All Nations Will Worship Him

or, The Doxological Option

In a 1963 sermon, just after the assassination of JFK, Martyn Lloyd-Jones assessed his country, and by extension the American Christians, this way: “I wonder whether the world is in its present predicament because too many Christian people in this and in other nations have contracted out of life and have not been playing their true and legitimate part in the life of the nation.”1 Aaron Renn developed a thesis about the change from a Christian positive culture, to a neutral culture, to the current negative culture.  In response to this, Carl Trueman writes in his article “How Pop Nietzscheanism Masquerades as Christianity” that many have been living under the negative culture for some time and American Evangelicals are now doing the same.  

Aaron Renn’s thesis calls on Christians to remember the Biblical vision.  The earth will be filled with the knowledge of God.  The Great Commission will be completed.  The nations will turn to God to worship him.  Although it is true that Christians have been persecuted through the ages and should not be caught off guard by this, it is also true that the Great Commission sets the Christian’s focus on discipling all nations.  It is a doxological focus.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preaching in the tumultuous 1960s, reminds Christians of their duty to be involved in the political sphere.

It is the business of a Christian to be engaged with the world, and that includes getting involved in politics.  “If it is true to say that politics is a dirty game, well, isn’t it time that clean men went into it?  Are we to abandon these things to people who we regard as pagans and worse.”2  He even says that people must be compelled in a manner to live according to God’s holy law.  Consider the law, “thou shalt not murder,” we compel people to obey this. Is this Pop-Nietzscheanism?  

Conservative Christians are as confused as ever about how to engage with the political world. Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us of the central truth: This is God’s world, and God has given us a moral law.  The Christian stands on revelation, whereas the world stands on autonomy.  Christians have God’s truth in both general and special revelation.  The world has only its opinions based on misinterpreted experiences.  Only the Christian can correctly diagnose the problem of man and faithfully preach the one solution.  And this truth goes into all areas of Christian life and transforms the world for the glory of God.  He says,

The Christian must always be careful he does not become otherworldly in the wrong sense. I mean by that that there are some Christians who think it is no part of the Christian’s business to be concerned at all about this world and what happens in it. There are many Christians who regard it as terrible for a Christian, for instance, to go in for politics. I have known Christian people who have regarded that as a sin. They hold up their hands in horror. Politics is, for them, something that belongs entirely to the world. Now that is, of course, entirely contrary to the New Testament teaching. That is a false otherworldliness. The Christian does not contract out of the world. Why?  Well, because he knows this is still God’s world.3 

In 1987, Allan Bloom wrote, The Closing of the American Mind.  In his book, he traced two lines in American thought: Locke and Rousseau.  Where the Lockean stream looks to God for inalienable rights, Rousseau looks to autonomous man and in the end atheistic.  Carl Trueman’s book, The Rise of the Modern Self, updates Bloom’s argument and is a sustained attack on Rousseau’s brand of individualism.  After reading this book (and I have an autographed copy), you might think that Professor Trueman is eager to see Christians influence the political sphere and once again assert that it is God who created us equal and gave us rights—however, his article “How Pop Nietzscheanism Masquerades as Christianity” might leave you wondering.

Trueman correctly reminds all Christians that the Gospel is the focus of our lives and that it transforms us.  Martyn-Lloyd Jones would certainly agree, and was very emphatic about not bringing the political issue of the day into the pulpit.  Yet, Trueman draws a conclusion by appealing to his own experience: “For those of us who grew up in Europe in the latter half of the twentieth century, confessional orthodox Protestantism has always been culturally marginal and despised.”4  Does he mean it is the American Evangelical’s turn to be culturally marginalized, and they need to get used to it by not focusing on political engagement at all levels?  That would be a stark contrast to how Martyn Lloyd-Jones reasoned.  

Lloyd-Jones saw the decline of the West throughout the 20th century and even so faithfully ministered in the heart of Westminster, London.  He calls this the Calvary Option.  Trueman calls on Christians to continue to faithfully minister.  I don’t think any Christian would disagree about that.  What is at stake are expectations. Do we expect to lose or do we expect Christ to defeat all of his enemies?  But then Trueman says this about such work: “This is, of course, despicable. It is the work of slave morality, as Nietzsche would say.”5  Here it is Trueman that is granting too much to Nietzsche’s perspective.  What a contrast with the doxological vision taught from the pulpit by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  He held on to the grand vision of Christianity to transform the world.

Trueman’s conclusion does not follow from the premises.  It can be, and has been, true that Christians have been marginalized and persecuted down through the running centuries.  But there is more than one reason for this, and it does not follow that we are always to expect it or to get comfortable with it.  We can expect to be hated, despised, and persecuted by the world (fallen man and his institutions).  However, we can also expect the strength of the world to decrease as nations become more discipled.  We can and should expect the Great Commission to be fulfilled.  It may be that Christians in a specific nation are subject to fruitlessness and marginalization as discipline to call them to greater vigor and action. They may face this as part of a whole nation going into decay and collapse. Augustine tells us that Christians suffer with everyone else in order to prove and reprove their faith. Suffering proves the strength of their faith and reproves them for loving the world too much.

Augustine was wrong to interpret “compel them to enter” as “force people into the church.”  We know the Inquisition quoted Augustine to justify violence to stop the Reformation.  Much of the current debate about Christian nationalism focuses on whether there should be church attendance requirements and blasphemy laws.  In the Cambridge Companion to the First Amendment, I defended Jefferson’s view that belief cannot be compelled.  We can doubt Jefferson’s Christian credentials, but we can affirm that he correctly saw that our equality and rights are founded in God the Creator and not autonomous atheism.

Philosophers have a fun way of insulting each other.  They identify their opponents with a failed philosopher.  In this case, Nietzsche. I know I’ve done it.  However, it doesn’t advance the discussion.  Lloyd-Jones was not a Pop-Nietzschean for encouraging political engagement by Christians and the transformation of the political sphere.  He was clear that man needs the Gospel and not a political fix.  But once the Gospel transforms a man, he transforms all the institutions around him.  As the Gospel goes into all nations and they are discipled, we can expect this transformation to grow to fill the whole world.  This is the doxological vision of Christianity.  The whole world is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.

In his sermon, Lloyd-Jones summarizes the problem of the world this way: it lacks the knowledge of God.  Both Isaiah and Habakkuk tell us that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.  That is the outcome of the Great Commission. All nations know God and worship Him. They pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” Trueman is correct that this can only occur by the Gospel and the daily work of the church.  But we should also expect that as this happens, good Christians go into politics and transform that sphere for the glory of God. The world is defeated. This is the Doxological Option.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Show 5 footnotes
  1. Lloyd-Jones, Martyn.  Sermon Title: The Christian and the World.  1963.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Trueman, Carl.  How Pop Nietzscheanism Masquerades as Christianity | Carl R. Trueman …
  5. Ibid.
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Owen Anderson

Owen Anderson is a professor of philosophy and religious studies at Arizona State University and a teaching associate at Phoenix Seminary. He pastors Historic Christian Church of Phoenix which is a Reformed Church. For hobbies he writes on his Substack about radical liberalism at ASU and is a certified jiu jitsu instructor under Rener and Ryron Gracie.

4 thoughts on “All Nations Will Worship Him

  1. Hasn’t the Great Commission already, or nearly, been fulfilled? And considering that the Roman Empire served as part of the context for the Great Commission along with the previous understanding that the Jews were chosen people, is the Great Commission directly referencing the nation-states or ethnic groups of people?

    And along with Jesus’s prohibition not to lord it over others, don’t the Apostles teach us, with both examples and instructions, on how to make disciples? And finally, can a.person become a disciple of Christ without faith in Christ? If not, then don’t we rely on God’s sovereignty as to who becomes a disciple? And if we rely on God’s sovereignty for who becomes a disciple, is it realistic to expect the nations to be near fully discipled in either the near or distant future?

    The issue isn’t whether Christians should be involved in politics because that is simply part of our stewardship for being made in the image of God and placed on earth. What guides us in our political involvement are the Scriptures, 9in particular the New Testament.

    There are at least two models of involvement in politics for Christians. One way is directed by Christian Nationalists and the other way was lived out by people like Martin Luther King Jr. Are there other models? And I hope that anyone who responds to this comment provides other examples. The key difference between these two models is that while the Christian Nationalist model seeks a privileged place in society for its members, the same cannot be said about Martin Luther King Jr and others who followed his example. And it seems to me that when we look at the whole New Testament, the involvement that does not seek to lord it over others is most consistent with the Scriptures, especially the New Testament.

    We should always remember that Critical Theory and Post Modernism are 2 of the black sheep children of Christendom. So that when people hate us, we should ask why they hate us. Do they hates for trying to live out our faith or do they hate us for imposing our values and beliefs on them? Not all examples of Christians being hated merit praise and encouragement.

    1. Hi Curt, thanks for your thoughtful comment. There is much there to think about and discuss. I’ll start at the beginning. You said, “ And considering that the Roman Empire served as part of the context for the Great Commission along with the previous understanding that the Jews were chosen people, is the Great Commission directly referencing the nation-states or ethnic groups of people?” I take it to be all people, and co-extensive with “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.” Although the Gospel has been preached throughout the world, we are far from discipling the world. I remember that William Carey was told “if God wants to convert India he will do it himself.” But it is the church’s work of evangelizing and discipling that is used by the Lord.

      1. Owen,
        First, thank you for the friendly response.

        As to whom the Great Commission was targeting, context is very important both back then and now. The context provided by some writing for the American Reformer blog sees the Great Commission as a charge to make Christian Nations where they can. Even for those who don’t hold to a more authoritarian version of Christian Nationalism, they still cross over the border into the land of an authoritarian Christian ethnocracy by virtue of having a hierarchy, which favors Christianity, replacing equality. Should Christians seek such a hierarchy when they are placed next to unbelievers in order to evangelize them?

        We need to let the words and actions of the Apostles tell us how to carry out the Great Commission. For it seems to me that when the Gospel has been preached throughout the world and believers from many ethnicities have believed and are learning to follow Jesus, then the Church has carried out the Great Commission. And the Church should continue to carry out the Great Commission through evangelizing and teaching God’s Word regardless of those who don’t believe. For people cannot believe unless Jesus draws them. In addition, Jesus questioned whether He will find faith in the world when He returns.

        1. Owen,
          Some additional information from the Greek Lexicon by Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, the Greek words ‘𝛕𝛂 𝛆𝛉𝛎𝛈‘ was used to refer to foreigners, Gentiles in a number of instances such as in the Septuagint.

          𝛆𝛉𝛎𝛐𝛓 would be used for nation, peoples.

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