Welcome to the Big Picture Podcast. I’m Joel Fieri and this podcast seeks to begin and hopefully sustain a conversation about current trends, ideas and issues in the Church and greater society.
Today, I want to expand the greater society aspect of that scope and see how it applies to the rest of the world.
As you know if you’ve been listening, I spend a good amount of time on this podcast talking about the seemingly rapid transformation of our society from it’s Judeo-Christian foundation to a secular-humanist, post modern society, one that is quickly rejecting and even becoming hostile to Christianity.
I try not to whine or complain about this reality, but instead try to take a big picture look at how and why it’s happening, and most of all how we as Christians can not only bear up under it and stand firm in our faith, but also thrive as obedient followers of Christ who are privileged to represent God in the face of opposition.
And I say ‘seemingly rapid transformation’ because it’s been going on for much longer than we think or some of us care to acknowledge.
So, that being said, what does a decline of Christian influence or acceptance in the United States, and even Canada and Europe (all of which used to be called ‘the West’, but now there’s a new term emerging for it, which is ‘the global North’), what does this decline mean for the world?
The reason I ask is because recently a group called the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary issued a report titled, “Christianity In Its Global Context, 1970-2010”, and this report predicts that the number of Christians in the world will grow to 2.6 billion by the year 2020, with most of the growth expected in the global South, which is Asia, Africa and Latin America, while Christianity will continue to decline in the global North (or West). This total is more than double the number from 1970, which seems to be the last time a firm number was taken (this also gives us a pretty fair timeline for the decline of Christian influence here).
So, again, what does all this mean in the Big Picture?
Here’s my reaction – first off, it’s totally understandable and right that we western/northern Christians are distressed at the direction of our societies, because they’re the greatest societies and countries the world has ever known, and their moral and financial foundations are crumbling.
I’ve often said that a collapse of the Judeo/Christian West, specifically America, would be a disaster for the world.
From a ‘here and now’ standpoint, human suffering and injustice would be horrific.
But as the West/North turns it’s back on God, we see the rest of the world is turning towards Him. Like all cultures do, we tend to see ourselves and our reality as the center of everything and the definition of the way things ‘should be’.
But we’re not God, and God isn’t from the West/North. He’s an omni-present, big God with a global purpose, which is why He created the world in the first place, and then sent His Son to redeem it. And that purpose is to glorify Himself to His creation and reconcile it back to Him.
Now, let’s admit, He’s been using us Western/Northern folk for a lot of the heavy lifting of that purpose for a long time. It’s so trendy and politically correct right now to bash the influence of Western civilization in the world, but that’s not reality.
The reality is that western christianity has been the biggest blessing on mankind in all human history. And I don’t think He’s done using us yet, either.
But now God, in His infinite wisdom, seems to be raising up an whole ‘nother world of believers, who maybe, just maybe, are as well equipped, or maybe better equipped to shine light in a dark post-western world.
So, as we rightly struggle with and pray for and try our best to keep our candles lit in our ever darkening culture, His light and glory are growing brighter throughout the world. If we can step out of our temporal box of the ‘here and now’ and ask God to help us see His eternal perspective, His ‘Big Picture’, we can take it to heart and have faith that He’s got it covered.
In closing, it’s time for the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews chapter 11-12 in your Bible).
Today’s witness is Pastor Jeremiah Logara from Sudan, and his story goes like this:
Jeremiah Logara never knew resignation, only determination. The Muslim soldiers had arrested six boys from his church and falsely accused them of being spies. When Jeremiah, their pastor, tried explaining that the boys were Christians, not spies, the soldiers decided to arrest him too.
The Islamic soldiers tied Pastor Logara’s arms and legs together and hung him four feet in the air with a rope. They whipped him and dripped hot melted wax on his chest. He recalled the prayer of Jesus in the Garden. He prayed, “Oh God, if it is your will for me to die today, let it be done.” He could not bear that he might give in to the tortures of the Northern Sudanese Arabs as he stood before the young, impressionable boys.
But God’s will was that he live on as a testimony for these boys. He was released. But the boys were detained. Pastor Logara imagines the boys were probably being forced to train as soldiers.
When the pastor reflected upon that incident, he recalled, “I thought of Jesus’ death, that Jesus died to save the whole world. I thought my death could be part of the salvation of these boys as I followed in the footsteps of my Lord. I pray my example of suffering for them will encourage them to remain faithful to God.”
I chose Pastor Logara’s story, and am nominating him to the great cloud of witnesses, because he’s from Africa, a big part of the future Christian world we’ve been talking about. This is what the faith of much of the present and future body of Christ looks like, and is a LOT stronger and deeper than my cushy faith.
I’m not worthy of this man’s faith, and I’m confident and comforted to know that God will be raising up many more like him.
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this week’s Big Picture Podcast, please go to my web site at gobigpicture.net and also check out our other podcasts and points of view on the E-Squared Media Network at e2medianetwork.com. Wherever you go, leave a few comments and tell your friends, and even you pastor about us.
See you next time on the Big Picture podcast. Be blessed!
As we get older, we tend to reminisce about the days of our youth, often to a fault. And, according to my boss, Joel Fieri, the Baby Boomers, in particular, are too often too guilty of over-romanticizing the Groovy Old Days of the 60’s and early 70’s. As Billy Joel sang, “The good old days weren’t always so good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”.
Now, in my childhood and teenage years, I remember hearing all about how wonderful those hippy days were – revolutionary times full of peace, love, harmony and rock n roll!
But Joel remembers them differently.
When it comes to rock n roll, he remembers seeing the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl with so many insane teenage girls screaming at the top of their lungs, and being so filled with fear of the insanity around him that they left a mere 10 minutes into the concert. But that fear was nothing compared to what was to come.
In the ensuing years, with the Vietnam War being brought to televisions as no conflict ever had and body counts being broadcast nightly; smoke billowing from L.A. during the Watts Riots; the Manson family and Zodiac killer running around California… there seemed to be one terrorizing element after another sweeping into Joel’s world, branding an indelible mark on his impression of what others call the “Good Old Days”.
He remembers the men of his neighborhood gathering together and making a plan of attack should anyone dare come into their block with ill intent – a plan that involved guns, dogs, and protecting Joel, his siblings and their friends at all costs.
The conflict and tension didn’t remain outside the walls of his house. With a WWII veteran as a father and a hippy older brother, it was like living in the Archie Bunker house in many ways.
Joel also saw all the signs of the times at his school, particularly when a fifth-grade friend was expelled for getting high. FIFTH GRADE!
So, as Joel looks back on his “Wonder Years”, those are the types of mental images that rise to the surface before any romantic notions of the 60’s and 70’s that are often viewed very differently.
What Joel finds very interesting is the trajectory that those days set for today’s culture. For instance, on college campuses across the country, the 60’s gave birth to the free speech movement. However, in their zealous pursuit for free speech, today’s universities are now one of the least free institutions when it comes to speech from all perspectives. They may have “Free Speech Zones”, but isn’t the whole country a free speech zone? Joel believes that the free speech movement was missold to us. He looks back on the days when everyone was screaming “Peace! Love!”, but the culture also declared that “God is Dead”; and without God, peace and love will not look like you thought it will.
But, could Joel be throwing out babies with his bathwater? After all, the counter-culture movement of the 60’s brought us the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, improved labor laws, space exploration and educational standards all came out of that era. Yet, as Joel says, “any good thing can be taken too far and then corrupted”.
One major problem, as Joel sees it, is that as his generation were the first to question the norms of society, too many people believed that the institutions that they were questioning didn’t need to simply be tweaked or improved, but be completely torn down. In doing so, they then rebuilt imperfect institutions themselves, but the new ones were founded on the arrogance that “this is the new, right way” of thinking and doing things. Therefore they shouldn’t be questioned today.
In some ways, today’s Church even reflects this phenomenon. Chuck Smith’s revolutionary Calvary Chapel movement came out of this era, with a group of hippies worshipping in parks and questioning the denominations that had stood so strongly up until that point. Well, flash forward forty years, and Calvary Chapel has practically become a denomination itself – a portrait of the very institution that they questioned back in the 70’s. They broke the mold, then created a new mold.
But it’s all understandable. As parents, we all want a better set of living conditions for our children than we had growing up. The Greatest Generation wanted that for their children, the Hippies wanted it for theirs, and now Gen X and Gen Y want it for their kids. But with each generation “having it easier” than the one prior, we’re continually setting a dangerous trajectory for our culture – one with a looser and looser grip on the heritage of hard work and earning that so many generations held dearly before the 1950’s.
So what now?
Is it too late to change this trajectory or moral decay and leftism? What hope lies in store for today’s young people?
Joel says absolutely not. Not so long as we continually remember things like why we have free speech, and what was done to secure it. So long as we keep our traditional, even Judeo-Christian values as a priority, then we can continue questioning and questioning one generation after another. But, it’s when we loose the grip on our values that we see our culture and society slip into the abyss of moral decay.
So, as the DirecTV ads go: Don’t sink into the abyss of moral decay. Hold tight to our values and accurately remember our nation’s and culture’s history.
Welcome to the Big Picture Podcast. I’m Joel Fieri.
This podcast hopes to begin and sustain a conversation about current trends, ideas and issues in the Church and greater society.
Today I want to talk about politics. It’s an uncomfortable subject for many Christians, which is why so many of us avoid it. Some of us don’t avoid it and tend to over-emphasize it. These are my thoughts on politics, specifically on how we can strike a balance in the big picture.
Many Christians today say that we shouldn’t be tied to or bound by any political ideology, and certainly not a political party. They’ll say we need to rise above political ideology and stay above the fray.
When it comes to voting, they don’t often give an alternative to ideology, except maybe to say something like, “I don’t care about the ideology of Joe Candidate, I just care about what kind of person he or she is” and that they “get things done”.
In other words, that we need to consider the character or personality or competence of a candidate or leader. Which is understandable and important. Character matters very much in our elected officials, and bears close attention.
Personality, not so much. So many times in world history, a dynamic personality has fooled people into putting someone in power, with disastrous results.
Competence is a tricky one. On the one hand, we would like our elected leaders to get things done, yet on the other, it matters very much WHAT they’re getting done. History is also full of very competent leaders who were competent in all the wrong things, with again, disastrous results.
Which is why, when it comes to politics, I’d like to make a case FOR ideology, and specifically for Christians to yes, indeed be tied to an ideology.
The first reason to tie oneself to ideology is that ideologies keep the fight non-personal, or at least they should.
For instance, if I have an ideology that’s different from yours, I can still say that I think you’re a good person. You’re political ideas are mis-guided, but you’re a good Christian and I like you and we can have fellowship.
But, if I tie or relate my political opinions and stances to personality or character, then all of a sudden your opposition to me could mean that you have a flaw in your personality or character. Then I might think “What’s wrong with them? How could a good person – or even a Christian – think like that?” Which of course is what happens all the time in today’s climate.
What Ideology does is reflect values. A value system, if you will. And for Christians it is vital that we know our foundational values come from what’s known as the Judeo-Christian value system, or worldview. This is an ideology, a set of values, founded in the adherence to Biblical truths of the Old and New Testaments. This would be in contrast to something like a Post-Modern worldview, a view that rejects the idea of any kind of absolute truth or objective morality.
And in case you haven’t guessed, this is the value system to which I would like us all to be tied.
So this is all very interesting, I’m sure – comparing worldviews, but what does that have to do with us today as Christians. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “…render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s”.
Yes he did. Specifically with regard to taxes, but the principle still applies.
There’s an important distinction in this verse, and one very important implication. First of all, the distinction is obviously between God and Caesar. Some things are Caesar’s, some are God’s. We shouldn’t try give Caesar’s stuff to God, but more importantly, we must NOT allow Caesar to have what we know is God’s.
And this is where the big problem lies. It is Caesar’s nature to take what is God’s, and what God has entrusted to US: marriage, the care and training of children, helping the sick and needy, work, money, the list goes on.
To paraphrase a famous quote, ”you may not be interested in Caesar, but Caesar is definitely interested in you”.
And secondly, the implication in Jesus‘ words is one of personal responsibility to God, and to society. And for us as American Christians, we need to realize that we don’t have a Caesar.
WE are Caesar.
The early Christians under Rome had no voice as to whether or not their taxes were too high, or any other aspect of their political life.
We DO have such a voice. We have government of the people, by the people and for the people, and it’s incumbent on us to subject and limit government’s – or Caesar’s – role to the things that God has entrusted to it, and to make sure that the laws and burdens put on all citizens are just and fair.
And most importantly, we must not shirk our own responsibility to do good in this world by claiming that it’s Caesar’s (or the governments) role, not ours. God will hold YOU and ME accountable for the fruit our good deeds have produced in this world, not those of our government.
And THAT, my friends, is an ideological statement, one that comes from a Judeo Christian value system. It’s a statement that says government should be limited, and that citizens are free to do good as their consciences, before God, demand, to be judged by their Creator, not their government.
In closing, it’s time for the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews chapters 11-12 in your Bible).
And keeping with our subject, today’s witness is a politician, believe it or not. Before you tune out, let me just say he’s not your typical politician. This guy broke the mold and radically changed the world. I’ll try to do his story justice. He we go;
In the late 1700s, English slave traders raided the African coast on the Gulf of Guinea, capturing between 35,000 and 50,000 Africans a year, shipping them across the Atlantic, and selling them into slavery. It was a profitable business that many powerful people had become dependent upon. The economics of slavery were so entrenched that only a handful of people thought anything could be done about it.
That handful included William Wilberforce, a Christian member of the British Parliament.
His first years in parliament didn’t amount to much, by his own admission. He was mainly there to fulfill his own ambitions.
But he soon became disenchanted with the status quo of political life, and began to take his Christian faith seriously.
Under the influence of Christian abolitionists, he came to fully embrace the cause of abolishing the slave trade. “So enormous, so dreadful did the trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.” he said
Poor health plagued him his entire life, but when healthy, he was a persistent and effective politician, partly due to his natural charm and partly to his eloquence. After decades of struggle and defeat, his anti-slavery efforts finally bore fruit. In 1807 Parliament abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. He then worked to ensure the slave trade laws were enforced and, finally, that slavery itself was abolished.
Wilberforce’s health prevented him from leading the last charge, though he heard three days before he died that the final passage of the emancipation bill was ensured in committee, and slavery was abolished.
Though some historians argue that others were just as important in the antislavery fight, Wilberforce played THE key role in one of the most important turning points in the world history.
One final quote from Wilberforce to wrap up on the subject of politics. It’s a little flowery, but bear with it:
“Let true Christians then, with becoming earnestness, strive in all things to recommend their profession, and to put to silence the vain scoffs of ignorant objectors. Let them boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many, who bear the name of Christians, are ashamed of Him: and let them consider as devolved on Them the important duty of suspending for a while the fall of their country, and, perhaps, of performing a still more extensive service to society at large; not by busy interference in politics, in which it cannot but be confessed there is much uncertainty; but rather by that sure and radical benefit of restoring the influence of Religion, and of raising the standard of morality.”
So that folks, is William Wilberforce, a faithful man in an unfaithful profession – politics – who knew, in The Big Picture, the importance of where God had placed him, and how to use his influence for The Kingdom. He is hereby nominated for the great cloud of witnesses, of whom the world is not worthy.
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this week’s Big Picture Podcast, please go to my web site at gobigpicture.net and also check out our other podcasts and points of view on the E-Squared Media network at e2medianetwork.com. Wherever you go, leave a few comments and tell your friends about us. See you next time on the Big Picture podcast.
e² media network™ offers stimulating podcasts and other media about how to effectively encounter and influence culture through politics. With sound Christian Bible teaching about current political issues and the culture war in politics, we aim to equip our listeners to stand strong through rough political storms.
Joel Fieri (San Diego) engages through practical Christian teaching with a careful look the Christian influence on culture and the good, bad, and the ugly in the culture war.
Gary and Dana Avánt (San Diego) build up and empower Christians and the Church (congregations and leaders) through dynamic topics about what it means to be healthy and mature followers of Jesus.
David Murrow (Alaska) is dedicated to helping the local church reach more men and boys. His focus is not male dominance, but male resurgence. His mission is not to call men back to the church – but to call the church back to men.
Jana Elizabeth Stambaugh (Maryland) explores Christianity from a 20-something perspective, relaying modern trends, discoveries, struggles, and pop culture references.