In every generation, we face the danger of longing for the past while fearing the future. And this mix of nostalgia and fear leads us into a state of complacency—a mission-less faith. We file in and out of the sanctuary week after week, content to recite the same words with our lips, but our hearts remain unstirred by the truths we confess, and we are less likely to invite others to believe the good news.
Complacent Christianity causes compartmentalization
—a convenient separation of Christian truth from the beliefs that frame our day-to-day activities.
Christianity becomes just one aspect of a busy life. What we believe, we’re told, isn’t as important as how we live. And even then, it’s fine if our life choices don’t line up with Christian teaching as long as our faith helps us be true to ourselves and keeps us from hurting anyone.
What’s missing from this scenario is any sense of Christianity as a mission that requires obedience to a King, a rollicking adventure that brings us face to face with opposition, as we proclaim something bigger and more satisfying than personal preference.
We are to rebel against the rebellion of a fallen world and witness to the rule of the risen Jesus over the universe.
I’m convinced that one of the primary causes of this spiritual malaise is our loss of confidence in the truth and goodness of the Christian faith. In every generation, we risk losing our wonder at the glory of Christian truth and the enduring witness of the church. Amid chaos and confusion, we can easily turn our focus on ourselves and, as a result, forget God. It’s as if we have inherited a vast estate—sprawling grounds surrounding beautiful buildings filled with priceless heirlooms—but we stay cooped up in a broom closet, complacent and bored, with no desire to explore all that we’ve been given in Christ.
We’ve been here before.
Chaos and confusion are not new. Every generation faces these challenges, for different reasons. The key to renewal is not to do away with the aspects of Christianity we find unsettling in our time. (After all, if Christianity is true, we ought to expect every culture to come into conflict with its claims at some point or another.) Neither should we ignore new challenges and wave away hard questions about what we believe and why.
No, the key to renewal is to return to the only truth that is reliable and sturdy when so much in the world seems fleeting and faddish: the gospel of God delivered once for all to the saints. The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation by the power of the Spirit). The way forward is to reach back, to find renewal in something old—foundational truths tested by time, a fount of goodness that refreshes and satisfies, long-forgotten beauty from the past that lifts our eyes above the suffering and sorrow of the present.
What the church needs today is to recapture the thrill of orthodoxy.
Trevin Wax (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is vice president of research and resource development at the North American Mission Board and a visiting professor of theology at Cedarville University. A former missionary to Romania, Trevin is a regular columnist at The Gospel Coalition and has contributed to The Washington Post, Religion News Service, World, and Christianity Today. He has served as general editor for The Gospel Project and has taught courses on mission and ministry at Wheaton College. He is the author of several books, including The Multi-Directional Leader, Rethink Your Self, This Is Our Time, Eschatological Discipleship, and Gospel Centered Teaching. His latest book is entitled The Thrill of Orthodoxy (10/2022)