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IN, BUT NOT OFA Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World
By HUGH HEWITT
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Hugh Hewitt
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou Have No Idea Where You Are Going, or When the Trip Will Begin
At the beginning of the 21st century, three living men had done more to shape our world than any others: a Russian, a Pole, and an American.
It is hard to imagine a more unlikely trio, given their early careers.
The Russian took correspondence courses in literature, spent his twenties in the army, his early thirties in a prison camp, and was teaching math when he turned forty.
The Pole is the son of a tailor, who at twenty was working in a stone quarry, was still studying for the priesthood at twenty-five, and only at forty published his dissertation, an appropriately obscure work for an obscure auxiliary bishop in a Warsaw Pact country.
The American was a sports announcer in Des Moines at the age of twenty-five, and by forty his career as an actor had peaked and fallen.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn would use words to strike at the heart of Soviet communism; Karol Wojtyla—later John Paul II—would inspire the first lasting resistance to the Soviets in one of their vassal states and later encourage freedom throughout the East; and Ronald Reagan would rally the West to face down every intimidation and to call upon the desperate leaders of the last modern empire, the "Evil Empire," Reagan called it, to "tear down this wall."
Even as late as 1988 it seemed impossible that the Soviets would simply dissolve their empire and walk away from seven decades of ideologically fueled expansion. Even then the KGB and the Red Army seemed impossibly strong. No one realistically believed that the USSR could be defeated.
"Yes, yes, of course," wrote Solzhenitsyn, "we all know you cannot poke a stick through the walls of a concrete tower, but here's something to think about: what if the walls are only a painted backdrop?" He wrote those words in 1975, a decade and a half before the painted backdrop would be pierced. Solzhenitsyn was never a short-term thinker.
None of these three giants was a quick-fix schemer. Each was patient and purposeful, and each followed his ambitions as those ambitions developed. They could not have known their paths, so unlikely did those paths turn out to be. But neither did they rule out anything for themselves at any step of the way—even when scrambling among rocks in a stone quarry, shuffling in prison camp food lines in the Siberian winter, battling near fatal throat cancer, idling away years behind microphones, or awaiting the scripts that stopped coming.
You should not dismiss what your future might hold, for you have no idea where you are going. This is a book about Christian ambition—about the desire to help shape the world in large ways and to do so in conformance to Christ's teaching. Your circumstances today may or may not be particularly promising, but circumstances change, sometimes slowly and sometimes in the space of a day.
This generation and the next may not be blessed with giants, and even if they are, they will need—absolutely, positively need—hundreds of thousands of leaders of character, purpose, and ability. Even if you have not shown such traits to date, and even if you have spent half a lifetime discouraged by the flow of events, there are decades ahead and opportunities stacked up to the sky. The obstacles you face are likely not as formidable as those that confronted these three men.
But rising in the world does take will. A French writer on the subject remarked upon the example of a retired colonel on a farm: "The colonel who retires on a farm in the country would have liked to have become a general; but if I could examine his life, I would find some little thing that he neglected to do, that he did not want to do. I could prove to him that he did not want to become a general." In other words, the colonel did not want to be a general badly enough.
I came across that quote in a book I read in 1980, Ambition by Joseph Epstein, one of the country's finest essayists. I have placed that anecdote on the table many, many times in front of many, many successful people. Eventually almost everyone comes around to this point of view. Success in the world is pretty much a function of disciplined effort.
Which, of course, raises the stakes quite high for Christians. Given the condition of the world, and given the stakes that ride on the outcome of individuals' choices, believers do not really have the option of declining to become generals.
Had Solzhenitsyn, John Paul II, or Reagan chosen different paths—easier paths—the Soviet Union might well still be where it was, or its dissolution, as painful as it was, might not have been so relatively quiet for the rest of the world.
The reality for all Christians is the obligation to equip themselves for their greatest impact and to seek every opportunity to increase that impact.
And never to suspect that they are not called or that their time has passed them by.
Please see study guide for chapter 1.
Chapter TwoThe Spectrum of Christian Ambition
"If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders," Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained to his sister, "then I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try and wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver."
The German theologian, a pacifist, was attempting to convey why he had joined with others to plot an unsuccessful assassination of Adolf Hitler. The most extreme ambition is to attempt revolution. Bonhoeffer tried and failed and was executed on April 9, 1945, as a result.
At the other end of worldly ambition is Francis of Assisi (1181–1226). Although a young man of wealth and position, Francis went through a religious transformation that saw him renounce all his goods, honors, and privileges in exchange for a life of ruthless poverty and service to the poor. He fashioned his rules for his followers from Christ's command to the rich young man to sell everything and follow Him. His ambition became limited to the conversion of souls. Francis's extraordinary gentleness and humility and his "all embracing sympathy" defined him. "Saintlier than any saint," wrote one biographer, "among sinners he was as one of themselves." Francis's estimate of the world's opinion was embedded in his famous phrase: "What a man is in the sight of God, so much he is and no more."
Between a would-be assassin-theologian and history's standard for self-denial, there are tens of thousands of degrees of involvement with the temporal world.
There was Pope Julius II, the warrior pope, born to be first a soldier in, and then the chief general of, the effort to repair and extend the worldly power of the papacy. Though a builder and benefactor of the arts (including his patronage of the careers of Michelangelo and Raphael), he was a far greater warrior than a churchman or a patron.
Thomas More (1478–1535), a remarkable jurist and adviser to King Henry VIII, also moved easily in the world. His capacity on the law bench was so great that although he inherited a huge backlog of legal disputes, every case before his court was at one point decided:
When More some time had Chancellor been No More suits did remain. The like will never more be seen, Till More be there again.
But More lived in the age of Henry, and More paid for his loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church with his head.
William Wilberforce entered Great Britain's Parliament in 1780. He experienced a profound conversion in 1786, and wrote in his diary, "My walk is a public one. My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men."
In 1789, Wilberforce launched a campaign against the British slave trade. Eighteen years later, in 1807, he succeeded in outlawing it and then began to campaign against slavery across the globe.
Henrietta Mears was a woman of vast ambition. She took charge of Christian education programs at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood in 1928, and Sunday school attendance rose from four hundred to four thousand in three years. Hundreds of her students committed themselves to full-time ministry. One of them, Bill Bright, founded Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951, and that organization now spans the globe and is a model for reaching the unchurched. Mears also was the force behind the development of Forest Home, one of the most famous American retreat centers.
In 1938, in Gainesville, Texas, a young youth pastor was pointed by his boss toward unchurched high school students. Jim Rayburn went after those kids, and he institutionalized his approach and method in the organization Young Life, which Rayburn founded in 1941. Some seventy years later, this parachurch group has deeply touched the lives of millions of teenagers across the country and around the world, and its more than 3,200-member staff and more than two dozen camps—in North America alone—continue to do so today. (There's a lot of stuff about Young Life in this book. It is the organization I primarily support outside my own church because I am so impressed by its inclusiveness, effectiveness, and commitment to excellence. You can investigate it for yourself at www.younglife.org.)
In 1942, William Cameron Townsend went to Guatemala to sell Bibles to the indigenous people there. He found himself among one tribe that did not speak Spanish and discovered that the Scriptures had never been translated into the tribe's language. So Townsend stayed a decade, learned the language, and translated the Scripture into it. He also founded Wycliffe Bible Translators, and that organization has translated the Bible into more than seven hundred different languages that had never before been open to the gospel. Along the way, the Wycliffe organization became one of the great linguistic research institutions in the history of the study of languages. Another fifteen hundred translations are under way today.
There are millions of stories of Christians involved with the world but not conforming their values to the values commonly associated with success. This record of innovation and engagement continues through to this day. Close to me in southern California are three extraordinary pioneers of new methods to spread the old gospel. Chuck Smith founded the Calvary Chapel movement and made perhaps the greatest impact on the Protestant church in America in the past fifty years. One of his students, Greg Laurie, took Smith's work into the crusade field and launched the Harvest Crusades, to which over four million people have been drawn in a little over two decades (www.harvestcrusades.org). And Pastor Rick Warren founded Saddleback Valley Community Church and became a pastor to thousands of pastors as well as tens of thousands of his own congregants (http://pastors.com).
More than thirty-five years ago, Dr. James Dobson left the faculty of the medical school at the University of Southern California with a mission to help save American families. Still heard daily on more than 2,000 U.S. internet and radio outlets, the radio show and the ministry of Focus on the Family continues to have global impact.
This baker's dozen of thumbnail sketches cannot even begin to tell the record of Christian involvement with the world. From the time Christ ascended to the present, His church has mixed "in the assemblies of men."
There have always been ups and downs in this process, and controversies and debates. Some who have worn the title of "Christian" have embarrassed their fellow believers, and others have cowered at the prospect of taking the gospel into the world. But history's record is a silencer of those who argue that Christians are to live apart from the world.
This roll call of inspirational examples, however, could easily be a eulogy for a tradition rather than an encouragement to even greater urgency to be salt and light in the world. In a very practical way, Christians seem to be losing the ability to penetrate the culture. Some have lost their drive. Still others simply lack the skills. Even as political forces gather to effectively expel people of faith from public life, the abilities of those who would gladly fight for their right to remain in the public square are strikingly diminished. Though a treasure of examples is laid up—the gentleness of Francis, the determination of Bonhoeffer, the warrior spirit of Julius, the learning of More, the persistence of Wilberforce, the vision and energy of Mears, Rayburn, Townsend, and Bright, and the modern capabilities of Smith, Laurie, Warren, and Dobson—the church is running out of talent or steam or both.
For the church is in retreat. And there are some Christians (and many non-Christians) who think that is a good thing. The record of the last one thousand years proves them wrong, but the past is no guarantee of the future. Unless individuals resolve to engage the world and lead it, the record hinted at by these examples will quickly become eclipsed by the reality of the post-Christian world.
Others, especially Chuck Colson, have written at length and with wisdom on the sea of change in our times. My aim is not to prove again what he and others have documented, but to speak practical thoughts to those who would prefer that the trajectory of the church would change.
Please see study guide for chapters 2 and 3.
Chapter ThreeThe Pressure of These Times
Decades ago, union organizer Saul Alinsky committed to text his methods for bringing about radical change in the book, Rules for Radicals, first published in 1971. You might not have heard of Alinsky, but he towers over other would-be American revolutionaries because he influenced not just the unionization movements of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s but also the civil rights movement and the campus radicals of the anti–Vietnam War era. His legacy is a brass-knuckled treatise on how to attack power and destroy consensus, still used by many groups across the nation and the world.
Alinsky was an atheist. "We're talking about revolution," he proclaimed, "not revelation." Like most but not all of the Left, Alinsky believed in changing the here and now; preparing men for an eternal life with or without God was beyond his interest. That focus on the present with its demand for immediate action and results has been a tactical advantage over Christian values for a half century, and that advantage has been exploited to stunning effect. The dominant cultural elite is presently radically Left, and the political elites are balanced between Left and Center Right. (Christians, of course, are found all across the political spectrum.)
Now the church itself is locked in civil war with elements that seem to have committed Alinsky's methods to memory. Whether the Jesus Seminar or ad hoc caucuses within various mainline denominations, tenured apostates within Catholic universities or headline-grabbing God-and-the-environment lobbies, the Left has continued to assault established Christian hierarchies in the hope, sometimes realized, of capturing control or at least dominant influence.
There is no conspiracy, though it is a frequent tactic of the Left to accuse the Center Right of seeing conspiracy everywhere. Conspiracy signifies an organized hierarchy issuing orders and mapping strategy. The Left is instead defined by a set of attitudes that tend toward the same decisions and actions so that, unorganized and decentralized as it genuinely is, it brings about the very same results as though it was a highly structured and organized command-and-control operation.
John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and a former RAND analyst, has written extensively about the new era of "networks and netwars." Multichannel networks of people operate independently of hierarchy, but because of shared values and common tactics, they can move effectively with devastating consequences for established order.
The new networks are evolving before our eyes.
Some are benign, the knitting circles of the Internet age. Think of a user group devoted to crossword puzzles.
Some are lethal and intent upon the destruction of the West, and with it the religious liberty that has allowed Christianity to flourish for sixteen hundred years. Al-Qaeda is the most sinister of the networks.
Some are simply political and limited in their scope to dominating the institutions of power in the United States. One example is EMILY's List, an organization that coined its name from the first letters in the old political saying that "early money is like yeast." Over the years EMILY's List has used a fund-raising technique termed bundling—the coordination of tens of thousands of modest contributions into huge outpourings of cash—to propel itself into superstar status among interest groups. Unfortunately for Christians, the goals of EMILY's List are completely from the Left.
Some of the new networks are embracing Alinsky's rules, and advancing in influence and authority on a daily basis. The near continual agitation for policies unthinkable thirty or forty years ago—assisted suicide or repeal of age-of-consent laws—has brought the Left significant progress. The culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s were actually a series of routs of traditional morals and religious beliefs from the field.
Excerpted from IN, BUT NOT OF by HUGH HEWITT Copyright © 2012 by Hugh Hewitt. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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