December 14, 2017

Randy Thompson: The Sky Is Always Falling

chicken-little2The Sky Is Always Falling
by Randy Thompson

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
(Alphonse Karr)

The other day I went up to the local garage to have our mechanic switch our car’s regular tires over to snow tires—a winter ritual for many of us here in New Hampshire. While waiting, I looked over the assortment of magazines. It was an odd assortment, as is usually the case in places like this, but one magazine caught my eye, and I began to thumb through it.

One article in particular caught my eye. It was written by a prominent pastor and entitled “Can Protestantism Be Saved?” Naturally, as a Protestant and as a pastor, I had a certain professional interest in what he had to say, especially since it suggested that I may need to update my resume.

As I read, the author’s concern over the decline of Protestant Christianity reached alarming levels—maybe I really do need to update my resume! What are the symptoms of this decay of the Reformers’ faith? In the author’s words:

One of the most obvious symptoms of decline is the church’s apathy in the face of the challenge posed by the decaying society that surrounds it. Who can doubt that a moral blight is spreading across the face of America? Look at the filth displayed on our newsstands, the sadism on television, the pornography in our books, the preoccupation with perversion in our theater. Look at the prevalence of classroom cheating, of payola, of kickbacks, of expense-account padding. Look at the steady rise of juvenile delinquency and every other form of vice and crime. Is the Protestant church attacking these things with all the force and fire at its command?

His answer: “Hardly!”

But he has not yet exhausted his concern. He notes another disturbing cultural trend, “the church’s indifference to what seems to be an anti-religious movement in the United States.” According to him,

The leaders of this movement say openly that it is their intention to drive religion out of all aspects of public life. They want to remove the religious mottoes from our coins and the chaplains from our legislative bodies. They want to eliminate the tradition of swearing on the bible. They want to do away with school prayers . . . the simple, non-sectarian prayer with which many of the state’s [New York] public-school children began each day.

In response to these troubling trends, our author feels that “the church should be fighting back.” However, he apparently believes that this is not likely to happen, due to the erosion of the theological integrity of the mainline churches and the lax membership standards of these churches. His point on church membership is well summarized by Groucho Marx’s response to being accepted for membership in a local country club: “I’m not sure I want to join any organization that would have someone like me as a member.”

At this point, dear reader, we need to pause for a moment. I’m sure you are as concerned as our author about the spiritual state of the Protestant Church in this “decaying society” (unless, of course, you’re Catholic, in which case you have your own worries). But, who is our author? When did he write this jeremiad? And which “decaying society” is he referring to?

(If this was a radio game show and not an article, I’d give you an opportunity to answer these questions now, even though I couldn’t promise that you’d get Carl Kassell‘s voice on your home answering machine if you got the right answer.)

So, instead, a Spoiler Alert: The author of this article was Norman Vincent Peale, and his “Can Protestantism Be Saved?” was published in “The Reader’s Digest,” in September, 1962.

The article is over fifty years old.

Chicken-LittleWhat astonished me was how much it resembles things I see in print or hear in conversations now. Most everything Peale said then is being said now by others, and has been said by countless others in the interim (except perhaps for the reference to the payola scandal). In other words, we Christians have spent much of the past fifty years doing a lot of whining and complaining.

This old article raises an interesting and important question: From the perspective of our little niche in history, which for our purposes is December 2013, are things really getting worse? Or, are they always “getting worse”? Clearly, from Peale’s niche in 1962, things looked very bad indeed, just as they did from Hal Lindsey’s perspective in the late 1970’s when he wrote “The Late, Great Planet Earth,” or from the perspective of many other semi-prophets since then.

For that matter, I suspect if blogging was an option in the 1st Century, we would have read how the church, and the Roman Empire, couldn’t possibly survive emperors like Caligula or Nero and that the end, therefore, must be near. (Another spoiler alert: The church is still going strong, and the Roman Empire endured more several centuries, even with emperors just as bad as Nero.)

I’m now 63 years old. If I had a nickel for every time earnest Christians have wrung their hands over the state of things and bemoaned the “decaying society” in which we live and how it can’t survive another election cycle and how it’s a sign that the Lord will return any second, I’d have a lot of nickels—an awful lot of nickels.

A nursery story puts these jeremiads into perspective, I think. Do you remember the story of Henny Penny? Henny Penny is a chicken, and one day an acorn falls and hits her on the head. She jumps to the correct eschatological explanation: The sky is falling! So, off she goes, proclaiming that the sky is falling, and gathering a group of fellow-believers in the process (who end up getting eaten by a fox, but that’s beyond the purview of this literary allusion).

I’d like to suggest that for Christians, sin is the equivalent of the acorn that fell on Henny Penny’s head. Somehow, Christians forget about this essential doctrine, and are thus overly surprised when sin—either collective sin or somebody specific’s—hits them on the head. Because of this, life takes a very dark turn and suddenly the affordable healthcare act or a particularly libertine libertarianism is reason to put on a white robe, climb a mountain, and wait for the Rapture. For some reason, Christians seem to think that the United States is the Kingdom of God, and, confusing the two, can’t comprehend that sinful people sin, which is all of us, saved and unsaved alike. Why are we surprised that sinners sin? Why do we expect people who don’t know God to obey him? What do Christians expect from secular people who live at the mercy of their emotions, moods, and desires, because that’s all they’ve got?

Peale’s fifty-year old jeremiad is a reminder that things are always getting worse, which is not to minimize the sin and rot of our little niche in history. No, Peale was right then, by his lights. And one certainly can make the point that he’s right about the present, too. But, it seems to me that people who fret over how bad things are, look at the wrong things. Of course things are deteriorating. From a Christian perspective, society is always deteriorating and the church along with it, because sin is always a reality. There are always reasons—often good reasons—for believing that things really are deteriorating. But, a little historical perspective encourages us to see the bigger picture—things are always—always!—rotting, decaying and falling apart. Yet, the Church is still here, we’re still here, the Gospel is still being proclaimed and lived out, and even America in its “mystery Babylon” mode is still the strongest power on earth and we’re all richer than we have a right to be (at least for now).

Will every good thing we’re used to endure? Of course not, but that’s not necessarily a sign of the end of the world. The fact that human beings survived the bloody 20th Century is certainly a sign of human resilience, and even more, of God’s grace. The same holds true of the 19th, 18th, 17th and all previous centuries. We can expect the same for the 21st century as well unless Christ returns, which is always a possibility. Just as the Roman Empire went chugging along a few more centuries despite Caligula and Nero, so too will we, despite creeping (and creepy) liberalism and Fox News pundits (equally creepy).

Earlier, I used the term “jeremiad” to describe Peale’s article. The term goes back to the Puritans, whose ministers, Jeremiah-like, preached on the decline of the (Puritan!) church and its morals. Yet, despite jeremiads from numerous New England Puritans, the Puritans kept chugging along, giving us modern day conservative Baptists and capitalism, if we take Max Weber seriously. Their worries about decline were overstated, to say the least. Their influence lives on, albeit in forms they may not recognize.

My point is not that we should ignore the moral and spiritual state of our culture or that we should obsess over it. Rather, we should be doing what Jesus told us to do, which is to seek God’s kingdom first. When God’s rule is our priority, then no matter how rotten society gets or how anti-God it becomes, we are encouraged and strengthened to live differently, and that’s the point. Our standard isn’t how our country is doing spiritually, it’s how the Kingdom of God is doing, and the Kingdom of God is always (!) doing very well indeed. When sin hits us on the head, we know it’s an acorn and not the sky falling, and we go on, living our lives in Christ—with faces reflecting the light of Christ and hair blowing in the breeze of the Spirit. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, we’re living our lives with the future in view, and a future that cannot be taken from us. As Paul rhetorically asks in Romans 8, can anything separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?

Eleanor Roosevelt said that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Sadly, Christians too often curse the darkness, and cuss a blue streak doing so. Lighting candles is the point, and the darker it is, the more candle-light is needed, and more candles, too.

When God’s rule matters most to God’s people, hope trumps despair, peace replaces fear, love overcomes rancor, and their lives reflect a heavenly light that truly stands out in times when people think the sky is falling.

Even if Peale may have been a bit hysterical in the beginning of his article, he ends it with wise and encouraging words—appropriate for someone who made his career on positive thinking:

We have the right ideas. Let us proclaim them with faith and fire and courage until we see once more, beyond the deterioration of our time, the mighty vision of the Christian faith triumphant, and the whole earth full of the glory of God.

* * *

Randy blogs at Forest Haven.

Comments

  1. I knew it couldn’t be a recent piece, because gays were not mentioned.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      What broke the hold of The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay over me was finding fifty-year-old End Time Prophecy books saying the same thing word-for-word except citing now-forgotten news items as The Fulfillment of Prophecy.

      • I have to say that while I still subscribe to Hal Lindsey-ish views of prophecy, if I stay a Christian, it does sound very repetitive as time goes on.

        I started reading Lindsey books and watching him on TV in the 1980s, when I was a teen, and I read similar books by other authors, and watched other prophecy shows a bit in the 1990s and especially the last several years.

        I did not read the LaHaye Left Behind books, however. (I did see the two or three Left Behind films starring Kirk Cameron on TV.)

        I have sat through many sermons or Christian shows that speculate about who the Anti Christ will be, will it be a ten nation confederacy in Europe that the AC will arise from, or the newer thing is some are saying no, the AC will be a Muslim. I’ve heard Christians speculate on these shows about the mark of the beast, what will it be, will it be computer chips….

        These prophecy guys flip out anytime Israel is in the news.

        I recall in the 1990s / early 2000s, anytime Iraq or Iran threatened to bomb Israel or actually did, the prophecy guys would instantly do sermons or publish books as quickly as they could.

        John Hagee (tele evangelist based out of San Antonio with a daily show on TBN) is one such guy. He never wastes an opportunity to publish a new prophecy book any time Israel is in the news or gets attacked.

        Lindsey used to point to the USSR as playing a role – this was in the 1980s. Of course, that is funny now, because the USSR collapsed. Then, especially after 9/11, he jumped aboard the Islam hysteria (note: I do not like most of Islam myself and do regard it as a dangerous religion).

        After years and years and years of hearing Jesus is returning soon (as in the next year or month), it gets so very old. I’ve pretty much lost interest in the topic after 20 – 25 some odd years of being interested in it. It just gets so old, so tired.

        I wonder about guys such as Lindsey who keep talking about this stuff after 30, 40 or more years. I’m burned out after 20-25 yrs of it.

        • The 10-nation European Economic Community was supposed to be the 10 horns of the Beast, and there was foreboding and trepidation (and increased book sales) just before Greece joined to become 10th. Its successor, the European Union, now has 28 members. I don’t know who the Beast is these days or if he can even count.

          In 1979, when the USSR invaded Afghanistan, that was “proof” that the end-times were nigh. The Soviets were the “army from the north” coming down, ultimately to attack Israel, bring the anti-christ and then the second coming. Somewhere in the mix there was to be a rapture.

          Then the USSR pulled out and now the USA has invaded Afghanistan. Oh, well. At least we’re not from the north.

          Listen to reggae music and you’ll discover who the army from the north is, from Jamaica’s perspective. They call us Babylon, mon.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Lindsey used to point to the USSR as playing a role – this was in the 1980s. Of course, that is funny now, because the USSR collapsed. Then, especially after 9/11, he jumped aboard the Islam hysteria (note: I do not like most of Islam myself and do regard it as a dangerous religion).

          The Second Russian Revolution derailed a LOT of SF future histories and Technothriller near-futures. (As an example of the latter, Tom Clancy never recovered completely — his Technothriller style depended on Cold War turning hot or threatening to, and he wasn’t the only one.)

          And they weren’t the only ones who depended on the USSR and Cold War extending indefinitely into the future. More than that; pre-Second Russian Revolution End Time Prophecy DEPENDED on the USSR and Cold War extending literally until the End of Time. And this End Time Prophecy was credited to God Himself; comparing Before and After, the Second Russian Revolution made God a Liar (at least to these guys’ certainty) and (like Technothriller authors) they had to scramble for a new USSR to carry on.

          Enter Islamic Civilization, Western/Christian civilization’s traditional rival. The Second Russian Revolution deprived them of their Dark Lord and Orc Hordes, so they went to Plan B. (Following a tradition of pre-First Russian Revolution SF futures, which often cast a future unified Islamic Caliphate — probably based on a resurgent Turkish Empire — in the same role.)

  2. The end of the article is most important. Cal Thomas, who once was one of the founders of the Moral Majority, saw the light at the end in his book Blinded by Might, that we’ve been fighting the war with the wrong weapons, while leaving the most powerful weapon for change, namely the Gospel, idle in its sheath. True, it isn’t as flashy as cursing the darkness, it changes people one by one, but it is powerful to change the world. We never learn.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Yet the reaction seems to be “Double Down and SCREAM LOUDER!”

      Or the Reconstructionist/Quiverfull 200-year-plan to Outbreed the Heathen, Overwhelm the Heathen, Take back America and Establish a Truly CHRISTIAN(TM) Nation by force. (Coup plotting with Christianese spin.)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > while leaving the most powerful weapon for change, namely the Gospel, idle in its sheath

      I’ll bite – so what does wielding the weapon of the Gospel unsheathed look like? *Doing what* entails wielding the Gospel? It is a beautiful metaphor. On the ground, rubber on the road, what would it look like – specifically?

      Things like the above get said a lot. There are entire books [in my opinion] which are the above statement. But then…. the book ends. This still seems like naming the evil, but not answering it.

      Who is doing this?

      • Agree. And no disrespect to Marc, but I don’t even think quotes like that mean anything. Perhaps it is intended to convey something like “society will change when people change, and only the transforming work of God can do that.”

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > “society will change when people change,”

          If it means that then it is indeed meaningless. Because: of course. That is like saying water droplets will fall from the sky when it rains.

          > and only the transforming work of God can do that.”

          I desperately wish there was some clearer evidence to that effect. But one ends up in the weeds as to who is “gospel” and who is not.

      • I think I get what Marc is saying.

        I am a social conservative, but I am at a point where I no longer am necessarily fully on board with how many social conservatives (and Christian social cons) choose to rant and rave against homosexuality/ abortion / Democrats and such non stop.

        They’ve been doing that since I was a kid in the 1970s / 80s, and doing so has not stopped climbing divorce rates, the legalization of abortion, the more widespread acceptance of homosexuality, etc.

        Maybe if conservative Christians and social cons spent more time sharing the Gospel with people, and doing stuff like feeding the hungry and so on (no, I am not saying I’m totally on board with “the social gospel,” either), then maybe that would make more of an impact and change people, than just siting around complaining about how America’s values have changed.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > has not stopped climbing divorce rates,

          Actually divorce rates are declining, not climbing. Many other rates are declining as well including teenage pregnancy and teen alcohol abuse. Crime rates have fallen dramatically.

          > the legalization of abortion, the more widespread acceptance of homosexuality

          You win on those two. Abortion is actually a hard one to measure, you can say it is up and down for both practice and acceptance – but it depends on how you want to measure.

          Homosexuality has clearly been accepted by the mainstream.

          >social cons spent more time sharing the Gospel with people, and doing stuff like feeding the hungry

          I’d suggest doing ‘doing stuff’ first, and sharing the Gospel second.

          > I am not saying I’m totally on board with “the social gospel,” either

          Why is helping people and caring about your neighbors/community/city “social gospel”? Once upon a time it was “citizenship”.

          • I think I saw an article saying there has recently been a slight dip in number of divorces, but there is still a heck of a lot of divorce going on even among Christians.

            You said,
            “I’d suggest doing ‘doing stuff’ first, and sharing the Gospel second.”

            It should be both.

            I’m not a touchie feelie liberal who’s in the social gospel.

            I’m still right wing. Unfortunately, many people who haunt these “post evangelical” and spiritual abuse type blogs lean left, or have an irrational hatred for all things right wing since they decided to reject conservative Christianity.

            You said “Why is helping people and caring about your neighbors/community/city “social gospel”? Once upon a time it was “citizenship”.”

            It’s touchie feelie hippie liberal stuff…. thinking Government should take money from one guy to give another, that type thing. I don’t think it’s above sharing the Gospel or doctrine being important. The Bible teaches both, importance of doctrine AND helping meet people’s needs.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    And their data is just wrong.

    Property crimes in the USA, from 1980s till now, down over 1,000 per 100,000.

    Violent crimes in the USA, from the 1980s till now, down 200 per 100,000! And that with a very likely increase in reporting. Nobody, at least where I live, is afraid to walk across downtown at night [something you would not have done in the 1980s]; and this is not a local phenomenon, it is widespread [although, sadly, many baby boomers in particular cling to their perceptions of a place’s safety long after the place has moved on].

    Teen pregnancy rates are down more than 28%! Although still dramatically (greater than 10X) higher than seen in some other developed nations – but down is not up.

    Rates of divorce have been steadily declining.

    Over 70% of teens do *not* use illicit drugs. Alcohol abuse by teens is ***down*** 25% from the 1990s! Hurray, if you were young in the 80s/90s, you know what I mean.

    It is strange how little attention any of these numbers get. The quest is simply to find new scary numbers to replace them. You would hope that the Good News people would refuse this meme, but they embrace it more tightly than almost anyone else.

    Even on an environment level there is good news: Lead levels in the environment are *WAY* down from where they were in the 70s and 80s. Americans are driving less – and a lion’s share of emissions is due to this inefficient mode of transportation. Suburban sprawl has, statistically anyway, come to a halt as the population migration reverses direction; the consumption of good agriculturally viable land for use as yards is lower than in 50+ years. The pressure to change our infrastructure [and infrastructure spending] towards what is both environmentally and economically sustainable is beginning to change even Federal policies [which indicates that pressure is truly tectonic].

    There is bad news; but when isn’t there? There is a lot of good news. The world is slick with sin and all manner of evil – True. We face huge insurmountable challenges – but there are answers, or at least some answers. Maybe we will not choose them, maybe will not choose them until the very last minute, or maybe we will choose them. Many people are choosing them.

    It is mostly just sad that the people of the Good News live in a sub-culture of fear and bad news – and very very few of them choose to board train Hope. I sadly spent a section of my life in the Fear Club listening to the ‘Good News’ – but it is much more fun among the pot-potpourri of people found on the Hope train. Those Good News people said all these people were monsters; I think they got it backwards – the worst monsters are the Good News leaders who are little more than tyrants of fear with no vision of the world they would build, only an illusion about the world they wish to destroy. That world they wish to destroy is a world filled with people for whom Christ was crucified.

    Perhaps there is a good reason few people are listening anymore, that the young can’t be bothered with the Good News. A single father needs a way to get to work and a clean place for his daughter to play – and the Good News people have no answer for the first and tell him he should be afraid of sending his daughter to `that school`. Can you blame him for wondering why more of them are not at that school as volunteer tutors or even parking lot attendants? They are the Good people after all; the light of the world, the builders of the city on the hill, they have the power of the Spirit. Yeah.

    • Exactly, ATW.

      I wonder if 2nd century Christians had such a HennyPenny attitude as so many today have?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Probably. But Henny Penny isn’t isolated to Christians. You see no shortage of it in Islam. Even atheists have their own flavor [usually Environmental]. I believe the root of HennyPennyism is illiteracy – a life with an absence of history. Humans, like their Creator, are beings of Story. It is much easier to see through HennyPennyism when you have the l___o____n___g perspective of history, the story stretches back to a horizon so distant one can only be humbled. Every point now is the confluence of a myriad eddies in the story, unforeseeable encounters of diverse characters, the ripples through time of yesterday’s failures and victories. But without history – everything is now, this calamity must be The Calamity. The Hebrews were very good at this, the Talmud is pregnant with History. But Sola Scriptura leaves us only a little text all alone in a great glowering universe – and in the dim light of that steel gray universe much of that text seems obscure and unrelated to us. What can one do but wring one’s hands. Or if despair is not amenable to your disposition – there is always anger – enemies incomprehensible are constantly lunging into view when your horizon is so close.

        • Klasie Kraalogies says:

          “the l___o___n___g perspective”…

          I guess that is why one very, very rarely meets a “Henny Penny” geologist (speaking as a geologist who often meets other geo’s). We pretty much take the l____________o____________n______________g view as a matter of course.

          🙂

        • What do you mean by “Sola Scriptura leaves us only a little text all alone in a great glowering universe”? Sola Scriptura refers to Scripture alone being the authoritative word of God, not that Scripture is the only text we read or consult with.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I believe the root of HennyPennyism is illiteracy – a life with an absence of history.

          At which point, the old Liturgical churches — Catholic and Orthodox — have the advantage. It’s called “institutional memory”.

          Humans, like their Creator, are beings of Story.

          Story.
          Like Star Trek, Star Wars, and MLP:FIM (all of which became cultural phenomena, taking off in times of pessimism and hopelessness).
          Not theological abstractions/party line ideology.

        • Brianthedad says:

          +1. Nicely written.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        I don’t think the Second Century Christians were Henny Penny Christians, even though Irenaeus was a premillenialist. (No Rapture, though; that was a 19th Century import courtesy of John Darby.) The Second Century was turning its attention to the very sensible question of how do we Christians organize ourselves for the long haul.

    • Sorry you were so hurt by the “Good News” people. Some indeed are full of fear and religion. I hope you also found some who were genuine, full of integrity, and LOVED the “Good News.”

      We should not be ashamed of the “Good News” for it is the very “power of God for salvation for everyone who believes . . .” (Rom. 1.16). Many “Good News” people recognize that we need to be people of hope, not legalism. So we all need to be careful not to paint with such a broad brush. And we must not allow our hurts to participate in the same behaviors and attitudes that we now–from a more illumined perspective–condemn. If we are to love our enemies, how much more brothers and sisters who mean well but are focused on the law instead of grace?

      Thanks for the demographics. I appreciated them.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Sorry you were so hurt by the “Good News” people.

        I’m not so much “hurt” as I regret the wasted time. It was educational, in numerous ways. I also resent having to deal with them now from the outside. They can just ‘Jesus Bomb’, as dropping the name of Jesus is an excuse to completely ignorant of the details around an issue. And the persecution complex [which is just absurd] means no one can interrupt them when they are just plain wrong, interrupting them is hatred of Jesus.

        > Some indeed are full of fear and religion.

        Fear, yes.

        I have no problem with “religion”, I am decidedly pro-religion. Formal, conventional, orthodox religion. Religion even at its worst promotes literacy.

        > I hope you also found some who were genuine, full of integrity, and LOVED the “Good News.”

        Indeed, sadly very few who were *in charge*. Most of them exited before I did.

        > Many “Good News” people recognize that we need to be people of hope, not legalism.

        The problem is *NOT* “legalism”. Repeat “Legalism” is not the problem; it is not the problem. Christians, at least of evangelical bent get completely hung up on “Legalism” and “Grace vs. Law”. These are not the issues. They are not the issue.

        The issue is *DESPAIR*, a sense of powerlessness, and a profound disengagement [engendered by that despair and reinforced by fear].

        The issue is a profound lack of charity towards others. When the Pakistani store owner wants better sidewalks… clearly it is a subtle scheme to impose Sharia law. Everything is plots and schemes, and everyone is suspect. It is a grim and ugly view of the world.

        > who mean well but are focused on the law instead of grace?

        This has nothing to do with “the law”. I’d love to deal with legalists, then at least one could have grounds for conversation. Legalism is a least rational.

        > Thanks for the demographics. I appreciated them.

        No problem, I have lots of them.

    • It is much easier to pack the pews if they are protrayed as a safe refuge from the godless sinful world outside.

      Or as an entertainment venue that lets you forget the godless sinful world outside as you bask in an emotional high.

      That Gospel message just doesn’t have legs compared to the above two points. At least not in the minds of those who equate the number of “cheeks in seats” with a successful church.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        >It is much easier to pack the pews

        Or the church attendance trends would indicate that is not very effective either.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Again, Double Down and SCREAM LOUDER!

        • Seems to be effective for larger churches looking to grow via growth plans, lights, music, production values, etc…

          Almost all the big churches seem to be more like a set of American Idol than a high Mass.

          Of course it is hard to know how many flame outs are occurring with this model.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        You know what this is?

        Just today’s Trendy Pessimism and Trendy Nihilism with a Christianese coat of paint.

        “It’s All Gonna Burn” so why bother?
        (Insert curled upper lip and Appropriate Ironic Quip — in pious Christianese, of course.)

  4. Pastor Mac says:

    Peale saw the self-immolation of mainline Protestantism just as this website dissects daily the self-immolation of evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is simply a generation behind. Both traded the power of the gospel for cultural relevance and cultural change. This is news?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > traded the power of the gospel for cultural relevance and cultural change

      If this is the deal which Evangelicalism made – it got swindled. It is neither culturally relevant nor did it achieve cultural change [I’d argue its cultural-change efforts completely backfired – they accelerated the counter reaction].

  5. Randy Thompson says:

    Adam, your second to last paragraph is brilliantly fantastic. I wish I said it!

  6. Only in New England would a 50 year old Reader’s Digest be considered appropriate to leave out for customers to read. Love it!

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Wesley, I have no idea what a fifty year old Reader’s Digest was doing in a waiting room in New Hampshire! (Neither did any of the mechanics at the garage, either.)

  7. David Cornwell says:

    It’s interesting that this message came from Norman Vincent Peale. He must have been in “backsliding” mode when he wrote this. Maybe he woke up one day with a migraine and everything seemed terrible all of a sudden. He was also a dynamic speaker, and was the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City for many years.

    • That Other Jean says:

      Somehow, I find it refreshing to consider that even Norman Vincent Peale had bad days, too. Thanks, David–I needed that.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        Norman Vincent Peale was a wonderful man, from what I understand, but he most definitely had his bad days, too. One of which was his ant-Catholic response to John Kennedy’s becoming President.

        However, if you follow me around, you’ll see some very dark days featuring me as well.

        And, I’m not dead yet.

    • OK, nobody else has mentioned this, so I will. Historically interesting, mildly.

      When Adlai Stevenson ran for president in 1956, Norman Vincent Peale was telling people to vote for Eisenhower.

      Stevenson said, “Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling.”

  8. Randy, as always, I am blessed by your perspective and your writing. You had something important to say and said it well. Historical perspective always has a way of making us more prophetic.

    I also am blessed to know that you live what you write. –Mom 🙂

  9. Here is the truth that Marc writes. I quote, “we’ve been fighting the war with the wrong weapons, while leaving the most powerful weapon for change, namely the Gospel, idle in its sheath. True, it isn’t as flashy as cursing the darkness, it changes people one by one, but it is powerful to change the world. We never learn.” Well said as these are the truth that Paul wrote in his letters to the churches such as in Ephesus. Not as the weapons of the world but the Gospel. I love “idle in it’s sheath” or the application of God’s Word in my heart”. Thank you as God reminds me that there is too much of ME and not enough of CHRIST> Forgive us Lord.

    • Yup. I’m still convinced the majority of American Christians don’t believe the Gospel actually DOES anything… other than gets your personal guilt problem straightened out so you can think of yourself as forgiven.

      The Gospel will be set aside, in favor of positive thinking, or culture war, or brilliant policy, or whatever, as long as it’s understood this way.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Yup. I’m still convinced the majority of American Christians don’t believe the Gospel actually DOES anything… other than gets your personal guilt problem straightened out so you can think of yourself as forgiven.

        The natural end result of a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Yup. I’m still convinced the majority of American Christians don’t believe
        > the Gospel actually DOES anything

        Points go to the detractors column because it so very rare to see those who make the most noise about the Gospel actually DOING anything. So it follows that…

        > The Gospel will be set aside, in favor of positive thinking, or culture war, or brilliant policy,
        > or whatever, as long as it’s understood this way.

        I’ll take a pass on positive thinking and culture war. But some brilliant policy would be very nice.

        A brilliant policy can ensure my neighbor gets a seat at the table. That he or she has hope, that they are included in a community. That brilliant policy may be the embodiment of the Gospel.

  10. rev dennis fitzpatrick says:

    So we do not preach law like Jeremiah? Or. Amos or Jonah etc.
    The sky was falling for; Israel, Judah, Amorites, and the rest,
    Rome Greece all fell in there time. Is ameican immune? Are we not
    to speak against sin. like the prophets and Jesus himself?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > So we do not preach law like Jeremiah? Or. Amos or Jonah etc.

      One point of order – you are not a prophet. Did an angel of the Lord appear to you and command you to go preach judgment on a condemned nation?

      > The sky was falling for; Israel, Judah, Amorites, and the rest,
      > Rome Greece all fell in there time.

      A strong historical argument could be made that Rome, in fact, did not “fall”. The power center moved, and there was an economic depression of epic proportions. Through all that Rome remained – really, that looks more like success than it does failure.

      > Is ameican immune?

      To what? Decline, malaise, collapse? Certainly not – but if that comes – it is likely because that is what we chose. If you believe that is inevitable, then that outcome because almost certain – and you will be right. Congratulations.

      > Are we not to speak against sin. like the prophets and Jesus himself?

      Speak against sin, yes – absolutely. But be careful that is not *all you do*. If that is all you do – then nobody will be listening.

      I love me some Jonathan Edwards, I am not opposed to fire-n-brimstone, that in an appropriate measure is spot on. But then go to the community meeting and find out what you can *do*. Be motivated by conviction, not isolated by conviction.

      • Brianthedad says:

        Mr. ATW, you are firing on all 8 cylinders today! Good points. The irony is, based on previous comments of yours I have read, we probably don’t agree on much politically. But I can’t wait to read your comments on posts of this sort. Very articulate.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        > So we do not preach law like Jeremiah? Or. Amos or Jonah etc.

        One point of order – you are not a prophet. Did an angel of the Lord appear to you and command you to go preach judgment on a condemned nation?

        And talking about Jonah, did God send a storm and a man-eating Big Fish to make sure you got to Nineveh when you ran for Tarshish/Tartessos (as far as possible in the other direction)?

    • I would caution that the Hebrew prophets frequently spoke out about social justice issues and urged people in the nation to pay attention to them and do something about them. That was a big part of the word God spoke through those prophets.

    • I think the point was that we ought not to be surprised by the sin we see, and pretend the sin we see is far worse than the sin of other ages.

      The fact that these things happen proves at least a couple things: that Christians have no idea what their own doctrine of sin says- that it’s ubiquitous, it’s really bad, and that it’s been really bad since Adam; and that Christians think they’re going to be able to come up with a new and better, or more progressive, solution to the sin they see (for instance, preaching EVEN LOUDER THAN THE OTHER GUYS!!). The Gospel ceases to be the mode by which God confronts evil, and the church becomes something like a fix-it bureaucracy for everyone’s problems, or condemn-er of everything it doesn’t agree with. (Don’t you know, GOD can cure you of your homosexuality…)

      It’s no use preaching sin if you don’t know what sin is.

  11. Isn’t it strange that we Christians supposedly have faith that Christ will reign throughout eternity, then snatch up titles like Josh McDowell’s “Last Christian Generation” like hotcakes, and use it to instill a sense of extreme urgency into places where faith ought to rest?

    Fear paralyzes and encourages negative examination of the times, the culture, and even of self. Faith is forward thinking, moving us, with hope, to the coming Kingdom. If Protestants are worried about whether or not our faith movement can stand the test of time, perhaps we should look at the divisive nature of our attitudes toward believers in sacramental traditions…Catholics, Orthodox, etc…repent, and work toward unifying the Church, rather than attempting to evangelize people whose faith we refuse to understand…people whose faith movements continue to be strong, even after the first 2000 years of Christianity.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Well spoken Lee. What we need to do is stand true to the gospel, both in our worship (liturgical and sacramental) and in our faith, living once again as the people of God. We will never change the world into our image, but the image of Christ will once again become apparent to a lost world. The nations of the world have never been “Christian” except in sloganeering and sentimental ways and will never become so until Christ reveals the Kingdom.

    • Brianthedad says:

      Agreed. Such a fear betrays an insecurity in our faith, I believe. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that what we believe doesn’t really work, unless we involve ourselves in the frenzy of extreme urgency, of Spencer’s Wretched Urgency?

      At the risk of being accused of proof texting, I believe 1 John 4:18 speaks directly to this:

      There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    “Oh, and stop screaming. Nobody like a religion with people screaming.”
    — the original Internet Monk

    • That Other Jean says:

      I’d like that printed on a bumper sticker, please, HUG. Than I’d sneak into a couple of extra-fundamentalist church parking lots I know of and stick one on every car in the lot.

  13. What a sane article, Randy! I may copy it and hand it out to the tract-givers and professional bemoaners that I occasionally come across.

  14. Great article, Randy. Very well-written, and a lot of truth.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    For what it’s worth, when I clicked on the “Evangelical Anxieties” tag, the biggest single subject of postings that listed was Rapture Scare/Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist.