Last week we began to present excerpts and summaries of the ten chapters from part two of a book I am trying to finish. The working title is “BRAVE NEW EUROPE – who will shape it?”
Part One of the book describes Europe in a time of megashift in worldviews – perhaps towards a new paganism – as the remaining ‘baggage’ of Christendom is jettisoned.
Part Two unpacks ten imperatives necessary to recover faith, hope and vision for Europe’s future.
The first was: ASK!…WHAT IS GOD’S WILL FOR EUROPE. The second is:
2. REJECT! … THE ENEMY’S DISINFORMATION
Josef Goebbels, head of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda, was one of Hitler’s most strategic henchmen. The pen was his weapon, words his ammunition. He aimed his disinformation at the perceptions of both the German people and their allies, as well as their enemies. Clever deployment of truth and distortion was effective in causing action in the wrong places and inaction where most needed.
Propaganda is a powerful tool for immobilising opposition by manipulating truth and perceptions. Some propaganda is crude, blunt and obvious. Yet victims of the best propaganda are unconscious of being manipulated.
The Bible talks of an adversary who opposes God’s plan with every trick in the book, fair or foul. Jesus called him the ‘father of lies’. How conscious are we of the immobilising effect of his disinformation?
If he can trick us into believing the future is his, and that we Christians are insignificant, irrelevant and impotent, he has won the battle. His propaganda renders us passive and disengaged. It causes action in the wrong places and inaction where needed.
Four common strategies Satan uses against believers are intimidation, escapism, distraction and amnesia.
Intimidation Sometimes as I travel around Europe’s cities, I experience moments of being overwhelmed by the immense man-made structures of glass and steel, sprawling urban conglomerates, teeming populations, clogged motorways and endless rows of apartment blocks – just the immensity and seeming permanency of our civilisation.
Once, as I rode up the escalator of the Metro in Paris, stately buildings came into view, proud and imperial, almost shouting at me, “Who do you Christians think you are?” “What do you think you are trying to do?”
“Do you think you really have the corner on truth?” “Do you think you really have anything to say to our sophisticated society?” “Why don’t you just accept the status quo?”
I felt simply intimidated.
In moments like these, I have learnt to reflect on Paul’s arrival in Rome. How must he have felt as a prisoner of the world’s greatest military and imperial power? A skinny, bandy-legged, hook-nosed shipwreck survivor, chained to guards, a figure of humiliation for all who bothered to glance in his direction!
For the first time in his life, he was now entering the greatest and proudest city ever built, the hub of civilisation. Glistening temples, triumphant monuments, shimmering marble edifices, bronze statues and gardens watered by fountains shouted in chorus at him, “Who do you think you are, Paul?” “What do you think you are trying to do?” “Do you think you really have the corner on truth?” “Do you think you really have anything to say to our sophisticated society?” “Why don’t you just accept the status quo?”
Perhaps Paul felt the same sense of intimidation. If so, it was momentary.
For Paul knew who he was, and what he was trying to do. The Truth had met him on the Damascus Road. His heart burned with a message about the future for Imperial Rome. For him the status quo was merely the established disorder of things. His task was to help overthrow that disorder.
Paul had an inner vision of a different future, the future of God. He knew that future to be more real than the temporal, visible trappings of Roman power and glory.
Rome’s glory didn’t impress him. God’s glory did. Rome’s future didn’t impress him. God’s future did.
Even under house arrest, Paul declared the present and coming reign of God. (Acts 28:31)
Jesus Christ, not Julius Caesar, was Lord of history. Jesus Christ, not Augustus, Tiberius or Nero, was Lord of the future.
Paul’s message triumphed.
Who do we really believe is in control of history?
“To suggest that any other is in charge, to name any other name, other than the Lord of disrupting, abiding freedom, is to answer wrongly. It is to embrace idolatry,” writes Walter Brueggemann.
Wrongly perceiving who is in charge is idolatry.
Do we really believe that the future belongs to the kingdom of God and to the people of God?
Do we really believe that one day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and that he shall reign forever!?
Is our hope really in the biblical God?
Or have we been seduced by another vision of the future?
In the spring of 1981, in communist Poland, I was invited to speak at a student conference in Warsaw on the subject: ‘An historical and cosmological view of the Church’. These were the heady days of Solidarity, the trade union movement emerging from the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk to challenge the Soviet system. Bright Solidarity posters covered walls all over the city.
Against this background, I began to trace the unfolding story of God’s plan and the forming of his people Israel – and later the church – as God’s primary change agents of history.
Together we turned to the story of Daniel to catch a glimpse of where history would eventually bring us. The statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represented worldly empires smashed by a mere stone which grew into a mountain filling the whole earth.
By now I was waxing eloquent to the students about all the empires of history which indeed had come and gone: the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires, and on and on through the centuries up to the Third Reich. Hitler had boasted it would last a thousand years – yet like all the others, it too had been destroyed!
Suddenly I heard myself blurting out the following unpremeditated statement: “The Marxist empire too has come, but it also must go! There is only one unshakeable kingdom – God’s kingdom!”
I gasped to myself in shock. What was I saying?! This was a public gathering! There could be informers here! I could be in real trouble.
Besides, where had that thought come from? I had never had that thought before!
Immediately I realised I had believed ‘enemy’ propaganda. I had believed that marxism was to be here for ever and ever, amen!
Now in this instant I realised it was a lie! That’s not what God’s Word said! Marxism – just like all the kingdoms and empires before it – would also be smashed by the Kingdom of God, the bedrock of reality.
Anything that was not based on that kingdom would be shaken and broken.
That was true of marxism. It was true of Islam. It was true of secular humanism.
From that moment, my future expectations changed.
The rest is history.
Eight years later the Wall came down.
Fatalistic end-time scenarios can blind us from seeing opportunities to shape the future.
Charles Spurgeon warned about this when he thundered from his nineteenth century pulpit in London that ‘David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry… The modern notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be unscriptural the better for the cause of God.’
Fatalism about the future has also lead to a shrunken understanding of the gospel, as we shall explore in a later chapter. Missiologist Jim Engel writes: “Legendary evangelist Dwight L. Moody correctly captured the mo
od of evangelicals at the en
d of the 19th century when he declared, ‘I look upon the world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, “Moody, save all you can.”‘ Dreams of transforming society with the gospel had been dashed after the (American) Civil War (since society would be transformed only by Christ when he returned in glory). This left only one option: a single-minded focus on evangelism as the mission of the church.
“What a contrast to John Wesley’s vision of the church as a body ‘compacted together … to overturn the kingdom of Satan, and to set up the kingdom of Christ.’ Wesley and others demonstrated in the 18th and 19th centuries that disciples are made through evangelism coupled with sweeping social transformation.”
Popular evangelical apocalypticism continued into the Jesus Revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s with books predicting the triumph of the communist anti-christ and stressing the imminence of Christ’s return.
Best-selling ‘Rapture’ novels still promote such short-term thinking at the start of the 21st century.
Such influences do little to build faith, hope and vision for tomorrow’s Europe.
But more dangerous than either of the above tactics for current generations is the adversary’s subtle use of distraction. He lulls us through comforts and seduces us with temporal pursuits.
Futurist Tom Sine laments, as he surveys the global situation, that much of the Western church is locked into a dualistic worldview that accepts unquestioningly modernity’s view of reality and the better future.
Sine and others call it McWorld, a world in which technology, efficiency, material progress, economic upscaling and consumerism combine to create modernity’s vision of the better future.
Sine sees this as a crisis of vision. Many of us he says have simultaneously embraced two different images of the better future, neither of which is biblical. The first image is of a non-material heaven in the clouds. The second is defined primarily in economic, material terms, the McWorld future.
Such schizophrenia subverts our ability to provide an authentic witness of God’s new order, God’s better future.
Satan’s strategies of intimidation, temptation to escapism and distraction aim to get us to desert our post, to abandon the divine mandate, to move away from where God posted us, i.e. to become apostate – (apo – away; stasis – to stand).
Amnesia is yet another powerful weapon in his arsenal. Tyrants rewrite history to control perceptions of current reality.
When we forget where we have come from, we lose perspective on where we are headed. We have become creatures of short memory. When we forget our rich heritage, we’ll easily swap our glorious inheritance for a McWorld stew.
Yes, we must reject the enemy’s propaganda about the future.
And we need to see what God has done in the past.
Till next week,