There's a lot of helpful stuff out there about how Christians and Christian organisations can interact more skillfully in a social setting where Christian ideas and institutions are not necessarily perceived as normal, acceptable and persuasive. Accepting this reality will stop Christians from coming across as rude, mean, oppressive or gospel-less. Becoming more thoughtful in this area might help us be more persuasive in general, and more distincitvely Christian.
I don't agree with everything that gets said on this topic. Sometimes the recommendations are bad. Sometimes they are overstated, reactionary, narrow, too morally and theologically soft.
But in this post there's two particulary things I want to touch on about this chatter.
There's No Simple 'We'
The problem with some of this talk is that it speaks about a global Christian 'we': WE have done this that or the other. WE have failed in this or that way. Generalisations can of course be made. However generalisations are extremely clumsy tools for analysis.
Generalisations also confuse and blur culpability and agency in all sorts of ways. The 'we' could be seen to be 'leading institutions'… or 'vocal Chrsitians in the media'… or 'patterns and tropes in preaching, book writing and Facebooking'. But these are not things that can easily be laid on the shoulders of the whole Christian community. Nor can they be easily fixed. Institutions have a stubborn and slow life of their own. Patterns of speaking and writing are perceived to endure and predominate even when they are in the minority or have been in decline for a long time. Vocal Christians in the media often don't fairly represent every other Christian.
Bold and universal declarations about what 'we' have done and what 'we' should do need to be toned done and balanced out.
It Wouldn't Have and Won't Matter Heaps Anyway
The strong implication in a lot of this talk is also that if 'we' had done things differently, then Chrsitian ideas and institutions would have been more persuasive or if 'we' do things differently now, we could in the future have a greater opporutnity to be persuasive.
There's some truth in this, for sure. But only some.
Because the movement of culture ideas and practices are out of our control. The books on Christ and culture— like those by Don Carson, Andy Crouch and James Davison Hunter— all point out that the larger the cultural artefact or grouping, the less we can control or predict its effects.
So in the case of Christianity's acceptance and influence in the West: I very much doubt that a few thousand more tactful John Dicksons would have change things much. A larger cultural mood and trajectory was and has been happening, and our masterfu, gentle, nuanced and gospel-centred cultural engagement can only ever have a minimal effect on it.
What's my point then? What should be I do?
- Keep praying and preaching and living the godly life. We are ultimately not just passengers on a historical or sociological journey… we are servants of God in his soverign rule over history.
- Much of the thoughtfulness and tact is still good and right… even if it won't guarantee a different outcome. So keep working at interacting with our soceity on all its different levels with reflection, love and a desire to bring glory to Jesus.
- I need to also cultivate virtues that will serve me in decline of influence and rise of hostility: forgiveness, contentment, courage, integrity, peace, prayerfulnes.
- It's very likely that the future of Christianity will continue to be in the Global South and in the East. So rather than trying to 'win' amongst the secular west, we need to also play our part in investing in a healthy and rich and mature church among different cultural groups. We can share what we have learned, and hopefully protect the true emerging church (as opposed to the so-called 'Emerging Church Movement') from becoming reactionary, jingoistic, fundamentalist, theologically eccentric and so on.