Facing the 90’s | John Wimber
By John Wimber
Beatniks. Station Wagons. Rock n Roll.
Necking. God and Country.
Conformity. Cold War. Military Power.
Hippies. UW Vans. Acid Rock. Free Love.
Death of God. Protest.
Uiet Nam War. Flower Power. We
Preppies. Toyotas. Disco. CoHabitation.
Jesus People. Alienation. Oil Embargo.
Crystal Power. Feminism.
Yuppies. FMWs. Punk Rock. AIDS.
Televangelists. Indifference. Star Wars.
Power Lunches. Me Generation.
BY JOHN WIMBER
Decades have a way of collecting images that capture their values and attitudes toward religion, marriage, authority, sex, money, education-institutions that form the fabric of culture. Compare an idealistic hippie from the ’60s with a hightech yuppie from the ’80s. Strikingly different, aren’t they? And so are the two decades.
These images reflect the environmental context in which Christians live. Over the past forty years Western culture has undergone severe change; in each decade Christians have encountered new challenges to their faith, new obstacles that must be overcome to preach the gospel with effectiveness.
Unfortunately, the inability to recognize and resist the seducing influence of cultural trends results in shipwrecked faith and powerless witness. Most of us know Christians from earlier decades who were bushwhacked. In the ’50s, many Christians became smug and lost their saltiness; they were more concerned with getting ahead of the Joneses than with sacrifice and obedience.
The ’60s spawned a rebellious generation, people who were told “not to trust anyone over 30.” Many Christians took up this call and withdrew from fellowship. These Lone Rangers were easy prey for Satan. In the ’70s many Christians were seduced by the sexual revolution. And how about those yuppie Christians of today- materialistic, selfcentered, unhappy, unfruitful?
We can’t do anything about Christians’ responses to the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. But today we are in a position to do something about the ’90s.
Just as earlier decades had “cultural fingerprints” that left their marks everywhere, so too the ’90s will have its challenges. To prepare to meet the challenge of the ’90s, we’ve identified trends in Western culture that have been intensifying. While predicting future events is risky business (I’ll leave that to the prophets), social trends provide clues about where a culture is headed.
In this article we’ll explore these trends, and throughout the remainder of this quarter’s Equipping the Saints, different authors will write about what’s required to meet the challenge of the ’90s.
1. THE NEW BARBARIANS
In June of 1988 Charles Colson delivered a series of lectures at Wheaton College in Illinois in which he described a “new barbarian invasion” of Western culture. He said, “Unprincipled men and women, captured by destructive ideas, disdainful of the moral heritage of Western civilization, are everywhere ascendant, and their triumph threatens our most cherished institutions and the elements of character that undergird our social experiment.”
Individualism and relativism, Colson observed, have replaced the JudeoChristian ethic as dominant values in Western culture. Individualists have little sense of community, and they base moral judgments either in selfinterest or feelings. Relativists believe there is no objective moral truth, that all “truth” is relative. So, for example, all religions are said to have equal value.
The effects of individualism and relativism in society are so great that Colson believes the future of Western civilization is in doubt. The key institutions for the preservation of Christian values are the church (Matt. 16:18) and the family (Gen. 2:2324).
Without question, healthy churches and Christian families are the greatest threat to the new barbarians. They are reservoirs of Christian virtue and tradition. It is within the church and the family that Christian values are passed along from generation to generation. Further, Colson points out, churches and families function as “fire walls” against the corrosive influences of barbarian individualism, reinforcing Christian values and mature character.
Sadly, individualism and relativism have infected many of the hearts and minds of believers. Individualism erodes our sense of being part of a covenant people and family. Relativism undermines our belief in objective truth and the authority of Scripture.
The results for believers are predictable: doyourownthing Christians whose lifestyles and values reflect those of the greater society. In an article on upcoming trends of the ’90s, pollster George Gallup, Jr., recently wrote that “church involvement alone does not seem to make a great deal of difference in the way we live our lives. The churched are just as likely as the unchurched, for example, to engage in unethical behavior.”
Throughout the Bible there is a distressing pattern of God’s calling and blessing a people, followed by their presumption, rebellion, apostasy, and the Lord’s judgment. In fact, this cycle is repeated again and again in the Old Testament; only Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness assured the continuation of the nation of lsrael (Mal. 1:25; 3:6).
The New Testament alludes to a similar pastern. Paul writes: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without selfcontrol, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim. 3:25a) Paul’s advice to faithful Christians regarding these people was straight forward: “Have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim. 3:5b).
So, what is one of the challenges for the ’90s? The recovery of the church’s use of authority as the outpost of God’s kingdom. Individualism thrives in an environment that questions and challenges authority; there is nothing more basic to Christianity than the authority of Christ and the Bible.
There are four keys to entering into the authority of Christ. The first is individual Christians developing a secret history with God-quiet acts of obedience that are unnoticed by others but are seen by the Lord. These acts include vital prayer, devotion to Scripture, fasting, and works of righteousness to the poor, needy, and widows.
The second key to overcoming individualism is the Christian family. Malachi 4:6 says that in the last days God will “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” Healthy families are the breeding grounds of obedient, generous Christians who know how to live for God and brothers and sisters.
The third key is the church. Many renewal movements have arisen over the last thirty years. Some, like the charismatic renewal, continue to have dramatic impact on the church. The effectiveness and validity of other movements remain to be seen. But all renewal movements come from the correct recognition of the need for strong, vital churches.
The last key is civil government, which ideally should be rooted in the JudeoChristian ethics of justice and mercy (Rom. 13:17). Sadly, though, during the latter part of this century North America and Western Europe have drifted from their JudeoChristian roots.
Our highest priority and time commitment should be given to that over which we have the greatest control: developing a secret history with God, committed family life, and church involvement. Concern for civil reform comes only after the first three commitments are met, and even then Scripture teaches that for leaders prayer is the primary calling (1 Tim. 2:2).
2. HARD TIMES COMING
There is a second challenge facing God’s people in the ’90s. If the values of relativism and individualism continue to increase in Western culture, we may expect that persecution of Christians will become more common. When relativism and “tolerance” of other’s opinions become the highest values in a society, there is no room for those who insist that there are moral absolutes and one God.
As Christians we believe that there is one God, and that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to know him. We also believe the Bible is God’s word-objective, eternal truth about God and the universe. These three beliefs set us at odds with a relativistic culture. The result is that Christians in the West are frequently persecuted with scorn from the media and exclusion from many educational and governmental institutions. And it is a growing trend. In some instances Christians are being denied fundamental rights. For example, a recent U.S. Court decision required Roman Catholic Georgetown University to financially support a campus homosexual organization, and New York City is attempting to cut off public funding to charitable agencies operated by churches that refuse to hire practicing homosexuals.
These instances of state intrusion in church affairs could signal more severe persecution of Christians in the ’90s. Discrimination in education and the workplace, economic penalties and loss of property through changes in tax laws, and widespread curtailment of freedoms of speech and assembly could be coming soon.
We shouldn’t be surprised by the loss of fundamental rights for Christians. The freedoms that we enjoy in this country are the exception, not the norm, both in church history and around the world today. In fact, according to Scripture we should be surprised that we don’t suffer more than we do, for to be identified with Christ is to share in his fate.
Western culture is turning its back on its JudeoChristian ethic, and in doing so it is rejecting Jesus Christ…and his followers. So as we face the ’90s we must accept the fact that we live in a majority pagan culture.
3. THE NEW AGE MOVEMENT
Secularism has created a society desperate for spiritual experience. And relativism has created a society ripe for the claim that there are many ways to God and no moral absolutes. Together these attitudes help explain the near explosion of New Age religions in Western culture in this decade.
The popularity of Shirley MacLaine’s books, Out on a Limb and Dancing in the Light, is a symptom of a culture in transition. Her books embody the New Age movement’s values. Two of the most significant are that we are all gods, and that there are as many realities as there are people. These two values are individualism and relativism baptized in New Age jargon. Small wonder that millions of people are flooding yoga classes, converting to Eastern religions, dabbling in the occult, and religiously reading astrology charts.
A key element of the New Age worldview is that people must transform their consciousness. They must come to know that all is one, that all is god, and that they are god. New Agers believe this must be experienced as a result of biofeedback, drugs, yoga, visualization, martial arts, or through any number of New Age means.
In the New Age movement “power” is a key word: power for wellbeing, healing, telepathy, ESP, precognition, and all other sorts of psychic phenomena. The movement has won many to its ranks because of its spiritual power-evil and Satanic power, to be sure.
To underestimate the influence of the New Age movement would be a serious mistake. For some, the New Age movement is a conduit to a far more damaging religious experience: Satanism. This dark underbelly of the New Age movement has been exposed in the media in recent years. Consider Charles Manson, Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez, and the recent drugrelated murders in Matamoros, Mexico. All are Satanic crimes. They are far from the only documented crimes in which the victims were killed as a sacrifice to Satan.
The increase in Satanic crime is so threatening that Washington journalist Larry Kahaner, author of Cults That Kill, says, “In the ’60s, the cutting edge [of crime] was drugs. In the ’70s, it was computer crime. In the ’80s, it’s terrorism. Occult crime is really the crime of the ’90s.”
Christians must be equipped and empowered to identify, resist, and overcome the subtle influences of the New Age movement. Undoubtedly we will need God’s spiritual power to deal with spiritual attacks coming from Satanists.
4. PSYCHOLOGY AS RELIGION
The last trend is perhaps most disturbing for Christians, because it has the greatest potential for creating division in the body of Christ. I am referring to the increasing influence of modern psychology on Christians’ thinking, and the antiChristian values that come with it.
(My point isn’t that we wholesale reject the conclusions of modern psychology. I am the pastor of many counselors and counselees, most of whom are sincere and godly people. I am not bringing into question their commitment to Christ or the benefit of their counseling relationship in so far as they maintain biblical priorities. However, Christians must recognize that modern psychology is riddled with foreign philosophies that undermine their faith.)
Christopher Lasch, in his book Haven in a Heartless World, comments on the tendency of psychiatrists to claim authority in areas that in the past were reserved for Christian leaders. He writes, “Psychiatry simultaneously claimed, as modern successor to religion, to represent a comprehensive worldview-in the words of John Money, a scientific ‘philosophy of life’ that replaced discredited beliefs, superstitions, ‘absolutist’ orthodoxies. The ‘cure of souls’ had given way to ‘mental hygiene’, the search for salvation to the search for peace of mind, the ‘attack upon evil’ to the ‘war against anxiety.’” (pp. 9798)
As we enter the ’90s the lines between Christianity and modern psychology are becoming blurred as more and more Christians uncritically accept antibiblical values and attitudes of modern psychology.
One of the more damaging strains of thought from modern psychology that has made its way into the thinking of many Christian leaders is selfism. Selfism upholds the primacy of feelings, a preoccupation with selfdevelopment (Abraham Maslow’s “selfactualization”), a hyperindividualism that tends to deny any restrictions or authority outside of the individual, and strong belief in the goodness of human nature. (Psychologists Eric Fromm, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, and Abraham Maslow are perhaps the bestknown proponents of selfism.)
Feelings and selfdevelopment, as important as they are, should never be the center of a Christian’s life. God does want our feelings to aid a life of obedience and faith. And personal fulfillment should normally be a byproduct of faithful service. But these ends are subordinated to loving God and neighbor by voluntarily restricting our behavior and thoughts to God’s desires. I once heard it said, “It is better to enter the kingdom of God emotionally maladjusted than to go to hell fully selffulfilled and selfactualized.”
Modern psychology is in the church, and in some cases its disciples are the most effective agents of secularization. For example, a pastoral counselor who is more influenced by Carl Rogers’s preoccupation with feelings than by Christian truth undermines biblical counseling. In instances such as these, a false religion-the religion of modern psychology-is making its way into the church and undermining the authority of Scripture.
Other significant conduits of modern psychology into the church include many elements of the inner healing movement (which can destroy effective prayer ministry) and the proliferation of books that teach Christianity is primarily an aid to selfesteem, selfworth, and better living.
In the ’90s look for increased tension between Christians who see Christ as their helper and those who see him as their Master. I suspect that churches will split over these issues.
The four trends that I have outlined above-the new barbarian invasion, persecution of Christians, the rise of the New Age movement and Satanism, and psychology as religion-raise a significant question. Could we be entering the period of time immediately preceding the return of Christ? I believe that we could be.
But whether we are, or whether this world continues for another thousand years, Paul’s advice offered to the Thessalonians over 1,900 years ago applies today. His words are an excellent summary of the focus of articles in the remainder of this issue of Equipping the Saints and a way to prepare for the ’90s.
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (l Thess. 5:12-22).
FACING THE ‘9OS
Source: Equipping The Saints, Vol. 3, No. 3/Summer 1989
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