I spent the next hour and a half with this entire group of young people, none of whom was Christian as far as I could tell, in the most productive and respectful dialogue I have ever experienced. These students had serious questions that I sensed they had been holding in reserve for years. It was as if they wanted to ask questions about Christianity but had never met a Christian, or a least one they were inclined to speak with. As the evening grew late, these students walked me across campus to my car, and as I drove away I couldn't help but think how rarely I had engaged the lost in such a manner. This was where I first recognized what it truly means to be missional, and by God's grace I determined then never to act in any other way again.

There was a profound benefit to both having understanding (cultural apologetics) and speaking to my audience as human beings made in the image of God and not as opponents (namely, the missional approach). If all we do is gain knowledge without understanding that this knowledge is to be used as an instrument of liberation, not condemnation, we are, as Scripture says, only resounding gongs and clanging cymbals (see 1 Corinthians 13:1)! If our motivation is anything other than love, we are nothing.

The Influential "Isms" of Our Day

I will address some of the more influential ideas common to contemporary American culture in much greater detail in the subsequent chapters, but a brief summary will help the current discussion. There are the influences of modernity, those pressures and influences unique to living in a technologically advanced, industrialized modern society. In addition, there are the persistent influences of modernism—the post-Enlightenment emphasis on human reason and ingenuity as savior. In both cases, these serve to undermine our sense of the supernatural and our willingness to truly live dependent on the supernatural God. There is postmodernism, which, in one sense, exposes the futility of reliance upon human reason but goes too far by destroying the historical categories of true and false, right and wrong. Postmodernism can also go too far in undermining the traditional means of both discovering and understanding truth. In doing so, the context into which we now present the gospel story has changed radically. These changes inhibit the gospel's reception and thus we must understand this new context. Lastly, there is the all-pervading influence of consumerism, which shifts the object and aim of human life to an artificial and idealized lifestyle that can be achieved "without effort, on purchase of the appropriate commodity."6 Consumerism is, in effect, an alternative gospel competing (rather effectively, I might add) with the true gospel.

Confronting Our Moral Issues

Concerning those social influences and their underlying ideas expressed in the debates over moral and ethical questions, Christians must be equipped to recognize the logical fallacies behind false moral perspectives. Furthermore, they must subsequently affirm—in the marketplace of ideas—biblical, moral, and ethical truths in a manner that is rational, relevant, and responsible without first employing religious rhetoric and moralistic arguments. The debate over moral issues and the church's inability to preserve the biblical basis as the standard by which we make moral distinctions has contributed, more so than anything else, to the redefinition of truth in our culture. The devastating result has been the elimination of the Creator God as the absolute and exclusive source of truth in the West.

Whether it be the ideas common to a given culture or those ideas that arise out of the social debate over moral and ethical questions, both create barriers to either the reception of the gospel by nonbelievers or the integration of the gospel into the life of a believer. In other words, the gospel story may remain implausible in the minds of many nonbelievers, and thus they are encouraged in their unbelief. And many believers may not realize that their thinking remains largely captive to the world, and thus they fail to sanctify their theology and cultivate a comprehensive Christian life and worldview that actually changes the way they live and respond to life's challenges and opportunities. They may speak "Christianly," but they think and often act "worldly" and thus remain in captivity to the culture rather than being an influence on the culture.