Nashville: Nelson Books, 2020
THE GATHERING STORM: SECULARISM, CULTURE AND THE CHURCH is an excellent, but disturbing new book that every evangelical Christian should read. It is not primarily about politics; rather, it is about truth, God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. In my opinion, theologian Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, has done an outstanding job of researching and analyzing what is happening in our country and in western culture at large. The title, “The Gathering Storm”, was borrowed from Winston Churchill, the great British statesman who saw the brewing of WWII before it actually began. Like Churchill, Mohler is courageous, wise, and prophetic.
Each chapter in this 220 page book looks at a different aspect of American culture and seeks to demonstrate how it has departed from our biblical roots. The chapters deal with changes in the church, in human life, in marriage, in family, in gender & sexuality, in the values of younger generations, in engines of culture such as Hollywood, social media, academia, and in religious liberty. A word of warning: if you do not have a strong belief in the sovereignty of God, this book may shake you. It may even keep you up at night. However, if it does, I would counsel you to use that time to pray!
A reoccurring theme of Mohler in this book is that many Christians and many denominations in America have given up too much in order to be relevant to the changing values of modern times. Instead, we should stand firmly on God’s never changing Word, the Holy Scriptures. We should stand for the totality of the Christian worldview, and we should recommit ourselves to the Great Commission to make Christ known to the nations and to teach believers to be obedient to ALL the teachings of God’s Word.
In chapter six, an important chapter on “The Gathering Storm over Gender and Sexuality, I found myself saying “amen” on many points. Here are just a few:
“We are constantly told that we must abandon the clear teachings of the Bible in order to get ‘on the right side of history.’ It is not that we don’t understand the argument – we simply do not accept it.”
“These days we find ourselves opposed, dismissed, and ridiculed for holding to truths that the Christian Church has taught for two thousands years.”
“The church must hold fast to what the esteemed twentieth century Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones called ‘truth unchanged and unchanging.’ That is just about the most counter-cultural message we might imagine. The gospel reminds us that only through Christ can we experience the power of God’s love. Only through the cross can we be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of eternal light.”
I’ll conclude with a long quote from the end of chapter 7, “The Gathering Generational Storm.” After sharing how most millennials and post-millennials are overly attached to their I-phones, not connecting with any church, marrying later, yet having premarital sex, having few, if any children, etc., Dr. Mohler offers these words of wisdom:
When faced with unprecedented and overwhelming challenges, fear can paralyze even the most courageous and convictional. The challenges facing the coming generations are perilous, and many of the factors feeding this frenzy seem insurmountable. How can Christians reverse the effects of secular media? How can Christians show coming generations the glory of family and recapture the spectacular gift of children? How can churches convince sexualized teenagers that God’s design for sex is the pathway for true flourishing? How can anyone stop the floods of secularism and liberalism converging in on America’s coming generations?
Only the power of the cross and cross-shaped living will stem the tide and dissipate this gathering storm. Christian parents must center their lives on the glory of the gospel and the good news it secures. Lives centered around the cross cast a brilliant light in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. Faithfulness to God, to his word, and conviction in the midst of rampant capitulation will provide this generational crisis an alternate path.
Specifically, the church of Jesus Christ must apply the gospel power in at least three ways in order to engage the storm gathering over the coming generations. First, Christian parents must view church as the highest and utmost priority for their family’s weekly schedule. We have surrendered Sunday school and youth ministry in many of our churches.
I am the product of being involved in the local church many hours a week as a young boy and teenager. My frame of reality was largely set by my parents’ design – and it was church whenever the church offered opportunity, and there were many opportunities: Sunday school, youth choir, Royal Ambassadors (for boys) and Acteens (for girls). There were weekly youth fellowships and youth meetings and regular retreats. There were wonderful and faithful adult volunteers, as well as a faithful youth minister.
Sociologist Christian Smith and his research associates found that one of the distinguishing marks of young people who continue in church participation as adults was that they had developed a warm and trusting relationship with an adult in the church (even just one) other than their own parents.
How many young people in middle school, high school, or college have that experience today? For many children growing up with Christian parents, the priority of family is told otherwise. Many Christian parents have bought into the larger culture’s portrait of the good childhood, complete with incessant sports activities, violin, and ballet lessons, and activities perceived to boost the child’s eventual college admissions application. When it comes to church activities with children and teenagers, the scariest words might well be “traveling team.” Priorities become clear, both on the part of the church and of parents. Parents can hardly claim shock when their kids grow up and leave what they have never really known. At that point, the opportunity is lost. Exposure to God’s people and a gospel-saturated community is essential for the nurturing of children in this secularized age.
Second, Christian parents need to be serious about the effects of technology, screen time, and social media. These commodities can be used for glorious purposes or can destroy. Unrestricted access to technological devices has indeed become an issue of faithful Christian parenting. The ease of access to pornography, specious ideologies, and harmful worldviews can cause enormous harm on a malleable young mind.
Finally, Christian parents must endeavor to fill their homes with the fragrance of the gospel – family worship, family devotions, Scripture memorization, and quality family time will do more to promote the health of the next generation than we can imagine. Inserting spiritually vibrant moments into the family life of a home is essential for the health of impressionable young minds. A myriad of resources is available to equip parents to catechize their children in the truths of God and his Word. How can any Christian parent expect their child to come to know Christ and live connected to the people of God if the gospel is never heard or spoken in the home?
In the end, the main point is that every successive generation of young Christians is likely to face even stronger headwinds. The obvious truth is that a church that loses its own young people has no future.