Matt Chandler: Victory Is Assured

The past few decades have ushered in tremendous advances in technology and a shift in the way most of us live our lives. Digital communication tools have increasingly replaced in-person interactions, and paradoxically deepened our feelings of isolation and loneliness. In addition, the last several years have brought with them a unique set of challenges that have caused many Christians to worry about their own future or feel discouraged about the future of Christianity. 

In response to these and other cultural trends, Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and executive chairman of the Acts 29 Network, calls Christians to live our lives unafraid and confident in our salvation and the victory Christ has already won for us. In his new book, The Overcomers: God’s Vision for You to Thrive in an Age of Anxiety and Outrage (Thomas Nelson), Chandler encourages and empowers believers. Quoting heavily from the Book of Revelation, he shows why we don’t need to be anxious or afraid now or in the future. 

In the following conversation with Outreach, Chandler talks about what God is communicating through Revelation, and how church leaders can encourage their own congregations through hard times. 

The sense of unease many Western Christians are experiencing today isn’t new in the history of Christianity, but perhaps it’s new to them. What advice would you offer?

We’re in a new age—the information and technology age—and it’s super disorienting. The way humans have done life for an extended period of time is changing. People are feeling a nagging loneliness, an emptiness, because they’re disconnected. The Bible pushes us toward a place of embodied incarnational love, of being present with one another, but the way we’re doing life right now is far more through technology than it is face-to-face. 

When there’s disorientation, we need to reorient around something that’s anchored. But culture and politics, and to a lesser degree evangelicalism, can feel really unanchored right now. The Scriptures are fixed, though. Let’s look at how God has provided for us in this kind of space, because you see these kinds of spaces in the Bible itself. That lets us know he’s not surprised, he’s not in a panic, he’s not changing. We can look to him.

Many people read Revelation and come away frightened. But you view it as particularly encouraging in these unsettled times. Why?

The Book of Revelation was actually seen as an encouraging book until about 150 years ago with the rise of dispensationalism. It’s apocalyptic. It’s prophetic. But when I say prophetic, I’m thinking more along the lines of, Thus sayeth the Lord, not Hey, here’s the future, although there’s certainly that in the book. And it was intended by God to put steel in the spine of Christians regardless of their moment in history. It was written in a very specific time to people who were enduring far more horrific things than we are in the West. But it is a book of encouragement. It’s rooted around Christ enthroned. Even the stuff you’re seeing that’s apocalyptic in its imagery is honestly meant to provoke things in us that pull us out of being anxious and into courage and grit.

We should really find courage and confidence that God’s placed us here in this moment of history for his purposes. He’s going to empower and guide you, regardless of your circumstances. You should begin to see the strategies and lies that Satan uses to try to keep us paralyzed with fear. And then the message of Revelation is about victorious Christian living marked by the power and presence of God. 

What does Revelation tell us about the health of the church?

There’s a real gift given to the church at large in Revelation 2 and 3. What we can see is that not a lot has changed. You can see all the temptations the church is going to face and the pitfalls and the rewards for those who overcome. If the larger church looked at Revelation 2 and 3 as an MRI for how the body is doing, you can see that these churches are immersed in a sexually perverse culture. To not participate in that perversion holds economic and political costs. I think I can write that about the church today. But the stakes are different. None of us are going to get killed, but some of us could get fired. None of us are going to prison, but you could certainly get canceled. That kind of culture creates an immense amount of pressure to capitulate or to soft-sell or to backpedal and not say anything when the prophetic voice of the church is needed and necessary. That’s the lesson in Revelation for the church at large.

What do you think the church needs most today? What about church leaders?

During the first three to four centuries of the gospel moving through the Roman Empire, the posture, worship and message of the church was around what theologians call Christus victor, the victory of Christ. Today, I often see a kind of apologetic, I’m so sorry about this but … fill in the blank with the gospel or with some moral law of the Scriptures. 

Yet the message of the Bible is that when the church has flourished, the people of God have been assured of the victory of Christ, and they’ve been bold about it and willing to suffer for that belief in his victory. Now there’s more of a prosperity gospel woven through the fabric of evangelicalism, where there is no category for suffering or for difficulty. Jesus is saying come and die. He’s not promising you a life of ease. He’s promising you a life of his presence, which is better than any earthly comfort. So I think there’s a massive discipleship problem, and I think there’s a lack of confidence in the victory of Christ over sin, death, principalities and powers.

A lack of confidence on the part of church leaders?

Oh, absolutely. We so quickly default to best practices. I mean, that’s what we end up doing. Who’s got a growing church? How can I take what’s working there and implement it into my church so that we might grow? Well, that’s a very different approach than prayerfully and humbly asking God how he would lead us. What does it look like to be faithful in the context that you planted us? A church in a small town outside Birmingham, Alabama, probably doesn’t need to organize like Tim Keller did in New York City. But that’s the kind of madness that’s happening all over the place. There’s no prayerful, thoughtful contextualization in the given location around the victory of Christ over sin, death, principalities and powers that converge in the day and age in which we live.

What do everyday Christians need to hear the most?

So much of what we do in evangelicalism is decision-making, not disciple-making, and so my experience with the average evangelical is they hardly know their Bible. They know enough to prooftext verses about a happy, good life, but they know nothing of deeper communion with Jesus, the beauty of the Scriptures, the wonderful and beautiful complexities of theology that show us more of the majesty of the God we serve. Because of that, they’re ill-prepared for life in a fallen world. 

We’ve got to get away from decision-making alone, and I’m not saying anything new. We’re seeing the fruit of that kind of mindset, that decisions equal success. But Jesus never preached the gospel like that. His gospel was, Come follow me. Let the dead bury their dead. Leave father, mother, sister and brother and follow me. And without discipleship for the average evangelical, we’re going to continue to see what we’re seeing, which is people tossed about, disoriented, discouraged, nervous and not quite sure how to marry their Christian faith with the outworkings of their life.

What is an actionable step both church leaders and everyday Christians can take to move toward being the overcomer God calls them to be?

I think it’s going to take two things: First, a growing knowledge of the majesty of Christ. For a lot of people, Jesus is being made in their image lately. It’s not the Jesus of the Bible. It’s the Jesus they’re kind of creating out of their own value systems and plausibility structures, or it’s a truncated or diminished Jesus who either makes no demands on your life for external moral holiness, or a fundamentalist view that elevates the moral law to beat up and destroy. 

We need the Jesus of the Bible to shape our confidence. He’s not Tinkerbell. He doesn’t put fairy dust on everybody so they can fly. He makes kingly demands, because he is the King. We’ve got to orient around that. He’s not my homeboy, not my buddy. He does call me his friend, and I want to walk in a deep, rich friendship with Jesus, but he is also the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father. He is worthy of fear, reverence, awe.

Second, it’s going to take communion with each other. I think we need one another, because we experience the tangible love of God through the saints. When I had brain cancer 15 years ago, one of the greatest gifts to me was not Bible verses I knew or things I had taught on suffering. It was the presence of an inner circle of friends I had been walking with in complete honesty for a decade, and now those friendships are in their second decade. I know the majesty of Christ, the beauty and splendor. I’m betting my life on it, and with that, I made the decision to cultivate deep, authentic friendships with other Christians. I think that’s a gamechanger for overcoming, because if there’s a day of doubt, I’ve got a place to take my doubts that isn’t going to feed them, but is going to walk with me in them.

I think if you have those two things, you can endure anything.

Any closing thoughts?

I think the thing that is burning on my heart right now is this: I don’t want us to be pessimistic about the day we’re living in. If I’m reading the Bible right, and I think I am, Psalm 139 says, You’ve been uniquely wired; Acts 17 says, You’ve been uniquely placed; 1 Corinthians says, You’ve been uniquely gifted for this moment in human history. It seems to blow people’s minds that we are God’s big plan for his church, his kingdom, in this day. Nobody’s coming to bail us out of this. It’s our run—and I’m not talking about blue-check celebrity Christians—I’m talking about ordinary men and women who have all been uniquely wired, uniquely placed, uniquely gifted by God to push back darkness and establish light. There are way too many of us sitting on the sidelines watching what I think is the greatest adventure in the universe. I want to invite people into that.