Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Offensive Christianity?

Before I attempt any kind of comment on the predictions of Michael Spencer about The Coming Evangelical Collapse, I want to be fair about a few things surrounding the alleged "collapse" he is anticipating. So, in his own words, here are some of the disclaimers he offers to go along with the prediction.
  1. I clearly said that evangelicalism was going to suffer a collapse, not at all meaning it would die. I said that HALF of evangelicals would be something else within 2-3 generations/10-20 years.
  2. I clearly said I am not a researcher or a prophet.
  3. I am all about church planting and new churches.
  4. Megachurch evangelicalism will survive on size, not on fidelity to the Gospel.
  5. Pentecostalism has more energy, not less problems. It is also more cross cultural and open to the work of the Spirit.
With these in mind, I would like to respond to a few specifics about why Spencer believes this is the future that awaits us. First ...
1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.
Frankly, I am about sick of hearing this critique of evangelical Christianity. For one thing, the critique relies on an assumption that "investment in moral, social, and political issues" is a misplaced effort. Why? The Christian life is necessarily filled with moral, social and political aspects. If you doubt it, read Romans (especially chapters 1, 12 and 13 if you want direct evidence regarding these specific topics). The only way to avoid that fact is to somehow (and all too commonly) claim that Christianity is purely a "spiritual" endeavor. But nothing could be further from the truth. If the spirituality we proclaim stands disconnected from the life we live, we are not living the life Christ called us to. That life is a fully-orbed, holistic life of which our physical and social connection to the world is a necessary part. And, yes, this also includes an objectively moral facet that we have an obligation to defend.

This entire issue seems to stem from a fear of exclusivity that, ironically, Spencer seems to indirectly promote later in the piece. I'll get to that later but for now I have to ask why exclusivity is so objectionable? Jesus was an exclusivist -- and he professed exclusivity on exactly this issue when he said he was "The way, the truth and the life." Not a way, or one way.

The way.

Secondly, the specific allegation that we "... have identified [our] movement with the culture war and with political conservatism" is an unavoidable consequence of the first point. The political miscues Spencer alludes to are nothing but a reflection of the reality of the political reality we share. The fact is that the "culture war" is a battle of ideas and political conservatism happens, for the most part, to be on the side of the Christian worldview. This is a far cry from saying that Christianity can only be represented by a single political party. But the ideas that matter are, in fact, on the side of a political philosophy which, I might point out, has not been upheld by any political party as of late.

I have often said that we should be practicing Offensive Christianity and I mean that in both senses. We need to quit apologizing for our faith and start promoting it apologetically. If we believe our faith is true, we would be morally negligent if we didn't try to convince others to agree with us. If we are not willing to do that, it seems to me we don't really believe it in the first place. We need to be assertive and get on the offensive in a winsome, courteous, respectful and charitable manner. If we don't, we're not really being "evangelical" at all.

But I also mean offensive in the other sense. Let's face it, the culture we live in is hostile to objective morality, tolerant of fetal homicide and infanticide, relativistic about the truth, condoning of sexual perversion of all sorts, and sickeningly corrupt on both sides of the political aisle. Should we just accept these facts and be fine with them? I think not. In fact, if these are the traits that define our society -- and if our faith is obviously antithetical to each of them -- then we would be failing if the culture did not find us offensive. I can only hope to be "offensive" in that way.

If this makes Christianity take a stance against "cultural progress" (as Spencer puts it), so be it. We should wear that label as a badge of honor -- no matter the effect on our "relevance" to the culture.

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