Henry Kissinger’s latest book was not written for gospel ministers, but the 92-year-old diplomat has insight into the contemporary world from which ministry leaders can benefit. In World Order, Kissinger surveys efforts to create international order, beginning with the Peace of Westphalia in the Seventeenth Century to our most current efforts in 2014. As such, it is part history, replete with fascinating anecdotes, and part prescription, as he identifies key questions and issues facing us as we seek world order in our day. For example, I had never before read that Czar Alexander ended the Napoleonic Wars by marching to Paris at the head of his armies. The Czar celebrated victory with 160,000 Russian troops on the plains outside Paris, a demonstration that caused disquiet, even among his allies. Interestingly, the Czar wanted “an order of things based on the exalted truths of the eternal religion of our Savior.”
Kissinger writes about Iran, China, Russia, India, Islamism in the Middle East, including the role the United States plays in each region. All of this is fascinating and beneficial as we seek to understand our world. But it’s his statements on values and truth that I find most helpful, and disconcerting.
For example, he writes that we live in a time in which “values” are “shaped by consensus,” and that our quest for consensus is done by “a sharing of emotions” more than an exchange of ideas. Which of us has not marveled, or wept, at the rapidity with which America’s values have changed on key moral issues? Currently, the hottest issue is same-sex marriage, which enjoyed little support 20 years ago and now has majority support in the U. S. More Americans favor same-sex marriage than have a positive view of evangelical Christianity!
As we consider Kissinger’s statement about our values being shaped by consensus, consider the findings (or assertions) of Mark A. Smith, Political Science and Comparative Religion and Communications professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. In his soon-to-be released book, Secular Faith: How Culture has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Smith argues that regardless of the religion Americans hold, our viewpoints regarding high-profile issues are shaped more by the culture than by our religion. Smith says that the cultural influence of the larger society through institutions like the media, schools, neighborhoods and workplace shape our views, and that religious leaders often “update their group’s official positions to maintain the support of the rank-and-file.” To support his assertion Smith mentions several issues in which religions “changed” their position. Views on issues like criminalizing blasphemy, outlawing alcohol production, banning commerce on Sundays, segregation of races, interracial marriage, as well as teachings on divorce, women’s rights, and homosexuality have changed greatly over the course of time. In essence, Smith corroborates Kissinger’s statement that the values America holds are shaped by consensus, and Smith says that we arrive at consensus by means other than our religion, that, indeed, religions in America change their teachings to line-up with the consensus of opinion. Sometimes that is good. Churches have been on the wrong side of some issues in the past. But often this is bad, as churches abandon clear biblical teaching in favor of cultural consensus.
In addition to our values being shaped by consensus, Kissinger writes that “the concept of truth is being relativized and individualized – losing its universal character.” For example, in 2012 the election campaigns had files on tens of millions of voters. Using research from social networks, open public files, and medical records, the campaigns could profile the voters and more precisely target them individually with the “truth” that would appeal to them. To use another example, two different people asking the same question on a search engine do not necessarily receive the same answer to their question. The answer you receive is individualized, taking into account where you live and other things known about you. A recent search I made, looking for a new dress for my wife, has filled my subsequent internet searches with advertisements for new dresses because my search engine knows I might be shopping for a new dress (dumb of me, I know!).
For decades preachers have spoken about truth becoming relative, but now the technology we use every day is reinforcing this. Imagine a coming day in which a question posed through Google nets the answer that those who control Google want you to have. Now, imagine that that day has already arrived, because it has.
A final insight by Kissinger concerns conflict between peoples. In essence, he says that conflict doesn’t only arise because societies and peoples don’t understand each other. Rather, conflict often arises because we understand each other only too well, and we profoundly disagree on values, ideals and strategic objectives. American politics has not softened with more media and data-driven election strategies; if anything the extreme viewpoints have a larger audience. Violent agitation can erupt in the Muslim world because of a fringe cartoon in a Danish newspaper. A videotaped beheading in Syria can harden the resolve of warring parties as it is broadcasted to the whole world.
We have seen in the Northwest how legal proceedings against a baker or a florist can set peoples and groups against one another. Teaching truth and sharing the love of Christ can be a tricky when battle lines are drawn and weapons revealed. I say “tricky” because we don’t merely want to “preach to the choir.” We are seeking to educate and persuade, and we often find that difficult even when it concerns our own children, let alone the typical unbeliever in the Northwest.
I could go on with this, but I’ll conclude with three responses that I believe the church must make. First, we must seek ways to love, love and love people in our community, and love them some more. Personal relationships in which love is abundant is the only way to win the hearts and minds of those whose values conflict with biblical truth. Christians and churches must be experienced by unbelievers as those who deeply love people and the community. This is how the Early Church reached the majority in Roman Empire within 300 years. Genuine love has always been essential to evangelism. It is not easy. The world does not believe us when we say that we “hate the sin and love the sinner.” But don’t worry about the “the world” so much as the “individuals” in your world. We love people individually, not in groups.
Second, we must pray, pray and pray. I’ve written before about the need for more prayer for the lost and the persecuted in our churches. Our worship services must be saturated in deep prayer, prayer for people, prayer for souls, prayer for God’s blessing on our cities, prayer to “the Lord of the harvest” that He will “send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38). In small groups we must be praying for people by name who need Jesus as Savior and Lord. Spiritual transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our witness is vital, but we need God to move in people’s hearts. Oh how desperately we need that!
Third, we must teach our children and our people that the Bible is truth. The Bible is not a “source for sermons” or “positive thoughts.” The Bible is truth. We must read it. Our people must read it, believe it, and submit to the teachings of Scripture. The idea that churches and Christian leaders change their teachings to conform to the consensus of opinion is shocking, but we see it all the time. The renewal of the human mind requires consistent feeding on Scripture, Scripture which is believed and upon which we meditate.
One third of people in the Northwest (Washington, Oregon and Idaho) say they have no religion. They are not Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim. Not that they don’t have religious beliefs, but in their thinking they don’t adhere to a “religion.” This means they are up for grabs! Can you imagine how fearful and hopeless you would be if you didn’t know Jesus!? How will these people face tragedy and death without Jesus? This world is not enough. We must have more. They must have more. Don’t give up on them. And remember, only hours before the Cross, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Kissinger may be right in his view of things in today’s world, but it will always be a good day to serve the Lord!