The Adult Education Committee of Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA, sponsored a conference on “Living Christianly in a Post-Christian World” on October 14 & 15, 2011, with Dr. W. Robert Godfrey as the speaker. Dr. Godfrey is President and Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary California.
Dr. Godfrey spoke Friday evening on “Knowing the Essence of Christianity” and Saturday evening on “Knowing the Post-Christian Challenge.” Since Pella is located in an agricultural community with harvest in full swing during October, both lectures began at 7:00 pm to make attendance more convenient for farmers. About 125 people attended on Friday and just over 100 on Saturday.
Mr. Bill Hartman, an elder at Covenant and the chairman of the Adult Education Committee, explained the rationale behind the choice of subject.
“We discussed the need that we saw was in the community and in the church,” he said. “Culture is striving diligently to marginalize the Scriptures and to marginalize the Law, and we felt it would be good for us to hear a speaker specifically address the insidious influence of the post-Christian culture.”
Mr. Craig Shannon, who chaired the sub-committee organizing the event, introduced Dr. Godfrey, noting that the conference had been in the planning stages for “well over a year.”
In his Friday evening lecture, Dr. Godfrey said, “We certainly are living in a post-Christian world,” and related that “up until about 300 years ago, the West was a decidedly, determinedly Christian society.” But then “that Christian consensus began to be challenged” and by the late 19th Century, about 100 years ago, “forces opposed to Christianity” increasingly took over.
He spoke of how Europe views Christianity as something that belongs to the past, while Christianity has fared somewhat better in America. He noted a recent indicating India is the most religious country while Sweden is the most irreligious.
“America is a strange combination,” Dr. Godfrey said. “Lots of people are like India, but most of the power in America is in the hands of Swedes. On the popular level, Christianity remains very vibrant, but for the movers and shakers, by and large, Christianity seems as passé as it does in Europe.”
The important question Dr. Godfrey chose to address in his Friday lecture was: What does it mean for me to be a Christian?
Speaking about the Pharisees and their many laws, he asked, “Didn’t Jesus come to confront that religion? Doesn’t Jesus continue to challenge us in a rather radical way to not think about religion as a series of dos and don’ts? I think Jesus came saying that’s not the essential definition of Christianity.”
Dr. Godfrey looked at Luke 4 and 6, which contain what he said “may be the shortest sermon in the New Testament” and which he believes serve “as a summary” of Christ’s ministry.
“Almost everything in the early chapters of Luke’s gospel is about Jesus and who he is. He says almost nothing in those early chapters about what you ought to do,” Dr. Godfrey pointed out. “Christianity in the first place is about God and his saving work, and only secondarily about us. The foundation of Christianity is accepting Jesus for who he is.”
“Jesus wanted to keep us thinking about what it is really going to mean to be a follower,” he said. “What he’s saying here? You, who were unlovable and God loved you, you love the unlovable, too. Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful.”
Continuing the topic in Saturday evening’s lecture, Dr. Godfrey showed from Revelation 14 and 17 that living in a post-Christian world is not as unique as some believe.
“This book is for every generation of Christians because the forces talked about in this book are the forces unleashed against Christians in every generation,” he said. “Far from being confusing and perplexing, this is most helpful for helping us think about who we are and how we are to live in this world.”
Dr. Godfrey explained that the apostle John’s vision in Revelation 17 was of two cities, Babylon and the heavenly Jerusalem (the church of Christ), which are ever battling in this world. In contrast to most people who live for success and accomplishment in this world, Christians must live for eternal life.
“John writes this book to tell us, ‘Don’t give up, be faithful,’” he said. “Revelation 17 says that war is not ours; it is the Lamb’s. He’s King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Lamb knows what he’s doing; he’s winning the battle…. In a post-modern world, there’s a great deal of hostility against the Lamb and the dwellers in heaven, but [those forces] can’t win. They can’t conquer because the Lamb has his people and his purpose.”
“The number one responsibility given to us is that we should be faithful,” Dr. Godfrey declared. “One of the burdens of living in America is that faithfulness often doesn’t seem to be enough: ‘I don’t want to be faithful, I want to be successful. I don’t just want to persevere, I want to triumph.’”
“Christ calls us to be faithful,” he concluded. “When we’re faithful in loving one another and creating a Christian community, we’re holding up a light…. [and] Christ will be using that light…. We already live in heaven, but one day Jerusalem will come down when Christ returns to make all things new.”
In a Q & A session following Saturday evening’s lecture, Dr. Godfrey was asked about Harold Camping, who instructed his youth group when he was young.
“Harold Camping has really functionally abandoned the fellowship of the saints,” he said. “I pray for Harold Camping. I hope that the Lord will give him a spirit of repentance.”
In response to a question about a perceived lack of good Reformed study materials, Dr. Godfrey mentioned new curriculum being developed by Ligonier and noted that it is often a “matter of money and time.”
“One of the things I think we as United Reformed churches need to do is develop more of a spirit of doing things together,” he said. “We need to work together. We’re allowing ourselves to drift along in a very unorganized denomination.”
One listener questioned a statement in promotional literature that either an old or young earth view of creation “can be held by faithful Reformed people.” As part of his response, Dr. Godfrey noted that some people hold a very simple view of creation, but that “you can’t have 24-hour days before the sun was created.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 of the November 16, 2011 issue of Christian Renewal.