As I mentioned last week, I recently read an article titled “Meet the Woke Young People Trying to Make Christianity Cool Again.” (I’m a bit confused by the “woke” in there, but whatever.) The article bemoaned the gap between public opinion and the opinions of evangelical Christians. To quote: “It doesn’t help that Christian communities can be out of step with the rest of the country when it comes to certain issues.” Furthermore, the authors insist that it’s the Christians who need to change.
Last week I visited the article’s first premise—that Christianity is supposed to be cool. Today I want to consider the notion that Christians should align themselves with our culture’s values.Why should Christians be the ones to change their values? I see two ways to look at this. In the first case you could argue that, given that we want others to accept Jesus, adopting the world’s values would lower the bar, removing any objections a potential convert might have. We could skip all those difficult dos and don’ts, and we’d all be on the same page regarding morality and ethics.
The other viewpoint is to decide that, in places where culture and Scripture disagree, it’s the Bible that is either out of date—or we’re interpreting it incorrectly. In our modern day wisdom, we’ve risen above those rules we now consider unfair or prejudiced; we know better now. Therefore, our current culture is the final arbiter of morality and truth.
Unfortunately, neither of these views is Biblical. We aren’t supposed to be like the rest of the world. Paul writes, “Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 6:17). And 1 Peter 2:8-10 reads, “However, you are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people who belong to God.” Hebrews 11:9-10 and 1 John 2:15-17 are also pertinent passages.
Yes, we live in the world—Paul points that out in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, and Jesus says in John 17:11: “ I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world….” (Italics mine.) But we aren’t to be part of the world, or influenced by it. We are in the world but not of the world.
Unfortunately, to a great extent, the church (especially in the global West) is in such a state of compromise that we’ve lost our credibility. Instead of seeing love in action, the world sees a bunch of hypocrites! The church is known for what it’s against—primarily homosexuality and abortion—rather than what it’s for—love, compassion, mercy, gentleness, healing, peace, and the power to overcome sin.
Part of the problem is that the media loves to jump on the negatives and ignore all the good things the church does. But a big part of the problem is us.
Let’s take premarital sex for a case study. According to a Gallup poll done in 2014, 60% of American adults say it’s perfectly fine for an unmarried couple to have sex. That percentage has been rising for years. Among (self-professed) Christians, the numbers are strikingly similar. According to another survey by ChristianMingle, 61% of young, single Christians are willing to have sex without marriage.
Yet, Scripture is pretty clear on this issue. Consider 1 Corinthians 7—
But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (7:2)
But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (7:9)
If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. (7:36)
These passages aren’t talking about adultery, which is still widely frowned on. They’re talking about sex outside of marriage—between single, consenting adults. Forbidding premarital (or extra-marital) sex is not a popular view these days, and it’s one in which the culture and the Bible disagree. Sadly, a majority of Christians—those who profess to follow Christ—agree with the culture rather than with God.
(It seems to me that we have a plank in our eyes. Perhaps we need to deal with that plank before chiming in on the splinter of other people’s sexual habits. [See Matthew 7:3-5.])
Noted sociologist James Davison Hunter was recently quoted as saying, “Were Christians to be in a position to exert enduring cultural influence, the results would likely be disastrous….” He attributes his opinion to the church’s “flawed thinking about public life.” Two things stand out here—the expectation that the church is bad for society, and the assumption that the church currently does not exert cultural influence.
Of course, I disagree with both these points. I’m horrified that the church is considered a bad influence. And I’m sad that we have so little voice that we’re brushed aside as irrelevant. If the church has really lost the ability to exert any cultural influence, it would be because church and culture have become one and the same.
Far from changing its values to match those of the unbelieving culture around us, the church should strive to be salt and light in an ever-darker world.