Maybe a more direct way of asking this question, are we witnessing the fall of America before our very eyes? David Wells wrote:
We know ourselves now to be on a fast-moving train hurling down the tracks, and it is absurd to think that by leaning over the side and digging our heels into the ground we could have the slightest effect on the trains velocity. People sense this. Many do. There is panic in the culture because we know our era is ending. Our horror movies are not just stories. They are a kind of mirror of ourselves. They surface the inchoate sense that we have, the sense of dread, the sense that all is not right in our world, that out there is a lurking menace whom we cannot see. We intuitively feel that a terrifying calamity looms over us but we just do not quite understand what this is or even where it is.1
Granted there is a great level of ambiguity and mystery to the words of David Wells here. Still, there is something that really resonates with all of us when we speak of calamities that may in fact be looming over us. Further ambiguity in Wells’ words is what he means by attempting to lean over the side of the train to try to affect the train’s velocity. I do not take him to mean that the gospel is of no effect, or that the Church makes no difference in the world, he certainly does not believe that. In fact, God in the Whirlwind is set forth as something of an antidote to much of the Church’s problems in ministry and discipleship as well as making the Church more effective for its global witness by stressing its other-worldly ethic of holiness and transcendent truths about who God is and what He has done in Jesus Christ. But the point is also well taken, we live in a volatile world full of menacing dangers and many of these are out of anyone’s control, save God.
IN THE SICKBED
When we think about America as a whole, as difficult as that is to do sociologically and culturally, the American populace is now exposed to the following factors that may in fact be symptoms of just how sick and fragile American democracy is. If nothing else, these factors point in the direction that in many ways America is in big trouble.
- The rise of Globalism
- The volatility of the World Economy
- The deterioration of Borders and Immigration
- Pluralism both Religious and Political
- Postmodern, Secular, and Pagan Morality
- Technology and the rise of Transhumanism
- The fragile witness of the Church
This last item on the list may prove the be the most important for when a nation suppresses the witness of the Church, what does it have left but all manner of evil and tyranny? It is undeniable, notwithstanding some wonderful exceptions, that the Church is weak and compromised in the West. Another work by Wells highlights this. In The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church, Wells exposes what he calls the marketing ethos that was threatening the Church in the 80s and 90s that sought to turn the Church into “big business” by adopting the consumer-driven mentality and growth philosophy of the world. That was the 90s, today we are no longer being warned about the things that David Wells envisioned, we are living in them! The scourge of seeker-sensitive church philosophy is still with us and in many areas of the country, as far as church selection goes, seeker models for churches is the air that local communities breathe. That is to say nothing of the remnants of emergent ministry tactics, the prosperity movement, egalitarianism, queer theology, liberalism, and ecumenicalism (especially and not surprising with Rome- note the recent explosion of Thomistic thought even within Reformed theologians!).
True expositional, exegetically-driven and theologically faithful or doctrinally intentional churches are few and far between. In fact, due to the influence of Postmodernism upon the American Church, doctrinal specificity is frowned upon, and theological dogma is looked upon as mean-spirited and not Christlike. The spiritual erosion of American Evangelicalism, its basic fidelity to Scripture and the biblical worldview that was once so obvious in society, can be documented in a hundred different ways.2
STRATEGIES OF WAR
Sometimes we look out at American culture, politics, economics, geopolitical relations, and the influence of globalism; one would think that we are at war with ourselves or that we are being attacked from within. Known strategies of warfare include these common methods of attack: breaking down the enemy’s ability to communicate, inhibiting access to travel, disrupting supply chains making it more difficult to gather supplies, disarming the population so that regular citizens cannot defend themselves, disrupting fuel lines, unleashing diseases against your enemies, causing divisions and strife within a nation, disseminating confusion and false propaganda so that it makes it increasingly difficult to make progress based on facts.
When we look at some of the basic strategies for war, we have to admit as others have pointed out, that we are witnessing many of these principles being rolled out in our own society today. The rise of cancel culture making it difficult to communicate freely, the constant breaking down in the airline industry so that now we are actually facing a real pilot shortage not to mention scores of cancellations now being normalized, the second amendment in our own country is under constant attack, and life after the pandemic has certainly broken down our supply chains, fuel prices have soared with increasing calls for eradicating fossil fuels, the pandemic may in fact be by design as many experts propose, the rise of social justice (to say nothing of gay/trans rights) has only left our country more fragmented, the constant accusations of “fake news” has made it difficult to turn on any evening news at all as the public eyes increasingly mocks all news outlets “Left” and “Right.”
There are other malicious forces at work as well. Tucker Carlson on Fox News recently pointed out that while China is developing hypersonic missiles to strike anywhere on earth and are completely undetectable, we are teaching our military the proper use of pronouns instilling in them Marxist principles like Queer theory and CRT while other militaries are raising their training standards and increasing their global coalitions. Even our elite military forces are now lowering expectations, standards, and protocols to accommodate women and weaker soldiers who can no longer stand the rigors of older, tougher generations.
But who are we at war with? The global elites? Rich bankers? The Bilderburgs? A New World Order? China? Russia? Nefarious agents within our own government system? Terrorists? Transhumanists? There may in fact be a literal identifiable enemy, some polar entity, a nation, or a non-polar entity like a terrorist group. Of course, these factors can ebb and flow but that is hardly the point (although we may see such dangers subside through political and social change, I am personally of the opinion that we have entered into a more prophetic time from which there is probably no going back or making progress devoid of these and other impending factors).
Our task however is to think biblically. In Isaiah’s day, when Assyria was making plans to attack, Judah was instructed to resist the temptation to call these geo-political events mere “conspiracy” (Is. 8.12). In other words, the people of God were to understand that behind all of these political developments, the sovereign hand of God and his meticulous providence was ultimately in control. The same is true for us today. No nation under heaven has any authority other than that which has been granted to it by God (John 19.11). There are no geo-political developments on the horizon that have not been ordained by the hand of a meticulously sovereign God who governs all of the affairs of men toward one final eschatological goal, namely the glory of his Name alone and the consummation of his heavenly kingdom (Is. 2.11, 17).
BACK TO BABEL
One of the fundamental mistakes we may be making in considering such things as American decline is isolating America from the overall cosmic context of the world as God sees it. God does not “think” in “America first ways”; God sees all of the nations of the world belonging to one ultimate “system.” That system is not a “new world order” it is in fact more comprehensive and theological than that. The “system” is fundamentally what can be called an antichrist crisis of sorts and the crisis is bound to the present order of things. In biblical terms, this present order is described in many ways and all of which refers to life as it persists under the curse of the Fall of man. God “thinks” federally or covenantally. All of humanity stands before him in only two categories, Adam or Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15.22). That is essential. God is not so much concerned with Democracy versus Communism and Marxism, or with Capitalism versus Socialism; God sees things at the deeper spiritual level where regardless of political ideology, all the world is guilty before God even as it lay in the lap of the evil one (cf. 1 John 5.19).
Because of the Fall and because of the curse, the present world system follows a basic biblical pattern. We have seen this numerous times throughout redemptive history and we are blind and gullible if we do not think this will repeat again. In fact, Scripture assures us that it will. Perhaps, the tower of Babel serving as a primary symbol of the eschatological pattern we see in Scripture. Babel represents a primitive antichrist crisis that culminates in the condemnation of a pseudo world-system complete with a humanist spirit of self-advancement, self-preservation, and self-salvation. Babel is the attempt to move humanity forward, and literally upward, without God. Of course, God visits this cosmic movement in judgment (Gen. 11.1-9); but the pattern is there nonetheless. Whether we are thinking about the Flood, Babel, Sodom, and Gomorrah, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon or Rome; these historical markers are symbolic, typological, and eschatological of things to come (cf. Mt. 24.36-41; 2 Pet. 3.5-13). In fact, when we see the final manifestation of the antichrist system in the book of Revelation, it is Babylon that takes center stage (Rev. 17-18, see esp. Gen. 11.6/Rev. 17.13). The Semitic root of the word Babylon is babel, which shows that the original tower of Babel narrative was proleptic of the Babylonian captivity and even further still, of the end-time Babylonian system and its ultimate demise- a worldwide humanity gathered and scattered in judgment.
At a cultural level, we seem to be squarely in the midst of a Romans 1 descent. We are not facing the wrath of God, at least in the America, along with many other cultures, we are experiencing the wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness. In our own country, decades of murdering the unborn (the recent reversals only partially stem that tide), paganizing the West, rejecting God’s laws, existence and people, undoing the nuclear family and unleashing every manner of debased perversity and evil will likely not result in a tidal wave of revival but further divine displeasure and wrath. (we should point out that the rise of political conservatism is no “certain sign of grace” as Edwards would put; for, many if not most in that movement are just fine with “gay” marriage and are unwilling to stand against “alternative lifestyles.” If former President Donald Trump wrapping himself in a rainbow flag is not enough to substantiate my point nothing is).
HEAL OUR LAND
“ If my people will humble themselves and pray”2 Chronicles 7:4a
This text has been used by many evangelists, evangelical crusades and altar calls for the promise of God’s blessing and prosperity on western culture and particularly here in America, this is an evangelical favorite passage. But the context has Israel in view in a theocratic context (2 Chronicles 7), and the interpretation of this passage is ultimately understood in a redemptive historical fashion directing its contemporary application to the believer and the church who realize all such temporal promises to what such promises anticipate mainly at the redemptive and eschatological level in Christ.
Of course, we are told that sin is a reproach on any people and that righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14.34), and for that reason righteousness can bring blessing to any people as well, albeit mostly at the common grace level. There is no monolithic way of explaining the outworking and dynamics of that proverbial reality. For example, society can be very hard on crime and still live under a dictatorial system. A legal system can punish many injustices and yet legislate unthinkable immorality at the same time (as in the case with abortion in America). There are limits to common grace and there is no return to a theocracy so that our notion of God’s healing and blessing needs to be understood through a different lens. (It is important to know that even during the theocratic system, which was a temporal typological expression of the eschatological and eternal kingdom in Christ, the people of God suffered under crisis after crisis owing to Israel’s disobedience, idolatry and apostasy- a neo-theocratic-nomism is not the answer, heaven is).
America is not the kingdom of God (lost on many Christians today) and the more we understand that the more we will recognize that we are citizens of two kingdoms. To be clear, Two Kingdom Theology is a technical school of thought for the interpretation of the Law and Gospel, nature and grace, church and state that is of a more Lutheran philosophy than Reformed. I refer to our participation and two kingdoms more informally here to reflect what the apostle Paul says in Philippians 3. Our true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3.20). We need to point out something very important at this point, the doctrine of heaven cannot be surrendered to any group, movement or theological persuasion as it constitutes our ultimate eschatological hope. There is no excess in our commitment to, development of and hoping in the theology of heaven (Col. 3.1-4; 1 Pet. 1.13: note the pilgrim theology inherent in a parousia-centered hope (v.17; also 2.11-12)).
Going from that negative statement of America and the kingdom of God not being co-extensive, we also have to state the matter positively, namely that the gospel and the kingdom of God will prevail and progress despite what God has decreed for America or any other part of the world or historical epoch. To be crystal clear, America could fall tomorrow in a fiery dirge and yet have absolutely no bearing on the increase of God’s kingdom as he has decreed it. That is because the kingdom of God is no longer understood in a geophysical fashion. Unlike the Old Testament, Old Covenant era when a person could find themselves “in” the kingdom by virtue of being in Jerusalem, the kingdom of God is no longer bound to such geographical limitations. The kingdom now operates upon the spiritual plane, operates upon the redemptive principle and most of all is encountered in the person and work of Jesus Christ through regeneration.
Still, the uncertain future of America reminds us that among other things, the kingdom is also still future (Rev. 22.5). We who presently belong to the kingdom and enjoy the first fruits of it through the Spirit (2 Cor. 1.22) nevertheless will enter God’s eternal and heavenly kingdom (2 Tim. 4.18). America, like Canaan did to Abraham, the patriarchs, and the apostles, should order us toward our true “country” that is, heaven, where our permanent citizenship resides (Heb. 11.13-16). This will help us when we look at the cultural, political, and national threats all around us (cf. John 16.33). This will remind us to be evangelically minded, that is, focused on the proclamation of the gospel. This will remind us of the importance of the local church— a concentrated foretaste of our heavenly assembly. This will beckon us to set our minds more on things above than below (Col. 3.1-4). This will also orient our lives in this world carefully with an eternal perspective in view realizing that all that this life consists of is fleeting and passing away (1 Cor. 7.31). In short, the near future should lead us to think upon our ultimate future in the Father’s house.
John 14. 1–3 1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Soli Deo Gloria
1David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind (Crossway, 2014) 31-32. [Italics mine]
2 See for example, Michael Horton, Christless Christianity (Baker, 2008). Also, Peter Jones, Whose Rainbow (Ezra Press, 2020).