- Sunday, March 01, 2009
So-called Christian art and literature no longer serves as the creative benchmark for mainstream art and culture. The fields of creative and intellectual expression once dominated by Christians have been largely abandoned, taking with them any objective standards by which we can judge the true, the good, and the beautiful. Modern evangelical Christianity has to a large extent become pietistic and legalistic; it has forgotten beauty, relativized truth, and, in many respects, reduced Jesus into nothing more than a marketing tool to sell music, T-shirts, and jewelry to an increasingly irrelevant subculture. Even the most casual observer of society and culture surely must recognize that consciously Christian ideas and values no longer direct any of our cultural institutions. The trend of every institution of American culture over the last fifty years has been a decidedly liberal drift, including some mainline Christian denominations. Welcome to post-Christian America!
Instead of engaging the intellectual and cultural challenges that we must in order to be salt and light in a world desperate for hope and meaning, the vast majority of evangelical Christians have abandoned the hard work of apprehending and pressing the truth into every sphere of life and culture. As a result, we have surrendered, by default, our influence in society to secular humanists and others who reject the truth and centrality of Christ to all of life.
From the public school system to the universities, the sciences to the humanities, films to the fine arts, politics to philosophy, Christians have, for the most part, abandoned mainstream culture and withdrawn to the confines of their churches, creating an elaborate Christian subculture with its own language, symbols, entertainment, and literature. To think, then, that we can venture out into the "real" world from this irrelevant subculture and reach people with the truth of Christ is naïve. The fact that the most important truth ever revealed to humanity has been successfully consigned to the margins of society has only strengthened the implausibility of the gospel story!
In the meantime, the truth claims of Christianity have come under vicious attack from all sides. The possibility of miracles, divine revelation, and the Incarnation is both questioned and categorized as a primitive, out-of-date interpretation of reality. The deity of Christ and the existence of God are either rejected altogether or reduced to a practical deism in which God set things in motion but has little to do with everyday life and social existence. The historical and scientific accuracy of the Bible is repeatedly attacked. One only has to recall the recent wave of critics and so-called theologians who weighed in on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ or recent prime-time specials on Jesus and Paul —all dismissing the historical and supernatural truth of the biblical revelation and Jesus as God. The success of The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, with its outrageous and false claims of conspiracy and cover-up as the impetus for the early founding of Christianity, promises to further weaken the plausibility of the Christian faith and message.
The way of salvation —through Christ alone —is regarded as divisive, offensive, or simply unnecessary. Competing religious systems are set over and against Christianity as being more tolerant and more humane. Today, Christians are often labeled fundamentalist right-wing extremists. Unfortunately, due to the general intellectual weakness and pervasive theological ignorance of the church, this is a label that is all too often accurate. And more and more, all remnants of our nation's Christian heritage are being systematically removed from the public square.
An Anti-Intellectual Spirit
Rather than engage these kinds of arguments and actions intelligently as 1 Peter 3:15 commands, many evangelicals continue to hide away under the mask of anti-intellectualism. Too many Christians think, Apologetics is too rationalistic, cerebral, intellectual, and abstract. I don't need to try to rationally prove the existence of God or argue with others about whether or not He exists. I just need to show love and compassion. After all, what really matters is faith, hope, and love—not reason. Reason, they say, just gets in the way of faith, hope, and love. They follow God with their heart, not their head! Others will retreat into the abyss of fideism, saying, Religion is a matter of faith and cannot be argued by reason —one must simply believe. Faith, they think, is a blind leap in the dark, devoid of any rational reasons. They argue that faith and reason stand opposed to one another. This might account for the lack of biblical literacy evident among so many professing Christians today. Recently George Barna reported that "75 percent of Americans believe that the Bible teaches that ‘God helps those who help themselves'"!2
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