On Christ the Solid Rock We Stand?

by Craig Wong

“A world at peace…That dream has not yet come, it will not come true soon, but if it ever does come true, it will be brought into being by American armed might, and defended by American might.  America’s vocation is not an imperial vocation…it is a vocation that has made us, at our best moments, the hope of the world.”
– Richard Perle & David Frum, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (Ballantine, 2004)

The treasured lyrics of 19th-century pastor Edward Mote declare, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name.”  Sung to this day with great emotion in American church pews, this great hymn is unequivocal in its message: There is no hope apart from Jesus Christ.  Echoed in countless classic hymns and modern praise choruses, the assertion that Jesus is the sole source of hope and salvation is presumably what makes an evangelical an evangelical. Whether Fanny Crosby, Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Amy Grant, or Psalty the Talking Hymnal, we have always been in agreement: Jesus is the answer.

Clear about who our Savior is, we confidently unmask the counterfeits. The drug dealer promises deliverance in the form of crystal meth. The mass media encourages young people to find fulfillment in sex. Corporate workaholics seek salvation in stress-producing ladder-climbing. We appropriately denounce such false gods, warning their worshipers that they are building their house on sinking sand. Destruction awaits those whose hope is placed in someone, or something, other than Jesus Christ. But what if the folks we care about are being told by neoconservatives that America—specifically the advance of American ideals backed by decisive use of American military force—is the hope of the world?

Belief in America as world savior is not, of course, original to present-day neoconservatives.  Such notions have fueled the political rhetoric of many former administrations, both Democratic and Republican, predating even the Puritan vision of America as the New Israel, a “city on a hill”; the grand, sweeping aspirations of Jeffersonian democracy; and the benevolent expansionist ideology of Manifest Destiny. But the most recent soliloquy of America in messianic terms came on the first anniversary of 9/11 when George W. Bush proclaimed in front of the Statue of Liberty that the American ideal is the “hope of all mankind,” adding that “the light shines in the darkness…and the darkness will not overcome it.”   Those who know the Bible, which would presumably include us evangelicals, know that this phrase was lifted straight out of the first chapter of the gospel of John—only the Apostle John didn’t have America in mind when he spoke of the world’s illuminating hope.

Our tacit acceptance of such blatant mishandling of the Holy Scriptures raises a number of questions for us. Is it fitting for Christians to remain mum while our world is being told (particularly by one of our own) to put its hope in a nation-state and the power of its myriad horses and chariots?  Might it be that we’ve come to adopt a sort of “mix-and-match” soteriology (the doctrine of salvation as effected by Jesus), bowing to different saviors for differing contexts?  If so, are we content to possess a faith that the world can clearly see as duplicitous or, at best, confused?  For if evangelicals are ambivalent about the source of our salvation, then what in the world is our message?

Craig Wong is the executive director of Grace Urban Ministries (GUM), a congregation-based nonprofit located in San Francisco’s Mission District .

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