CEO, Shrink, or Man of God? Part 1

Desiring God 1993 Conference for Pastors

CEO? Shrink? Or Man of God?

It’s an enormous privilege to be here. When I heard the purpose of the conference and all the people who are going to be here, it was one of those invitations that I just didn’t want to refuse, even though I’m a layman that doesn’t often speak to clergy as such. But it’s a real privilege to be here.

Personal Calling and a Word to Pastors

Let me just share with you some of the reasons it is a great privilege for me. I am only a layman, but it’s been my privilege in my Christian life to be in the churches of a number of the great ministers in England, such as John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. And it’s left me with an enduring appreciation for the greatness of the ministry and the key part it plays in our world today.

The second reason though is something out of my own personal pilgrimage. When I came to Christ in 1960, English evangelicalism was remarkably narrow. And among the unspoken truths were that if you were truly committed to Christ, you went to the mission field, or evangelism, or the ministry. And I wanted to be truly committed and dutifully went forward to think which of those three was my lot. In fact, I came from a missionary background and knew very well I wasn’t going to be a missionary.

I did train and try the calling of an evangelist, which I quite enjoyed, but I was really rather a disaster at it, and then went somewhat reluctantly to the only one that was left for me, towards the ministry. And it was actually — in my case, because it wasn’t my calling — an enormous sense of freedom when after nine months in a church, I came to the conclusion that wasn’t my calling. I spent the entire week and I never met a non-Christian, and I’ve always felt much more freedom and that sort of thing out in the world outside the church.

For me, it was an enormous sense of privilege to be led to the freedom of knowing that the ministry was not my calling. But the curious thing it left me was an enormous appreciation for those of you for whom it is your calling.

A Rebuke from a Chastened Liberal

But the burden behind what I want to share in these talks actually goes back to a conversation with a New England liberal. In sociology, it’s a common place, a little saying behind the title, that ministers today are CEOs in their studies and shrinks in their pulpit. I had read that many times in sociology, but it was when I was up in New England and was with a very godly, “chastened liberal”, he turned to me and he said, “When we liberals made that mistake in the 1960s and turned ourselves as ministers into CEOs in our studies and shrinks in our pulpits, why on earth are you evangelicals doing it now when we’ve realized the folly of that?” And as he described his sorrow, his godly sorrow, watching the gathering rush of evangelical ministers towards the managerial and therapeutic without thinking, I suddenly realized something that I’d never seen before, or only on a purely sociological level. And it was out of that concern that everything I want to share with you comes tonight.

The Israelis tell the story of two Egyptian soldiers who were very dispirited after the Six-Day War. They were discussing with each other why on earth this tragic scandalous disaster for Egypt? And one of them said, “Well, was it that we relied too much on the Russian military and their poor weapons?” The other one said, “No, no, it was because we relied on the Russian textbooks, and the bottom line of their military manual was simply withdraw deep into your own territory and draw the enemy after you and wait for the winter snows.”

Now obviously there’s a place for change when the church is hidebound. And yet today I suggest to you that this is often done deeply uncritically, and we have in many of our evangelical churches today an equivalent of the politically correct movement you might call the “demographically correct” movement. The church is out of date, the church is out of touch, if only they’re in touch with the latest demographic — this, that, and the other — can really be these things. And yet my argument will be that many of these churches are actually deepening the captivity of the Church of Christ to modernity, by using the insights and tools of modernity uncritically.

The Crisis of Modernity on the National Level

But let me not begin there. Tonight, we could look wider at the global level, but I want to begin with the national level, by looking at the challenge of ministry today in the light of where the United States is today, and the gospel in the United States. And then tomorrow morning, we’ll focus down one more and look at the broader setting of evangelicalism, and then in the third session, we’ll focus down on local churches themselves. So let me turn to the challenge of the wider situation in America at the present moment, and then end with a series of propositions about the challenge of modernity to both America and the church of Christ in America.

The year 1989 has been described as the year of the 20th century. Many of you know the extraordinary parallels that people have used to describe the momentous significance of 1989. Some cited 1648 and the peace of Westphalia which ended the religious troubles. Others cited 1815 and the Second Treaty of Paris, which put to the end the turbulence of the Napoleonic era. But at the very least, 1989 joined two other great years in our century to form what are so far the three pivotal years of the 20th century, and three decisive years for America’s involvement in the 20th century. The first year was 1917–1918, for obvious reasons. It was the end of World War I, the collapse of the old aristocratic, feudal empires such as the Habsburgs and the Romanovs. It was the Russian Revolution, and the United States reversed a long tradition of isolation and stepping forward to the center of world history for the first time.

The second pivotal year, 1945, again for obvious reasons; the defeat of the 20th century’s second great totalitarian regime, Nazism, the exhaustion of the European democracies, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and the United States back at the center of world power, but this time to stay, or as Abba Eban put it later, “For four years at least, not so much a superpower, but the world’s modern mono power.”

And now, in 1989, there was the defeat, first in its colonies and then its heartland, of the 20th century’s first and greatest and most evil totalitarian empire, the Soviet Empire. But we might raise the question, what does this mean for the United States this time? Not surprisingly, the first responses to both the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Gulf War were of almost triumphalism and gloating. But what became clear almost immediately to some of the more astute, and clear to more people today, is that while this was a remarkable triumph, the triumph was not complete. In other words, in certain areas of America, the triumph is obvious.

Politically speaking, 1989 was a stunning and historic vindication of the American political order and representative democracy is now the hope of millions of people around the world. Economically speaking, 1989 represented a stunning historic vindication of democratic capitalism. And democratic capitalism is now the aspirations of millions of people around the world replacing socialism. But the United States is not simply a political order and not simply an economic order. The American Republic is also a cultural order. And if you look at the cultural order in the light of 1989, you see a very different story. In fact, the question is raised — at the very least — is the present American cultural order capable of sustaining the freedom and responsibility and civility that are necessary for democracy to flourish?

Beyond Individual Problems

Now, if you were to ask, what’s wrong with the American cultural order? Many people would look towards discrete, particular, individual problems, depending on which perspective they come from. For some, it would be the blight in the inner cities. For others, it would be the broken family situation. For some, it would be the ballooning deficits. For some, it would be the mediocrity in education. Everyone has their favorite explanation, and they say, “Here’s the heart of the American problem.” But usually it’s one particular, discrete individual problem or another.

A different level of analysis looks deeper than that. It says, “Yes. There’s a deep crisis, but it can be explained in what James Hunter, another fellow Christian, has called the culture wars analysis.” For a generation, we’ve seen these bitter controversies in public life. Now it’s abortion, or it’s now the flag, or now it’s NEA funding. Some are more serious, like abortion, and some much more trivial, like the burning of a flag. And yet all engage with a passionate intensity. Why? Because a moral chasm is running down the center of American life between broadly conservative forces and broadly progressive forces. And the battle is so intense because it’s over things that have become symbols of the identity and future of America. So the culture wars are a passionate struggle to define America.

My argument would be with those who say that neither of those two analyses are deep enough. The problem is much more connected and interlinked than those who look at the individual discrete problems. And the problem is much deeper even than the culture wars analysis, important and pressing though it is. At its heart, the crisis is a crisis of cultural authority. This, in other words, is the equivalent of what happened to Europe at the end of the 19th century in the so-called “Death of God” crisis, which hollowed out Christendom.

But what it means is that American beliefs, American ideals, and American traditions — these beliefs and traditions and ideals which once inspired Americans, the positive side, and on the other hand, once disciplined and restrained Americans, on the equally important negative side — are losing their compelling power in American culture. To put it in the words of Karl Barth, they are “losing their binding address.

Effects on Civic and Religious Beliefs

I want to underline a number of things that flow out of that understanding. First, that a crisis of cultural authority affects both religious beliefs and civic beliefs. You can see the crisis in the Christian church or another religion such as Judaism. The statistical indicators may be up in terms of the number of evangelicals or the number of Christians, nominal or otherwise, but the social influence of the faith in American culture is down. And to a large extent, one can see that the whole crisis of cultural authority circles around the fact that faith has a decreased influence in the culture compared with the past, and the culture has an increased influence on the faith compared with the past.

But it isn’t just religious beliefs which are experiencing the crisis of authority. So also — and here’s where the secular people don’t get off the hook — are American civic beliefs. A simple example would be Americanism, an indefinable but deeply potent series of myths which has been critical to the identity of America and to the sense of unity and consensus to balance the diversity. And yet today, in a mere 20 years, we’ve moved from a position in the 50s and the early 60s when even the liberal intelligentsia deeply believed in Americanism and consensus, to where the radical multiculturalism on many of our campuses means that many, many Americans at a practical level or an elite level, no longer have a deep sense that Americanism has any value or significance for them.

Another thing we can say about the significance of this understanding of the crisis of cultural authority is that we cannot see it in we/they terms. One of the Christians’ poor responses to the culture wars is to think that we are on the right side, so all the problems are over there. So we are fine and they, whoever they are, are to blame for everything. The “they” may be secular humanists, or New Agers, or the cultural elites, or the dreadful liberal media, or whatever, but we are fine and they are the problem. But we can’t say that with this analysis of the crisis of cultural authority, because it is here as much as there, it is we as much as them. And you can see the deep rot in many, many levels in the church of Christ we will look at tomorrow just as much as in the outside culture.

The Significance of Cultural Authority

Now let me pick up some of the big questions that flow out of this as this is right. The first is this: why is a crisis of cultural authority significant for the United States? The answer is simply that America uniquely is a nation by intention and by ideas, and therefore a crisis in beliefs and traditions and ideals goes to the heart of the strength and character of America. You could put this in the language of the Framers or the language of more modern scholars. The Framers would’ve said it’s something like this, “There are three parts to freedom: winning freedom, ordering freedom, and sustaining freedom.”

Winning freedom is the revolution. This could be weeks, months, or a year or two at most. The Americans did it, the French did it, the Russians did it. Ancient regimes were overthrown. But that in many ways, as the Framers saw it, is the easiest part, although bloodshed took place. The second part is ordering freedom. It took longer and much, much more thought. This was the Constitution, 13 years later. But the French never did it. The Russians never did it. Their revolutions, unlike the Americans, spiraled down to demonic disorder because they never ordered the freedom that they’d won.

But the Framers said that wasn’t the end of it. The real challenge of freedom is sustaining freedom, the work not of months or years or decades, but of long centuries. Now, if you understand how the Framers wrestled with setting up a great republic that would not decline, they realized the United States was the greatest experiment in republican government since the fall of Rome. Jefferson is supposed to have had in his desk a score of the failed constitutions, of the failed republics that have gone before. And the whole understanding of their so-called “new science of politics” was to set up a system which would not decline, which would sustain freedom over the running centuries, and would defy history, and defy the entropy of passing time.

And as you know, the brilliance of what they did was that it had institutional realism, but it had institutional realism — such as checks and balances built on a Christian view of sin — and it was blended with moral idealism and a strong place for character, for virtue, and what Tocqueville later called “the habits of the heart.” And if they go, as the Framers saw it, or Tocqueville saw it 50 years after them, then the republic would inevitably go too. And the crisis of cultural authority strikes to the heart of the habits of the heart, of character, of virtues, of the customs, of the morays — all at that the Framers saw that was so deeply necessary to the strength of the American republic.

The Greatest Enemy of Capitalism

You could put it in more modern ways. Daniel Bell at Harvard or Michael Novak at AEI see America as this tripartite order — part political, part economic, and part cultural. And the cultural order, what does that mean? Well, the churches, the synagogues, the public schools, the universities and colleges, the whole world of leisure, the entertainment, the arts, these all together, a great constellation, form the cultural order. And as these thinkers see it, it’s politics which affects economics, but it’s the cultural order which affects both politics and economics. So if there’s a crisis in the cultural order, eventually it affects the political order and the economic order too. And no amount of political action, no amount of legislation can turn the tide if the crisis in the cultural order goes too far.

For example, one thinker, Peter Berger, remarks today that capitalism has only one enemy left. He says that capitalism has answered the aristocratic arguments, capitalism has answered the aesthetic arguments, capitalism (through 1989) has overcome the socialist arguments, and capitalism is unrivaled today as an economic system and has only one enemy left: capitalism. Because capitalism unrestrained undercuts the very values and beliefs and traditions which are needed for capitalism itself to flourish and succeed. Again, that just points out that if the cultural order is in a severe crisis, no amount of politics or economics can hold back the tide of decline that will come.

This sort of argument would be unpopular in many secular circles today, but there’s a growing awareness that while there are political problems and economic problems, they are not major ones. But there is a major crisis in America’s cultural order. The crisis in America’s third order, culture, is of first order importance for the future of the republic.

The Source of the Crisis

A second question is where did this whole crisis come from? We haven’t time to go into this in depth, but you can trace some of the earliest roots back to the 19th century. And it’s no accident. But just as thinkers like Nietzsche were so critical in the 19th century, so it is the heirs of Nietzsche and their intellectual movements that are so powerful on the campuses, for instance in deconstruction and much of the postmodern ideas today.

But looking at our own century more, you can see two crucial periods when the crisis of cultural authority builds up. One is the little window of revolution, the period of 1912 to 1917, the so-called rebellion of the young intellectuals, when ideas that had already won the day in Europe flooded into America, and in a short period of time before World War I, these ideas won the world of the universities, and won the world of the arts. But for various reasons, these ideas were largely quarantined in those two areas, the universities and the arts, until much closer to our own time.

The second crucial period is the buildup and breakout of the crisis of cultural authority in the last generation, post-war. Seen this way, there have been two crucial decades; the 60s and the 80s, one revolutionary, the other counter-revolutionary. And surrounding it, other decades were very, very significant for the crisis. The 1950s, seen this way, is the buildup decade. Often it’s seen as the Golden 50s, but you need to add inverted commas around golden. Because although many people today use the 50s as the chief quarry for nostalgia — it is true that traditional Americanism was largely innocent and largely intact in the 50s — yet much that broke out in the 60s was beginning to bubble up in the worlds of suburbia in the 50s, so there was an eerie hollowness of much that was considered profoundly American at the time.

Take for instance, the religious revivals. America was the only Western nation that had a significant renewal of religion in the 1950s after World War II. It didn’t happen in Europe. Most people thought that was a profound spiritual revival, and it was only the few far-sighted thinkers, Peter Berger again, who said of the 1950s’ revival that it was the second Children’s Crusade. It was triggered by the suburban boom, and the desire of many to send their baby boom kids to Sunday schools, and it wasn’t a deep and lasting spiritual revival. And you can see that very clearly with how quickly it faded in the early 1960s.

Cultural Revolution

The 1960s though was very obviously the revolutionary decade. I call it “The Seismic 60s”. For me, the 60s was summed up well in Elliott Gould’s famous phrase. The 60s was the era of “screw God bless America.” From the “God is Dead” movement right down through the precedents in the law courts and in the public schools, down to motherhood in the family, there was barely an ideal and an institution or a person in position of authority that was not torn up by the roots in the 60s and radically called into question. And many of us can remember that decade. Many of us were shaped by that decade.

Ironically, the high point of the 60s was 1968. It was the so-called annus calamitosis, the year of calamities. But it was the year the liberals and radicals hailed victory, because for the first time the majority was against Vietnam. What they didn’t realize was that the majority was also against them. Soon the majority was carrying placards that said “hard hats hate hairs,” and we could see the emergence of Nixon’s new majority. And the year they proclaimed victory was actually the year the tide flowed the other way.

The 70s I describe as “the Second-Thought 70s”. But that’s only the obvious part of it. The 60s had gone too far. The malaise was too deep. And particularly in the early 70s, before the last of the tear gas faded, there was what Kingman Brewster of Yale called “the eerie tranquility” as the counterculture collapsed. So the second thought was very obvious. Irving Kristol described his neo-conservative movement as “liberals mugged by reality,” or “liberals who had daughters in high school.” And across the board, you can see much of the second thinking that characterized the 70s and led naturally to the 80s.

But what’s important for Christians, or conservatives, to see is that the 70s was not only second thinking, it was also a matter of consolidation of the 60s. In fact, in the 60s, less than 25 percent of American students had taken part in any serious protest, but they were the visible, the vocal, the violent, and they were given all the media attention. But in fact, when they disappeared from the scene and the eerie tranquility settled in, and the last of the teargas faded, that was when, the polls show, that the ethos and the character and the permissiveness and the relativism of the 60s entered the bloodstream of the middle class unsuspectingly, including the Christian middle class.

This included notions such as relativism of truth, permissiveness about ethics, expressiveness, and so on. These things which we now think of in the 60s, polls like Yankelovich have shown that it was in 1972 when it began to characterize the broad majority of American young people. And this is why many of our Christian Young people have been so affected, and incidentally, why many of the conservatives were not conservative at all. They were conservative in economics maybe and conservative in a few areas, but they were highly libertarian when it came to many aspects of social ethics.


The 80s obviously was the counter-revolutionary decade. If the 60s was democratic, liberal, secular, radical, and counter-cultural, the 80s was Republican, traditional, conservative, Christian, and broadly religious. But ironically, once again, the high point of the 80s was 1986. The very year many of the conservatives hailed victory was the year the tide turned and flowed against them. We can probably all remember the tributes to President Reagan surrounding the Statue of Liberty’s centennial celebrations. There were incredible tributes to what Reagan had done. And just two years later, in the light of the Iran-Contra, Wall Street, and the S&L crisis, those tributes looked extraordinarily dated and hollow and even funny. And what we can see very clearly now is that the excesses of the 80s grew from the contradictions of conservatism, just as much as the excesses of the 60s grew from the contradictions of liberalism.

Now my point is not political. I’m not interested in left or right, Republican or Democrat, at this moment. I merely want to show that both the 60s and the 80s were profoundly influential revolutionary decades. But each was incomplete and neither was a success in the terms that its proponents hoped for. That means simply that in the 90s we are not — as some commentators said when George Bush was elected — in the era of the revenge of the moderates. Rather, we are toward the climax of this generation-long crisis of cultural authority. And that is the significance of this decade and the cultural changes which could flow out of recent political decisions.

The assumptions which prove authoritative and decisive, both in private life and in public life over the next 10 years, could well set the character and direction of America for a long, long time to come. And it’s sobering how many historians say that what we’re experiencing now is certainly as decisive for America as the Depression years, and could even prove as decisive for America as the Civil War era itself.

The Significance of Faith in Culture

Let me pick up a third big question: what’s the significance of faith in this crisis of cultural authority, and particularly in the outcome of the crisis? It’s no accident that one cannot understand the crisis or its outcome without putting into the equation faith. Why? Well, for one thing, much of the crisis of cultural authority can be boiled down to the question, by what faith? Because again and again, many of the big public issues assume moral understanding, and they assume ideological and religious understanding.

Take the example of the deficit. Any of you who were following economic discussions in the 60s, economics was very secular. Why? Because economics needed only economic issues to answer economic problems, nothing else. It excluded the spiritual, the moral, and the human. That was irrelevant to economics, but not so in the 80s. And the deficit is a good example. How was it that the biggest peacetime deficit in American history was run up by a conservative president? The answer: a profound shift in values.

In fact, the deficit mentality in the 80s was as much a product of a shift in values as permissive sex was in the 60s; one was in the area of sex, the other in the area of economics. But both were going back to deep shifts in American beliefs about thrift savings, short-term, long-term, and so on, and they were as much rooted in a shift in values, and therefore, needed values to understand it and to remedy it.

So by what faith? The crisis of cultural authority assumes religious dimensions to many of the big public discussions. Or a second reason faith kept bubbling in is because the crisis of cultural authority brought into play again and again, religion and politics. And it’s no accident that the crisis of cultural authority coincides historically with a generation of controversy of religion and public life. Going back to the early 60s, there were a whole series of endless contentions about how faith and public life should be related. And the crisis won’t be overcome until that problem is itself overcome.

But what’s moving to me is the third point. And that is that those who followed this, again such as Peter Berger, point out that if faith is critical to the origin of this crisis, it will also be critical to the outcome of the crisis. In fact, one of the pivotal questions for the crisis is simply this: will America’s diverse faiths — or put more simply America’s religion, or put more simply, the Christian faith — be decisive in the public square in the future as it has been in the past? And that question will be decisive to the outcome of America’s crisis of cultural authority, which touches on what we’re talking about at this conference.

Now if you take that question seriously, there’s obviously a watershed answer — faith will not be decisive or faith will be decisive. I’m making no predictions. I don’t believe in predictions and I think futurism, even the Christian futurism we have today, is a quack science. So what I’m giving you is not predictions at all. I think trend spotters are the sort of fortune tellers of our modern world — they tell our fortunes and make theirs. And whether it’s our Christian futurists or secular futurists, we should be extremely wary of these soothsaying predictions. They’re absolutely bogus. It is not really futurism; it is really what John Nesbitt more honestly calls presentism. It is a projection of the present into the future, pretending to be the future. It is bogus. I’m not talking about predictions.

But if you see the logical developments that have led us to this point, humanly speaking, there are only so many broad possible outcomes. Now I don’t mean for a moment that history comes in the neat little labels I will give to these, but these are just the broad possible outcomes, and God alone knows in which direction the nation will move, but you can see which direction we would like it to move under God.

The Enlightenment’s Last Laugh

The first two outcomes assume that faith will not be decisive. The first one I give the title “The Enlightenment’s Last Laugh”. Read Jefferson’s letters in the 1790s. He looks round at what he thinks of as evangelical superstition and says, “Soon the sun of the enlightenment will arise and the mists of evangelical superstition will fade like the mist before the sun.” Was Jefferson right? Not at all. Within five years his hopes and predictions were proved totally wrong, by what? The Second Great Awakening. And really not since his letters have we come so close to his predictions until our generation, a genuinely secular public square.

Now let me clear up misunderstandings. By this, I do not mean that most Americans will be secularists. Secularism is a bloodless unsatisfying faith for most ordinary people outside universities. It is never likely to be satisfying to a majority of Americans. We shouldn’t panic at the thought of secularism. Pre-Christian paganism is far more dangerous to the gospel.

Equally, this scenario does not see religion disappearing. Again, that is extraordinarily unlikely. But it does see faith being privatized — privately engaging, publicly irrelevant. Which incidentally would be a scandal to the gospel in two ways; first, it would be an incredible commentary on our practice of the lordship of Christ, or our total failure to practice the lordship of Christ, that so many Christians at such a moment could have a faith that was only privately engaging and publicly irrelevant would be a scandal. Not only that though, it would be a commentary on a national revulsion to the religious right.

I know it’s fashionable among Republican politicians now to blame the religious right for all the Republican problems, and that’s unfair. But there is no question that revulsion to the misguided zealotry of the unprincipled efforts of our Christian brothers and sisters is a prime cause of why the public square is closing to the Christian faith today.

Now, there are problems with this first scenario, even on the secular reading of it. One is that secularism as a public philosophy simply cannot sustain America’s traditional values, which were once rooted in faith. The second problem is that such a public square would not be democratic. In other words, if the secularists say, “Fundamentalism must not be imposed on us because it’s not representative of America,” secularism is even less representative of America. But that is obviously the scenario backed by most of the intelligentsia, many of the cultural elite in our society, partly just unwittingly because they think it’ll come. They’re unaware of the religious dimension of the American people.

The Long-Run Sooner

The second scenario, I would give the title “The Long-Run Sooner”. This one assumes that faith will not be decisive, but this time that it will matter. The Framers were realists. In the long run, no great free republic lasts forever, even with the best intention of the best system in the world. But “The Long-run Sooner” means that we’re bringing this to the short term rather than the historical long-term. Why? Undercut the spiritual and moral underpinnings of the social order, and there will be national consequences. George Will calls this the slow barbarization of the republic from the inside, and it’s what Henry Kissinger has described as America’s spiritual void.

Apple Pie Authoritarianism

Then we move across the divide to the outcome that religion will be decisive in the future. But in the third case, harmfully. I give this the title from Kevin Phillips, who calls it “Apple Pie Authoritarianism”. At some moment of real or perceived crisis, the attempt will be made to stem the crisis by using traditional values, and to use religion to bolster the traditional values. You notice the keyword use. In other words, in this case religion is not intrinsically true or right, but it is instrumentally useful.

Now that of course is not new in human history, the manipulation of religion for government’s sake, and it’s not new in American history, even with the Framers. They often spoke of religion like a public utility. The people who see this in a much more systematic, manipulative way than we’ve seen so far. Some of the beginnings, you could see in the 1980s with the deliberate manipulation of Christians by conservatives.

Of course, the bottom line of this is it will not work for the nation, and in both the short and the long-run it’s an absolute disaster for the Church of Christ. We can see this in other cultures like Ulster or South Africa today.

The Wild Card Played

That leaves one last scenario, I call this one “The Wild Card Played”, because faith is at best a Joker in the intellectual discussion of the land. And yet the last scenario sees a genuine American renaissance, a genuine revitalization of American ideals and American institutions across the board through a genuine spiritual revival.

Now we’ll turn to look at revival more clearly tomorrow, looking at evangelicalism. But one of the points I’ll be making is that we need to revive the understanding of revival and reform the understanding of reformation. But what’s tragic, put simply tonight, is that you have leader after leader after leader in the Evangelical Movement and in the Church of Christ at large, saying that revival under the conditions of modernity is unthinkable, when you have historians and sociologists who have no faith at all, or intellectuals who are Jewish, who say that revival is deeply conceivable and necessary and can only come from the Christian community. For example, Irving Kristol, the Jewish intellectual, would say that.

Now, obviously the fourth scenario is the one that we’d long for, and pray for, and work for insofar as human beings are able to contribute at all through prayer and hunger and expectancy. But I don’t need to stress to you that if I didn’t qualify what I’ve just said in many circles, revival itself would be put into the third scenario. In other words, revival itself would be seen as an instrumental way of turning the nation back for the nation’s good and the nation’s glory, which would surely be the ultimate blasphemy.

And if begin and end, as John did when he said “let God be God”, then revival is not for America’s sake with all the best love in the world for this republic. It’s for God’s sake and God’s only. And I stress that because I speak to you as an Englishman. I’m married to an American, and I often think in many ways I love this country and understand American things better than many Americans I know, including many Christian Americans, including many who read nonsense like The Light and the Glory and so on, and who go into that sort of understanding of America.

The Purpose of Revival

Having said that, revival is for God’s sake and not in any way for America’s sake. And while revival may be a critical part to the understanding of where the nation is at the moment, one has to walk very carefully and humbly in seeing revival in its place, before the sovereignty of the Lord and his divine Spirit pouring out in our time. But if you’ve understood the logic of my argument, you do face the challenge that what each of us does in our individual discipleship and in all the ministry of our local churches has enormous significance today. Because, culturally speaking, the integrity and effectiveness of America is crucially linked to the integrity and effectiveness of millions of followers of Christ in America.

G. K. Chesterton saw that in the 1920s, if you’ve read his great book What I Saw in America. He came for various months, and he wrote his writeup of his trip. Some of it is funny, but it often has penetrating insights. But his last chapter is deeply serious. He argues two things, and 70 years later they’re uncannily accurate if you know the intellectual scene.

He argues first there will be no meaning to democracy once there’s no meaning to anything. Any of you who know our campuses, we’re experiencing a crisis of the very meaning of meaning. And the modern intellectual position on our campuses could not even be enough to create a university today, let alone to sustain a great republic in times like this. And the second thing Chesterton says is this:

The greatness of America did not derive from America and it cannot be sustained by America itself. It comes from America’s transcendent beliefs. And if it loses touch with a source of transcendence, America declines.

And that’s why he finishes with some magnificent paragraphs, which John quoted something around, but there’s more to it than that. He looks at the American Eagle and contrasts the eagle with other birds that other nations have as their symbols. Then he says the secret of the American Eagle lies way back in classical times. And his last line in the book is this:

Freedom is the eagle whose glory is gazing at the sun. When the eagle turns from the sun, she flies low and eventually she’s grounded.

You know what he meant by the sun, and you know well what the meaning of glory is in the Scriptures.

The Impact of Modernity

Let me in the last few minutes give you a series of propositions to be the link to tomorrow when we look at evangelicalism, of the impact of modernity which lies behind the crisis of America and the crisis of the church in America. These are 12 propositions for us to wrestle with in terms of the challenge of modernity. I’ll rattle through them comparatively fast and we can discuss them if you like later.

The Central Fact of Human Life

First, modernity is the central fact of human life today. By modernity, I do not mean a set of ideas — Marxism, Freudianism, and the like. I mean the spirit and system and structures of our world produced by great revolutions such as capitalism, technology, and modern telecommunications. This means that we live in the world’s first truly global culture. We live in what is the most powerful culture in human history so far. Potentially, it is the strongest counterfeit of the Kingdom of God in the history of the church.

This modernity encircles the world extensively and encompasses more and more of each of our individual lives intensively. Modernity is the central fact of human life today.

A Double-Edge for Society

Second, modernity is double-edged for human beings. Modernity is simply the greatest human advance in all history, for example, benefits such as health, speed, power, and convenience. Few of us would live in previous ages unless we were privileged to choose to be among the elite. So modernity is on the one hand the greatest human advance in history, but on the other hand, the greatest assault on humanness in history. Take simply the crisis of the family or the crisis of human identity in modern society. Never has a culture undermined humanness so much as ours does.

A Double-Edge for Christians

Third, modernity is double-edged for followers of Christ. Modernity represents the crux of the contemporary challenge to the gospel, because on the one hand it is the greatest single opportunity of the church since the apostles. And on the other hand, it is the greatest single challenge to the church since the apostles. It’s our opportunity because it’s the equivalent of the Roman roads and the Greek language in the first century, or printing presses and books in the 16th century. Or, in the case of evangelicalism, it includes our inbuilt reliance on technique.

Now this is an advantage to both America and evangelicalism, because both have prospered at the growing edge of modernity. But it’s also a disadvantage in a double sense. Those most blessed by modernity are most blind to it, and those first hit by modernity are often the worst hurt by it. So for instance, those further behind are often better off. Orthodoxy often considers itself better than Catholicism, just as Catholicism does at Protestantism. That’s simply because they’re further behind because they weren’t at the growing edge of modernity.

The Challenge of Cultural Authority

Fifth, modernity’s central challenge to America is focused in America’s crisis of cultural authority. I need to say no more about that one.

The Challenge of the Authority of Faith

Sixth, modernity’s central challenge to evangelicals is focused in the crisis of the authority of faith. I’ll say more on that tomorrow, but I’ll just mention one thing. I was at Bethel today, and one of the professors said, “How ironic it is, many of the students have the highest and most impeccable views of inerrancy, but they don’t relate the Bible practically to their own lives at a down-to-earth level.” Why? Modernity uncouples beliefs and behavior. So what we believe and how we behave go in different directions.

A Monumental Paradox

Seventh, modernity is a monumental paradox to the everyday practice of faith. Modernity simultaneously makes evangelism easier, yet discipleship harder. Have you ever noticed that paradox? Evangelism is easier. More people at more times are more open today than ever before, because the shelf life of idolatry is very brief under the conditions of modernity. Choice and change are so fast, people are running in and out of their hoped-for solutions. And more people at more times are more open than any generation in human history. So evangelism is much easier. And yet discipleship is harder because practicing the lordship of Christ in every area of our lives runs counter to the dire fragmentation and specialization of modern life.

Polarized Responses

Eighth, modernity pressures the church towards polarized responses. The church has always had a two-way conversation with the world, being in it but not of it. But modernity has reinforced this polarization enormously as we can see ever since the rise of the 18th century. You’ve seen a characteristic pattern of responses to modernity. Liberals have generally tended to surrender to modernity without criticizing it, ever since the days of Schleiermacher and the cultured despisers of the gospel. Conservatives, on the other hand, have tended to defy modernity without understanding it.

But here’s the significant point, in the last generation, as I hinted with that liberal lament at the beginning, the tendency has been for evangelicals to reverse this traditional polarization. And many of our new progressive evangelicals are courting the affluent consumers of the gospel the way the liberals once courted the cultured despisers of the gospel, so that evangelicals are now the modernizers and the supreme compromisers in the church, and the liberals are weeping over our compromise and we’re doing what they have done for 200 years with our eyes closed. I’ll say more on that tomorrow.

Greater Than Common Responses

Ninth, modernity’s challenge cannot be escaped by the common responses to which Christians today traditionally resort. Those who recognize the deficiencies of extreme liberal and conservative responses often go to two equally deficient responses. One resort is to what I call “pre-modernism”, which is looking to the Third World to refresh us spiritually when we’re rather dry in the West. But there’s a fallacy there; the Third World has not been modernized. So these fresh, lively movements in Africa or Asia or whatever have much to teach us by way of challenge, but not in the long-term, because their challenge is still to come.

The same is true of Eastern Europe. The month the Berlin Wall fell I was in Poland and I was saying to them very bluntly, “You faced persecution under Marxism, and I won’t minimize it for a second, but you’ll have twice the challenge under modernity.” And already you can see the softness creeping into the Eastern Europeans as we have here, because even under the fires of persecution, they had not yet been modernized. Comforting ourselves by all the pre-modern parts of the world where the spirit is moving powerfully is no solution to our problem because we live here.

And the other false resort is to what one might call “postmodernism”. In other words, this is about those who talk airily of this new word “postmodern.” And it’s true that modernism as a set of ideas has collapsed, but simply because a set of ideas has collapsed to claim that we are now “postmodern” and the problem of modernity is finished is utter folly. Why? Because that’s defining modernity only as ideas. But if you define it in a deeper way, not just ideas but structures, capitalism, technology, industry, telecommunications, etc., we are not postmodern for a second.

There may be in our campuses something in architecture and the arts and certain theology which is postmodern. But does that mean modernity’s rolled up? Not a bit of it. We are now at the high noon of modernity. And to look to either the pre-modern world or the so-called postmodern world is utter folly. The main challenge is still a challenge that we must face.

A Special Challenge to the Church

Tenth, modernity represents a special challenge to the church. The three strongest national challenges to the Gospel in the modern world are these: Japan, Europe, and the United States, because those are the cutting edge of modernity. Those are the stormfront of modernity. Now if you reflect for a moment, you’ll see the pathos of that. Japan has never been won, and she’s not easy to win today. Europe has been won for Christ twice, and tragically lost twice. And if you know Europe, she is not easy to win today. So here again, we’re back to you again. Here in the United States, for all the problems, the Church of Christ is relatively strongest, spiritually, theologically, numerically, and financially, which means that here is the place to stand and show the integrity and effectiveness of the gospel under the challenger modernity.

Some of us remember a famous dinner party in Washington where the discussion topic of the evening was, if you were given $10 million, where would you give it? At the end of two hours of discussion, believe it or not, with some of the leaders of evangelicalism in the room, the general conclusion was, with two dissenters, “Give it to the Third World.” There was nothing strategically worthwhile backing here in the United States. Yes, there’s chaos here, but do you see the folly of that? Here is where the battle is. Here is the storm front. And if the church can’t stand strong under the impact of modernity at the growing edge of modernity, how are they going to do it in other cultures when modernity goes there?

A Special Challenge to Reformation

Eleventh, modernity represents a very special challenge to reformation. The reason is the very special challenge of modernity’s central dismissal of the place of words. On the one hand, the overwhelming thrust of modernity has been to replace words with images, and reading with viewing. On the other hand, the words that do remain have generally become technical, specialized, and to most people, abstract. And tragically, the Church of Christ is abandoning words as well as the Word just as much as the world at large. I find in my experience, it’s our Jewish friends who say, “I cannot believe that you Christians who share a biblical tradition, with a high place of the Word and of words and of a speech, are joining at such gathering speed a culture which is abandoning words.” There won’t be reformation without the Word and without words. Once again, it comes back to your ministries.

A Special Challenge to Revival

Twelfth, modernity represents a special challenge to revival. Quite simply, it’s a fact of history that the church of Christ in America has not experienced nationwide revival under the conditions of advanced modernity. You could argue when the last one was. Many historians would say 1859. But what one can see is on the one hand, modernity undercuts true dependence on God’s sovereign awakening, by fostering the notion that we can affect revival or growth by human means. On the other hand, modernity makes Christians satisfied with privatized individualistic subjective experiences that are pale counterfeits of true awakening. Now of course, I don’t mean modernity has put revival out of business, far from it, but for many people it’s made it a hope that is much less realistic than it used to be before the conditions of modernity.

Question and Answer

Let me leave it there tonight. The United States is at a critical moment. I used the word “our” when writing to a secular audience just in the sense of a critical moment towards the climax of the American century itself. Although, at the end, I use the word kairos in the biblical sense, much more openly. It’s a critical moment for opportunity and responsibility when surely God himself comes close, and his visitation is ripe with either blessing or judgment as the Church of Christ obeys or is indifferent. This I think is the widest challenge of all that we’re thinking of as we look at ministry in our own time today. Freedom is the eagle whose glory is gazing at the sun. You are the ministers of glory.

It’s over to you for the remaining discussion tonight. What I suggest for the discussion is that you stand up and speak out loudly so that everyone can hear. And I prefer not to repeat the questions for the tape, so that we have a much more natural interchange without the stiltedness of repetition.

Why should we think that America’s place of prominence will be what affects the world spiritually when Scripture is clear that a majority of Christians are not wise, noble, powerful, etc., and that God uses what is weak to shame the wise?

What happens to America doesn’t concern me that much at the end of the day. Let me be blunt on that. And I remind myself of that daily in Washington, which has its priorities the other way around. I think the reason is this though. There is a primary reason and a secondary reason. The primary reason concerns this idea of the American church being at the stormfront of modernity. In other words, you’re right, in the providence of God there are not many mighty, not many wires, etc. It could be that something happening in Togo land will be the secret of the worldwide church tomorrow, absolutely. I agree with that.

But to me that is offset by this challenge, that as a sociologist looking at the challenge to faith in the 20th century, the toughest challenges are modernity. And if we will not stand here, it’s like Luther saying that if you fight the battle at any point in your time, except the point that it’s being fought, you might as well not fight. Here is the brunt of the battle for the gospel in our time against modernity. And that’s why, I think, the Church of Christ in the United States is absolutely critical.

Now, at a very, very secondary level, and I stress that again so I’m not misunderstood, I have long believed that the meaning of modernity and the meaning of America are crucially tied. So quite apart from jingoistic American arguments, or chauvinistic arguments, I could make a respectable argument (though I won’t tonight) of America’s extraordinary significance. Because for 200 years when Leipzig called it the world’s first new nation, America did wrestle with some of the deep questions of modernity, which are built into the American system from the beginning. And America’s got some darn good answers, for better or worse, the most nearly perfect.

So the irony is that George Bush declared a new world order and didn’t put any flesh on it at all. And yet in fact, America has never been more relevant to the world. You take the whole notion of federalism, or living with differences (unity and diversity), and various things which the American system has wrestled with, and have Christian roots, such as separation of powers growing out of Witherspoon’s view of sin and so on, the American experiment has an enormous amount to teach the world today, and yet it’s unable to. So I as an Englishman would like to see America live up to the best of the American promise in order to do that. But my real reason is the first one, for the gospel. Here is the place to stand now. And then we’ve got masses to share with the world, I mean the church around the world, but it’s mostly humbly, in terms of our failure.

In other words, Europeans, we can give you 200 years of what secularization has done and how we’ve failed abysmally. The American church experience is better than that. That for me is the bottom line though. It’s the challenge of discipleship and faithfulness to Christ. If we’re not faithful here, where will we be faithful?

I go to places like Singapore. I was in Singapore and Russia last year. They’re wrestling with what’s coming to them. So the Singapore Christians are very cocky. They think, “We’re not going to go your Western way. We’ve got Confucian values as well as Christian values.” And I said to them, “You don’t realize what’s coming.” I said, “Five years ago I was here, and you had no McDonald’s. You now have more than 35 McDonald’s on a tiny island. Now be honest, with McDonald’s hamburgers and all the fast food that came with it in just five years, has it affected Chinese family living?”

“Oh yes,” they said and started to describe it. Well, it’s just a matter of time before you have a family breakdown. In other words, the beginning of the family breakdown was the loss of the family dining table in the late 50s through things like fast food, which is part of modernity. And the idea that the Singapore Christians, because they were Confucian and detached from the West, could survive is utter folly. And they’ve got to learn from the terrible experience of us in the West. So that would be my reason. It’s a discipleship reason. It’s about integrity and effectiveness. Just as the early church had to stand under Nero and Diocletian, we have to stand under modernity and prevail and be more than conquerors.

What is the danger of modernity? And how can we know if we have imbibed its notions?

One Christian business leader got up, and he said, “I understand something that was said to me in Japan. I was to witnessing to a Japanese corporate executive, and the man said to me, ‘I’m not very impressed by what you say. Whenever I meet a Christian missionary, I meet a manager. Whenever I meet a Buddhist, I meet a holy man.’” Now, the fact is that most of us in the West are deeply secularized without knowing it. The world of the transcendent, the supernatural, and the spiritual is not our natural world. Studies show that actually what brings secularization to much of the so-called Third World are missionaries, because they bring Christian teaching, but the only supernatural element they have is prayer, and occasionally theology.

But in all other things, they have a sort of fix-it mentality to the whole of life. Whereas the pagans may be pagan, but they have a living world of spirits and demons. They have a world that’s rich with the supernatural, even if they’re on the wrong side. Whereas many Western Christians, our Peter Berger says, are “living in a world without any windows.” We’re shut off from the transcendent.

I haven’t been in any of your churches. I’m here in John’s church tonight, but I’ve never heard John preach and I’ve never been there to worship. But to be blunt, I have never been in an English-speaking culture where the churches are so full and sermons are so empty, and there’s so little sense of awe and transcendence in worship, because we are profoundly secularized by modernity, all of us. One of the professors at Bethel asked me something at lunchtime. He said, “Integration is all very easy to talk about, and the students are very good at it. What would you challenge us with as professors?” I said, “Just start with the spiritual dimensions of the life of discipleship of the mind — the fear of the Lord, spiritual warfare, etc.” All these things are in Scripture. Are our academics in touch with that world? Far from it, our academics are deeply secularized.

I’m still trying to get a good, short definition of modernity, could you help with that?

You start getting a bit technical, so it gets a little bit longer then. There’s two ways of understanding modernity. One is through the history of ideas, and that’s the way most Christians think of it if they think of it at all. The other is through these great revolutions in the structures and life systems in which we live, such as capitalism, technology, industry, and telecommunications.

Now flowing out of that, it’s key to see some of the effects of modernity on human living. I mentioned one in response to these two questions, what’s called secularization. And among many things that secularization means is that the world of the supernatural just becomes unreal. The real world is the world of the tangible, the five senses, what you can touch, taste, see, and so on. But that’s just one of the effects of modernity.

Another of the effects of modernity is what’s technically known as differentiation, or put more simply, specialization. Modernity is highly specialized. The traditional world was much more harmonious, integrated, simple, and unified. In the traditional world, for instance, some of you must have seen the famous painting by Millet (the French, 19th century artist) called “The Angelus.” It’s a picture of two peasants in a field, and they’re praying. You can’t actually see the church, and you can’t hear the bell because it’s a painting, but the church bell rang out right across their farm world and they paused to pray in the middle of it because their world was unified.

But our world is specialized, strung out, compartmentalized, and fractured. So you do this there, that there, and the other there. So church is here, home is there, your business is there, and so on. Well, that fractures the lordship of Christ. You can go on down the line to some of the features of modernity. One of the subtlest of the features is what’s technically known as displacement, because the whole sense of time and place have been removed.

Take the effect of fax machines. You can have someone in an office who is closer to his colleague in Sydney, or talking to someone in Tokyo, than he is to his own family. And he lives this whole world right around the world. Now this does all sorts of curious things. People have pointed out how this affects our intimacy. We used to be deeply intimate at home and then more formal as we moved out into life. But these extraordinary machines make us intimate with people in the oddest places. And this is one of the reasons why there’s so much immorality.

Another feature of modernity is anonymity. In most traditional societies, people were not more moral, but they were more seen. But we are less seen than any generation in history at certain points. Think of a businessman traveling to different parts of the world. More times in our life, we are less seen by other people. We’re away from our families, we’re away from our colleagues, and we’re away from our churches. Nobody sees us.

Now, if morality is external and about being seen, rather than genuine morality, it’s not there. This is probably one of the main reasons there is so much Christian immorality today. We’re so unstructured, anonymous, and mobile. Nothing holds us accountable. So you see, I’m just piling up some of the features and the effects. You’re right, it is not just one thing — pace or lifestyle — modernity touches us in all sorts of ways and places.

Should we think of modernity mainly as a negative thing or are there positive sides too?

Remember it is double-edged. It’s partly very good. Which of us would switch the health benefits, etc.? It always involves pluses and minuses. It is never purely evil. So I may concentrate on the negative because we’re talking about the implications for faith, but it is always good too. And the point is we can’t get out of it anymore than we can get out of the world. We’re in it, but not of it, as long as we’re alive. I think the key thing is to analyze all the effects where it touches our ministries, and by God’s grace, to be points of resistance against it. But we have to then identify it and analyze modernity, and then see how the gospel is an antidote.

For instance, I’ll just throw out another one. You mentioned the whole notion of what’s technically known as commodification. This is one area where Marx was right, not wrong. Marx, even in The Communist Manifesto, he has this simple line where he says, “All that is solid melts into air; all that is holy is profaned.” And he’s talking about capitalism and modernity. Nietzsche picked this up. One of the effects of modernity is to take what was once considered real and solid and make it, in Nietzsche’s words, “weightless” and “hollow”.

Walt Whitman writes about it, and that increased with the whole sense of artificiality of modern cities. And that’s behind T. S. Elliot’s notion of hollow men. But the thing that has really increased is the modern notion of images, and the whole video tele-scape in which we live. We live in such a flickering world of images today that many human things have just lost their reality, and they become little television jingles. Updike described the 80s as a whole as the empty 80s. And you can think of how many words, even if the words are right, whether political things or Christian things, just become jingles.

So I often say, as a European, rather rudely, much of the American faith looks like Christian Light. The words are all there but it’s just a superficial, frothy, bubbly little thing. That would never have survived persecution. That isn’t the gospel reality. There’s an American Light because of this weightlessness. And much preaching is just Christian Light and so on. But one’s got to analyze how these things happen and then just cry out to the Lord, “Give me reality, give me depth,” and so on and so on. In other words, see where the Gospel is the antidote to each of these things that’s a problem. So we’re looking at specialization. The antidote there is Lordship. Christ insists on being Lord of every inch, and nothing less will do.

That’s a tough one, because you see what the antidote is. But to practice it in this case is the tough one. But each way you have to analyze what’s gone wrong, where modernity does certain things — and there are a hundred things you might cite — and then by God’s grace, we’re all resistance centers in the name of the gospel and in the name of the Lord.

Or put it differently. One of the key missing elements in evangelical preaching is transcendence. I don’t mean your preaching here, and I imagine most of you who are at a conference like this because you believe deeply in these things. But I mentioned Lloyd-Jones. The mark of Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, if any of you heard him, is that he never ever said “thus saith the Lord”, because he never needed to. He spent the hour before he preached alone with the Lord. I knew Lloyd-Jones quite well towards the end of his life. If you had a suicidal person on his door, he wouldn’t have spoken to them.

Other people would’ve done that. If the queen, who lived a few hundred yards away from his church had come, he wouldn’t have seen her. He was with the King of Kings. Nothing interrupted that hour alone with the Lord before he came and after all his preparation in the week. And when he preached, the unction and authority was there, and his handling of the word was with humility and authority. Where is that in evangelicalism, with our overhead projectors and the casual stuff you have today? We’ve lost it. Now, more on that tomorrow.

We’ve got to analyze various things and see where the gospel is the point of resistance against it. If you’ve ever seen the old French resistance film The Sorrow and the Pity, one of the French resistance leaders was interviewed, and they asked him, “How do you explain why your men were such heroes?” And he said, “We weren’t heroes. We were simply maladjusted enough to know that something was wrong.” And that’s what I like among ministers today, men and women who know that something is wrong with all these going trends. Something must be better than we’ve got now. If this is all, God help us, there must be something more. And then we cry out to the Lord for something more.

As people who live in the U.S., how should we think about practicing the lordship of Christ in our culture today, especially in relation to raising our children within the context of modernity? And what part does the study of sociology have to play in that?

I live here too, and I don’t escape it either with my son. So I’m not a paragon of virtue. I’ll just tell you about my own intellectual pilgrimage. I came to Christ in 1960, as I said, and about five years later, I was frustrated out of my mind. I was at London University and Swinging London was happening with David Bailey, the Beatles, Antonioni, Fellini, etc. I wanted to understand that as a believer, but nothing in the background of my faith gave me any understanding of that. For me, when I met Francis Schaeffer with a whole understanding of Christ’s lordship over everything, who was able to think about questions and issues in the arts and politics, it was — I don’t want this to be understood wrongly — as revolutionary in my life as my conversion. The freedom I had to go out into culture!

But I realized after a number of years, even with Schaeffer, that his approach was overly intellectualist. It was all a history of ideas and thinkers like Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and so on. But much of life was outside of that. And the man who put me onto this deeper understanding was Peter Berger. And I left LaBree specifically to pursue this in the early 70s, to really seek to understand the structural changes, the way ordinary life was shaped by these things. So it was through Peter Berger about 20 years ago that I began to understand these things.

So for instance, The Gravedigger File is not an original book at all. It was an attempt to take commonplace stuff from sociology and turn it into things that are intelligible for Christians. What was discouraging for me was that people don’t take modernity seriously. They’re beginning to, but they really don’t take it seriously. Christians still think of our great opponents as secular humanism and so on. These are trivial things compared to the damage done by notions like modernity.

You mentioned Jacques Ellul. It’s interesting how many of the best critics of modernity are Christians, like Jacques Ellul, Peter Berger, David Martin in England, George Grant in Canada, the Canadian philosopher. These are some of the best analysts of modernity by any standards, and they’re all Christians deeply concerned about its effects on humanness and on the faith. So it’s through them I learned. For me, it’s just the world. Christians should have a healthy awareness of the danger of the world. Modernity is our world, which is more powerful and more pervasive than any system of the world so far. So I just use sociology and so on to make Christians aware.

To me it’s depressing. If you read church growth statistics, the 10 latest sociological demographics, some of these are absolutely trivial and nonsensical. They’re misusing sociology. They’re not critical of sociology. But sociology, rightly used, can make us aware of the world in which we’re living, which is making us conform to it, rather than our being transformed by the renewal of our minds and hearts through the Holy Spirit. So that was the way I got into it.