After 350 years of Christian cultural dominance in America, church history professor Carl Trueman tells us what we should all know but have been reluctant to admit: The church is entering a period of cultural exile:
“The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort. … It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.”
The dominant cultural forces are targeting Christianity as a public enemy, a cultural force hostile to human rights—especially those of women and homosexuals—and thus as fundamentally un-American. New York Times writer Josh Barro recently tweeted to Ryan Anderson, a researcher on marriage policy at The Heritage Foundation, that people who hold orthodox Christian views on marriage do not deserve to be treated civilly, as though he were addressing a Nazi or white supremacist. The newspaper of record considers this to be acceptable behavior for one of its writers. That’s where we are.
Trueman suggests we deal with this by a more faithful focus on identity, liturgy, and citizenry. He points us to the faithful preaching of the gospel that centers us in Christ, liturgies of worship that shape our expectations of life, and responsible, godly engagement with that culture in the public square. To this wisdom, I add my own threefold exhortation:
- Understand the culture, its distinguishing features, its virtues and vices, its compatibilities and hostilities. You can’t resist what you don’t recognize. But Christians should also not legalistically reject what is good in the culture: good food and drink, wholesome entertainment, beauty in its many forms. It takes sober Christian discernment.
- Deepen your identity in Christ. Daniel’s three young friends withstood the temptation to assimilate in Babylon because they maintained their core self-understanding as Yahweh’s people. Christians must be clear on their chief love, the One who chiefly loves them, who their people are, and what is non-negotiable for such people. They need to support this clarity with a full Christian devotional life using all the means of grace: faithful attendance at worship, regular Bible reading and prayer, and godly fellowship.
- Nurture your children in Christ. Not only will the culture not support your Christian parenting, it is subtly seductive and aggressively hostile to it. Exiles adopt a defensive stance toward television and movies, the internet, social media, smartphone use, and even neighborhood influences. You cannot trust your neighbors the way you once did to share your view of home life and childrearing. Neither can you trust the neighborhood school to shape your children academically and morally into the people God calls them to be. Parents who are aware of this condition of exile will arrange for Christian schooling, whether institutional or in the home. To help with that burden, families and churches must reevaluate what sacrifice means, how time and spending priorities must change to support our children’s Christian development.
Trueman’s article, “A Church for Exiles,” would serve well as the basis for a month of Sunday school discussions. Pastors, ready your people for the exile!