There has been an ongoing trend within American Christianity to be either (1) overly triumphant—that is to say, that God’s kingdom has fully come and has manifested itself more completely upon our shores than it has in any other place or in any other time—or to be (2) overly pessimistic—that is to say, that we lament over losing ground and influence, crying out and pining for restoration to ‘glory days’ long past.
In our day and age, option 1 (overt triumphalism) has become less a reality. There was a time in early colonialism where the freedoms of faith found in the New World and the religious side of American ‘Manifest Destiny’ (belief that the expansion of the U.S. throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable; religiously justifiable because the gospel could spread to the heathen) fueled such optimism that America had been set apart as especially favored by God. But human sin and religious nominalism within our history has tainted such optimism. What was once a privilege (freedom of religion) has now become a right that has been taken for granted, under appreciated, and hardly taken advantage of.
Option 2 (overt pessimism) has become the reality for some. Many Christians lament the ground that has been lost in ‘Christendom’ as restrictive laws and slumping church attendance press in upon us. Statistics now show that more than 10% of those who used to claim themselves as ‘Christian’ now claim no religion at all. Have we lost ground, or are people being more honest about their faith or lack thereof?
There is a prevailing danger in both of these extremes, as it places too much emphasis upon man, rather than upon God. Ephesians 1:11 tells us, “In Him we gave obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” May I suggest a middle ground of ‘heavenly optimism’ focused on a kingdom that is not of this world? Whether things appear to be sunny or bleak, God is still at work in this world. Stay the course, be faithfully obedient, and trust where He’s going.