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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Substantive and Transformative

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The host has been going on this week just past about the accomplishments of the Trump administration, which are large and admirable.  Examples from the host:

The host is quite right to do so.  In its first 13-14 months this administration has accomplished a great deal.  This is an administration of great substance.

But I have to comment that all this substance lacks “a feel” of permanence.  There are way too many people out there that think a call to have a parade to celebrate the military makes the president stalinesque – too many people chomping at the bit to undo everything that has been done.  Barack Obama set out to “fundamentally transform the nation,” and yet here we are just 14 months after he left office and virtually everything he accomplished has been undone.  There was substance to the Obama administration in the form of Obamacare and countless regulations, but there obviously was no transformation.  Had their been transformation, the substance would have stuck.  I fear the same could be true regarding the current administration.

Clearly there is a difference between accomplishing substance and actually transforming something, a nation – or a life.  We see the difference in our military actions.  We accomplished the substance in Iraq when we won the war, but we abandoned the nation long before we were able to transform it into a peaceful democracy.  Another example might be the alcoholic that can stop drinking, but the smart ones know they are an alcoholic for the rest of their lives.  The difference between substance and transformation is actually quite large.

Churches are often good at substance.  They can increase attendance, run programs, build buildings, feed the poor…but how often do they fundamentally change the lives of people?  People come and go, they take part in one of the numerous programs, take what they need and want from it and move on, pretty much the same people they were when they came in.

Yet if one reads the Bible thoroughly one can conclude that the Old Testament is about substance and the New Testament is about transformation.  The Old Testament is about law-making, war-winning, and nation building.  The New Testament is about changing hearts and minds such that the written law becomes unnecessary – something foreseen in the Old Testament only as a promise.  Substance is material, one can lay his or her hands on it and work with it – it is an engineering problem.  Transformation is intellectual, emotional and spiritual – it cannot be accomplished straightforwardly, nor en masse.  It seems to me the people of Christ, New Testament people, the church, are called to transformation and whatever substance we may accomplish is in service to that calling.

I find it fascinating that the church and the nation seem on parallel courses regarding substance and transformation.  I have no argument or data to make causation out of that correlation, yet with transformation being about things immeasurable, I wonder if such data could ever exist?  I think there is a relationship if for no other reason than when we focus exclusively on substance in one realm, such would naturally be reflected in another.

Our national government is designed to be purely material and substantive – to leave people free to pursue their hearts and minds.  But that design relies on a people whose hearts and minds are in a good place – and that acknowledge they have hearts and minds.  The church on the other hand, as we have noted, is designed to deal primarily in hearts and minds.

It is; therefore, no wonder that the substance of the Obama administration has faded – that administration endeavored to make an enemy of the church.  The Trump administration, whatever the president’s personal relationship with God may be, is clearly reaching out to and supporting the church.  This administration wants their substance to last.

The question that confronts us today is whether or not the church in America can be true to its transformative calling?  My prayer this Sunday morning is that it can be.


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