This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 41, number 4 (2018). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Such moments are emblematic of epic historical change. They likewise underscore the fragility of civilization. Think Rome. An empire seemingly invincible. Great in size and strength. Ruler with iron fist; not for a mere hundred years but for the better part of a millennium. For centuries, the city of Rome towered above the nations. Adorned by seven wonders, she sparkled in pomp and circumstance, with invincibility so certain she bore the moniker Eternal.
And then, the unthinkable: Alaric and his Arian hordes breached the walls and sacked the immortal city. Pagans looked in disbelief at statues of deities who had proved impotent to save. Christians themselves wondered if the end of the world was now at hand.
Instead, Germanic invaders, infatuated by the grandeur and glory of Roman ways, engaged the empire’s Christian belief structure as well. As noted by historian Bruce Shelley, Europe owes more to Christianity than most have acknowledged. “When the barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire in the West, it was the Christian Church that put together a new order called Europe. The church took the lead in rule by law, the pursuit of knowledge, and the expressions of culture.”1 Carpe Diem! Seize the day. They did!
Now as then, we face unprecedented challenges and unparalleled opportunities. In the category of challenge, one need think no further than Islam. Despite its incoherence, the Muslim cult — one billion six hundred million strong and growing — is poised to fill the vacuum left by a Western culture “slouching inexorably towards Gomorrah.”2 Demographics alone are alarming. While polygamous Muslims boast a robust birth rate, native Westerners are moving rapidly toward self-extinction. Filling the void are multiplied millions of Muslims who have little or no intention of assimilating into Western culture.
Equally grave is the specter of global Islamic jihadism now exacting mass genocide on Christians in the East and ever-multiplying terrorist attacks throughout the West.3 Added to the mayhem are multitudes of millennials who dismiss the Christian church as irrelevant to life.
While this serves to highlight present challenges, what beg our attention are potential solutions. To seize our moment in history, the following realities must converge in 3-D: digital media, discipleship, and deification.
Digital Media. As Roman roads provided civilization’s connective tissue in the past, so digital highways provide unprecedented opportunities for interconnectivity in the present. In a YouTube/Facebook Live session last week, I was privileged to connect with people in some twenty countries that I have as yet never visited.4 Moreover, the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL you are reading will be replicated through digital media formats throughout the world, a source of credible equipping in a post-truth culture.5
Discipleship. As digital media is a source of interconnectivity, discipleship is a source of spiritual multiplication. In accord with the words of our Lord, we are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”6
If there are indeed more than two billion Christians alive today, imagine what just 400 million committed to discipleship could do. If each led one person into the fullness of Christ in 2018, the number of committed believers would double to 800 million. If this process continued from 2019 forward, it would take less than four years to disciple all seven billion people on the planet. And if the population doubled, it would take only one more year. That’s the power of making disciples in accord with the commission of our Lord.
Deification. As discipleship provides for spiritual multiplication, deification is the energy.7 As Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, “We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully energizes me” (emphasis added).8 We can struggle with our own energy, be on the sidelines not struggling at all, or struggle with all His energy.
The disciples got a glimpse of inexhaustible energy on the Mount of Transfiguration. There Peter, James, and John witnessed a dazzling display of uncreated power. The face of Christ “shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”9 Moses and Elijah — who themselves had experienced divine energy — appeared as “a bright cloud enveloped” the disciples.10 They experienced the ultimate lawgiver, the archetypal prophet in “glorious splendor,”11and were themselves enveloped in uncreated energy.
This is the energy that alone is sufficient to empower our Pentecost moment. It is the mysterious energy by which we may as yet be energized in the midst of unprecedented opportunity. I rely on that energy each moment of every day, just as I depend on that same energy working in, with, and through CRI’s supporters to undergird our many outreaches seeking to extend the borders of God’s kingdom. For the pivotal role that our partners play in standing shoulder to- shoulder with us in the battles for life and truth, I’m unendingly grateful. —Hank Hanegraaff
- Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 61.
- See Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Modern Liberalism and American Decline (New York: Regan Books, 1996); Patrick J. Buchanan, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011).
- For discussion, see Hank Hanegraaff, M-U-S-L-I-M: What You Need to Know about the World’s Fastest-Growing Religion (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).
- The Bible Answer Man broadcast via live streaming and digital download also reaches an international audience. Additionally, the Christian Research Institute produces the Hank Unplugged and Postmodern Realities podcasts, featuring today’s most significant Christian leaders, apologists, and thinkers.
- Hundreds of previous Journal articles are accessible on our website equip.org. At equip. org, you’ll even find bonus Journal content in the form of web film reviews, addressing cultural apologetics.
- Matthew 28:18–20. All Scripture quotations are from NIV (1984).
- While the word deification sounds foreign to most contemporary American Christians, for the vast majority of church history, it was rightly regarded as the chief end of the Christian life. In theological terminology, deification is theosis — quite literally, union with God. We do not become gods by nature, as Christ is God by nature; we become divine by grace through union with, and participation in, the divine energies. (God’s energies [energeia], distinct from His essence, “energize” followers of Christ to experience the divine — the energeia of God are nothing akin to the impersonal energy described in Eastern worldviews such as Buddhism.) As Gregory Palamas rightly observed, “The Logos became flesh, and the flesh became Logos, even though neither abandoned its own proper nature.” The New Testament writers often appeal or allude to the Lord’s uncreated, deifying life and energy (e.g., John 5:26, 39–40; Gal. 2:8; Eph. 1:18–20; 3:7, 20; Phil. 2:13; Col. 1:29; 2:12; 2 Tim. 1:7–8; 2 Pet. 1:4). (Quote from Palamas is found in Daniel B. Clendenin, “Partakers of Divinity: The Orthodox Doctrine of Theosis,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37, 3 [September 1994], 374. Cf. G. Mantzaridis, The Deification of Man [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1984], 29.)
- Colossians 1:28–29; I’ve changed the participial clause rendered in NIV (1984) as “which so powerfully works in me” to “which so powerfully energizes me,” better capturing the meaning of the root energeia.
- Matthew 17:2.
- Matthew 17:5.
- Luke 9:31. In context, “glorious splendor” applies directly to Moses and Elijah; a fortiori these words apply to Christ.