January 12, 2021
by Pastor Don Willeman
Hello, this is Pastor Don Willeman of Christ Redeemer Church. Welcome to The Kingdom Perspective.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), the 40th president of the United States, was an optimist. His news conferences and even political debates were seasoned with jokes and levity refreshing in the world of Washington. Even his political opponents were compelled to appreciate his positive public engagement.
This optimism meant he was not afraid to go toe-to-toe with the repressive totalitarian Soviet empire, famously demanding in Berlin, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (Berlin Wall Speech, July 1987)
What gave Reagan this optimism? Well, I think a big part of this is that he had imbibed the spirit of Western civilization, which itself had been marinated in centuries of Christian ethos. Christianity is an optimistic, forwarding looking, freedom loving religion.
Now, to be clear, this is not to say there are not reasons to be negative about the history of Western civilization and the Christians that populated its landscape. Slavery, rapacious colonialism, genocide—to name a few—are all fair critiques. Nonetheless, any reasonable reading of history has to note that these negatives are not unique to the West. What’s unique is the progressive spirit that has fought against them—in many instances all but eradicating these evils. These negatives are not caused by the West’s Christian heritage. Rather, a good argument can be made that it is precisely the influence of Christianity that allowed the West so effectively to battle against these evils (to investigate this claim, see, e.g. Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland, Timothy Keller’s chapter in “The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice” in The Reason for God, Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home by Glenn Sunshine, and Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire by Peter Brown).
Reagan encapsulated this optimistic/progressive sentiment with his numerous references to a “shining city on a hill”. Of course, this phrase was not unique to Reagan. He got it from John Winthrop (1587/8-1649), a founding leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Governor Winthrop, however, did not coin this phrase either. The phrase actually originates with Jesus, who said that His people will be a “City on a Hill”, lighting the way for a new world, a new way of living (Matthew 5:13-16).
Something to think about from The Kingdom Perspective.
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
~ Philippians 2:14-18 (ESV)
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