St Athanasius On the Incarnation [55

THE HOPE

This is a book about hope. For too long, Christians have been characterized by despair, defeat, and retreat. For too long, Christians have heeded the false doctrine which teaches that we are doomed to failure, that Christians cannot win -the notion that, until Jesus returns, Christians will steadily lose ground to the enemy. The future of the Church, we were told, is to be a steady slide into apostasy. Some of our leaders sadly informed us that we are living in a "Laodicean age" of the Church (a reference to the "lukewarm" church of Laodicea, spoken of in Rev. 3:14-22). Any new outbreak of war, any rise in crime statistics, any new evidence of the breakdown of the family, was often oddly viewed as progress, a step forward toward the expected goal of the total collapse of civilization, a sign that Jesus might come to rescue us at any moment. Social action projects were looked on with skepticism: it was often assumed that anyone who actually tried to improve the world must not really believe the Bible, because the Bible taught that such efforts were bound to be futile; as one famous preacher put it, "You don't polish brass on a sinking ship." That slogan was based on two assumptions: first, that the world is nothing more than a "sinking ship"; second, that any organized program of Christian reconstruction would be nothing more than "polishing brass." Evangelism was an invitation to join the losing side.

This was rooted in two problems. One was a false view of Spirituality. The unbiblicai idea of "spirituality" is that the truly "spiritual" man is the person who is sort of "non-physical: who doesn't get involved in "earthly" things, who doesn't work very much or think very hard, and who spends most of his time meditating about how he'd rather be in heaven. As long as he's on earth, though, he has one main duty in life: Get stepped on for Jesus.

The "spiritual" man, in this view, is a wimp. A Loser. But at least he's a Good Loser.

The teaching of the Bible is very different. When the Bible uses the term Spiritual, it is generally speaking of the Holy Spirit (which is why I use a capital S). To be Spiritual is to be guided and motivated by the Holy Spirit. It means obeying His commands as recorded in the Scriptures. The Spiritual man is not someone who floats in midair and hears eerie voices. The Spiritual man is the ma-n who does what the Bible says (Rem. 8:4-8). This means, therefore, that we are supposed to get involved in life. God wants us to apply Christian standards everywhere, in every area. Spirituality does not mean retreat and withdrawal from life; it means dominion. The basic Christian confession of faith is that Jesus is Lord (Rem. 10:9-10) - Lord of all things, in heaven and on earth. As Lord, He is to be glorified in every area (Rem. 11:36). In terms of Christian Spirituality, in terms of God's requirements for Christian action in every area of life, there is no reason for retreat.

The second obstacle to Christian action has been an escha-tology of defeat. Our eschatology is our "doctrine of last things," our expectation of the future. And there is no question about the recent expectations of many Christians: we have looked forward to failure. The world, as we noted earlier, was regarded as a sinking ship.

Of course, no Christian believes in ultimate defeat. All Christians know that God will be victorious over the devil at the end of history. As a young Christian, I remember my Bible teachers informing me that they had "peeked at the last chapter (of the Bible), and the Christians win!" But that is just my point: according to certain popular brands of eschatology, victory takes place only in "the last chapter." In time, in history, on earth, the Christians lose. The world is getting worse and worse. Antichrist is coming. The devil is running the world, and getting more and more powerful all the time. Your work for God in this world will have no lasting effect, except to save a few individuals from hell. But you'd better do it quickly, before the Tribulation hits, so that you can escape in time. Ironically, the unintentional message of this gospel is: Antichrist is coming! There is something terribly lopsided about that.

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