Our Ultimate Concern

Two recent discussions with fellow pastors centered on spiritual apathy. We were seeking to answer the following questions: Why do so many Christians live defeated lives? Why are so many Christians not fully engaged in church life? How do we make sense of the lack of consistent church attendance?

In doing some research on these questions, I was led back to Richard Lovelace’s well-known book Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. It’s hard to believe this was written in 1980. Here’s what he said:

The “ultimate concern” of most church members is not the worship and service of Christ in evangelistic mission and social compassion, but rather survival and success in their secular vocation. The church is a spoke on the wheel of life connected to the secular hub. It is a departmental subconcern, not the organizing center of all other concerns. Church members who have been conditioned all their lives to devote themselves to building their own kingdom and whose flesh naturally gravitates in that direction anyway find it hard to invest much energy in the kingdom of God. They go to church once or twice a week [once or twice a month nowadays] and punch the clock, so to speak, fulfilling their “church obligation” by sitting passively and listening critically or approvingly to their pastor’s teaching.”

After grieving the spiritual condition of those described by Lovelace, I felt the need to grab my copy of The Valley of Vision and pray one of the Puritan prayers: “O may I never fall into the tempers and vanities, the sensuality and folly of the present world! It is a place of inexpressible sorrow, a vast empty nothingness. Time is a moment, a vapor, and all its enjoyments are empty bubbles, fleeting blasts of wind, from which nothing satisfactory can be derived. Give me grace always to keep in covenant with thee, and to reject as delusion a great name here . . . together with all sinful pleasures or profits.”

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