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. Lloyd-Jones, Martyn.  Sermon Title: The Christian and the World.  1963.] 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. Ibid.]  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. Ibid.] 

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. Trueman, Carl.  How Pop Nietzscheanism Masquerades as Christianity | Carl R. Trueman …]  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. Ibid.]  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.

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