Friday, December 19, 2008

Christianity in America

As Ameican Christians, we have an awkward relationship with the culture around us. We are citizens, but we are also aliens and strangers. Ultimately, our citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, we are also called to live as good citizens here. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told the Jews to seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). We, too, should seek the peace and prosperity of the cities in which we live.

However, in seeking to bless our city and our country, we are caught up in a dynamic tension that is deeply embedded in our culture and history as Americans. On the one hand, there is the notion that America was founded as a "Christian" country. As a result, there are some who believe we should fight to recover our Christian heritage, grab the levers of power, and make sure that all the non-Christians here live by our rules. After all, if God is God, then the rules of biblical morality are not our rules--they are not mere social constructs--but are laws invested with divine authority.

On the other hand, we clearly live in a pluralistic society. Demanding that non-Christians embrace Christian values and behaviors when they have not embraced Christ seems wrong-headed and counterproductive. It distracts us from our God-given mission.

For example, take the issue of public prayer (prayer in public schools, high school football games, Baccalaureate services, etc.). Do we really want to insist that a Muslim/Hindu/Atheist/Cult member teacher lead our kids in prayer at any of these events? Do you want a Muslim/Hindu/Atheist/Cult member to lead your child in prayer at any of these events? Some seek to avoid these religious distinctions by praying "generic" prayers that are simply addressed to a generic god. Yet, this is the worst of all possible solutions. It implies that the god of all religions is the same god, that we can have real fellowship with people who hold to a different religion. This sort of civil religion is syncretism of the worst sort. Of course, we could insist that all public prayers be Christian prayers, but I don't think that will fly, nor do we want to force non-Christians to join in our worship when their hearts are not in it.

Another example is the on-going Christmas wars. Do we really want to insist that non-Christians wish us a Merry Christmas, and then punish them through boycotts when they do not? As Christians, we have a much higher calling than insisting on our "right" to be wished a merry Christmas. Instead, we should have the passion of Jesus to see these people come to know the Christ of Christmas. In our culture warrior mentality, we seem to have lost sight of our mission. Our mission is not to insist on our rights. Our mission is to proclaim the good news of Christ to a lost and dying world. Rather than getting angry over our loss of "rights", we should weep over the world's lostness in sin.

Still, the issue is more complicated than what I have written so far. While we live in a pluralistic culture, the dominant powers of this culture believe that biblical Christianity is a cancer that needs to be removed. For example, recently Senator Obama announced that Rick Warren would give the invocation at his presidential inauguration. The outcry is deafening. Why? Because Pastor Warren is pro-life and believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Because he holds these biblical views, he has been called anti-women's rights, homophobic, and a hater of gays and lesbians. According to some of his opponents, Mr. Warren and his ilk (that includes all Bible-believing Christians) are what is wrong with America.

Another example is the recent Newsweek article that claims that the Bible supports gay marriage. I don't expect Newsweek to endorse biblical values, but this was nothing more than a hatchet job on the Bible. There are a number of excellent critiques of it here, here, and here.

All of this leads us to a very practical questions: How do we live as Christians in a pluralistic society without compromise and without engaging our culture with worldly tactics? Instead of making the post longer, let me link you to a few articles that articulate a biblical way of engaging our world. I highly recommend all of these.

Taking the Swagger Out of Christian Cultural Influence by John Piper

Evangelical Manners by Richard Mouw

No Need to be Nasty by Joel Belz


Chuck Dunn said...


Would Christ prefer that we boycott 'pagan' stores on Christmas or visit those stores and share the love and joy of Christ? Better yet, if able, get a job there and do the same.

Carol Van Atta, Princess Warrior said...

Wow! Challenging thoughts. Thank you for providing the book sources at the end of your post. I will be adding to my reading list. God bless you and Merry Christmas.

Xavier Pacheco said...

Thank you for posting a profoundly challenging question!

Jon said...

Andy Crouch published a book this past fall, Culture Making, addressing this very issue. You can find a PDF of the first several chapters here.

Also, Christianity Today published a summary and integrated it with info from an interview in September.