What Is the Greatest Crisis
Facing America Today?
What Are We Going to Do About It?
[Editor’s Note: The dictionary defines “crisis” as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.” Sometimes we employ phrases like “being at a crossroads” or “reaching a turning point” or “hitting ground zero.” Are there any crises in your life right now? How about in your church? How about in our nation? In this blog post, David Bryant begins to explore what he insists is the greatest challenge we face today—an emergency, a watershed—a deadly threat with far-reaching spiritual consequences for our country, for our congregations, and as well for each one of our lives. David believes one crucial crisis is at the root of our inability to handle every other crisis we face. See if you agree.]
Some crises can break a heart.
Some crises can stun a nation.
Some crises can alter the course of a whole generation.
We live in an age of crises.
I did not doubt this even a little as I stood near my home on a mountain crest called Washington Rock Park. In 1777, from this vantage point, George Washington monitored the movements of British troops in the New Jersey valley.
From this rock one can see the entire skyline of New York City just 20 miles away. On the evening of that eleventh day of September in 2001, what I saw brought to my mind the funeral pyres I’d witnessed along India’s Ganges River. Now I saw smoke that billowed to blanket New York City’s horizon from the steel tomb that TIME magazine called “The Twin Terrors.”
As a result, noted U.S. foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Mead predicted for TIME that he believes the entire 21st century will be remembered as the “Age of Apocalypse.” What he foresaw then is equally true nearly two decades later. He wrote:
People feel that the veil of normal, secular reality is lifting. We can see behind the scenes. We can see where God and the devil, good and evil are fighting to control the future. History is accelerating. Ancient prophecies are being fulfilled in real time.
However, there’s another crisis looming before us that, in the final analysis, outweighs all others. It too carries sobering, ominous biblical consequences. Moreover, this second “ground zero” is much more decisive as far as eternity is concerned.
Let me tell you about it.
Our Greatest Crisis in an Age of Crises
Here’s a shocker! This crisis of which I speak is not found, at least not first of all, among unbelievers. Instead, we find it to be most prevalent inside the Body of Christ.
It compromises ultimate issues touching the kingdom of God and its advance among the nations. More tragic still, it affects believers at their heart level. Similar to Mead’s warnings about homeland security, its persistence in our life together serves to temporarily sabotage our impact for Christ in the “Battle of the Ages”—a strategic mission in which every Christian is automatically engaged one way or another.
What should we call this grievous crisis in the lives of God’s people? A growing number of Christian leaders today define it as a “crisis of Christology.” More specifically, we might also call it “a crisis of supremacy”—because it relates directly to how God’s people envision (or fail to envision) what the supremacy of God’s Son truly involves.
It has everything to do with the degree to which Christians are embracing and pursuing God’s Son for who he is, where he’s headed, what he’s doing, and how he gets exalted—or rather, to what degree we are failing to do so.
This helps explain our frequent lack of passion for and heartfelt participation in the purposes of the Savior who is ascended on high and now seated on the throne of the universe—actively, daily filling the universe with his sovereign presence and his saving power (see the remarkable claims made of him in Ephesians 4:8-16, for example).
When the “crisis of supremacy” (of Christology) manifests itself inside any congregation, Christians become paralyzed. They are spiritually anemic due to the significant shortfall in how they trust in Jesus—in terms of his wonders as the Son of God as well as where he is leading in the purposes of God, the ways he is fulfilling the reign of God, and how he is magnifying the glory of God.
This disquieting discrepancy has blindsided far too many of us believers. It has subverted a host of us unsuspecting disciples, siphoning off the vitality in our worship, prayer, community life, and ministry outreach.
In so many cases, Christians are numbed to the awesome joy they could be experiencing in a daily, intimate walk with the world’s Redeemer.
Above all else that the crisis has done to God’s people, it has robbed God himself of his rightful praise from his people and from the gospel spread abroad by his people—the praise of the Father for which the Son rose and reigns.
Dr. Timothy George puts it succinctly:
The erosion of Christ-centered faith today threatens to undermine the identity of evangelical Christianity. Real revival and genuine reformation cannot be built on such flimsy foundations.
Does Not Have God
Think of it like this: If the Church offers to the nations in the gospel the only hope humankind has because we are fallen and living in a fallen world, and if the Church itself is in a spiritually debilitating crisis of its own, then the Church’s crisis becomes the greatest crisis facing the world as well.
I don’t think I’m stating it too dramatically to say that more terrifying than Muslim extremists on the path of Jihad or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the world’s most precarious danger is actually manifested by how many believers, and therefore their churches, currently lack adequate vision for the Lord of glory. Every other crisis faced by the world impinges, directly or indirectly, on how Christians deal with this primary crisis—the crisis within our own ranks. This is the crisis John warned us about from the beginning:
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue
in the teaching about the Christ
does not have God
(2 John, emphasis added).
Does not have God? Now that’s definitely a genuine crisis—the greatest crisis into which anyone could fall. And John is writing this to Christians!
In other words, Christians can come up short on how they view and value God’s Son—his greatness and glory and grace; his majesty, ministry, and supremacy. And when they do, they have lost their way in their whole relationship to God. Bottom line: They “do not have God.” Period! No exceptions!
Could anything be more debilitating for the global cause of Christ than when this verdict is laid at the feet of a single Christian, or a single congregation—let alone a whole generation of believers?
We’re talking about people who claim to belong to Jesus but then renege on living out before the world the realities of the name and claim and reign of the “King of kings.” Why? Because they do not really know him or share among themselves the full extent of the truths of who he is as “the Christ,” as the “Messiah,” which identifies him as the One exalted on high to bring to consummation all of the prophesies, promises, and purposes of the living God.
Again, John says this, not me: Only those who continue in (dwell on, delight in, enlarge on, grow in, walk in) God’s Word and exalt God’s Son as the saving Lord and enthroned Christ before others—those are the only ones who genuinely have God and therefore share in his life and power.
Otherwise, God is going in one direction—to ensure that in everything Jesus has the supremacy (Colossians 1:18)—while many of those who claim the name of Jesus are actually going in a very different direction.
Whom Do You Love? Whom Do You
To be sure, this Christological shortfall isn’t merely a curse of modern times. The reality is, as 2 John illustrates, it was an issue from the beginning of the Christian movement. You could say it is as old as the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
Do you recall Mary Magdalene’s despair as she lingered before Jesus’ empty tomb? Weeping over the Master whom she thought had been reduced to a stolen corpse, Mary stood there trembling with fear, feeling confused and hopelessness.
Her personal “crisis of supremacy” sprang from her doubts about Jesus’ ability to demonstrate his promise to ultimately triumph over the grave.
Suddenly, Jesus himself—alive and well!—appeared before her, as he probed her heart by asking: “Who is it you are looking for?” (John 20).
Not why. Not where. Not what. But WHO.
Frankly, that’s the most important question we can set before anyone at any time! It might be stated in a variety of ways.
For example, on that same Easter morning other disciples, struggling with a similar despair, were approached at the tomb by angels challenging them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen” (Luke 24). It was as if they were saying: “Do you really understand who it is you are seeking? If you did, why would you be searching here in a place of death?”
Surely, no more incisive inquiries confront the global Christian community in the 21st century than ones that reflect that first Easter encounter:
• Who really is the Christ you love? Who really is the Christ you seek?
• Do you know why and for what you are seeking him?
• Do you know for sure how and where to find him?
Let Me Just Lay It All on the Table
How many Christians around you demonstrate that they live lives intentionally focused on, delighting in, and fervent for the fullness of Christ and the exaltation of his supremacy?” How many Christians in your congregation would you say need what we might call a proper re-introduction to the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of who he truly is right now—who he is, for example, as:
• Sovereign Son of the Father, reigning at his right hand forever and ever
• Triumphant Victor over every foe—sin, death, hades
• Glorious Conqueror, the dominating personality for all ages to come
• Unequivocal Commander of heaven’s hosts who are ready to obey his every word
• Indisputable Judge of all peoples and nations to whom all must give an account
• Undeniable Ruler of history, overseeing its path and its outcome from beginning to end
• Incomparable King of an empire that will ultimately fill creation with his power and piety
• Irreplaceable Head and Heart of a people whom he has bought with his own blood
• Reigning Redeemer of the Church universal, militant, and triumphant
• Supreme Lord of All right now just as fully as he will be Supreme Lord at the consummation
Back to the Original Question
This brings me back to my original question: Does the Church in America today—do we—have a crisis of Christology, a crisis of supremacy?
To say it another way: How many of us at this moment are victims of the chief “identity crisis”—our inherent confusion about Christ’s identity; our blindness to the extensive glory of the One we claim as our Sacrifice and Sovereign?
How many of us Jesus followers suffer spiritually due to insufficient exposure to the glorious riches and magnificent destiny that is ours because of who Christ is and because of who we are in union with him as our reigning Redeemer?
How many of us disciples are growing in our knowledge of the Master as the summation and consummation of God’s plan for the universe—and just as firmly for each one of us?
From my years of traveling far and wide among those of the evangelical movement, let me give you my paraphrase of the angelic announcement that shook the disciples on Resurrection Day:
Why are you seeking the Living One in all the wrong places?
Here’s great news: He’s so much more than you thought he was!
He’s risen. He’s Lord. He’s going ahead of you.
He’s the hope of all the victories to come!
Open your eyes to his true identity
(and find your own in the process).
What If We Don’t Care?
The Church’s “identity crisis” regarding Jesus dramatically surfaced shortly after the attacks of 9/11.
Initially, national polls revealed a groundswell of renewed interest in the gospel of Christ that fall. Attendance in churches rose significantly. In some places, the increase was as much as 50% in one month. People gathered to pray, sometimes filling entire stadiums. Sobered by predictions of more attacks to come, multitudes were attentive to Scripture like never before.
Yet, a year after Al-Qaeda’s fateful invasion, the long-term impact of 9/11 on the spiritual condition of Americans was, sadly to say, negligible. In fact, research revealed that church attendance declined to levels lower than they were before that September day. Far too often in the following years, seekers looking for answers felt themselves unwelcomed when they brought their shattered hearts to local congregations.
One pollster concluded that 95% of Americans had not been permanently affected for Christ at all. According to one survey, over half of our fellow citizens concluded just one year later that the message of Christ was less relevant in society than before 9/11.
Surprisingly, indifference and apathy about evangelism continued to mark most quarters of the Church. Giving to Christian charities, especially outreach ministries, dropped significantly. Divisiveness among churches only increased, until now in the second decade of the 21st century, according to many researchers, the Body of Christ has been politicized and sundered in ways we have never seen before.
As one biblical scholar put it, instead of the tragedy of 9/11 helping to spawn a culture-wide awakening to Christ, most Christians ended up just “reshuffling the deck chairs on what felt like a sinking ship.”
But this recent history of events and trends is only the tip of a perilous disability—the sobering reality of the “crisis of Christology” that 9/11 unmasked so startlingly.
Years later we’re still plagued by the same seeming indifference about how Christians see, savor, and speak about God’s Son for all he is in his spectacular supremacy.
Do we still have a crisis of Christology, a crisis of supremacy, today? Yes, we do! We must not shrug it off or simply run from it. We need to confront and cure it. A thorough, gospel-driven spiritual revolution of our whole nation depends on what we do with this one overriding concern.
We must once and for all bring this crisis into the light and lay it before all of God’s people. We must start getting honest with each other about the ambivalences we as disciples struggle with (usually privately) regarding who we think Jesus really is. We must admit we are spiritually lazy and that we care far too little—our passion is far too faint—when it comes to diligently and intentionally working to discover more about how great and glorious Jesus really is reigning over us, dwelling among us, and working through us.
This is one facet of what the Bible calls “repentance.” And repent we must!
Out of such repentance, let’s agree to start talking together a whole lot more about the fundamental questions of our very existence, such as: Who is this Jesus we belong to? Why must we seek him more and seek more of him? How and where do we expect to find more of him? What do we expect to happen to us as we find and experience more of him?
Freed From the Crisis!
Fully Alive to the Christ!
There’s urgency to our emergency! The hour has come for the Body of Christ in America to wake up fully to supremacy of Christ over America.
Everything precious to us and our churches is at stake based on whether we do wake up or not. The outward advance of Christ’s mission in our nation and in this generation is on the line.
Pastor, author, and theologian Dr. John Piper calls us as believers to share together a new view of life from now on:
Since September 11, 2001, I have seen more clearly than ever how essential it is to exalt explicitly in the excellence of Christ, crucified for sinners and risen from the dead. Christ must be explicit in all our God-talk. It will not do, in this day of pluralism, to talk about the glory of God in vague ways. God without Christ is no God. God-in-Christ is the only true God and the only path to joy. If we would see and savor the glory of God, we must see and savor Christ (emphasis added).
So, let’s take up this challenge with all the resolve and courage the Holy Spirit is ready to inspire within us and pour out over us. Together, let’s begin by praying for the whole Church to become wholly alive to the whole vision of the whole Christ.
Let’s repent before the Lord Jesus that he is not our first love, that he is not the consuming passion and focus of our individual lives nor our churches.
In conclusion, consider acting on at least one of three practical, life-changing next steps:
(1) Consider taking a journey through The Christ Institutes Video Series. There are three approaches offered, one of which I’m sure will fit your lifestyle. All nine sessions reintroduce you to the wonders and workings of God’s Son today. “Faith comes by hearing when what is heard is the message about the Christ” (Romans 10:17).
(2) When you’re on the road, listen to one of my brief Podcasts as I share with you exciting dimensions of the whole vision of the whole Christ.
(3) On the home page of ChristNow.com, scroll down to my two short videos—one is all about the crisis itself; the second provides a short introduction to what the “supremacy of Christ” means and what it brings to your walk with him.
The crisis is real. It is upon us and among us. We must act. We must not delay.
Why not be among those who start moving in a new direction TODAY!
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com.