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Make Evangelicals Pious Again
The Old Testament kind
“Jonathan said to the attendant who carried his weapons, ‘Come on, let’s cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will help us. Nothing can keep the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.’” (1 Samuel 14:6 CSB)
Despite the irrational insistence of the modern progressive imagination, it remains true that the world we live in is a fallen world. Which is to say, it is a cursed world. It is a world, as the apostle put it, that is “groaning” under an unbearable weight of futility and corruption (Rom. 8:19–21; Gen. 3), and thus one that is fraught with countless “dangers, toils, and snares.”
Under these conditions it is paramount that the people of God be armed with certain indispensable attributes. And in a world bent upon their destruction, the chief of these attributes is faith: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:5)
This faith, however, is not the kind of thing that may be defined by sheer imaginative will. It doesn’t exist, as so many “identities” do today, in some illusive inner space subject to the whims and preferences of each individual. Rather, faith in the Scriptures has a discernible shape and quality; it is concrete rather than subjective. We see a glimpse of it in Jonathan’s words to his armour-bearer quoted above: “Come on, let’s cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will help us. Nothing can keep the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”
Two observations regarding the nature of faith follow from Jonathan’s statement:
First, faith is covenantal. Jonathan’s reference to “uncircumcised” men here is more than an awkward observation regarding their anatomy. It is, rather, covenantal language, calling to mind by a single word the entire history of God’s dealings with Israel up to this point. From the promises given to Abraham to the Exodus to the wilderness wanderings and the conquest of Canaan, all are invoked by this one simple adjective. Thus we find that faith does not limit itself to the immediate historical horizon — to the trials pressing upon us in the moment — but rather looks to the covenant purposes of God for His church and the world, and firmly roots itself within this overarching reality. Faith, in other words, rests in God’s ultimate purposes for history.
Second, faith trembles for no man. Jonathan’s remarks here are characterized by a complete confidence in God’s power and might — to a degree that looks almost foolhardy given the present circumstances. Jonathan and his armour-bearer were outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and vastly out-gunned. Yet faith, apparently, saw none of these things. So consumed with the greatness and glory of God was Jonathan’s faith that these factors seemed utterly inconsequential by comparison. “Perhaps the LORD will help us” was Jonathan’s reply to circumstances that would have made other men flee. Yet such is the nature of biblical faith.
Turning to the present, I’ll say in closing that it’s high time evangelicals begin recovering their Old Testament heritage. In our insatiable quest for cultural respectability, we have forgotten these distant aunts and uncles in the faith (once or twice removed) who through their faith “became mighty in war” and “put foreign armies to flight” (Heb. 11:34). As it stands, we really wouldn’t know what to say if we bumped into them at the annual family picnic. (I imagine there would be a lot of awkward silences and foot-shuffling). And yet the fact remains that it is us, not they, who are the anomaly. As Hebrews says, they are the ones of whom “the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38); we are the ones who kowtow to men in dresses. And wisdom is justified by her children.
Still, we ought to pray that God would raise up saints like Jonathan in our day — saints who don’t compromise in the face of adversity or sacrifice faithfulness for the worthless accolades of sinners. William Carey once famously remarked, “Expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God,” and we need to recover this kind of faith once again. I think Jonathan would agree.
And who knows? Perhaps the Lord will help us.
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