American Christians used to enjoy the respect of society and unprecedented freedom and prosperity. But, in the past decade, all that has changed radically. Marriage has been redefined. Religious freedoms are eroding. And, the church increasingly is being marginalized. How should Christians respond to these rapid and sweeping changes? And, how should we prepare?
Moody Bible Institute President Dr. Paul Nyquist answers these questions in his new book, “Prepare: Living Your Faith in an Increasingly Hostile Culture,” and graciously agreed to answer a few questions for my blog. I think you’ll find his answers helpful as you navigate your faith in this changing cultural landscape. Also, please join me this Saturday on Up For Debate as we discuss how Christian schools and institutions should respond to the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. And, enter the book giveaway contest to receive one of three free copies of “Prepare”!
Julie Roys: You say “The culture war is over – and we lost.” Certainly, given that gay marriage is now the law of the land and religious freedoms are rapidly eroding, that seems to be the case. I think what has a lot of Christians experiencing vertigo, though, is how rapidly we lost this war. As you document in your book, just 20 years ago, the vast majority of Americans affirmed traditional marriage, but today a minority do. What do you think caused this rapid cultural shift?
Dr. Paul Nyquist: If you study how cultural change cycle happens, then I believe we are clearly already past the tipping point and the cultural war is over. We are now the process of rapidly integrating this new cultural value into our society and, unless there is spiritual revival in the land, these trends are only going to accelerate. Such a shift may seem rapid to a casual observer, but the foundation for such a shift goes back into the second half of the nineteenth century and how Darwinism influenced the study of law and the judicial system. Over time, values changed, a coalition was built and we have seen the societal fruit of the process in this past year. But buckle your seat belt—because we haven’t seen anything yet.
JR: You believe American Christians will increasingly face persecution, but encourage us to accept this persecution, rather than chafe against it. You even suggest that suffering may be preferable to the freedom and ease American Christians have experienced for the past 200 years. Why do you believe that?
“When we suffer, even in a limited way, we experience a bit of what Christ endured and we learn more of what it means when the Bible says He was ‘the Suffering Servant.'”
JR: In Chapter Five, you discuss when civil disobedience is warranted – and certainly, this is an issue facing many Christian institutions, including the Moody Bible Institute. Some Christian colleges, for example, have objected to the federal healthcare mandate requiring them to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, including abortifacients. In fact, Wheaton College filed a lawsuit against the government over the mandate – and when it lost, chose to drop insurance coverage for students, rather than comply with the law. Do you think these actions are warranted?
PN: Churches, Christian organizations, schools and individual believers are all going to be faced with critical decisions in the near future. Persecution is a way to silence our voices and, if we refuse to do so, punish us. I take a narrow view of civil disobedience. I believe that we should obey the laws of the land faithfully, recognizing that government has been instituted by God and represents his authority over us, UNLESS obeying the law forces us to disobey God’s law. If it does, then we must have the courage to say, like the Apostles in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” However, in doing so, we must also realize that disobedience brings a consequence. Normally, we can expect to be punished for our lack of compliance to the law. It is possible that God will supernaturally intervene and spare us from suffering, like he did to the Hebrew youths in Daniel 3. But usually, God allows us to experience the suffering, like he did Stephen, Paul, and most of the leaders in the New Testament era. In so doing, He is working out something good in our lives.
JR: Many are predicting that Christian schools that refuse to recognize and condone same-sex marriage will lose their tax-exempt status and be excluded from the federal student loan program. What should Christian schools like Moody do to prepare for this eventuality?
PN: I think it is inevitable that many of the religious freedoms we enjoy today as a Christian college will disappear. This could include the loss of our tax exempt status, or loss of accreditation, or loss of access to the federal loan program. It would be wise for every school to anticipate these developments and proactively consider how it would respond. Every school has a different set of circumstances to consider with these questions. Therefore, I cannot say what would be the right move for other schools. I can say that we have already pondered these things deeply at Moody and have a settled path on what obedience would look like for us.
JR: As you mention in the book, Americans are novices at withstanding persecution. But, around the world, Christians have withstood brutal persecution and developed perseverance, as a result. What can we learn from these persecuted brothers and sisters?
“The day of the casual Christian is over. You will be forced to take a stand. Many who we thought would stand with us will surprise us by standing against us.”
JR: In the last chapter, you examine the history of revivals in the church and suggest that “America may be in the low ebb between revivals.” Certainly, God may send a fresh wave of His Spirit to revive America and save our country from self-destruction. At the same time, many believe we are quickly approaching the Great Tribulation spoken of in Revelation. What do you think of that view?
PN: America is not seen in biblical prophecy. I can only speculate on the reasons why. Perhaps isolationism gains rule in our land and we remain on the sidelines for what will be played out on the global stage. Or, perhaps our moral decay proves to undermine our nation, much like ancient Rome, and we no longer prove to be a global player. Or, perhaps it is due to a reason that has not yet presented itself. I cannot speculate on how close we may be to the launch of Daniel’s 70th week and the Great Tribulation (Daniel 9:24-27), but I can say that a nation that humbles itself before God will be blessed by God despite enormous national sin in its past. Nineveh in the days of Jonah proves that (Jonah 3). So, the best posture for America right now is on its knees, begging with God to show mercy on us.
JR: What should our attitude be as we experience persecution — and how should we be praying, both for ourselves and for our country?
“As enemies emerge in our lives, we need to resist the temptation to retaliate but instead, keep Jesus’s words in mind: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'”