2020 has shown us how precarious our world can be.
From a pandemic that’s shut down the planet, to an America that’s polarised like it’s 1968; from economic carnage in our own country, to a belligerent and totalitarian China.
We’re living in turbulent times.
American journalist David Brooks calls this the Age of Precarity:
‘The Baby boomers grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s, an era of family stability, widespread prosperity, and cultural cohesion… The emerging generations today enjoy none of that sense of security. They grew up in a world in which institutions failed, financial systems collapsed, and families were fragile. Children can now expect to have a lower quality of life than their parents, the pandemic rages, climate change looms, and social media is vicious… The Age of Precarity is here.’
John Piper Speaks Into This Age
In midst of this volatility, theologian John Piper has written a provocative article about the polarised US election. To say Piper’s article went viral is an understatement (at the time of writing, it had over 190 000 shares on social media).
But what interested me was not so much his case against Trump (I’ve explored both sides of the Christian case for/against Trump in another article ). Rather, what caught my eye was his call to Pastors to prepare their people for radical Christlike living, as Christians face an uncertain future.
Piper’s Call To Radical Christian Living
I found Piper’s call to Pastors both confronting and inspiring.
Confronting, because I’m so used to living a comfortable, western, middle class life (yes, even in the midst of a pandemic). The call to radical sacrifice is, well, jarring. If I’m brutally honest, I don’t want to live in a world where writing a blogpost could land me in jail. Or where my church has to close down because its teaching is deemed offensive to sexual minorities. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to watch my words as I speak to neighbours about my faith, lest I say something that they report to the police.
I don’t want to live in a world where America implodes, and (for all its imperfections), the stable international order overseen by a strong and free America crumbles, leaving in its wake a volatile order, taken advantage of by the likes a bullying China and Russia.
I don’t want my kids growing up in a world where the economy they inherit is burdened by debt, to the point that it won’t be paid back before they’re in their 70’s.
No, if I’m being brutally honest, I want the world (or at least the Australia) that I grew up in.
Filled with stability. Freedom. And prosperity.
Lord, is that too much to ask?
As it turns out, the post World War II Australia (and the West) has been an aberration when it comes to freedom, wealth and security. When compared to world history, not to mention the non-Western world, we’ve had it unbelievably easy. It seems we’re now heading back into ‘situation normal’ — where international volatility, war, and heavy-handed governments are par for the course.
And let’s face it: the New Testament was birthed in this sort of world. A world where worshipping the true God could get you killed. A world where poverty and plague were the norm, not the ‘once in a century’ exception. A world in which living for Jesus meant scorn from neighbours, and even from family.
This is what Piper reminds us of, as he sounds his clarion call to comfortable American (and other!) Christians:
Imagine that America collapses. First anarchy, then tyranny — from the right or the left. Imagine that religious freedom is gone. What remains for Christians is fines, prison, exile, and martyrdom. Then ask yourself this: Has my preaching been developing real, radical Christians? Christians who can sing on the scaffold,
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.
Christians who will act like the believers in Hebrews 10:34: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Christians who will face hate and reviling and exclusion for Christ’s sake and yet “rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, [their] reward is great in Heaven” (Luke 6:22–23).
Have you shown them that they are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), and that their “citizenship is in Heaven,” from which they “await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)? Do they feel in their bones that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)?
Whatever your view of American politics, Piper is spot on with his call to radical Christian living. A call that depends on remembering who we belong to (Christ Jesus), and where our home lies (not in this world, but in the New Creation).
May God deepen our vision of the beauty of Christ, and our eternal Home with him, so that come what may — war, poverty, persecution — we can say with the apostle Paul, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.“
That’s what it means to be a radical Christian in a precarious world.