“We must realize that to know the truth and to practice it will be costly….We must keep on speaking and acting even if the price is high. We must keep on preaching, even if the price is high. There is nothing in the Bible that says we are to stop. The Bible rather says, keep on, keep on.”
I was recently reminded that one of my favourite prophetic voices of last century, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), in one of his volumes utilised some of the most well-known prophetic books in the Old Testament. So I hastily went to my shelves, grabbed the thin book, blew off the dust, and read it once again.
And I am so glad I did. I refer to his very important book, Death in the City (IVP, 1969). The material in this book is actually based on a week-long series of lectures he gave at Wheaton College in Chicago in 1968. The talks centred on Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Romans 1 – a heavy-duty combination indeed – and how they relate to the West.
Those who know me and my writings know that I often speak about the West in terms of being past its use-by date, and now seemingly under the judgment of God. Yet here was Schaeffer a full half-century ago saying the same thing and making prophetic warnings about it.
Romans 1 of course speaks about God abandoning a people (see verses 18-32), while Jeremiah and Lamentations warn about and bemoan the fact that God is judging his people, with the seemingly inviolate temple and city of Jerusalem both being utterly destroyed by Israel’s enemies.
It is in that light that Schaeffer examines the contemporary West, and sees no other option than to say we too are under the just judgment of God. The entire 143-page book is a must-read, but let me try to distil some of the highlights here for you.
The book begins with these trenchant words: “We live in a post-Christian world.” He details the enormity of what this means and then says: “Do not take this lightly! It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime.”
The West has abandoned its spiritual heritage and is now wallowing in sin, immorality and apostasy. “There is only one perspective we can have of the post-Christian world of our generation: an understanding that our culture and our country is under the wrath of God.”
This is serious business: “Do you think our country can remain as it has been after it has thrown away the Christian base? Do not be foolish. Jeremiah would have looked at you and said, ‘You do not have the correct perspective. You should be crying’.”
How should believers respond today? We must pronounce hard truths to wake up a dead culture and a dead church: “Our generation needs to be told that man cannot disregard God, that a culture like ours has had such light and then has deliberately turned away stands under God’s judgment. There’s only one kind of preaching that will do in a generation like ours – preaching which includes the preaching of the judgment of God.”
He cites Jeremiah 1:10 and then explains:
Notice the order. First, there was to be a strong negative message, and then the positive one. But the negative message was first. It was to be a message of judgment to the church which had turned away and to the culture which flowed from it. Judah had revolted against God and His revealed truth; and God says that Jeremiah’s message was to be first a message of judgment. I believe the same message is to be ours today. Christianity is not romantic, not soft. It is tough-fibered and realistic. And the Bible gives us the realistic message that Jeremiah preached into his own days, a message I am convinced the church today must preach if it is to be any help in the post-Christian world.
Instead of soft, syrupy and sentiment preaching, we need powerful, Holy Ghost-inspired preaching, one that takes our condition seriously. Says Schaeffer: