Published July 25, 2013
Question: Christians are in a battle today with a culture quite different from that of our forefathers. How are we to live in the midst of this rising tide of secularism?
Answer: Christians who understand what has happened in American society and culture over the past 50 years realize that we are entering a precarious new phase of history. In lieu of some unforeseen revival of moral-based sanity, not only is our economic system in peril but much of what has distinguished American civilization in the past.
The Christian influences in our culture are rapidly eroding, and the fact that many Christians either don’t see it or refuse to acknowledge the gravity of the situation doesn’t alter the reality of it.
In “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis wrote of what he called the “key to history”: Over time, terrific energy is expended building civilizations and cultural institutions, only to have it all ruined as the most selfish, ambitious, and cruel people claw their way to the top and eventually bring the whole system crashing down. In the end, greed and the lust for power corrupts most of the good that institutions and civilizations stand for.
Commenting on the spiritual vision of the early Desert Fathers of the 4th century, Thomas Merton notes in “The Wisdom of the Desert”:
“Society… was regarded by them as a shipwreck from which each single individual had to swim for his life… These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster.”
Reflecting on Merton’s comments, Henri Nouwen reminds us in his contemplative classic, “The Way of the Heart,” that our society is no better:
Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we … have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives.
C.S. Lewis understood this well, which is why in “Mere Christianity” he characterized history since the time of Christ as akin to a civil war in which Christians find themselves living in rebel-occupied territory. As he put it:
“Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed … and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
Now if you’re like me, the image of Christians as “cultural saboteurs” carries some connotations that are unacceptable. But there is no doubt that we are called to be beacons of light and truth in an increasingly corrupt and degenerate society.
So at least in that sense, our calling is to be counter-cultural subversives whose mission is to undermine the dominant beliefs and values of our society and its institutions. To think and act otherwise is a failure to understand and practice wholistic Christian discipleship.
Jefrey Breshears is the founder of The Areopagus, a Christian study center dedicated to serving the metro-Atlanta area. Through Seminars, Apologetics Forums, God In the Arts series, and other special events, The Aréopagus provides a unique opportunity for Christians to come together in a trans-denominational setting that is intellectually stimulating, socially engaging, and spiritually edifying. See more at www.theareopagus.org.
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