Is there hope for the West? How will things pan out?
It always happens: whenever I am out speaking somewhere, talking about the culture wars, the loss of freedoms, and the assault on faith, I am always asked about how I see the future. Can things be turned around? Are we doomed? Is there any hope? Which way forward?
My reply is always the same. I offer one longish answer, but in three parts. First, in the short term at least, things WILL get worse in the West – much worse. There is no question about that. The pace and extent of the decline, and the ever-increasing war on faith, family and freedom is simply spiralling out of control. It is something we will simply have to deal with, one way or another.
The radical secular left surely has the upper hand all throughout the Western world at the moment, and it is being emboldened by the day to push even further to see conservative and Christian voices totally silenced, and the activist agendas fully and finally implemented everywhere.
I have been involved in the culture wars here in Australia for well over three decades now, and I have seen firsthand just how all this has been unfolding. Perhaps the biggest worry is the fact that most of the warnings have been ignored by those who should have known better.
How many hundreds of talks have I given over the years in churches and to Christian groups, trying to alert folks to the challenges that we face and the war that has been declared against us? How many hundreds if not thousands of articles have I penned seeking to do the same?
Yet so often all these words seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Most Christians have not at all been interested. Most did not want to know. Most preferred keeping their heads buried in the sand. Most saw such warnings as an inconvenience and a disruption to their life of leisure, pleasure, and self-centredness.
Because the other side has been working overtime for its cause, and because our side has for the most part been asleep, it is quite easy to understand why we find this tsunami of evil everywhere around us. There simply has been no real resistance. There has been no real opposition.
Thus the other side has had a cakewalk, coming in and sweeping everything before its path. And most believers have been oblivious to it all, far too worried about having their ‘best life now’. So the other side is winning by default. We have basically allowed those opposed to all that we hold near and dear to have a free run.
No wonder we keep losing. Way back in 1981 in A Christian Manifesto, Francis Schaeffer said this about these battles: “Our culture, society, government, and law are in the condition they are in, not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture.”
He went on to say this:
We live in a democracy, or republic, in this country which was born out of the Judeo-Christian base. The freedom that this gives is increasingly rare in the world today. We certainly must use this freedom while we still have it. There was a poll done by a secular group a few years ago which looked across the world to determine where there were freedoms today out of the 150 or so nations. Less than twenty-five were rated as today having significant freedom. We still have it. And it is our calling to do something about it and use it in our democracy while we have it….
It is the church’s duty (as well as its privilege) to do now what it should have been doing all the time – to use the freedom we do have to be that salt of the culture. If the slide toward authoritarianism is to be reversed we need a committed Christian church that is dedicated to what John W. Whitehead calls “total revolution in the reformative sense.”
He said that 40 years ago. Sadly, too few people listened to him then. And it is much the same today. So the first thing I say in answer to those questions is that yes, things WILL get worse. Absolutely. But I do not stop there. I go on to say, secondly, that should the Lord tarry, we may well see a turnaround.
We may live to see God do mighty things here once again. Of course God’s people will need to play their part in this. Repentance would be a very good starting point. And we must pray like never before. These are spiritual battles as much as political, cultural and social battles, so they must be fought in the spiritual realms as well.
And it will take time to have any sort of significant turnaround in the West. It took hundreds of years for the early Christians to eventually overcome the paganism that was everywhere. The pagan world became a largely Christianised and civilised world – but it took a long time indeed.
It is the same on the individual level. Recall that the Christian parliamentarian William Wilberforce took 46 years of hard work to see his abolitionist campaign finally bear fruit. Indeed, three days before he died, he finally saw the passage of the Emancipation Bill in 1833.
I tell my audiences that similar struggles, such as the battle against abortion, may take equally long. I think we will eventually see victory, but it will be a long, hard battle, and not some overnight effort. I also remind my audiences that the other side is committed to the long term, and they see the big picture, and we need to be doing this as well.
And that includes getting back into the culture that we long ago abandoned. As Christians pulled out of politics and law and the media and education, etc, the secular humanists flooded in. They saw the value of gaining control of the leading institutions of power and influence.
We too need to once again engage in those various areas. We need Christian politicians and lawyers and journalists and teachers, etc. We cannot just surrender all these spheres and expect to turn things around. And all this will take time and effort. But as I say, if the Lord should tarry, that is part of our calling to be salt and light.
The third thing I say is that the spiritual centre of gravity has shifted massively over the past half century. The Christian West basically is no more. Now we have the post-Christian West which is quickly morphing into the anti-Christian west.
But that does not mean that God has abandoned planet earth. It may seem at times that he has at least abandoned the West, but it is in other parts of the world that God is certainly at work. In Africa, Asia and Latin America we see the greatest church growth taking place, and the greatest moves of God.
Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds in the global South, while it seems to be dying off in the North. God will never leave himself without a witness. If the West is heading into full-tilt secularism, God is quite able to move big time elsewhere. And now we are seeing Christian missionaries from the so-called developing world coming to the West to re-evangelise it.
So we have now gone full circle: The early church overcame paganism, and Christianity by and large triumphed in Europe and elsewhere. From there the gospel spread to all other parts of the earth. But in the meantime, Europe and the West squandered and rejected its Christian heritage, so now new believers from other places are coming back to bring Christianity to us. God is good.
As I have said quite often of late, anti-Christian persecution and bigotry is ramping up all over the West. Things really are getting worse and worse. As but one small example of this, I have mentioned that I have recently been added to the long list of those who have been cancelled – in this case by Facebook. You can read about my situation here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/05/27/erased/
A good side to this however is that my story seems to have gone a bit viral. Various folks from around the globe have been reporting on it. As but one example, see this terrific piece by Dr Michael Brown from the US: https://townhall.com/columnists/michaelbrown/2021/05/30/facebook-apparently-terminates-a-leading-cultural-commentator-n2590196
Let me close with one word of encouragement. It comes from a book penned by English historian Paul Johnson back in 1996: The Quest for God. Early on he discusses the wars and carnage of last century, especially as a result of secular and atheistic regimes. He then says this:
Its horrors were instrumental in turning men and women towards God rather than against him. Most people saw the wars as themselves the products of Godlessness, materialism and sin, and their perpetrators as those who had banished God from their hearts. And it is undeniable that the two greatest institutional tyrannies of the century – indeed, of all time – the Nazi Reich and the Soviet Union, were Godless constructs: modern paganism in the first case and openly proclaimed atheist materialism in the second. The death-camps and the slave-camps were products not of God but of anti-God. Hitler was brought up a Roman Catholic and Stalin was once a Russian Orthodox apprentice monk, but it is hard to imagine any two men in history who were more bereft of basic Christian instincts or more systematically committed to the destruction of Christian values.
Both these regimes persecuted Christians, the Soviet Union more thoroughly but in some respects less viciously than the Nazi Reich. Both these attempts to damage or crush Christianity failed utterly. The churches were, if anything, revitalised by Nazi and Communist hostility, and emerged stronger. Oppression, torture and executions of Christians who protested against these regimes produced a rich crop of saints and martyrs, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox, whose sufferings and example have nourished the faith all over Europe.
That may be a grim reality, but it is a helpful and hopeful one. So, once again: Whither the West? Short term: bad. Long term (unless the Lord returns soon): much better. So hang in there saints. God is not finished with planet earth yet. He is still at work. And we should be too.