Dr. Moore you have said you think Christianity is going to become more marginalized in this country, which means the Church’s political power will diminish. Christians who hold to biblical sex ethics will increasingly be viewed as “bigots or freaks,” out of touch with reality. And this will lead to various responses, and fears, from faithful Christians who live under the authority of Scripture. In episode 371 you gave some examples of things the Church can do to faithfully engage her calling in a secularizing society. I think it’s worth looking at the negative side of this. As America secularizes, as the church marginalizes, what are some WRONG responses the Church will be tempted to take?
Christianity is going to seem stranger and stranger in American society as American society secularizes. I think that is clear. That is something that we are seeing right now in front of us. And I think that could be bad for American in many ways because the Bible belt kept certain things from happening that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. I think of the fact that there are many people who, for instance, in the 19th up to the mid 20th century didn’t divorce, because there would have been a social cost that came along with divorcing and that external pressure kept that from happening. This could be bad for America, but I think it is going to be good for the Church, because there has been this idea in American culture that a nominal, cultural form of Christianity is how you get to be a good person in this society. It is a sort of implicit prosperity gospel. And that is all being stripped away right now, because as American society secularizes it is no longer necessary to be identified in a cultural, nominal sense with Christianity. That is, I think, going to be good for the Church. And there are several ways that we can respond to this that I think would be less than helpful.
One of them would be denial that it is happening and just to assume let’s just keep doing what we are doing right now except more so and somehow we will be able to turn this around. If we don’t understand what is happening in the culture around us and we don’t understand why the culture is starting to not ask certain questions and why the culture is seeing Christianity as freakish, then we are not going to be able to address it.
Another bad response, I think, would be a sort of negotiated settlement, which is to say we will strip away some of the aspects of Christianity that the ambient culture finds unpalatable so that they will like us. Now the problem with that is, one, it isn’t Christian. It isn’t right. You can’t grow Christian churches with sub-Christian theology. But, secondly, it doesn’t even work, because the culture isn’t going to allow that sort of negotiated settlement. That is what the older liberals wanted to do with, for instance, the miraculous. And now people are wanting to do that with sexual morality. It doesn’t even work. That is the reason why the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church, USA, are in a state of freefall and collapse. It just doesn’t work.
Another bad response, I think, would be withdrawal. Let’s simply sort of retreat back to our enclaves, into our churches and not worry about what is going on in the culture on the outside. The problem with that is, first of all, that is impossible to do. There is no way to escape from the culture around us. And it also is a surrendering of a crucial part of our mission, which is to shape people’s consciences, to enable people to be able to carry out all of their responsibilities. John the Baptist, for instance, when he is calling people to repentance. Tax collectors and Roman soldiers came to him and said: What do we do now? And he had to have a word for them as to how they were to live, carry out their responsibilities and still be faithful now to this new repentance that they have embraced, Luke chapter three. We have to be able to do that as well.
Another bad response, I think, is a sort of siege mentality, which is to respond to the culture outside with anger and with hostility, simply to express outrage about what is going on around us. And that is easy to do, because it is easy to find one sort of cultural atrocity after another and we can just kind of talk to one another by saying: Can you believe how bad it is getting out there? And we can sort of reinforce the fear that we have about what is happening on the outside and what is happening in the culture in a way that isn’t fundamentally Christian.
I think that the verse that we probably need to be remembering more than anything else in the years to come is when Jesus says: “Fear not little flock, because it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to you the kingdom.” Jesus says what the Bible says consistently: Fear not. And why does he say that? He says: Because you have the hope of despite the fact that right now you are a little flock ... and one of the things that we as Christians in America need to give up is the illusion that we are somehow a moral majority in this culture. Christianity is never a moral majority in this present world. We need to recognize, instead, though, that we are part of a great cloud of witnesses. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
So we don’t respond with fear. We don’t respond with outrage. We don’t respond with a siege mentality. And we don’t respond by retreating and by giving up. We respond with hope, speaking clearly a call to repentance and starting that repentance with the household of God, because we believe, ultimately, that we are on the winning side of history. That changes, I think, the perspective that we have even when the rest of society starts to see us as strange and maybe even subversive.
Amen — may that be true of the Church. Thank you Dr. Moore for your time this week. Dr. Russell Moore serves as the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is an author, blogger, podcaster and he appears from time to time on television news shows. You can keep up with him at russellmoore.com. … On Monday John Piper returns, and I’ll ask him about how we purposefully delight in what is not God, as in how do we delight in the gifts God has given us? … I’m your host Tony Reinke. Have a great weekend!