In the debate over how best to impose a Christian worldview on a pagan world, one option usually gets passed by. It is the option of not imposing it at all, but making the world ask for what we have.
We tend to pass it by because it seems like such a slow, unlikely, and difficult route. Why should we suppose that a culture that has fought us tooth and nail over the last generation would then turn around and willingly ask us for what we have?
For at least two reasons.
The first is that their own culture is so bad, so unsatisfactory, and so ultimately empty. Vast numbers of people claim they like what paganism offers them. But if they really like it, why do they hurry on so fast for new and different experiences? The fact is that they have been left unfilled and dissatisfied. That's why unbelief always turns into a downward spiral whose vortex sucks in its victims with scary speed. Each promising experience turns out to be a betrayal, prompting the betrayed to chase on toward still new relationships. But each of them often turns out to be shorter, emptier, and more bitter than the one before.
Drunkenness always wants one more drink. Material fascination still seeks more to acquire. Sexual lust always craves another score.
I saw such emptiness in Asheville, N.C., a few days ago. Asheville on the one hand is known as a buckle on the Bible belt and has historically been hospitable to biblical Christianity (an interstate highway nearby is the Billy Graham Freeway). Yet Asheville also includes a noisily anti-Christian element as well-including New Agers, aggressively active homosexuals, earth worshippers, and a growing presence of self-proclaimed witches. Indeed, a couple of weeks ago, Her Honor the Mayor actually issued an official proclamation declaring: "Whereas, Earth Religions are among the oldest spiritual systems on the planet; and Whereas, Followers of many Earth-centered religions live and worship in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina ... ," therefore, said the mayor, the last week in October would be known throughout the region as "Earth Religions Awareness Week." The coincidence of "the last week in October" with Halloween, of course, was no accident. Asheville's witches made the most of it all. In the process, news leaked out that one witches' coven was actually doing weekly reading sessions with elementary students in several of Asheville's public schools.
But it's not enough. After all this, the headline in Asheville's very secular Sunday paper still complained in big, bold type: "Local pagans desire acceptance." It will be that way, of course. For no matter how deep the inroads unbelief makes against our culture (and the fact that these folks like to be called "pagans" tells you something about where we've come), the very character of unbelief is to be unfulfilled. The more it gets, the more it will want.
The other reason that unbelievers might someday come asking us for what we have is that what we have is so good. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the biblical pattern for protecting the unborn, for keeping marriages together, for keeping families whole, for educating our young, for living within our economic means, for protecting God's creation, for taking care of the needy, for living at peace, for setting new standards in the arts, for exercising justice in society, and for mending brokenness wherever we find it-God's biblical pattern for doing all these things leads to a lifestyle that might well be the envy of the world. God has always promised good things to his people when they follow his instructions; those promises have never been rescinded. So if God's people seriously pursued such patterns of living in response to his grace, many unbelievers would surely beat a path to our door.
The fact that we never witness such a stampede is simply testimony to the fact that we, God's own people, have been so negligent in building that society even among ourselves. To our shame, we must admit how little we often have to model to the rest of the world. Indeed, in many ways we look so much like the rest of the world that unbelievers see no difference between our culture and their own. And that's fully as much our fault as it is theirs.
Calling for a renewed emphasis on building and then modeling such a culture among ourselves isn't the same as retreating altogether from the culture around us. Such retreat is neither biblical nor historically defensible. But neither ought we to be overly brash about asking the world to buy into something we haven't even experienced ourselves. With appropriate modesty for now, and great expectations for the future, we need to appropriate God's grace in all these areas of life and say to the world: Get ready! You're going to like what you see. You'll probably want to come and share it with us.
But maybe we're not quite ready to do that yet.