In thinking a bit more on the tenuous state of the culture-war, and many Christian’s weariness in it, we should think on a comment by my old friend, Dr. John Frame [Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida] on the efficacy of God’s control over his creation. Frame notes,
"To say that God’s controlling power is efficacious is simply to say that it always accomplishes its purposes. God never fails to accomplish what he sets out to do. Creatures may oppose him, to be sure, but they cannot prevail. For his own reasons, he has chosen to delay the fulfillment of his intentions for the end of history, and to bring about those intentions through a complicated historical sequence of events. In that sequence, his purposes appear sometimes to suffer defeat, sometimes to achieve victory. But…each apparent defeat actually makes his eventual victory all the more glorious. The cross of Jesus is, of course, the chief example of this principle" [The Doctrine of God: a Theology of Lordship, P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2002. 47].
The word “makes” from the above quote is pregnant with meaning. It’s not the apparent defeat of God’s purposes in the creation which makes victory all the more glorious. It’s the sovereign God working in each apparent defeat which assures ultimate victory. To faithfully interpret Frame’s meaning we could say that all that happens on the stage of culture, whether good or bad, is eschatologically oriented toward a final goal – the ultimate victory of God at the consummation of time. Things are this way because God is at work in each event. So, though God’s children may suffer persecution and loss in this life; though it may appear that Satan and his evil minions are gaining the upper hand on the world-stage, God is in control, using all things together to serve His eternal ends. Despite the ups and downs of our cultural labor together, God’s sovereignty assures us that the Church is on the winning side of history.
That God uses “defeat” in his own purposes in history ought to encourage Christians not to live in isolationist occupation in the world, but as a community bent on obedience to the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate of the Bible. This obedience counters the popular model that would have us wringing our hands waiting for escape from this “vale of tears.” Ours is not a “polishing of the brass on the Titanic” but a living out of a tangible expression of the “conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We are always about our Father’s work: on the side of justice; showing mercy to the sick of heart and body, teaching the eternal truths of knowing Him and making Him known at every level of culture, and humbly proclaiming the transforming message of reconciliation to all. Such a life is facilitated as we tarry in prayer and seek to model the life of Christ.
Finally, I take from Dr. Frame the amazing encouragement that we must interpret even our supposed failures at attempting to affect the culture for Christ as successes. In recent years, many Christians have abandoned efforts at direct cultural engagement out a deep sense that their work has produced few results. But if Frame is right, and indeed he is, that God is at work in our failures, then not only does this change our definition of “success” in the struggle for cultural renewal, but also it tells us that we must remain vigilant in the struggle, for how else will God be at work in our failures unless we are there to fail?