and second Great Awakenings in 18th- and 19th-century America transformed these societies. As I learned in doing the research for my book Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce, the movements to abolish the slave trade and then to abolish slavery itself grew out of those revivals.

So my correspondent is right when he draws a line between a renewed church and a renewed culture. While the latter won’t necessarily follow the former, without a renewed church the chances of cultural renewal are close to zero. If we don’t live as if Christianity is true, by what right should we expect our neighbors to?

Thus it’s incumbent on us to humble ourselves before God, to confess our sins, and pray for His forgiveness and direction.

Again, this does not guarantee cultural renewal. But what it does guarantee, if sincerely undertaken, is that we will be living out our call to be salt and light.

Some people might dismiss this as a kind of pietism that leads to withdrawal. Again, history shows otherwise. The impact of the aforementioned revivals was felt far beyond church walls. The French philosopher and historian Élie Halévy concluded that it was Wesleyan revival that prevented an English equivalent to the bloody French Revolution.

Wesley’s followers not only ministered to the poor but they also fostered the creation of the kinds of elite networks, including Wilberforce’s, which promoted social reform.

On this side of the Atlantic, the abolitionist movement and many other reforms would not have happened but for the second Great Awakening. In his book What Hath Got Wrought, what historian Daniel Walker Howe calls “the transformation of America” is largely a story of how religious revival created and fueled the reformist impulse.

So my correspondent is right: A renewed church is the best hope for a renewed culture. I’m grateful for his insight, an insight born of long experience, because he’s a 92-year-old retired pastor and missionary.

Please come to BreakPoint.org to read Bert Warden’s brief but spot-on article “Only a Revived Church Can Revive Society’s Faith.”

And be sure to check out BreakPoint on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @BreakPointPFM.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: September 26, 2013

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