Leroy Gilbert, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Regent University School of Divinity
America is constantly changing. Our country’s direction will largely depend on how Christian leaders impact America. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the early Church Fathers for charting a biblical and theological course that gave spiritual navigation to the world. In 2022, our country is at a crossroads wondering which way to go.
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, makes an alarming assessment: “We are in one of those great historical periods that occur every 200 or 300 years when people don’t understand the world anymore, and the past is not sufficient to explain the future” (Cameron and Quinn 1976, 1999, p.1).1 In these perilous times, Christian leaders are challenged to give compelling spiritual directions to a world that is meandering and has lost its way.
About 2,000 years ago, Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned us that the world would become a treacherous, fierce, dangerous, perilous place at the end of the age (2 Timothy 3:15). The Greek word for perilous is chalepos. In 2 Timothy 3:1, the word denotes hard to bear, troublesome, dangerous, harsh, fierce, savage, unruly. Matthew 8:28 describes two demon-possessed men who are “exceeding fierce.” These two verses reveal biblical truth that, in the last days, demonic activity will be released and bring forth harsh, hurtful, painful, vicious activities that will be hard to bear. We are living in unpredictable, dangerous, perilous times that no other generation has ever known.
We face dangerous pandemics and variants that have altered our lifestyles and our very existence. Crime and violence are out of control in urban cities. Domestic violence and terrorism are on the rise. False conspiracy theories are a real threat to our democracy. Racism is tearing the very fabric of our values and principles of equality and diversity. Unethical behaviors of individuals in high places are eroding confidence in our political and religious systems.
In Old Testament history, prophets warned of dangerous times to come because of transgressions. When reading the writings of the prophets during the pre-Assyrian exilic period (Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah), I feel the urge to proclaim how the “land that I love,” America, could suffer the same fate as biblical Israel. Christian leadership might save America from destruction by standing our posts as God’s “watchmen,” telling the nation what God has revealed to us, like the prophets of old.
Augustine of Hippo, in his book, The City of God, uses an illustration of two cities. He explains that self-love has formed the Earthly City with contempt for God; the love of God has formed the Heavenly City with contempt for self. The Earthly City glories in itself, whereas the Heavenly City glories in the Lord. The former looks for glory from men, the latter finds its highest glory in God (Of, Dods, and Gibb 1873,14:28).2 We as Christian leaders should examine ourselves and truthfully answer the question, which of the two cities characterizes our thinking, behavior, action, and allegiance?
An alarming number of young people are falling away from the Christian faith. According to the Barna Group, less than one percent of U.S. young adults have a biblical worldview. Nearly three-quarters of young adults who fall away do so after high school. I have been soliciting ideas from young people about strategies for how the Christian church may reclaim our youth for Christ. They see many contradictions between what Christian leaders proclaim within the church walls and what they stand for in everyday life. One teenager made an indictment that keeps me up at night: “The church cannot reclaim youth until it reclaims itself for Christ.” There is an expression youth uses, “be real.”
In his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr discusses how individual morality can overcome social immorality (Niebuhr, 1995).3 The early Church Fathers exhibited contagious faith in the worst of times that literally changed the world toward Christ. These saints were influential Christian theologians and writers who established Christianity’s intellectual and doctrinal foundations.4 They gave voice, defense, and explanation to the Christian faith. America today needs men and women dedicated, trained, prepared, and willing to take a stand for righteousness, holiness, and the truth of the Gospel.
The challenge is how to make the Word of God meaningful to a secular culture that is becoming increasingly non-Christian. New technologies have forced the church to either perform old things better or do brand new things. God proclaimed, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).
In efforts to make Christianity relevant, many Christian leaders have adopted a Disneyland-type approach to church services. They preach sermons that do not go against the grain of modern-day ethos, providing entertaining music, and developing marketing strategies that draw a crowd. All these initiatives are practical, innovative, and commendable. However, we must ask the ultimate question, “Is God pleased with how we worship, honor, and glorify Him?” When the needs and interests of humankind take precedence over God’s requirements for people to know, love, follow, and obey Him, the aroma of our worship services might be like a stench to the nostril of God (Leviticus 26:31). I have learned that speaking and writing God’s Word with conviction, authority, and unrelenting courage and faith is powerful and will win souls for Christ.
One of the objectives of Regent University’s School of Divinity is to prepare men and women to function in this secular culture as doctors “for” the church. The School of Divinity uses a multi-dimensional approach to theological education. It is more than a Socratic Academy where students come to receive an excellent education. It is more than a Platonic Lyceum, where scholars, theologians, and students gather to discuss life’s transforming issues from a biblical and theological perspective. It is also a practical field-based institution where knowledge, wisdom, and training are applied to the marketplace where students work and live. The School of Divinity embraces Renewal Theology which focuses on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts that are being renewed in our time.
Prophet Amos reminds Christian leaders and servants of God of our calling and mission in these perilous times. He proclaimed, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). I pray that we respond to the voice of God as did Prophet Samuel, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
1. Cameron, Kim. S, and Robert E. Quinn. 1976, 1999. Diagnosing and Changing Organization Culture. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.
2. Augustine, Marcus Dods, and John Gibb. 1873. The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo / Vol. 14:28 / Translated by John Gibb. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
3. Niebuhr, Reinhold. 1995. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster.
4. Aquilina, Mike. 2013. The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division.