November 2019 – In Part 1 of this exclusive interview, Dr. John Oswalt discussed the crucial role of holiness in the body of Christ (AFA Journal, 10/19). In Part 2, he addresses the state of the church and the culture, along with hope and challenge for restoring biblical principles in both. Oswalt is interim president of Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.
AFA Journal: How do you perceive the state of the U.S. church today? The culture?
John Oswalt: Well, I’m not different from many observers. I think we’re in serious trouble, both the church and the culture. I don’t think anybody imagined 10 years ago that the culture would move at the speed it has. That’s been the shocking thing.
I read several books by George Barna at the turn of the millennium, and now I see he really was predicting that it was going to be this way. We had come to the edge of a cliff, and we were about to fall over the cliff. That certainly has happened in the years since then.
AFAJ: How have changes in the culture impacted the family?
JO: I don’t think anybody really understands what the impact of the loss of the nuclear family is going to be in the next 10 years. We have a whole [new adult] generation, many of whom have never known their fathers; or if they have, it’s been a totally dysfunctional relationship. They have had no stability.
My son was a missionary in Russia for seven years working with orphan graduates, kids who were put out of the orphanage and enrolled in a technical college somewhere.
I’ll never forget a conversation we had on the telephone one Sunday afternoon.
He said, “Daddy, how do I teach somebody about trust when every trust they’ve ever had has failed?”
Well, we’re headed that way in our society. We have a generation who believe you can’t trust anybody. You can’t trust the authorities. You can’t trust the media. You can’t trust your friends. You certainly can’t trust your parents. The disintegration we’re facing is terrible.
AFAJ: How do these changes impact the church?
JO: I’m guardedly more hopeful for the church. I think nominal Christianity is going to disappear. That means we’re going to have real Christianity left, and I think that is going to be painful.
I tell my students, “You will face persecution. It will not be the subtle kind of persecution it is now. It will be open flagrant persecution.”
However, remember what Jesus said about persecution: “Rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:11-12). In that sense, I think there’s going to be a shaking out. We’re going to find much more powerfully how much we need one another, and I think [that will lead to] genuine caring and fellowship. I think Jesus is going to become more significant and more important.
We’ve got to recover that tightly integrated community in which people do trust each other to the end and are committed to the good of the community around them, even a community that may hate them or misunderstand them.
AFAJ: You used the phrase “guarded hope” on American Family Radio. Elaborate a bit more on that.
JO: I think the analyses I’ve seen of Generation Z [born mid-1990s to early 2000s] is that oddly enough, they’re pretty desperate for some kind of belonging, some kind of community. They might never call it that, but they want what’s true, right, some foundations. That’s encouraging.
AFAJ: How did the church and the culture get to this point of moral desperation?
JO: I want to be careful how I say it, but I believe, to be very honest, the church just flat-out failed. And I think the place at which we failed was at the boiling point that George Barna wrote about in 1999.
He said there is no statistically significant difference between the values of the lost and the values of the saved. The top 10 values are identical, the top 6 are in the same order, and the number 1 value is material satisfaction.
Well, if there’s no difference between the church and the world, that means the salt has lost its savor (Matthew 5:13).
AFAJ: Can you pinpoint any specific factors that led to this level?
JO: I want to be very careful, but part of it is our emphasis upon salvation as the end – get saved and that’s it.
No! Salvation is the front porch. The goal of salvation is Christlikeness. And I think the church, almost from World War II, has short-circuited truth and accepted the get-saved-and-that’s-it fallacy.
We’ve accepted the erroneous notions: You don’t have to expect to be transformed. You don’t have to be radically different in your values from your neighbors. You’re saved – enjoy yourself and wait for Jesus to come.
That’s the tragedy; we think, I’m just a Christian – you can’t expect me to be honest. I’m just a Christian – you can’t expect me to be faithful to my wife. I’m just a Christian. You can’t expect me to ... whatever.
I really think the finger points straight at us. The tragedy is that in the last 50 years, evangelicalism has become the representative face of Christianity.
Before that, if the media wanted to talk about Christianity, they went to the mainline denominations. Now we evangelicals have replaced them. But in that same 50 years, the moral life of the nation has gone into the septic tank. That’s a harsh judgment, but I think that’s what has happened.
AFAJ: How does the nation climb out of this moral septic tank?
JO: The church has to proclaim a kind of Christianity which transforms people’s lives. We’ve got to say to them in a whole variety of ways, Jesus didn’t say, “Go into all the world and make converts.” He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” We’ve got to have a new emphasis on discipleship.
What does it mean now that you’re saved? God has given you new desires. God has given you new abilities to live for Him. How do you capitalize on those? How do you energize those? And how do you allow the Holy Spirit Who is in you to take control of you?
We’ve got to recover that message and call people into that kind of a life changing relationship. That’s not a popular message.
Citing Barna again – he says Christians want following Jesus to be simple and convenient, and to make no demands.
Well, where are you going to find people who declare, “No, it’s going to be complicated, and it’s not going to be convenient. We’re here to proclaim a Christianity that transforms people’s lives.”
▶ Discipleship in the Home by Matt Friedeman offers practical wisdom that leads to strong biblical foundations. Friedeman and his wife Mary, parents of six, share their family catechism, Scripture memory methods, and creative family celebrations.
▶ Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Dr. Allan Coppedge is edited by Friedeman and includes insights on discipleship from the editor, John Oswalt, Robert Coleman, and 10 others.
▶ The Biblical Principles of Discipleship by Dr. Allan Coppage examines specific discipleship methods and puts discipleship within the larger context of God’s purposes.
▶ Called to be Holy by Dr. John Oswalt traces the doctrine of holiness from the Old Testament to Jesus, citing practical consequences of walking in the Holy Spirit.
Find these and more resources at francisasburysociety.com.