On the very first Sunday of 1773, John Newton, the well-known evangelist and hymn writer, presented a sermon to his Olney congregation with the new year in mind. His message was based on the scripture from 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 which highlighted the deep spiritual reflection of King David when he prayed, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?”
To further emphasize this reflection of God’s grace in one’s life, Newton composed a poem set to music titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation” which was to be sung as an accompaniment to his new year’s message. This hymn would later be known as Amazing Grace.
It was no doubt Newton’s hope that his lyrics would focus the congregation’s attention and set their hearts on the blessings of God’s grace in bringing them to Jesus Christ for salvation, both now and forever. Little did he know, however, the impact and popularity it would soon have on audiences through the coming centuries.
The most recent comprehensive survey on the makeup of American spirituality should be deeply concerning to our predominately-Christian nation. According to the Daily Mail and other news outlets, the number of U.S. citizens who now identify as witches or other pagans has exploded to 1.5 million souls—which is more than the membership found in some evangelical denominations:
“A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 0.4 per cent of Americans, between 1 and 1.5 million – identify as Wicca or Pagan. That means there are now more witches in the U.S. than there are Presbyterians (PCUSA) who have around 1.4 million adherents.” – Daily Mail, Nov. 19, 2018
And while this shocking news will be sobering to most devout Christians, one could reasonably speculate for the sake of rhetorical effect that C.S. Lewis, the popular Christian philosopher who had the “deepest respect for Pagan myth” (The Problem of Pain, p.71), might be delighted with these statistics if he were alive today.
Lewis once said that if you’re not going to be a Christian, the next best thing is to be a good Norseman, because “the Norse pagans sided with the good gods…” (The Sign of The Grail by C.J.S. Hayward). He also once dared to slyly suggest, “First let us make the younger generation good pagans and afterwards let us make them Christians” (C.S. Lewis letter from Yours, Jack; p. 219).
Well, guess what, Mr. Lewis: good news! According to the latest Pew study and further research by Trinity College, your hope for the paganization of our children is coming to fruition by leaps and bounds.
Why did Jesus and His apostles constantly raise up Truth? And I am not talking about “truth” as a situational or religious maxim, but singularly-fixed Truth that is above and against the counterfeit of man’s wisdom, romantic speculations, and the subtle hiss of the Devil. Why did they emphasize over and over again the grand themes of Christ as Truth, the Gospel as Truth, and their eyewitness testimonies as Truth, and not as an inventive moral story?
The answer from Scripture is clear and uncompromising. Their only weapon against prevailing myths, fables, and half-truths was the pure and unvarnished Truth of God.
While biblical discernment is a necessary part of Christian discipleship, it is never a good thing when such focus supersedes the free and constant expression of praise and thanksgiving to our Lord Jesus Christ. In my past attempts to raise serious questions about the sad state of “American Christianity,” I fear I have often failed to bring more unfettered appreciation to God for His living Church, and to show proper thanks for the many faithful laborers who humbly serve Christ outside the public arena.
In the midst of this anxiety, I have been reminded of what God told Paul in his time of great fear: “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Indeed I know there are many dear brothers and sisters out there who are quietly sowing the seeds of the Gospel and showing forth the love of Jesus to those within the tiny parcel of the world allotted to them by our sovereign God. Truly, I thank the Lord for all of them.
Once there was a man named Philippe. He was a spiritual guide in an emerging community. One day he decided to go on a journey. So, he did. As he was walking along the road, focusing on the journey and not the destination, he found himself alongside the chariot of an African official. The man in the chariot was reading from a parchment scroll. He was reading aloud, so Philippe was able to overhear what the man read:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
Philippe caught up to the chariot and said, “You read that text beautifully. It made me feel significant and connected to ancient traditions to hear you read it.”
“I just wish I could understand it,” the man replied.