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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Courage in Culture

In his book Take Heart, Matt Chandler suggests Christians have four possible responses to a cultural moment he calls “the age of unbelief.”
  1. Converting Culture
  2. Condemning Culture
  3. Consuming Culture
  4. Courage in Culture
He doesn't like the first three. It's in the first approach of converting the culture that I take particular interest. About that option he wrote, “In this mindset, what matters most is that our nation’s culture reflects biblical principles and values.” With that I agree. The question is how does that happen?

I think this comes by a move of God, people seeking him, teaching His Word, and people seeking to apply Scripture to every area of their public, organizational, and private lives.

Though a pastor in Texas, Chandler instead sees this option mostly through the lens of politics.
Supporters of this view are willing to go to great lengths to make it happen, even if that means making alliances with corrupted politicians and political parties, or making what they might see as lesser moral compromises. Think the “Christian Right,” especially as of late.

But in a span of history where the church doesn’t have high cultural standing, this approach is going to leave a lot of people frustrated and bitter. It already has. It will only perpetuate what has been known as “the culture wars,” a frankly arrogant posture that pits the church against the world, and does not draw a healthy line between the kingdom of God now and the kingdom of God to come.

I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t some good aspects of “converting culture.” You can trace much of its roots to the work of amazing theologians like Abraham Kuyper and Francis Schaeffer. It recognizes the reality that Christians should be engaged in all of culture, seeking to transform culture through the power of Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom all things are sustained. After all, Christ is not just the Lord of the church, but of the world.

And yes, Christians are called to seek the good of those around us, and to pursue justice and to love good and shun evil. But we get into trouble when we confuse the earthly city with the heavenly city. Until Christ returns, this world will never look as it should. You can’t use politics to build the new Jerusalem, and you can’t legislate people into the kingdom of God.

In fact, I’d argue that the compromises and unholy alliances Christians have made in pursuit of converting the culture have left many people more suspicious of and hardened to the message of the church. And I don’t blame them” (Kindle Locations 58-72).

He summarizes, “Those in the ‘converting culture’ camp fear they are losing their culture and that if they do not make the compromises necessary to continue the culture war, the church cannot thrive, or even survive” (Kindle Locations 105-107).

Several thoughts:

To refer to politicians from the start as “corrupted” does not exactly open people's minds to the possibility of having a God-honoring relationship with elected officials.

The culture wars are not unique to American politics since the latter 1900s. The culture wars have been with us since the fall of man. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). How is it arrogant to recognize the church has opposition in this world? We must continue the battle for souls.

It's true, “you can't legislate people into the kingdom of God.” Galatians 3:21 says as much. You can, however, legislate the environment in which people live and are more free or less free to hear and understand the Gospel. During the eight years of the last administration, the government pushed the culture to the left, and the Church barely made a sound.

He mentions the “‘Christian Right,’ especially of late,” but those of us in Washington hardly view our efforts as being on the cusp of building a new Jerusalem. These efforts are much more along the lines of keeping the government from forcing us to participate in an agenda from hell. That's no exaggeration when you look at the policies that mandate our complicity in funding abortion, the tearing apart of innocent children in their mother's wombs. Even “of late” the federal government is still funding the nation's largest abortion provider with more than $1 million per day.

Chandler introduced these cultural response options on the premise that, “Christians are losing social status and favor more and more, almost by the day. For those in the United States, we’re seeing ‘Christian America’ pass away right before our eyes. Our ‘one nation under God’ doesn’t look and feel that way anymore. Many European nations are way downstream from there. It’s the end of the age of Christendom” (Kindle Locations 40-43).

This begs a question. Even though the new Jerusalem is in heaven, wouldn't it still be good for God's will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven”? (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2).

If you only view Christian public engagement as making compromises with corrupt politicians for purposes of forcing conversion on people, then yeah, your view is going to end up quite skewed and tainted. If, on the other hand, you view the goal as (a) undoing evil put into public policy, and (b) creating a policy environment in which people are free to live by their conscience and speak their minds and proclaim God's Word, then it's easier to aim for a more God-honoring pathway ahead.

The question is not are we losing our culture. The question is, Are we today making of our culture what God would have us make of this culture?

The question is not can the church thrive or survive in an age of unbelief. The question is, Should this be an age of unbelief?

Of his preferred option, courage, Chandler notes its implications of holiness, devotion, evangelism, and hospitality. It is difficult to see, however, these things having much of an effect on culture if Christians and God-honoring values are forced out of the public square or even the public eye.

Courage is needed not just to endure rising opposition, but to answer it.

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