Navigating Trials in the New America
The church in America is slowly awakening from the distortion of 350 years of dominance and prosperity. Until recently, being a Christian in America has been viewed as normal, good, patriotic, culturally acceptable, even beneficial. By and large, being a Christian has generally resulted in things going well for you. At least this has been true for what used to be called the WASPs — white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. But also for others in greater or lesser degrees.
Being dominant culturally and prosperous materially, Christians have come to feel at home — this is “our land” and “our culture” — and the assumption is that it will go well for us here. We enjoy being well thought of, and we expect things to go well. In such a framework, poverty, sickness, suffering, and death are the worst things that can happen, and there isn’t anything much worse.
We expect that this Christian land will be wealthy, and that we will be wealthy and healthy — or at least have a shot at it. Those of us in the white, middle-class mainstream expect life to be comfortable, upbeat, and success-oriented. And we’ve developed a form of Christianity to support those ingrained expectations. To be a Christian is to be accepted. To be a Christian is to be comfortable. To be a Christian is to be secure and to be accepted, maybe even admired. That form of Christianity has focused mainly on how we feel and whether our felt needs are getting met.
For 350 years in America, the call to be a Christian has not been the call to be an alien. It has not been a call to be a sojourner or an exile or to be out of step with society. Rather, far too many of us have taken it as a call to be a respected citizen in the community.
And we get angry, really angry — watch it happen as we’re slowly awakening from this — if anyone treats our Christianity as though it’s not the norm. “You’re taking away my culture. You’re taking away my land.” We get mad because we’ve developed a Christianity with assumptions about dominance and prosperity, about being normal and fitting in. “This is our way here. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”
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There is some truth in the assumed connection between being a Christian and being prosperous. If you live like a Christian, you very well may be more successful in life. Not getting drunk may help you keep your job. Not committing adultery may help you keep your marriage together. Not killing may keep you out of prison. Telling the truth may get you a good name. If you do what the Bible says, life sometimes goes better — so being a Christian obviously brings success, doesn’t it?
The problem is that this is totally out of proportion. We have come to take all of those relatively minor spinoffs of devotion to Jesus and elevated them above the massive, real pleasures of knowing him, loving him, and dying and being with him forever. So much is out of proportion in typical American Christianity! In particular, it’s out of step with the whole tenor of the New Testament. For example, it does not fit with the apostle Peter’s charge that we think it not strange when insults, oppositions, and trials come upon us because of our faith in Jesus.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12–14)
For many of us who are slowly awakening from the dream world of American cultural Christianity, this text fills us with a longing not to be domesticated, comfort-seeking, entertainment-addicted, prosperity-loving, security-craving, approval-desiring Christians. We don’t want to be that. It’s abominable to us to be that. We don’t want to waste our lives just fitting in.
O, how we want to be set free from this distortion! We want to be biblical. We want to have real spiritual, other-worldly power on our lives. We want to have stunningly, counter-cultural hope driving our engines.
So, as American Christians continue to awaken from the distortion, we want to help, and be helped — from the Bible and from Christians around the world, for whom insults, opposition, and all-out persecution are not alien but part of what it means everyday to be a follower of Jesus in a world that persecuted him.
Navigating the New America
In our new book, Think It Not Strange: Navigating Trials in the New America, a diverse team of contributors, representing five continents, links arms to help American Christians get ready for the insults, trials, opposition, and even persecution that may lie ahead.
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After our short introductory chapters, Bethlehem College & Seminary professors Brian Tabb and Joe Rigney reintroduce us to the fierce resistance against the early church. Then in the heart of the book, four writers, from four different nations, feed our faith with stories of Christian resilience in the throes of persecution:
Dieudonné Tamfu, from Cameroon, walks with us the well-worn path of suffering from the post-apostolic fathers all the way down to the threat of Boko Haram in Africa today.
Steve Timmis, from the United Kingdom, gives us a glimpse not only into what may be looming in his post-Christian nation, but sobers us with stories from his ministry among the persecuted underground church in the 1980s Soviet Union.
World-traveler Tim Keesee opens windows for us into places like Pakistan, the Middle East, and North Africa where the doors are “closed” to gospel witness — and suffering for the Christian faith is the norm.
D. Glenn, who works among Syrian refugees fleeing the horrors of ISIS, invites us into the global “fellowship of the suffering.”
Finally, Tim Cain, a church planter among the poor, prepares us for the trials that will come from within, and missions leader Bob Blincoe puts our stateside opposition in perspective by renewing the call to complete the Commission in the hardest places on the planet.
Our prayer is that God would be pleased to use these short chapters to stir your faith and make you one of the happy Christians who will be undaunted in the coming days. We believe these are great days to be alive, for the sake of gospel advance and the fame of Jesus. May he steady your ship for the storms to come.
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