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Is the world getting better... or worse?

February 20, 2018 by Eric Stillman 1 comments

For the first two months of 2018, I will be using this space to interact with “This is our time” by Trevin Wax, a book that appeared on many “Best of” Christian book lists of 2017. In this book, Wax looks at the myths our culture teaches us, affirms the good longings underneath those myths, and then challenges those myths with the gospel. I believe this will be a good exercise for us in how to be discerning as we live in our world, so that we might be as Paul exhorted the Ephesian church: “Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

The eighth – and final – chapter of “This is our time” is entitled As the World Wobbles. In this chapter, Wax contrasts what he calls the “decline narrative” and “progress narrative” with the Biblical narrative. The decline narrative is the belief held by some that the world is getting worse and worse, while the progress narrative declares that things are inevitably getting better. Those with the former outlook wish we could return to an earlier time, like the 1950’s, or the time of the Reformation, or even the early church. Those with the latter outlook believe that the world is moving forward towards greater human knowledge and moral behavior, and that the old days were less enlightened than where we are today.

We can see these outlooks not only in our culture, but also in our churches. Some think the world is “heading to Hell in a handbasket,” and wish we could go back to a time when God was given more honor and Christianity was more central to our culture. However, such a view does not take into account the many ways in which the “good old days” were not so good – for example, think of how much worse racism was fifty years ago. Others think that things are just getting better and better, that the best is yet to come. But a close look at the world around us shows that while there have been many advances, those advances have also come with more wars, injustice, materialism, and rebellion against God.

The title of this chapter comes from a G.K. Chesterton quote, where he writes, “The world is what the saints and prophets saw it was. It is not merely getting better or merely getting worse; there is one thing that the world does; it wobbles.” Or, as Charles Dickens put it, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” At the same time, God is doing great things in the world, and evil is also at work. The past was not all bad – there is much to be learned from looking backwards. And not all progress is healthy and good for society

The Biblical narrative is that the world is not progressing towards a secular utopia, but is moving towards a restored cosmos in which heaven and earth are united and Jesus reigns (Revelation 21:1-5). Salvation has already come through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the eternal kingdom of God will come in its fullness when Jesus returns. Until then, we resist the myths of decline or progress, trusting instead in the hope found in the gospel, living faithfully to Jesus in the moment in which we find ourselves. As the missionary and author Lesslie Newbigin put it, “The real question is: What is God doing in these tremendous events of our time? How are we to understand them and interpret them to others, so that we and they may play our part in them as co-workers with God?”  


It is helpful to be directed back to look at the past and this difficult present as the world is still wobbling. My favorite part is your reminder to Revelation 21:1-5, reminding of His Word that were not going towards secular Utopia, but the restored cosmos when Jesus returns and Heaven and Earth will unite. I continue to strive to be one of His co-workers, but I am often stumped how to interpret what is happening. I only know that Jesus reigns, and that they need to know Him better. I'll be looking forward to your next essay. Thanks, Eric

Sally Wrang on Feb 26, 2018 at 12:44am

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