When Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher salivate about the demise of religion as they did in a recent telecast ("Gay marriage, pot, religion's the next one to fall"), they forget that biblical Christianity has been buried many times, but the uncooperative corpse won't stay in the grave. From its very beginning, Christianity has been grave-proof.
Jiang Qing, the last wife of Chinese leader Mao Zedong and a member of the infamous Gang of Four, helped unleash the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s and 70. "Christianity in China," she said famously, "has been confined to the history section of the museum. It is dead and buried."
Now Jiang Qing is dead and buried, and there are more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party. One of the most exciting developments in my lifetime has been the explosion of faith in China, especially among students and teachers of the nation's major universities. Driven by surging revival, the followers of Christ in China are taking the Gospel throughout Asia, into the Muslim world, and into zones once thought impenetrable to the message of the Cross.
Earlier this year I visited an Asian Communist country where Christians have been persecuted and imprisoned for many years. People throughout this region are coming to Christ in record numbers, and the leadership of the church is young, bright, and as highly motivated as the apostolic band of New Testament times.
True, Christianity is under intense attack. Reports from North Korea tell of Christians being pulverized with steamrollers. In North Africa, believers are beheaded, bombed, and beaten. In Iran, pastors are imprisoned and church members are lashed for taking communion. In Eritrea, Christians disappear without a trace. In Indonesia, Christian women are forced from government roles. In Egypt and Syria, followers of Christ are massacred. In Kenya last week, a minister was murdered in his own church while holding a Bible in his hands. So I shouldn't complain about the ranting of two talking heads on American television. Still, everyone is wrong who thinks the last nails are being driven into the Christian coffin; and I feel sorry for those who enjoy reading or writing the obits.
As Christians, we have a lot going for us. Not only do we serve a living Savior; we serve a dying world with a hope-based message. One of the reasons for the unkillable nature of our faith is its hopeful and helpful spirit. Wherever biblical Christianity goes, people are helped. Last week I had breakfast with my friend, Stan Buckley, in Jackson, Miss. He heads up a nonprofit organization called "But God Ministries." His purpose is to develop sustainable communities around the world, with particular focus on Haiti, where Stan and his team have dug wells, started schools, established clinics, cared for orphans, built playgrounds, provided homes, promoted agriculture, and planted churches.
On a recent flight from Port-au-Prince, Stan found himself across the aisle from a dignified woman who asked about his work. This woman had been part of a political family in Haiti, one that had fled many years ago. Now she lives part-time in Haiti and part-time in Miami, and she, too, is trying to run a benevolent organization. When Stan told her how many doctors and dentists he had coming and going, she was amazed. "How do you manage to pay that many professionals?"
"I don't pay them," Stan said. "They pay me. They take time off and pay their way and volunteer their services. We also have a lot of engineers, mechanics, and teachers. We have hundreds coming."
"How much do you pay them?" said the woman in amazement. "I cannot get three people to come and help us."
Stan said, "You're looking in the wrong places. You have to go to the churches. You have to go to Christians. This is what Christians do. We stayed in Haiti after the media left. When you're on a plane flying into Port-au-Prince, you're on a plane three-fourths filled with evangelical Christians. They are coming to live out their faith."
I'm extremely thankful for this aspect of Christianity. When I hold a Bible in my hands, I'm holding a book that's been banned, burned, and banished more than any text in history; yet it's still the world's best-seller. When I proclaim the cross, I'm upholding a symbol that heralded the death of the best person in history, yet has the power to transform the hardest heart. When I go to church on Sunday, I'm identifying with a group of people persecuted mercilessly, yet still sweeping the world, doing good, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing hope to the hopeless.
We've had lots of experience with the tyranny of societies characterized by godlessness and craving the demise of religion, particularly of Christianity. French Enlightenment philosopher François-Marie Arouet -- Voltaire -- once boasted, "One hundred years from my day there will be not a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker." But Voltaire's corpse now resides in the Pantheon in Paris, while the Bible is being translated by dedicated linguists at a pace unparalleled in the history of literature.
If Christianity is in its death throes, don't invite me to the funeral. I'm more excited than ever to be part of the band "turning the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). My faith isn't dead. Not even sick. I'm thrilled to be a follower of Christ in times like these, and I'm proud to be part of a family that's the largest it's ever been in history.
By its very nature, biblical Christianity is like its founder -- unkillable. Jesus said, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." His church has been bullied and buried many times, and its obituary published abroad. But the death notices are outdated before they're printed, the corpse keeps interrupting the funeral, and the tomb keeps losing its victim.
Just give it three days.