“Founding friend” David French returns to wrap up 2023 (we’re taking a break for a few weeks). He and Curtis look back at the year through the lens of two core spiritual values of The After Party: Humility and Hope. We discuss what happened in 2023 that grew our humility, reminding us of the need to recognize complexity, to grow, and to learn. We also talked up the signs of hope from the year, including many that are hidden or counter-intuitive.
This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.
CURTIS CHANG: How do we call people to hope when they are looking at the election season and just feeling despair?
DAVID FRENCH: Yeah, I’m not going to sugarcoat anything about 2024. I have concerns. I’m just going to say it right out, Curtis. This is the first election of my lifetime that I’m not 100% sure America will survive.
CURTIS CHANG: That’s right.
DAVID FRENCH: Now, I am almost certainly sure. I am pretty darn sure. I am expecting it to survive, no matter what. But before now I’ve never had the question enter my mind that, “Wait, could we not survive this?” Maybe.
So that’s not telling people to be hopeful.
CURTIS CHANG: But it is, actually David. I think it is. It is calling us to be truly hopeful, right?
Because here’s the thing: We would critique Christian nationalism for pinning its hope on a particular version of America, right? Now that version is like 1950s America, where white Christians have the dominant social and cultural status. And we say that’s a false hope, and to pin your hopes on God, that his purposes are still going forward in the world, that God is sovereign. Christian nationalism equates that with a particular version of America, which we critique.
Now, in the same way, those who are still committed to democracy and pluralism – like you and I – have the same temptation. We are also tempted to pin our hopes, not on God and God’s kingdom that transcends all human versions of the kingdom, but on a version of America.We don’t pin our hopes on the Christian nationalist version of America, but the liberal democratic version of America. And even though we can make a strong case that a liberal democratic version is in closer partnership with Christianity, it’s not to be equated.
So we can be hopeful. David, let’s say there’s a 5% chance that America as a liberal democracy does not survive 2024. That very possibility should cause us to ask, “What is my ultimate hope? Is my ultimate hope pinned on America as liberal democracy?” And if so, how different is that than the Christian nationalist hope, ultimately? It’s just a different version of the same thing, right? We might say it’s a better version, but it’s still a human version. And we have to realize that our hope is in the kingdom to come.
That’s why we called our project the After Party. It refers to the wedding feast of the lamb when Jesus returns to this earth and establishes the kingdom fully. That’s our ultimate hope. So Christianity, the church, the movement of Jesus, it outlasts human kingdoms. It outlasted the Roman empire, it outlasted medieval feudalism, it outlasted all the kingdoms it was strongly attached to. When its partner model collapsed, God still carried forth his purposes. Look at communist China. That’s where the church is growing the fastest. The fact that we may not be as confident in liberal democracy surviving 2024, is actually an invitation to discern where our true hopes lie.
DAVID FRENCH: Well, and also, in the show Ted Lasso, it’s considered beneficial to have the memory of a goldfish, which means you forget your last bad play and you just press on. But we have too much of a goldfish memory. We forget that Christians in America have been living with world historic levels of power, privilege, and liberty for a long time.
CURTIS CHANG: Yeah, just off the charts.
DAVID FRENCH: Off the charts now. Not a long time in the sweep of world history, but in a long time relative to American history, Christians have enjoyed this immense liberty, immense prosperity, and immense power by the standards of human history. And so this idea that we are entitled to that continuing indefinitely… really, no.
We might be the generation that sees some sort of fracturing, but it is not a fracturing that would surprise God. And it is not a fracturing that would shock generations of our spiritual forebears. And we need to have that perspective.
CURTIS CHANG: And church history tells us that, when fracture happens, it’s painful and there’s loss. There are also opportunities, and growth, and creative outpourings of the Holy Spirit that come forth as people have to invent new things, new models, new expressions of spiritual formation.
So we should approach even the fragility that we all realistically should feel about 2024 in our political system with a reminder that our hope is not in any human construct of a political system, even as beneficial as one may be, such as liberal democracy. It’s not our ultimate hope. Our ultimate hope is in Jesus, the King of kings, who will bring his kingdom into fulfillment. We know how the story ends.
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