Discover more from Ben Simpson's Faith & Formation Newsletter
Revive Us Again
Confidence in religious institutions is low. Can that change?
The Gallup organization has been tracking confidence in U. S. institutions for years. The trend lines have not been good. Yet, to my surprise, this year overall confidence levels in many of our institutions increased.
On the one hand, I find this weird. The findings do not fit my experiences. But on the other hand, a crisis can sideline complaints that would otherwise be voiced in more stable times while simultaneously creating opportunities for institutions to perform well—and to be noticed for it.
The medical system and the public schooling system saw a double-digit increase in confidence levels; banks, small business, and churches also received positive vibes. The church’s uptick halted a long, steady decline in confidence among Americans, at least temporarily.
That’s something to build on. Can it be done? Yes. But something will have to be built.
Confidence in institutions increases when institutions perform well, either at a level of efficiency where they are barely noticed at all, or at a level of productivity where their contribution to human flourishing is difficult to ignore. Scandals, corruption, abuses of power, structural failures, incompetent leadership, pervasive conflict, lethargy, lack of conviction, and general apathy yield disillusionment, discord, dispersal, and eventual dissolution. We’ll need more of the former than the latter.
Psalm 80:3 says, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” This refrain is repeated in Psalm 80:7 and in the final verse, Psalm 80:19. The psalmists asks for relief, for new life. The New American Standard Version renders Psalm 80:18, “revive us, and we will call on your name.” The King James Version says, “quicken us.” The Message paraphrases this petition thus: “breathe life into our lungs so we can shout your name!”
In Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace writes, “Every major advance of the kingdom of God on earth is signaled and brought about by a general outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” A first principle of renewal is that the infusion of new life is foremost an act of God.
Other factors also come into play. There must be openness to repentance among the whole church, both congregants and ordained leadership. There must be a deep commitment to prayer. Experiential aspects of communal life will be of importance, i.e. vibrancy in worship and zeal for good works.
There will also be tending to the life of the mind, and not only by clergy. The people will express a deep hunger for knowledge concerning God and the spiritual life. Together, the whole church will work to reclaim and renew their shared commitment to historic Christian doctrine, and then work to reform areas of practice, inclusive of morality, ethics, and congregational witness.
These matters have been on my mind, not only because of what I am observing about American institutions. These matters are on my mind because I am part of a renewal project, an effort to build.
This Sunday I’ll be helping launch a new Sunday school class at the Downtown Campus of First Methodist Church Waco. I’ve made calls this week. I’ve left a lot of messages. In Psalm 90:17, Moses prays, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands— establish the work of our hands!”
We will see what happens. Maybe, by God’s grace, we can be one expression of Christianity that inspires confidence, not because we have anything in and of ourselves that is worth boasting in, but because we serve a God who is faithful to us—a God who is worthy of our boasting—while we seek to be faithful to Christ.
I’m moving pretty slowly through Donald Worster’s A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir, but I am making progress.
Next on the stack is John Goldingay’s The Theology of Jeremiah: The Book, the Man, The Message.
Sights and Sounds
I’ve been watching the Marvel movies with my kids. This last week we watched Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. I am a fan or Peter Quill, Groot, Rocket, Drax, and Gamora.
I heard someone mention the 2011 film Haywire, which stars Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, and Channing Tatum, so I watched it. I liked it.
My dad shot me a link to Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry,” which, coincidentally, was already chosen as the lead track on an upcoming playlist I put together. We must be on the same wave. A top request from my kids lately has been the Mortal Kombat theme. Molly has been playing it for them on the way to school.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P. S. - Three images today. The first is from the sanctuary of First Methodist Downtown. The building was constructed by the people of Austin Avenue United Methodist Church, and I want to honor them. The people of Austin Avenue merged with First Methodist Waco in 2019; we are now one body. The second image is from the 13th Street foyer of the building, and the third and final image was taken in a small chapel on the second floor where this Bible sits open on the lectern.