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Volume 14, Issue 5: Eschaton

Cultural Optimism

Jack Van Deventer

We live in a society that tends to underestimate the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And why is this? Why are we inclined toward a low view of the Savior's lordship? Perhaps we find comfort believing in a deity whose power and influence are limited. Or maybe it alarms us to think that God's authority extends to all areas of life. Although we tend to internalize divine influence to matters of the heart, we must realize the gospel transforms nations and governments, arts and music, literature, education, and finances. We should pause to consider, for example, that the city of Ephesus was thrown into a riot because of the economic impact of Paul's gospel preaching. The declining market for silver shrines of Artemis was costing Demetrius and his silversmith friends money, hence their opposition to the gospel. Clearly, the gospel changes things. Cultures are transformed as the gospel permeates a society. The Puritans understood the cultural implications of this truth. We need to rediscover what they knew so well.

J.C. Ryle once wrote, "The Puritans, as a body, have done more to elevate the national character than any class of Englishmen that ever lived." Commenting on Ryle's observation, Kik wrote, "The source of this influence was their theology and within that theology there was an attitude to history and to the world which distinguished them as men of hope. In their own day this hope came to expression in pulpits and in books, in Parliaments and upon battlefields, but it did not end there. The outlook they had done so much to inspire went on for nearly two hundred years after their own age and its results were manifold. It coloured the spiritual thought of the American colonies, it taught men to expect great outpourings of the Holy Spirit; it prepared the way to the new age of world-missions; and it contributed largely to that sense of destiny which came to characterize the English-speaking Protestant nations. When nineteenth-century Christian leaders such as William Wilberforce viewed the world not so much as a wreck from which individual souls must escape, but rather as the property of Christ, to whose kingdom the earth and the fullness thereof must belong, their thinking bore the genuine hall-mark of the Puritan outlook."1
John Owen, a leading Puritan theologian, echoed these beliefs in an address preached before the House of Commons in 1651 entitled, "The Advantage of the Kingdom of Christ in the Shaking of the Kingdoms of the World." He wrote, "That God in his appointed time will bring forth the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ unto more glory and power than in former days, I presume you are persuaded. Whatever will be more, these six things are clearly promised:
1. Fullness of peace unto the gospel and the professors thereof (Isa. 11:6,7, 54:13, 33:20, 21; Rev. 21:15).
2. Purity and beauty of ordinances and gospel worship (Rev. 11:2, 21:3).
3. Multitudes of converts, many persons, yea nations (Isa. 60:7, 8, 66:8, 49:18_22; Rev. 7:9).
4. The full casting out and rejecting of all will-worship, and their attendant abominations (Rev. 11:2).
5. Professed subjection of the nations throughout the whole world unto the Lord Christ (Dan. 2:44, 7:26, 27; Isa. 60:6-9). The kingdoms become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ (Rev. 11:15).
6. A most glorious and dreadful breaking of all that rise in opposition to him (Isa. 60:12). Never such desolations (Rev. 16:17_19)."2
This confidence in a conquering gospel and the expectation of cultural transformation is codified in the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order (1658), "[W]e expect that in the latter days, antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the kingdom of his dear Son broken, the churches of Christ being enlarged, and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceable and glorious condition than they have enjoyed."
This expectation of gospel victory is rooted in the promise of the Lord's Prayer when we pray the Lord's words "thy kingdom come." The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 191 asks, "Question 102. What do we pray for in the second petition? Answer: In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan's kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened."
Faith in the outworking of the gospel in history, in the expectation of worldwide rejoicing over Christ's kingship, is the driving optimism exemplified by the Puritans. B.B. Warfield, commenting on I Corinthians 15:20-28, wrote that we live in "a period of advancing conquest on the part of Christ. During its course he is to conquer `every rulership and every authority and power' (verse 24), and `to place all His enemies under His feet' (verse 25), and it ends when His conquests complete themselves by the subjugation of the `last enemy,' death."3
Trusting in the inevitable victory of Christ's kingdom leads one to a life of hopeful expectation. One looks to the future with optimism knowing the Lord controls the universe and all it contains. This is why it is said of the godly woman in Proverbs 31:25, "Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future."

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