Summer Seminar Series: Recap of Session #1

Two Wednesdays ago, we kicked off our Summer Seminar Series by laying down a backdrop of the cultural crisis that confronts Christ-followers. Whether it is the latest tweets by a presidential candidate or the most recent stories of bloodshed spurred on by racial bias or blatant disregard for the authority structures in place, Christians are living in a culture that is hostile to the gospel.

In my session entitled, “Flourishing in the Desert,” I expounded on three points hoping to provide an introduction for the rest of the series.

Landscape (the World)
Light (the Word)
Life (the Work)

LANDSCAPE

Any bystander living today would be swept away by the seismic changes in social mores, values, and even the legislation that gives way (and defense) to such perspectival change.

I traced two overwhelming realities in American society:

  1. There is a moral and cultural revolution taking place in our society.

  2. The pace and reach of cultural and moral change spurred on by this revolution is at best, breathtaking and exciting to some and at worst, shocking and frightening to others.

Within the last two years, same-sex marriage has become the law of the land (June 26, 2015) as institutions like marriage have been deconstructed and reconstructed to look quite different from traditional (biblical) marriages. Looser sexual practices spurred on by ‘liberated’ attitudes on sexuality are enabled through the help of social media apps like Tinder. Dr. Denny Burk bemoans, “This technology has put the hook-up culture on steroids.” Gender-identity is as fluid and as slippery as a drop of mercury in a calphalon pot. In many schools and especially in the more elite institutions, the use of pronouns may result in your grades being docked. In fact, it’s almost offensive to use pronouns in some arenas of higher learning.

And in May of this year, the Obama administration weighed in with a “directive” that public schools must permit transgender students to use facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity expressions rather than their sexual identity at birth.

Dr. Albert Mohler so precisely wrote back in May of this year:

“One metric to watch very closely in terms of cultural and social change around us is how fast it takes for something to be considered absolutely unthinkable, then ludicrous, then improbable, and then possible, and then of course, actual. Just consider that sequence when it comes to the fact that in recent days, the Obama Administration, through its Departments of Justice and Education, has ruled that every single bathroom and facility of similar sort and every single public educational institution in America must now fully bend the knee to the transgender revolution. This is a stunning development, but it’s not all that shocking given the direction of this administration and the velocity of the change.”

(*officials in 11 states have since sued the administration to overturn the move)

There is a revolution taking place and it’s changing our world and our lives. And how have we gotten here?

Sociologists (both religious and secular) maintain that we are living in a post-Christian Era in America. Their premise is that people no longer assume the Judeo-Christian ethic to be the guiding rule for society and life. Some of these same experts say, “Once upon a time, when America was a Christian nation, things were much different,” as they lament the inevitable changes in any society that does away with the Judeo-Christian moral compass and moves toward a post-Christan worldview.

But have we ever lived or experienced any American era where we embodied anything remotely resembling a Christian nation as defined by the Bible? I think not. And so my first point hinged on our entrance into an age of “post-Nominal Christianity” as opposed to post-Christianity. Now what does that mean and what is the difference?

Three years ago Dr. Timothy Keller gave a talk/interview at the Ethics & Public Policy Center’s “Faith Angle Forum on Religion, Politics, & Public Life.” His talk was titled, “Conservative Christianity After the Christian Right,” and in it Dr. Keller discussed “the disappearing umbrella over conservative christians.” And what he gets at in this talk is his observation that the ranks of conservative evangelicals are growing...but that secularism is also on the rise. Now if both are increasing, something has to give. So what gives? What is on the decline?

He insightfully declares it to be the ‘middle’ crowd that is disappearing (In my poor attempt at humor, I referred to this crowd as the NCCC = “Nominal Cultural Christianity Crowd”).

Now, this is where it relates to this moral/cultural revolution and the hyper-speed nature of change taking place. This disappearance of the middle, has not only affected conservative Christians as Keller claims, but I believe all of American society. Keller uses the analogy of a roof or an umbrella:

   “So what’s happening is the roof has come off for the devout. The devout had a kind of a shelter, an umbrella. You couldn’t be all that caustic toward traditional classic Christian teaching and truth. I spoke on Friday morning to the American Bible Society’s board. American Bible Society does a lot of polling about the Bible. The use of the Bible, reading the Bible, attitudes toward the Bible. They said that actually the number of people who are devout Bible readers is not changing that much.”
   “What is changing is for the first time in history a growing group of people who think the Bible is bad, it’s dangerous, it’s regressive, it’s a bad cultural force, that was just never there. It was very tiny. And that’s because the middle ground has shifted, so it is more identified with the more secular, the less religious, and it’s less identified now with the more devout.”

Later, he explains what the loss of this covering means for Christians:

“The roof came off. That is, you had the devout, you had the secular, and you had that middle ground that made it hard to speak disrespectfully of traditional values. That middle ground now has not so much gone secular, but they more identified with this side. They are identified with expressive individualism, and so they don’t want to tell anybody how to live their lives. And so what that means now of course is that the devout suddenly realize that they are out there, that the umbrella is gone, and they are taking a lot of flak for their views, just public flak.”

To summarize the contours of the landscape we must recognize these ABCs…

A. What we’re now experiencing is not only criticism.

B. We are now being told that we are beyond the pale. We’re not just wrong in our views, but that for anyone to have any respect for our views is wrong.

C. The secular mindset isn’t just opposed to the Christian perspective, it’s opposed to the evangelical Christian even having a place in the public square of ideas.

Those on the other side of the cultural divide have decreed that we don’t have such rights anymore. Hence, the landscape is nearly made unnavigable for us!

With the NCCC now siding with the secular/liberal mindset crowd, what has resulted is tremendous support in public opinion, and a very loud voice to go with it, for all the laws and policies on moral issues that are changing through judicial pronouncements. This is what we are seeing happen right before our eyes.

In an article also written in May of this year, Dr. Mohler (SBTS president) wrote:

“Now that the moral revolutionaries are solidly in control, what is to be demanded of Christians who, on the basis of Christian conviction, cannot join the revolution? The demands have now been presented, and they represent unconditional surrender.”

I painted a pretty grim picture of our culture-at-large. Are we on the verge of losing this Culture War? Have we already lost?

LIGHT

Absolutely not...and we can declare this because we must remember the words of Jesus when he declared:

“My Kingdom is not of this world.”

He declared this not only to Pilate, but also to Satan as he was tempted by him after forty days of fasting in the wilderness.

So what does this signify for us?

So much because of who are. We are those who once dwelled in darkness—kingdoms ruled by fallen men. Kingdoms that will inevitably spiral downward in a demise of greed, corruption, self-idolatory, and self-preservation. This has been the story of every ‘indomitable’ kingdom throughout human history.

Listen to the words spoken by Dr. Russell Moore in his ERLC Inauguration Speech three years ago:

“It’s good to be here in this place and to see around us all of the monuments to American power. But it’s also good to remember, that like Augustine’s Rome, one day, perhaps in 1,000 years, or perhaps in 3,000 years, perhaps in a million years, that shining Capitol over there will be in ruins. That Washington Monument will be torn down. The Jefferson Memorial will perhaps be covered in vines. But the kingdom of God is not shaken.”

But by God's loving-kindness alone, we have been ushered into God’s eternal kingdom reign where He is the Light (light, light...light of the world...shining bright, bright, bright).

[16] the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.  (Matt 4:16 ESV)

The Bible Belt “kingdom” is collapsing in America and in other parts of the world. The world of nominal, cultural Christianity that took the American dream slapped Jesus on to it in order to say “you can have everything you’ve ever wanted and heaven too” is soon to be gone. And this is all good riddance. Here’s Dr. Moore again:

“We can no longer pretend that we are a moral majority in this country. We are a prophetic minority who must speak into a world that is not different than any other era of this world’s history, but is exactly what Jesus promised us the world must be.”

We can be assured that we have no reason to fear because Jesus speaks of it in the Gospel of Luke:

And as Jesus spoke this word, he spoke these words without fear. And why did He do so? Because Jesus is announcing a kingdom, and has said to all of us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom...”  (Luke 12:32 ESV)

LIFE

As we are people who have seen the light of life, we are called to reflect his kingdom light truthfully in word and graciously in deed. We are to stand firm and shine his resplendent light...

[15] that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world...  (Philippians 2:14-15 ESV)

But the wondrous beauty and mystery of the Church is that we stand united with Christ and one another as a trans-cultural kingdom that should not remain a secret society. In other words, we are his Church and not his monastery. God's people form local churches that gather and scatter this side of eternity (IN the world), remain set apart from the culture-at-large (not OF the world), and strive to live as missionaries who seek the flourishing of whatever society we form (FOR the world).

City of God.jpg

We live as sojourners and strangers as we look forward to the Celestial City, as the book of Hebrews proclaims, lest we forget, that here we have no abiding and lasting city.  Hence, we are never quite at home, but we are awaiting our future home.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.  (Hebrews 13:14)
Our citizenship is in heaven.  (Phil. 3:20)

We also learn from the biblical witness of the prophets of old on how to practically engage the world around us. The book of Jeremiah tells the story of God using the prophet to instruct the Jews in Babylon not to hate or remain indifferent towards the pagan city. Instead, Jeremiah relays Yahweh's life instructions:

  • Become long-term residents of the city
  • Exercise good will toward it through prayer
  • Seek Babylon's peace and prosperity
  • Build up the social fabric for the common well-being
  • Serve your neighbors in the land

At the same time, God’s people are not to place their future hopes in social, economic, and even moral improvement. We are to love and serve our earthly city, but they were not to forget that God would some day judge our city for its evil and injustice. It was only in God that believers could be sure of a “future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). With this ultimate hope in mind, instead of merely co-existing and thriving materially with the Babylonians, the Jews in Babylon were to strive for the glory of God through Jesus Christ to be made known to all.

Hence, we must not simply declare that our citizenship is in heaven (however true that is) and then refrain from debating and even speaking out against public policy and laws. In fact, because our citizenship is in heaven, we must speak remembering that we are called to pray…

“Thy kingdom come and thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We are called to be the Church that proclaims and displays the love of God. So the life and work set out for us demands that we continually take inventory and ask ourselves questions like... 

  • Are we living by conviction in Christ, or are we being conformed to the pattern of the age around us? In other words, is our message distinct?
  • As we live for Christ and on mission with him, are we living with a posture of convictional kindness rather than self-righteousness? In other words, is our life (both individually and together) distinct?

Remember the Apostle Paul's clear admonition in Romans 12 after giving chapters upon chapters of doctrine:

[1] I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

So as singles who are living in a hookup culture, we must strive for purity and maintain modesty, and yet we must do so in a way that reveals the beauty of sexual integrity. The Church must treasure and protect marriages by teaching, preaching, and equipping on how marriage is a picture of Christ married to his bride, the Church. Divorce must be hated and avoided, and yet we must show appropriate compassion to those who are divorced or experiencing the brokenness of divorce. Parents must be engaged in both the spiritual and the practical discipline and instruction of their children. We mustn't let the public sector be the only voice in the moral, social, and even physical development of our children. We must seek to understand how our lives should be marked by the power of the Gospel in the marketplace, politics, academia, and all areas.

We also must not ignore the issues of mercy and justice and revert to talk about mission and the gospel only. We cannot because we are called to Christ-likeness. We must speak the truth about him and his justice which is part and parcel his mission to this broken world...

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.  (Isaiah 1:17 ESV)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”  (Zechariah 7:9-10 ESV)
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8 ESV)
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.  (Proverbs 31:8-9 ESV)

Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah (chapter 61) directly in Luke 4…

[16] And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. [17] And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
    [18] “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
        because he has anointed me
        to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
        and recovering of sight to the blind,
        to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
    [19] to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
                                (Luke 4:16-19 ESV)

So if we remain silent, we are simply “baptizing the status quo” of all the ills in our society. Two of the 20th century's greatest martyrs died fighting against injustice and evil. Remember their piercing words...

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Darkness cannot push out darkness; light expels darkness.”  ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We must shine this light of Truth on behalf of those who have no voice in this world...those in the womb, those being trafficked, those being enslaved.

We shouldn’t be depressed by political cycles and shifts. We know that the gates of hell shall not prevail against us. And whatever our circumstances, Christians are called to humbly pray for rulers and nations.

Join us tonight for installment #2 as Daniel Lee teaches on "Ethics." Future installments include:

  • [Aug. 17] Session 3: The Moral/Sexual Revolution - Pastor Jon Anzardo
  • [Aug. 31] Session 4: Religious Liberty - Dr. Paul Mueller

Here's a link to session #1 audio.