The following excerpt is taken from John Piper’s recent sermon “The Plundering of Your Property and the Power of Hope,” preached at Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia on January 18, 2015. The sermon was on Hebrews 10:32–36. Here’s what Pastor John said.
The church in America, as I, at age 69, have watched her now for a long time, is slowly awakening from the distortion of about 350 years of dominance and prosperity in America. This is paradigm-determining for me. And I am just thinking right across the board — no particular denomination, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox. The church in America today is slowly awakening from the distortion of about 350 years (the length of our country) of dominance and prosperity.
Dominance and Prosperity
What I mean by dominance is that for most of American history, until recently, being a Christian has been viewed as normal, good, patriotic, culturally acceptable, even beneficial. And what I mean by 350 years of being prosperous is that, by and large, being a Christian has generally resulted in things going well for you, especially in the South. I grew up three hours from Atlanta in Greenville, South Carolina. I am a Southerner by birth. I grew up in the horrors of some of the stuff I am going to be talking about in a minute. We are “Christian” in the South. We are Americans.
And what I mean by the distortion of 350 years of dominance and prosperity is that this 350-year history of our dominance and prosperity has created a massively, deeply unbiblical mindset — namely, at-home-ness in the world. It hasn’t been good for us. We are suffering from it, prosperous though we be. So we have been dominant culturally and prosperous materially, and we have come to feel at home. “This is our land and our culture.” And the assumption is that things will go well for us here. “This is our place. This is the way we do things. It is the way we think about things. We are Christian here.” And we very much enjoy being thought well of for that, and we expect things to go well.
And poverty and sickness and suffering and death are the worst things that can happen. And there isn’t anything much worse. We expect this Christian land to be wealthy and for us to be wealthy, to be healthy, at ease, upbeat, success-oriented. And we have 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 prosperous. And that form of Christianity has focused mainly on how we feel and whether our needs are getting met.
And then we sell this; we offer this to people: “Come to Christ, and life will go better for you.” By and large, in America, for 300 years, the call to be a Christian has not been the call to be an alien. By and large, it hasn’t been the call to be a sojourner or an exile or to be out of step. It is the call to be a respected citizen in the community. We are only slowly awakening from this. People get really angry if you treat my Christianity as though it is not the norm. People get angry when you treat their views of things as not the norm. “I get angry. You are taking away my culture. You are taking away my land, my history. I am getting mad at you, because I have developed a Christianity that assumes dominance and prosperity and fitting in are normal. This is our way here. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”
Just Enough Truth
There is enough truth in that to give it some traction, right? If you live like a Christian, and you don’t get drunk every weekend, you will probably be more successful in life, right? You can keep your job. Your marriage will probably go better if you don’t come home drunk every Sunday night. That’s true, and the Bible says don’t get drunk. And so if you do what the Bible says, life goes better. The Bible says work hard. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. So if you work hard, then you are probably going to prosper in your business a little more. So being a Christian will probably bring success. There is just enough truth in this that it gets traction.
The problem is that this mindset is just totally out of proportion. We have come to take all of those relatively minor spin-offs of devotion to Jesus and elevated them above the massive, real pleasures of knowing him, loving him, and dying and being with him forever. Everything is out of proportion in typical American Christianity.
And Hebrews 10:32–36 fills me — it has for so many years — with a longing not to be a domesticated, comfort-seeking, entertainment-addicted, prosperity-loving, security-craving, approval-desiring Christian. I don’t want to be that. It is abominable to me to be that. I don’t want to waste my life just fitting in.
I want to be set free from this distortion. I want to be biblical. I want to have real, spiritual, otherworldly power on my life. I want to have stunningly countercultural, otherworldly hope driving this engine.