Optimism, Pessimism, and Hope
I am a Southerner. Lost causes don’t bother me. We are used to them. And ours is not even lost-at least, not in the long run.
In the short run, I am not very optimistic for our society or for the church. We as a society are trying to maintain our democracy while dismantling its foundation: the self-evident truth that all people are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. This project is doomed to failure. Nevertheless, having repudiated the only foundation on which a successful democracy has ever been erected, we presume to teach the rest of the world how to “do” democracy.
Meanwhile, the conservative church’s only response to this situation is senselessly to berate society for departing from a foundation it no longer remembers ever having had, rather than doing the only sensible thing to address the problem: re-evangelizing American society from scratch and teaching it the biblical worldview all over again. At the same time, I see our theological birthright, the hard gains of an evangelical movement that clawed its way up out of fundamentalist anti-intellectualism, being squandered for a mess of postmodern epistemological pottage, soft nihilism masquerading as humility about truth. But look: if there is no resurrection, then Christ is not raised; and if there are no valid metanarratives, then Christianity is not true. It is really as simple as that.
Unwilling to face that stark simplicity, the evangelical movement finds itself exactly where the mainline Protestant denominations were a century ago, losing its message to the spirit of the age so slowly and subtly that it doesn’t realize what is happening. Only now, as this new apostasy “emerges,” the friends of truth, remembering how ugly things turned during the old fundamentalist days and thinking that nothing could be worse than to be labeled a “separatist,” no longer have any stomach for the fight.
Fortunately, both history and theology save me from despair. History tells me that things have looked this bad before, or worse-right after the fall of Rome, at the height of medieval papal corruption before the Reformation, at the height of the Endarkenment of the eighteenth century before the first Great Awakening came seemingly out of nowhere. And theology tells me that God is sovereign and doesn’t need favorable cultural situations to accomplish his purpose or preserve his remnant or even initiate a new Reformation leading to a new awakening.
So, thank God, I don’t need optimism. In fact, the need to find optimism based on a Pollyanna-ish view of circumstances through rose-colored glasses-which a lot of Christians seem to think it their duty to concoct-is the most pessimistic and depressing thing I can imagine. We can offer something much better. Let’s be pessimistic enough to be pushed away from the broken reed of optimism back to the solid staff of Christian hope, based not on any reading of the circumstances at all, but on the reality and character and promises of God.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His wrath we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure:
One little Word shall fell him.
We have no hope in this world. Good! That means we have the Enemy right where we want him. Lift up your heads, for our redemption draweth nigh!