For the last several years, I’ve increasingly heard Christians comment about the need for revival in America. “We need to turn back to God,” they say. “We need to cry out to God to help us.” And now as the wheels really seem to be coming off on America, the intensity of such assertions has increased. But do we really want revival and God’s help?
My guess is my Christian friends would think I’m nuts for even asking such a question, but the words of John the Baptist keep running through my mind this morning as I write. When the Scribes and Pharisees—the religious leaders of his day—came out to the Jordan River where John was baptizing those who were responding to his call to repentance, he said, “You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.”
It’s that last line that gets me. True repentance produces “fruit,” the fruit of righteousness. And righteousness presumes a standard by which the rightness of an action can be measured—a means by which to determine if the fruit is there and ripe, if you will.
The problem I see in the church today is that, by and large, we don’t actually preach a standard for righteous living, because a clear proclamation of a clear standard is necessarily exclusive, not inclusive. That kind of message will offend those who are unrepentant, and the unrepentant who are offended become troublemakers in the pews or they leave and take their contributions with them.
What I’ve just said about what generally passes for preaching in America is exactly what a Barna study showed the other week. Ninety percent of pastors said the Bible addresses the problems we’re facing in America, including political ones, but only ten percent have preached on what the Bible says about them.
Some pastors will protest that they do preach about the need for personal holiness, and those who do so have unwittingly acknowledged that they are part of the problem. A spiritualized pietism that focuses only on the hereafter is as wholly inadequate for our day as the arm-of-flesh-will-prevail civic engagement mentality that others possess. They have forgotten what Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way—the power of civil government comes from God, and He cares greatly what civil servants do with that power.
Space does not permit me even to sketch out the kinds of political issues that don’t get any biblical treatment from the pulpit, but if people don’t know what we’re doing wrong politically, they can’t “turn from their wicked ways” to produce “fruit” worthy of repentance.
So I conclude where I began by asking if we really want what the Bible would call real revival and the conditions that would lead to it, namely, the identification of what we are doing wrong in any and all areas of our lives, instruction in what is the right thing to do in those areas, and the humble resolve to ask God for the strength and power to follow through on what we learn. If that’s not what we want, then maybe we don’t really want what we say we want after all.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.