It’s hard today predicting what’s heading our way in the next 10 minutes, let alone the next 10 years. Many of us feel like we are on a speeding bullet train driving us deeper into a state of liquid modernity. Thankfully, we are not without help and solidity. Much as the earth may seem to shake beneath our feet on a daily basis, we stand on the solid rock of Christ. He holds us fast, and he will hold us fast until the end.
From this strong foundation, we are called to minister grace and truth. We need to shepherd pilgrims on their way to the New Jerusalem. How can we do this well in the next 10 years? In what follows, I suggest five matters of focus for those of us seeking to feed the sheep the truth of God.
First, expect a lot of chaos. Many of us want ministry to be safe, secure, and quiet. At some moments, it is; we’ve got our books, a hot cup of good coffee, and there’s snow on the windowsill. All is calm; all is cozy. But this is not the normal context for ministering theology. Theology is not made for the retreat center; theology is made for the rough and tumble. Praise God this is so because we should expect a great deal of chaos in days to come. The fall of Adam fundamentally destabilized our world. In our time, our sociopolitical order seems to exist in a never-ending state of crisis. No doubt much of this is manufactured so that we’ll turn on the TV or fire up social media; real life is actually a good deal more stable than online life.
Nonetheless, we do live in tumultuous times. We shouldn’t spend much time wishing this away, right as it is to yearn for peace. Instead, we should lean into our setting. Embrace the chaos. Instead of devoting your energy to the pursuit of calmness, bring calmness into your pursuits. Know that Christ is walking beside you, leading you, guiding you home. This truth will help you be where are you are, and being where you are enables you not merely to survive but to minister grace and truth.
Second, eagerly respond to a real hunger for sound doctrine. People are coming to us mangled and twisted by a secular and neo-pagan order. They have seen, at least some of them, that the world’s promises ring up bankrupt. They don’t want soft words and easy pieties. They want the hard stuff. They want the truth. They want the solid rock to stand on. They know by the Spirit’s illuminating and converting work that they are not Christ, and they hunger for Christ.
In crassly economic terms, you could call this a “market opportunity.” In other words, the sheep are hungry. In some cases, they have been given a little appetizer and a cup of tea, and nothing more. In the next 10 years, we should eagerly give such people the whole counsel of God, taking them deep into the mind and will of the Almighty. Are there hard questions that arise in the study of God’s Word? There are. Will people initially balk at some of the tougher parts of the providential plan of God over all things? They may. Do true believers nonetheless submit themselves to the all-wise truth of the divine? Yes, they do. This is our task, then: not to tickle the ears of the sheep, but to feed them a full, delicious meal of godly instruction.
Third, educate men and women in biblical anthropology. There is no area in Christian theology that people have less education in than the doctrine of mankind. Many people today, in sum, have basically no idea what it means to be human. We should expect that such confusion will only increase, not decrease,
in days ahead.
Our culture says we are a clump of cells evolved from dust and gases; Scripture says every person is made in the image of God and, thus, a being made for God (Genesis 1). Our culture says our feelings determine our identity; Scripture teaches that God has already given us our identity as the creature made by—and distinct from—the Creator. Our culture says manhood and womanhood are cultural constructs; Scripture says that God made us male and female from the beginning (Genesis 2). Our culture says our major problem is low self-esteem due to lack of affirmation; Scripture teaches that a real historical Adam fell from God when he followed his wife into rebellion against the divine (Genesis 3). Our culture says we can lean into our sexuality, embracing our inmost desires; Scripture teaches we must mortify the flesh, repent of ungodly desires, and pursue personal transformation in the Spirit’s power (Romans 6). People desperately need to know these truths or else they will not be able to make sense of their sinful condition and the salvific hope of Jesus Christ.
Fourth, entrance people with the beauty of biblical soteriology. Our world perpetually tries to solve our problems without reference to Jesus Christ. This is what, in some sense, every ungodly philosophy and system offers: it offers us cleanness without the cross and salvation without the Savior. In the next 10 years, people will hear many variations on this theme. They’ll hear that healthy living is what they need; that “manifesting” their goals will give them lasting happiness; that speaking their purpose into existence will lead to self-actualization; that “doing justice” will heal the world; and that doing what makes them feel good will meet their deepest desires. All these and every other non-biblical gospel are lies.
What people actually need is not self-help, psychotherapeutic wish fulfillment. What people actually need is Christ crucified, resurrected, and ascended to the Father’s right hand. People need blood atonement for their sin so that they do not bear the Father’s wrath on the last day. People need resurrection power over sin, Satan, death, and hell. People need the intercession and kingdom rule of the exalted Christ. It is no bad thing to try and improve your life in various ways, but only Christ saves, transforms, and ushers us into everlasting life. Expect that people will be tempted to buy into self-help salvation that lavishly affirms them but asks that they bear no cross. Be ready to give people something infinitely better: the enchanted truth of the warrior-king, Christ Jesus, who bought us back from the dead.
Fifth, elevate peoples’ perspective through eschatological instruction. We sometimes hear that Christians are “paranoid” about the end of the earth, but there is truly no paranoia like secular, Christless paranoia. Sadly, people all around us believe that various factors are hastening the end of the earth. They propose ever more drastic (and costly) solutions to this situation, often doing so at global conclaves that require the use of carbon-burning private jets. In the next 10 years, our cultural prophets will continue to be secular celebrities who simultaneously lecture the common man and fail to live by their own stringent code.
Pastor-theologians can give their people something so much better: they can point them to heaven. This world is not everlasting. Jesus is going to remake the earth into the new heavens and new earth. We will dwell forever with the Lamb (Revelation 21-22). The tree of life is evergreen, and the healing of the nations comes from its branches. People need to hear about eternal life, to yearn for it, and to care more about it than any earthly endeavor. In the same way, pastors need to preach about hell, for the truth of everlasting conscious judgment from God for sin is what wakes sinners like us up as the Spirit moves.
We do not need less eschatology in the next 10 years, in sum. We need much more. Of course, in confessing this, we don’t even know if we have the next 10 years! We don’t have a single day promised us. We do, however, have Christ, and no one and no world order can take him away from us. Remembering this truth, and others like it, does much to shape our theology, our hope, and our very lives in these chaotic times.
Editor's Note: This post was originally an article in the Spring '20 edition of Midwestern Magazine. The entire issue can be viewed online at mbts.edu/magazine.