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)
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:
There is a moral and cultural revolution taking place in our society.
- 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?
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).
 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)
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...
 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).