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Friday, March 13, 2015

Prepare (J. Paul Nyquist)

TITLE: Prepare: Living Your Faith in an Increasingly Hostile Culture
AUTHOR: J. Paul Nyquist
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (224 pages).

A couple of years ago at a national conference for Christian leaders, someone mentioned that the biggest challenge for churches in North America is the desire to remain in the comfort zone and the unwillingness to bear the cross of suffering. I concur with increasing alarm. Just like the Early Church in Acts 1:8 that was called to reach out in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outer parts of the region, it takes the Holy Spirit to scatter the people of God through persecution (Acts 8:1). People has said that Acts 8:1 happened because the disciples failed to obey Acts 1:8. It may take more research and study to prove that but the point is this: Persecution does enable witness. In modern day America and in many parts of the West, persecution and hostile forces are banging at the doors of churches, Christian communities, and anyone witnessing in the Name of Christ. How do everyday Christians respond to intimidation? How can believers live in an increasingly skeptical and hostile culture? What can we do to continue to be light in the darkness of worldly forces? Welcome to the new reality.

According to Paul Nyquist, President of Moody Bible Institute, persecution is not just physical. It includes anything that inflicts pain, mental pressure, or any measure of force to force Christians to retreat from their positions. The author defines it as: "persecution is the societal marginalization of believers with a view to eliminating their voice and influence." It attacks Christians in the five areas: private, family, community, national, and church. If their goal is to silence or to eliminate, what ought to be our response? Nyquist helps us along by studying persecution passages in the Bible, and how they can relate to our hostile environment.

Part One is about setting the stage to show us the origins of hostility and the reasons for the cultural climate we have to day. Nyquist believes that this change is not sudden but has been happening for the past decade. He blames it on believers who have become so insulated from the world by being "culturally asleep" and as a result losers in the culture war. Instead, the result is grim where Christians no longer are invited to co-exist peacefully, but to be banished to the edges of society. In other words, the playing field for Christians is getting smaller. He identifies four major shifts.

  1. The abandonment of biblical marriage
  2. The erosion of religious freedom
  3. The protection of special interest groups like the LGBTQ
  4. Hostility against Christians 

Nyquist goes back to America's foundational law system to Blackstone's commentaries which set forth the constitutional laws. While the law has not changed, the surrounding culture has, especially in the interpretation of the law. He explains it using the five-step cultural change cycle how each step of the way, the biblical mandate has become diluted with secular values and liberal movements. The first stage of "Contact" introduces incremental thinking as a new disruptive thought that one can govern without God. The second stage "Champion" focuses on human reasoning as the superior way to "practice progressive, evolutionary law" in the hands of top intellectuals. The third stage "Coalition Builds" shows how new forms of interpretation occupies mainstream followed by the fourth stage where "A Law is Passed" which begins overturning biblically mandated cases like prayer and Bible reading in public schools, legalizing abortion, removing the Ten Commandments, and gay marriage. The final stage of "Integration" shows the shift in public opinion that favours the liberal and postmodern movement.

In Part Two, Nyquist helps us to understand persecution through five "counterintuitive biblical principles." First, he calls us not to be surprised at such changes as the world hates believers because they hate Christ. That is because Christians are different from the world and no one likes people too different from them. Bearing the Name of Christ brings along expected persecution. As we become lights that expose people's darkness, who would be happy? Readers come face to face with Jesus' call to discipleship. One that is of self-denial, of sacrifice, and of following Jesus. Second, when believers are persecuted, they are blessed not cursed. This may seem counterintuitive as we have often equated blessings to prosperity, receiving good things, and nice feelings. The Bible says that persecuted people are blessed. Why? Nyquist shows us that blessing is not about what we receive but about how one is approved unto God, to know Christ more and to share in his suffering. Third, Christians are exposed rather than protected from the elements of the world. After all, we are called to be sheep being sent in the midst of wolves. Governments in the biblical sense are appointed by God; to punish evil-doers; reward those who do good; and be servants of God. In a fallen world, governments exist to achieve their own ends instead of God. If that is the case, Christians should not blindly expect governments to defend their rights as Christians. Fourth, our response must be of compassion rather than anger. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. Paul and Peter urged us to bless our enemies. The reason why we are to love is simply because we see the bigger picture of God's salvation for the whole world. We are participants of God's mission to be bold, to be ready, and to be faithful to the end. The fifth principle is that believers will be rewarded and not forgotten. All is not lost. At the end of the day, it is God who will have the final say. We are to persevere just like the disciples in the Early Church.

Part Three of the book speaks into this reason for hope with biblical stories of how God in history has saved his people in the midst of hard times. It is not always that believers will meet a tragic end. Sometimes, God intervenes. Other times, He does not. He has a reason. We just need to trust. Nyquist comes back full circle to show the North American church to learn from the persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. If we think we are in a tough situation, theirs are far worse.

Nyquist has written boldly to speak words of hope and encouragement to an increasingly weary Christian population struggling in an increasingly hostile climate. The world will try to silence believers. Stand firm. The world will try to make things difficult for believers. Don't be discouraged. The world will try to slander and push Christians into their mold. Persevere in keeping the faith. This book aims to do one thing: Help Christians prepare for something far more formidable and powerful in the coming future. The situation we have now is not the final picture. There will be greater challenges ahead. There will be more difficult situations for us to tackle. We need to persevere on and stand tall in the Word of God, basking in the promises of Christ, and living in the power of the Holy Spirit. The title of the book offers us exactly the way ahead: Prepare. Just like John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Lord Jesus in his first coming, the Church needs to prepare the way for Jesus in his second coming. Remember that John the Baptist was unfairly judged and eventually executed. What about us? That is scary, but take heart for Jesus has said:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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