I am so thankful to God for the years I spent in the youth group at First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Texas. It was particularly when I was in the sixth grade that I first began to understand that the claims of Christ over my life are total and absolute. Thus, my Christian faith cannot be tucked away in a private area of my life. It must shape everything I do and think. God knows I needed to hear that message at that particular time, and my life has never been the same.
But at the same time I was also introduced to textbook American evangelical activism. I don’t mean that my youth group meetings were political rallies (we didn’t discuss politics). I mean that, under the instruction of my youth minister, I dove headfirst into the “transform the world for Christ” mentality. It has taken me years to recover from it, and I am still in process.
Of course, a lot of good came out of that teaching. I became more attuned to the public claims of the Christian faith. I grew strong and bold (at least more so than I had been before) in personal evangelism. I developed leadership abilities that have carried me through years of ministry. I certainly don’t want to suggest that everything I learned in this regard was wrong or of no value to me.
But I also got entrenched in evangelical triumphalism. I overestimated my own (and the church’s) ability to “build” God’s Kingdom on earth (as though that is something any human hands could do!). I dreamed big dreams, and more often than not I ended up with big disappointments. I still wrestle with the ramifications of those dreams today. And in some cases I have had to smash those dreams because they were nothing more than sugar-coated idols.
This article by Michael Horton strikes me as one full of biblical and theological wisdom. Please read it for insight into the relationship between the “already” dimension of the Kingdom of God, the “not yet” dimension of the Kingdom, and the church’s role in between.
Does God expect me to go out and change the world? Probably not. Imagine how few people in the history of the human race can claim to have done such a thing. We are not all, as Christians, called to be world changers. But we are all called to be pilgrims, wayfarers on the road to glory who may not pull off a global makeover, but if we faithfully worship, pray, love, and work, day in and day out, as the New Testament calls us to do, we may just end up leaving this place a little better than we found it. Evangelical triumphalism may not be satisfied with that idea, but if I read the New Testament correctly, it seems that God is. And that’s so much the worse for evangelical triumphalism.
At the command of God the Father and at just the right moment, the Lord Jesus will bring the consummation of the Kingdom. It is not yours or mine to build. Maybe if we lowered our expectations a bit about who we are and what we are capable of doing, we might just find that there is a depth of joy and contentment to be found in living a life of simple faithfulness. Sure, every once in a while a Paul, an Augustine, a Luther comes along and turns the world on its head, but in between those unusual moments in history, millions of faithful believers pass out of this world unnoticed by the earthly multitudes even while they are welcomed as heroes among the hosts of Heaven. If I can be one of them, then that will be enough for me.