Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Church

Please Church–It is Time

I resonate with Parker Palmer, who notes that writing is one of the ways we collaborate with life. It’s an unfolding of what is going on inside. That’s what I have been doing on this blog for some fifteen years. It’s what I have been doing in my books. Processing, clarifying, advancing. It is what I am attempting in my present book project, Reframing Leadership (though as of late I can identify with George Orwell—“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness”).

My recent blog, “Please Mr. President” was an expression of some of these deep things going on inside. I am concerned about my country and its leaders. After nine weeks of time away and writing, I have come back to a city that no longer feels like home. A layer of hate and lawlessness have defaced some of its beauty, and it seems few are standing up and pushing back and saying–there’s a better way. Reading various articles, I wonder what country I live in.

Similar to my last blog, this one also expresses some of my concerns, in this case for the church, the institution I have given much of my life to serving. In the midst of this present turmoil, it’s important for followers of Jesus to understand what time it is— 

-it’s time to strip away some of our illusions. We must honor those in authority over us and pray for them—but we should not place too many of our hopes in them. Our faith goes beyond the practical realm to the mysteries of God and his purposes 

-it’s time to read more widely and think more critically. But it’s also time to give more attention to contemplation and prayer and less to the media that seems to dominate our lives. Only by spending more time on our knees can we penetrate illusion and get in touch with reality 

-it’s time to disentangle the life and identity of the church from the life and identity of American society. James Hunter in his book, To Change the World, wrote out of a conviction that Christianity has uncritically assimilated to the dominant ways of life. He’s right. Too many in the church lack critical distance and reflection. We are too caught up in the swamp of social media, too inclined to polarization, and too immersed in political arguments  

-it’s time to step outside and be a prophetic voice. It’s what Pentecost empowered the church to be (Acts 2:17). As I am finishing a fresh reread of the Kings and Chronicles of the OT, it is clear that the crux of Israel’s history was not in the political power, nor in the battles fought by kings, but the battles fought at a deeper level. It was always a contest of true and false prophecy (Elijah vs the prophets of Baal; Micaiah vs those who wanted to tickle the ear of leaders-I Kgs 22). It is still true today. This is where the real fight is 

-it’s time to see politics for what it is, what it can and cannot do. Some want us to believe the state has an almost divine-like status, that it alone has the authority to redefine people, redefine sexuality, redefine the family, determine who can have a voice and who cannot, and that it can solve many of our problems. But the state is not divine, and the emperor is not God. The state can only do what God gives it permission to do (Rom 13). It was never intended to do what God has called the church to do—challenge men and women to moral excellence, redeem culture through the gospel, and model true justice and mercy 

-it’s time to use the power God has given us—to stand with courage and conviction. It’s time to quit living in fear. We have the best arguments. God alone is the sovereign. There is a spirit animating much of our present turmoil, a spirit of darkness that works to intimidate and silence—not that we should be surprised. Scripture tells us this. We are and always have been in a war, and part of our mission is to resist evil and fight the good fight. Our weapons, however, are not of this world, and this is why we should never be afraid 

-it’s time to quit wanting to be liked. To be nice. It’s tempting to prefer a smooth, self-affirming word—“mirror consumer culture, offering a range of choices so that everyone can settle back into a Muzak spirituality confident that they will not be confronted by any demands for radical change” (Leithart). Inherent in the gospel is a message of love—but also one of judgment (John 12:31). There is a cost for following Jesus 

Finally-it’s time to care. One of the deadliest sins in our day is the sin of acedia, lack of care—the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, and lives for nothing. It acquiesces to evil and error, which readily disguises itself as tolerance. Worse—it lacks hope in God’s goodness, God’s power, and God’s wisdom—which in this day we need more than anything else.


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