2010 Ligonier Regional Conference - Session 1- Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands began our Being a Christian in a Post-Christian Culture conference with his lecture “When the Foundations are Destroyed.” Traveling recently, Anyabwile noted how he has witnessed the world going on about its business, conceiving of this life as the only life that there is, and worried little about the foundations of society. Among American evangelicals, however, there is great concern about the foundations of our society, with lamentation over the erosion of Western culture and its biblical moorings.
But, Anyabwile noted, the question of foundations is an important one. This question is discussed in Psalm 11, and it is vital that we consider the topic from the perspective of God’s inspired Word. There are two persons and two concerns in this psalm. One is David, the great shepherd-king of Israel. The other person is not named, but he is asking questions of David.
David speaks in verse 1 with confidence in the Lord, and his dialogue partner responds in verses 2–3 with questions about foundations and the righteous. The questions surprise David; it is almost as if his response to his dialogue partners is “on what grounds do you declare that the foundations are being destroyed and ask what the righteous can do? What are you talking about? What do you mean?” David is surprised because his trust is in the Lord (v. 1). Beneath the questions of David’s friend, then, is a certain kind of unbelief, a certain kind of fear. David does not have this concern or anxiety.
Nevertheless, when God’s people see the wicked prosper and the righteous plundered, there is a temptation to believe all is lost, that the foundations are being destroyed and that ground is being lost to the unrighteous. Habakkuk wondered how long he must cry for help (Hab. 1). Elijah worried that he alone was faithful (1 Kings 19). As the hymn The Church’s One Foundation says, there are heresies around us and the saints ask, “How long, oh Lord?” until all is made right. It is peculiar thing throughout the history that the people look out on the world and seem to see the cause of injustice and unrighteousness prevailing instead of the plans of God.
Two Main Concerns and Four Foundational Attacks
The concerns expressed in the psalm are twofold. There is fear for the safety of the righteous in a perilous age: “Flee like a bird to your mountain” (Ps. 11:1). He also fears for the safety of the society. If even the greatest building is not erected on a solid foundation, it will fall. The person in the psalm is concerned about society as a whole. The wicked inmates are running the asylum, so how can the people of God and the kingdom of God stand? (vv. 2–3).
How does this apply in our own day? Today, there are four attacks that we see chipping away at the foundations upon which we build our lives. We have attacks on the ontological foundations — an assault on the Creator/creature distinction. The New Atheism brazenly denies God’s existence and affirms that man rules his own destiny. This ontological attack is at the root of several ethical concerns in our day. Homosexuality, for example, says “I will not live as the Creator designed me to.” Its acceptance is just one of the ways in which our culture will not acknowledge its creatureliness.
There are also epistemological attacks, questioning how we arrive at the truth. Scripture is denied as a credible source of knowledge. We are told, “Leave your Bible at the door. It is just a book written by some dead guys who did not even know that the earth revolves around the sun.” Comedians mock anything based on Scripture. Knowledge has become wholly subjective, with the self as the final authority.
Moral foundations are also being assaulted. As Scripture is denied as the source of truth, people offer up other standards of what is good, right, and just that have no relation to what God says is true.
The final line of attack is on the soteriological foundations. All sorts of people are attacking the biblical doctrine of salvation. Wayne Dyer, Oprah Winfrey, books like The Secret, and more all tell us that salvation is a matter of self-improvement. Salvation means doing better. Naturalism says that this world is all that there is, making the message “Your best life now” so attractive. But this life is “your best life now” only if you are going to hell! A functional universalism is also in vogue. We act, live, and behave as if everybody is going to heaven.
These attacks are found not only in the world, but are making inroads in the church as well. What indeed can the righteous do when they are adopting the world’s ways? There is pragmatism, moralism, and worldliness permeating the church. How many people in the church trust in their own righteousness and not the cross? Functional universalism is destroying the missionary outreach of the church. Instead of moving out into the world, we stay in the church. When books like The Shack and A New Kind of Christianity can get published, the foundations are under attack.
We see these problems and often conclude that God and his people are losing. This is a real temptation for evangelicals. We are afraid that the unrighteous will win. But there is not a single verse in the Bible that justifies fear among God’s people. We are to fear not Satan but the Lord (Matt. 10:28). The only response we should have is filial love and respect for God.
America and God’s Kingdom
As we see the foundations attacked, we must remember two things. One, the foundations of God’s kingdom and the church are not the same as the foundations of America. The fortunes and futures of God’s kingdom and church are not the same as America.
Two, if America were to fall tomorrow – we pray and work that she doesn’t – not one thing would be lost in all of God’s kingdom. God establishes kingdoms and pulls them down. He shakes creation when He wills.
What Then Should We Do?
David’s response to his questioner informs us today. It is okay to work for a biblically good life and society, but we must do this without losing our heads. David is confident from the start, taking refuge in the Lord. When we think and speak about our culture, we need to ask if we sound more like David or the questioner. David does not pass a new law, mobilize the military, or run dirty attack ads. Ultimately, He points us to Jesus. In Christ, God sees the foundations of our lives destroyed by sin and redeems us by His own blood.
When the voices of fear and doubt sound, David calls us to three things:
First, remember God’s sovereignty and holiness (v. 4). Despite the problems around us, the goodness of God is never threatened by his creatures. He still reigns over all. Even if millions of righteous people are killed, God remains seated on his throne.
Second, David remembers the fate of the wicked (vv. 4–6). That a holy and sovereign God examines our hearts is more terrifying than the chaos in this world. There is a horrible and terrible fate reserved for the wicked, as Psalm 11:6 tells us. He is a consuming fire, and this judgment makes the fact that we often care for politics more than the souls of men so tragic.
It is not that the church in America is under-engaged in the culture, it is that the church is so often over-engaged in the wrong kinds of culture. What good is it to be so involved in politics and yet watch hundreds of millions of people made in God’s image suffer His agonizing wrath for eternity. It is so striking in Psalm 11 that David does not launch a repair program for the foundations. He remembers who God’s character and the fate of the wicked, perhaps with tears in his eyes, mourning for the judgment of the lost. The foundations are being destroyed when we do not mourn the condition of the lost. The foundations are being destroyed when we want a safer life more than risking our life to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, building the foundations of a new city.
Third, David remembers that God is righteous and that upright men will see his face. What sweet words! The inheritance of the righteous is to wake up in the resurrection and behold the face of God and be satisfied. The curse is to have God remove his face of blessing from us, but the great hope and delight of God’s people — the sustaining ideal as the foundations are attacked, as we feel like sheep among wolves — that we will behold the face of God. When we see Him, we will be like Him. Lord haste the day when our faith shall be made sight!
Before the time of Christ, David remembers the gospel in outline. He knows who God is — just and holy and true. He knows that there are men in danger of God’s holy wrath. And though he didn’t see Christ as we do, he sees the coming of Jesus to bring a greater kingdom wherein those who turn from sin and follow him in the obedience of faith will live eternally before the face of God. The way in which we protect the true foundations — not those of a passing culture or politics, but the true foundations of God’s reign — is to meditate upon and share the gospel itself. It is the gospel that we need to hear when the foundations of our culture are being destroyed. It is the gospel that we need to hear when the wicked run loose. It is the gospel that we need to take abroad as salt and light that preserves people for all time. May we be gospel people in a culture that does not know God. May we proclaim the gospel so that they may bow their knee to the glory of God the Father.