Could this be the last generation of well-meaning evangelicals in the US? There’s a good chance of it.
So many authors have to much good to say. There are a number of good books on cultural hermeneutics – understanding our culture and how to minister to it. We have evangelism training and practice. We have more seminaries and colleges and graduates than ever before. Christian radio is everywhere. But even our evangelical and fundamentalist/fundamental churches are not growing. Why? Are we doing something wrong? Do we need to change method? Do we need to change our rhetoric without compromising our positions? Maybe we need to change our music, our advertising, even our public persona. Something has to work. Something’s gotta give.
I’m afraid that we have become modernists. No, we are not like the modernists of the 19th century who believed in the innate goodness of all of humanity. No, we are modernists in the sense that we think the right words will work. We have a formula for everything. Then once we have tried the formula and it doesn’t work we claim it was just God’s will – we blame God for our failure.
What are some of our formulas? We try programs. Whether it’s AWANA or, as the postmoderns do, engaging social need, none of these things keep our churches growing. We have tracts that give an up-beat message. God apparently has a wonderful plan for our lives even if we never see it in anyone else’s life. And if nobody believes the message then maybe God wasn’t calling them at that time.
And if you’ve looked for a Christian bookstore that sells something other than a plethora of trinkets you’ll be searching far and wide. There aren’t many. And many are closing. Know why? They’re only catering to the customer that the church has created.
How can we keep failing when we have so many resources?
Blaming God for our error is easy. It’s the cheap way out.
Our apologetics is all about philosophy. Some of it is about history. So we write and purchase a ton of books that address these questions. Does God exist? How can I know? Is Luke’s timeline accurate? Can I prove to someone that Christ rose from the dead? Were the Hebrew people really held as slaves in Egypt? There are so many questions to be answered.
Unfortunately I don’t hear the broader audience asking these questions. Oh, some do. But I fear that’s because they are the target group for the questions we are answering.
There are broader questions, of course. Is Marxism a theological problem? How does the church respond to human trafficking and slavery? Can the church still have a voice in civic affairs? These are bigger questions but they are not the biggest question. That’s what our opponents have figured out and that we have missed.
We’ve been attacking cultural specifics rather than the cultural frameworks. The framework is the biggest question. For the average person it is a state of mind: What is best for my well-being? There are three movements at work that are persuading people. These three are progressivism, capitalism, and scientism. Though they are often at war with each other they are all united in their dismissal of Christianity as sufficient for human flourishing.
The progressive presents the world with the message that they can provide for a richer sense of human rights, even though some others may need to be curtailed. This way nobody gets left out. For the progressive it is Christianity which leaves people out with respect to behaviors. The capitalist leaves people out of a prospering economy. And scientism leaves people out of the opportunity to find fulfillment.
The progressive also says that we don’t have to be everyone’s enemy. Though they do use a heavy-handed technique it is not hard for the average person to conclude that for much of the world there is peace because of the progressives. They united Europe. That’s a big start. They are also teaching this “peace and love” theme quite effectively in TV, movies, and music. Hey, if they can create peace in Europe maybe they can do it in the rest of the world, too.
The capitalist provides jobs. Take better care of your self and family needs and life is good. Christianity provides for no specific economic. Marxism doesn’t provide for opportunity. And scientism has nothing to say to this arena.
Finally scientism says that it can provide the tools necessary for efficient living. Scientism gives us computers and phones and all of the gadgets we need to fulfill life’s daily chores. Marxism would keep us from all of these things. Capitalism is no guarantee of an income that can reach these goals.
You may frame these macro themes differently. So be it. But do yourself the favor of understanding the macro mindset at work in people’s minds.
Now is the time for the church to expand the apologetic as it exists within our theology. We have done a good job on the pro-life side. We’re seeing a changing mindset on the abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia questions. That progress is reflected in the progressive legislative resistance to it.
But what about economics? What can the church do to advance a mindset which would help people make a better living? We have no such mechanism because we have no such rich theology. Oh, we might claim capitalism. Yet when we do that we must accept the shortcomings of capitalism. That’s not a good course to take. We talk about individual responsibility but that, even if true, fixes nothing.
And international peace? Do we speak too much of nationalism in a way that points to war and self-defense or should we speak of nationalism in an engaging peaceful fashion? Have we become mere Christianized patriots instead of Christians who server the greater good of God’s kingdom and so encourage the best international behavior? Can we do it without unnecessary talk of war?
We need a theology of international relations that might be put into practice. Then we need to teach it within and without the four walls of the church.
The homosexual/trans issue comes down to being a wedge issue. By representing such a minuscule portion of society in the way it has been is to invite an attack on any theology which rejects the framework. So we are treated as those who “hate” or want to “erase” people.
I regularly teach in our church Adult Ed classes (Sunday School) that any homosexual who comes in the door should be welcome to hear the redemptive message. Anything more may cross a boundary. Anything less does a disservice to the gospel. We do well to train our people properly on this and to find a way to advance this ministry.
We need a rich theology of rights that can be put into practice. Then we need to teach it within and without the four walls of the church.
Have you been accused of being “anti-science?” I have. It also doesn’t matter what I’ve written that I as pro-science as one could ever hope for. What matters is that this wedge issue isolates the Christian from the world because we have no solution for discussion the scientific advancements that would advance human flourishing.
Much of our scientific theory has been reduced to the historical – that Newton framed his science from a Biblical frame of reference. Modern science wouldn’t be what it is without Christianity. Both of these statements are true. But so what? What difference does it make today? Let’s not rest on our laurels. History, though meaningful, is not strategy.
In “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview” the work of J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig presents us with a philosophy of science that is consistent with a Christian worldview. But, as good as it is, it is not a theology of science. It is not a part of ours systematic. Doing so would require more work. While Christianity is “reasonable” Christianity is not reason. That’s the systematic shortcoming of an otherwise excellent work. It has its place but its place is quite limited despite its magnitude.
We need a rich theology of science that can be put into practice. Then we need to teach it within and without the four walls of the church.
What happens in the future? I am an optimist with respect to what the gospel can do. But from where we are operating the three segments that I’ve identified have provided the world with so much that Christianity is seen as unnecessary. Ask anybody. “Why take care of ‘sin’ when everything is running smoothly? Sure we all do wrong things. But they’re easily correctable. So why obsess over the little things. We’re flourishing.”
Our affluence is a part of the three identified movements. It has turned even our churches into consumerist ventures. I’m afraid that the church in America needs replanted.