In their book, “Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme”, the authors, Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman make the comment, “For many people of faith it’s becoming harder to live their convictions outside of their religious communities. It feels as though forces are pushing religion to the margins. In fact, to many people, faith is irrelevant and even bad news.”
It’s true that many Christians are feeling overwhelmed and often typecast as being bigoted, judgemental, homophobic, and hypocritical. The questions that are formulating more frequently in our minds are, ‘what does the future hold for Christians and Christianity in our culture and society; and, how can we reach a world that views our faith and beliefs as being detrimental and even destructive?
Matt Chandler writes, “For the church, the skies are growing dark in the West. But, the sky is not falling in. In fact, this is a great time to be a Christian.” Why? Well, we’ll come to that. First, let’s look at what Chandler identifies as the 4 common ways in which Christians are tempted to respond. He says, “The first is what might be called the ‘converting culture’ approach. What matters most to people with this mindset is that our nation’s culture reflects biblical principles and values. Supporters of this view are willing to go to great lengths to make this happen, even if that means making alliances with corrupted politicians and political parties, or making what they might see as lesser moral compromises.” Yes, as Christians we are to seek the good of the ’city’ (c.f. Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). We should certainly be engaged in the culture and seeking to transform it through the power of Christ. However, we get into trouble when we confuse the earthly city with the heavenly city until Christ returns, this world will never be as it should. You can’t use politics to build the new Jerusalem nor can you legislate people into the kingdom of God.
The next way we might respond to the age is to ’condemn culture’ – i.e. to see culture as bad and seek to remove ourselves entirely from the world and retreat into our own subculture. Yes, God does call his people to be holy – to be distinct from the world around us. Yet, we are also meant to influence the world—to be salt and light. Jesus did not withdraw from the world and set up a monastery – he was often criticised as hanging out with too much with the ’tax collectors and sinners’.
The third response is to ’consume culture’ – this is the view that wherever culture and historical Christian teaching disagree, then we abandon the Christian stuff in favour of staying relevant. People who follow this approach seek to interpret the Bible through cultural lenses rather than the other way round.
These three options are all quite different but they all have something in common – they are borne out of fear! However, there is a fourth option… which is more a posture rather than a strategy. That is, to have ‘courage’! Chandler states, “If we have a God-sized, God-given courage, then we will be freed up to be the people of God, living out the mission of God, marked by the joy of God. With courage, this season of history can be viewed not with fear and trepidation, but instead with hope and a sense of opportunity. With courage, our perspectives change and we can be excited and encouraged about this cultural moment, and not intimidated, angered, or paralysed by it.” The Church CAN thrive in an age of unbelief. The first century Church did.
God has promised that He WILL build His Church and He wants to use us in this. He has given us ALL we need to accomplish the mission. Jesus said to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart (have courage) for I have overcome the world.” next month we will explore this further.
Until then… Blessings,
*Adapted from “Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief” by Matt Chandler © 2018 The Village Church. Published by Good Book Publishers