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The American Christian

January 30, 2018 by Eric Stillman 0 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 fifth chapter of “This is our time” is entitled Never “at Home” in the City of Man.” In this chapter, Wax examines the relationship the American Christian should have with his or her country. He presents the case that from the beginning, the European settlers who colonized America believed that God had a special relationship with their new country, that America would be a shining “city on a hill.” Over time, this belief only got stronger, as American preachers taught that America would help usher in the Kingdom of God, and others viewed America as the Messiah the world needed, uniquely blessed by God to bring peace and freedom to the rest of the world.

While Wax contends that it is true that our country is blessed in ways that far exceed our merits, and that our country is exceptional in many ways, he argues that Christians make an error if they replace God’s relationship with His universal church with His relationship with America (or equate modern-day America with Old Testament Israel). On the other hand, Wax also argues that we should resist the urge to make the alternate mistake of pulling back completely from public life and politics and seeing our country as an evil empire in the vein of Daniel’s Babylon.

The correct approach, Wax argues, is along the lines of what Augustine argued in his book The City of God, which he wrote as a response to the fall of Rome in AD 410. Augustine wrote that there are two cities – the City of God and the City of Man – and Christians need to be careful not to identify the City of God too closely with any earthly city (or country). We belong to a church that is made up of believers from every nation, tribe, and language, and our bond with these brothers and sisters is closer than our bond with our fellow American who does not worship Jesus as Lord. This means that if our priority is God’s kingdom, then we will always feel out of place in this world. We will never feel perfectly at home until Jesus returns or takes us to be with Him.

Furthermore, it also means that we need to resist the urge to align ourselves completely with one political party or leader without thinking. We bow the knee to King Jesus, and trust in Him alone. And as members of His kingdom, we need to preserve our ability to be a prophetic voice in our culture and not be afraid to speak out against our political leaders or parties when their decisions or agendas contradict the Word of God. Like William Wilberforce opposing the slave trade in Parliament, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer working against Nazism in Germany, the Christian whose primary citizenship is in the kingdom of God may be called upon to dissent from what their country is telling them to do.

Clearly, it is becoming more difficult and dangerous to be a Bible-believing Christian in America. But we can take heart in knowing that our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven, and that the one we live to honor is King Jesus. The more we know His love, and the more we understand God’s approval of us that we have in Jesus, the more we will be able to withstand the hatred and disapproval of the world.

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