October 31, 2020

Open Mic: Why So Little “Impact”?

By Chaplain Mike

I am catching up with some books that I have wanted to read for some time. One is James Davidson Hunter’s, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, a provocative look at how we understand and call Christians to participate in the church’s mission in the world.

This is a fascinating, thought-provoking, and controversial book, and I am eager to work my way through it.

For today, I’ll throw out a snippet from one of the book’s early chapters for discussion.

I begin with faith in America. Consider, first, the fact that communities of faith have been a dominating presence in American society for the length and breadth of its history. There is some evidence that suggests that there are even more Americans who are worshipping as part of a congregation today than in the past. As late as 1960, only 2 percent of the population claimed not to believe in God; even today, only 12 to 14 percent of the population would call themselves secularists. This means that in America today, 86 to 88 percent of the people adhere to some faith commitments. And yet our culture—business culture, law and government, the academic world, popular entertainment—is intensely materialistic and secular. Only occasionally do we hear references to religious transcendence in these realms, and even these are vague, generic, and void of particularity. If culture is the accumulation of values and the choices made by individuals on the basis of these values, then how is it that American public culture today is so profoundly secular in its character?

Hunter is challenging a popular Christian notion—that if individuals in a society hold to certain ideas and values, it will lead to a transforming effect on society from the ground up. This idealistic notion has been the foundation upon which most Christian calls to “change the world” have been based. But Hunter claims the notion is false. Building upon this foundation, we have not clearly grasped our mission in the world.

He gives other illustrations. Why, for example, have minority communities such as the Jewish and gay communities, had such an enormous influence on society through our cultural institutions? Groups like these have apparently been able to “change the world” while being marginalized and at times even persecuted by those in the mainstream.

And so, Hunter asks, “If culture is the accumulation of values and the choices made by individuals on the basis of these values, then how is it that American public culture today is so profoundly secular in its character?”

Let’s bat this around today as I make my way through the rest of Hunter’s book. Step up to the mic, please.

Comments

  1. I’m still trying to figure out where he got the idea that “the American public culture today is so profoundly secular in its character”

    It is only in conservative evangelical circles that you’d hear someone assert that our culture is secular. It’s not. At all. Is it Jesus-shaped? No, not in the least, but it is definitely not secular.

    So if I can answer a slightly different question: why isn’t our public culture Jesus-shaped? I’d say it’s because our churches and our Christians are not Jesus-shaped.

    Also, the Christians in this country who tend to be the most determined to influence the larger culture tend to have an extremely secular/Randian worldview coupled with a fear of sex and anything that seems naughty. I’d say we see those influences pretty strongly in our culture.

    • I agree. American culture is pluralistic, but just a small amount if it is really secular.

    • Marie or Rick, could you explain what you mean by “secular?” You say the US isn’t secular and then you suggest the opposite:

      > the Christians in this country who tend to be the most determined to influence the larger culture tend to have an extremely secular/Randian worldview <

    • Marie and Rick,

      Can you explain what you mean by “secular?” The OP asserts that the US is secular and the posts following yours agree with the OP. If you disagree, please tell us what you mean by secular.

    • How’d that happen?

    • “Christians in this country who tend to be the most determined to influence the larger culture tend to have an extremely secular/Randian worldview”

      Definitely. Puzzling, considering how anti-Christian Ayn Rand really was. But Randians like Beck and Limbaugh are evangelical darlings; their books even show up in Christian bookstores.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Just this morning I got an all-caps-and-exclamation-points email from an infrequent corresponder about Glenn Beck, i.e. “HE KNOWS WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON!” and “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BEFORE ITS TOO LATE LISTEN TO GLENN BECK ON FOX NEWS!!!!!” including a “WATCH THIS VIDEO BEFORE ITS TOO LATE!” hotlink to some financial site.

        The only thing I can compare it to in tone is the Urgent Christian Political Action/End Time Prophecy Alerts that are clogging my spam filters.

        After this,I had to call up my writing partner across the country for yet another sanity check. (That’s happening way too often these days…) He recognized the hotlink as belonging to a financial crackpot who’s busy scaring up business with Conspiracy Theory du Jour, then reassured me again that we didn’t go crazy, everyone else did.

  2. I think it is an awfully good thing that Christ Jesus died for the ungodly.

    Those who He came for, are those that need Him.

    Reals sinners who quite frankly are not Jesus shaped, but sinner shaped.

  3. An element to be considered that is adding the secular influence to the American public has to do with the multi cultural ideas of the business world. A good number of us work in a business climate that forces us to recognize and tone down our beliefs in the work place. I am an avid Bible student and one that is deeply interested in the study of God’s word, but I must admit it would be frowned upon if I were to show up in the lunch room at the firm where I work toting my Bible. Not to mention the flurry of controversy it would stir up with those of a different faith. I really don’t believe that was the case for previous generations.

    It is my opinionn that the political correctness proponents have managed to do an excellent job with making society more “controversy sensitive” making it difficult to be a “missionary” of sorts on the job. Why are we willing to compromise? Becase it now interfers with our bread and butter. Quite simply, you could lose your job if you offend someone religious or especially those that are nonreligious.

    Conflicting religious ideas and/or faith based discussions rarely take place in areas outside the home or the local church because we are being hushed through legalities and public awareness that it is no longer “appropriate.” Thus, statistically and otherwise, Christians appear to be more secular in nature. Sad but true.

    It makes you think about what is happening to free speech. Something that is now highly monitored in the work place. My grandfather would not recognize this “secular” American society, as he functioned in a much different world.

    • I can feel your frustration in your words, however I’m not sure I completely agree with the historical thought here. As a child growing up below the Mason Dixon Line even, my daddy always told me never to discuss politics or religion in public. He was born in 1928 in rural NC and learned his religious culture pre-World War II.

      He went to great lengths to explain that he and my mom never discussed for whom they voted even with each other much less with folks outside the family. We were Fundamentalist Baptist (often Bob Jones was too liberal) and my family participated in numerous evangelistic endeavors; however there were times he felt that he testified to his faith by his work ethic, willingness to listen to his coworkers, and form friendships with them beyond work. He was insistent that unless someone brought it up at break, he didn’t discuss God on the job and that was the way it was to be.

      I do agree that lack of Biblical understanding makes the idea of “Christian” much more pliable and difficult to define.

  4. This book seems to hit an extremely important topic, but misses the problem. Somewhere along the path of Western Christianity, we forgot the purpose of Christianity. Somewhere along the way, we became convinced that our purpose was to change the world, and for years I believed that.

    But, Christianity is not about changing the world. It is about the Holy Spirit changing me to be in the likeness of Christ, as part of One Body, becoming fully one with the Trinity.

    If this process has an impact on the world, that is good, but that is not the purpose of Christianity.

    • +1

      Well said Allen!

    • Hang on, Allen. I think you will see there is more to come.

    • Of course you are 100 percent correct that “Christianity is not about changing the world. It is about the Holy Spirit changing me to be in the likeness of Christ.” But can you envision a scenario in which people — even a very few people — were truly changed into the likeness of Christ and the world remained unaffected?

      Take into account what Jesus did.
      Take into account what Paul did.
      Take into account what Cyril and Hudson Taylor and David Livingstone did.
      Take into account what George Mueller did.
      Take into account what Amy Carmichael or Jeanne d’Arc did.

      To me, a world unaffected is pretty solid proof that the change into the likeness of Christ isn’t happening.

      • To me, a world unaffected is pretty solid proof that the change into the likeness of Christ isn’t happening

        What if the world isn’t being affected because as a whole it’s not supposed to be?

        What if there are a small number of people being transformed into the likeness of Christ, as is the Narrow Way?

        Just a thought…..not getting theological…..your last sentence brought up these questions for me. Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

        Or maybe that’s the point of this whole thread….HA HA HA! Excuse me while I go napping!

        • > What if the world isn’t being affected because as a whole it’s not supposed to be? <

          Well, we can't have it both ways. Set aside the whole world for a moment and look at just our country, which was the frame of reference in the OP.

          If we accept that a majority of US citizens are Christian (which is asserted in the OP), and the notion that the US is a democracy where majority values prevail (in both politics and commerce), and then we look around and observe a society that is profoundly at odds with Christian values, we have a problem.

          It wouldn't take heroism to reduce morbid obesity, smutty television, high divorce rates, cruel social policies or ignorance of God and the Bible. It would only take a majority of free people choosing to act in a moral way within their small spheres. We wouldn't need a rabid Christian political movement to censor television — just a majority of Christian Americans choosing not to watch it. It wouldn't take a Christian network broadcasting Christian aerobics classes and Christian cooking programs to combat obesity — just a majority of Christians eating with sense and gratitude. And so on. There's not a problem on the list that wouldn't go away if the purported majority acted like Christians know they should.

          So, again, the heroes of the past achieved much as individuals. Even if we all excuse ourselves from that level of faith-in-action, we still have to explain why, in a democracy where we are the majority, despicable conduct prevails.

    • Allen, I’m wondering if you’ve read the book.

      While I agree in large part with your sentiments about what Christianity is about, it’s also the case that “God so loved the world”, not just each and every individual, but the whole world. So there is a discussion to be had as to how Christians are to behave if we are to be apart of God’s redemptive plan for the world.

  5. “…in America today, 86 to 88 percent of the people adhere to some faith commitments…then how is it that American public culture today is so profoundly secular in its character?”

    I’ll throw out a few thoughts…

    1) Our culture is filled with nominal Christians. Of that 86 to 88 percent of people who report to adhere to some faith commitment, it’s likely that only a small percentage of them actually practice their faith. I don’t have my Barna books in front of me, but several years ago he wrote that over 80% of Americans attend church on Easter Sunday, but less than half of those could tell you why Easter is celebrated, or name the four Gospels. If an individual’s faith isn’t impacting his own life, then how could we expect it to impact the world around them? True faith calls us to “follow Jesus”…to radically alter the direction of our lives. Not many of us actually do this. If we say we’re Christians, but never really experience any inward change, then why should we expect outward results of our faith, in the greater culture?

    2) The politicization of Christianity. When we polarize along political lines, we automatically create a population that we will be unable to have a reasonable conversation about faith with. In Eastern Europe, faith is often spoken of in the same terms one would speak of their ethnicity…”I’m a Muslim…I’m a Christian…because that’s what my family has been for generations.” Personal beliefs don’t always factor into the equation (I’ve met several people in that part of the world who said they were Christian, but didn’t believe in God). Our politicians attempt to divide us spiritually according to which political party we adhere to…it really doesn’t matter what we actually believe. Case in point…Glenn Beck. Politically conservative Christians all over the country rejoiced that he held a big rally in Washington..Facebook statuses abounded with comments about how Christianity was regaining a foothold in politics. A local newspaper had an article with a title I can’t perfectly recall, but it was something along the lines of “Conservative Christians, Led by Beck, Rally in Washington”. Glenn Beck is a Mormon, for God’s sake! And no one seemed to notice!

    By the way, I do vote, but consider myself apolitical. I do my best to discern who is trustworthy and in the political game for the right reasons, and not confine myself to party lines. Also , as a pastor, I don’t believe it’s an appropriate practice to allow any politician to campaign from the pulpit. Sunday mornings are for worshiping God, not promoting a political agenda!

    3) I’m not sure that Christianity is designed to be the dominant force in a culture. Actually, I would say that it’s designed to be a minority. If you read Matthew 4 and 5, we see a picture of Jesus being followed by masses, folks hanging on His every word. But when He begins His most important teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, the Bible says that “when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

    There’s a line drawn between those who are disciples, and those who just hear the message, and don’t have changed lives as a result. We see it happen over and over during Jesus’ ministry. He seems to gain wild popularity, then makes some polarizing statement, like “eat my flesh, drink my blood”, and everyone leaves Him, except for the small minority. The point is, I’m not sure that Christianity is intended to be a cultural phenomenon. It appears in scripture that our faith is actually meant to be counter-cultural.

    Interesting post, CM. Looking forward to more.

    • Your third point is especially good. I heard, secondhand, of a Muslim who observed that the Quaran assumes that Islam is dominant in the culture and the Bible assumes Christianity is a minority. The Bible just doesn’t give much guidance about how a popular Christianity should act, so we in the West have sort of been winging it, for better or worse.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I heard, secondhand, of a Muslim who observed that the Quaran assumes that Islam is dominant in the culture and the Bible assumes Christianity is a minority.

        I think this is an artifact of the two faiths’ early histories. Islam started out with a 400-year winning streak of spectacular successes (from two towns in the Arabian desert to the Pyrenees and Indus River) while Christianity spent its first 300 years as an outlawed undergound religion. In the process, Islam ended up with the Curse of Unbroken Early Success. Also, Islam from its beginning was optimized for Arab tribal monoculture, while Christianity came from what was already a blend of Jewish and Hellenic culture (which soon incorporated Latin culture in its initial spread) — insular vs cosmopolitan backgrounds.

    • Josh in FW says

      great points Lee.

      I particularly like what you said on #2

      I have strong political/economic views as to the ideal, but understand that our system is one that demands compromise and consensus. I get very frustrated by fellow Christians who I agree with politically that can’t seem to understand how another fellow Christian may hold opposing political/economic viewpoints and still be a Christian. Christianity doesn’t really fit well with either of the American political parties. I wish that American Christians were united enough that there was a clear “Christian” position of public policy issues independent of the political parties.

  6. Excellent points, Lee.

    Weak impact by Christianity on society comes from two directions. There are the people Lee speaks of, who just wouldn’t make the effort to obey no matter how clearly the mandate were expressed. And there are also the quite strong believers whose denominations scorn good works or even social engagement.

  7. “Groups like these have apparently been able to “change the world” while being marginalized and at times even persecuted by those in the mainstream.”

    This is tough. I do agree that American culture has grown secular as well as the church – through the recent emphasis upon pragmatism, resulting in sermons on better sex, more money, more success, etc.

    I struggle with the effect the church should have on society. How does the church “change the world”? Jesus compared the kingdom to salt and yeast, which work invisibly and imperceptively. Many who are trying to change the world believe in the perfectibility of society, which is a very liberal notion. The church does not bring an end to poverty, but it brings compassion and justice into the world. The church can change the world and still fail at its mission. (Actually it can’t ultimately fail, because Christ is the one building His church).

  8. Dan Allison says

    If the question is “Why are Christians having so little impact on culture?” I can only begin to touch on several of the many reasons:

    1) (Borrowing from Rob Bell here) When non-Christian people hear the word “Christian,” what associations come to their minds? Do they think of those kind, gentle people who are ceaselessly sacrificing themselves for others and telling others about a God who loves them more than they can possibly imagine? Or does some other image come to mind?

    2) A large and loud factions of American Christians — possibly a majority — have for nearly four decades associated themselves with the Republican party because that party promised to fight abortion, gay rights, and pornography. It should be overwhelmingly obvious to everyone — after this length of time — that the GOP has cared about only one thing — enriching its corporate and Wall Street buddies at the expense of the middle and working classes. Its politicians have never really cared about these issues, and as far as I can tell, not a single abortion has ever been prevented by political efforts. Porn may be out of the 7-11s, but now it’s in our teenagers’ bedrooms via the Internet. The inability to see through Republican hokum implies “Christians are pretty gullible.

    3) Credibility hasn’t been helped a bit by “Christian” television. We would be better off if those scam artists were entirely off the air. Period.

    4) As frequently discussed here, most churches are now simply corporations seeking to “increase market share” and reach a “target demographic.” Those attending are not so much “ministered to” as they are “recruited” to do the busy-work of the church. Take the single adult male who is thirty, immature, unemployed, and living at home with mom. I’ve seen these guys in churches for decades. Rather than trying to help these guys grow up and be responsible Christians, the churches see them as excellent “worker bees” when someone is needed to stack chairs, greet folks in the parking lot, make coffee, etc.

    And the churches generate so much internal activity that many of them have no “outreach” at all.

    5) The entire perception of Christians as people who reject science, hate sex, and await a “rapture” doesn’t much help, either.

    6) Of course it’s not “all” our fault: The assault from film and television is relentless, and it’s not just Bill Maher and “Family Guy.” More abortion clinics have been bombed on the TV series “Law & Order” than have ever been bombed in real life. And the staple cop-show plot about the Bible-nut who murders prostitutes to “cleanse” the world has been used by nearly every cop-show series for about thirty years now.

    Where would we even start to address the problem? We each do what we can in our own prayer closets and circle of friends, but until the American churches get back on track, the bigger picture will not change.

    • Absolutely! I have so often said to myself while attending some Christian function or listening to church people discuss life or seeing some Christian program on tv, “If this is truly Christianity, I want no part of it!”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      1) Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, Culture Warrior du Jour, and/or that Wretched Urgency case who last high-pressured you.

      2) Onward, Forward, Toward coined the term “God’s Own Party” for Republicans to parody that attitude. And I’ve heard it said elsewhere that “Jesus Christ is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP.”

      3) Not just televangelist scam artists. Type example (from 0:22 to about 2:40).

      4) Preaching only to the Converted (and having NO contact with anyone outside of Church except as potential converts/customers) is an old shtick. Drives my writing partner up the walls at the second (dying) church he pastors.

      5) Remember which posts on this blog really max out the comment thread counts.

      6) It’s become a running joke in TV murder mysteries that when introducing the list of possible suspects, the guy carrying the big Bible and quoting out of it is ALWAYS the culprit/killer/terrorist. I knew someone who won a lot of side bets that way. (And the Christian Cyberpunk novel Flashpoint used a variant of this as part of its backstory, as a deliberate Conspiracy to create popular support for The Persecution.)

      • Dan Allison says

        Headless, that video is just unbelievably sad to watch. Christians really need to rise up by the millions and very loudly tell these broadcasters to GET OFF THE AIR! Thanks for sharing it.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Dan, that video is just a symptom of a much greater problem. How Christians (i.e. American Evangelicals) have isolated themselves in a “Christian Bizarro World” of Christianese knockoffs of pop culture — “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

          Knockoffs as in “Second-rate Imitations.” Sanitized so as not to possibly offend any Professional Weaker Brethren Church Lady. (You know there’s even a “Just like Justin Bieber, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!” CCM teen CELEBRITY heartthrob?) It is now possible to go from Birth/Altar Call to Rapture/Homegoing without ever going outside the Comfortable Christian (TM) bubble or actually having to meet Those Heathens (TM) other than for drive-by Witnessing sallies.

          (Back in the Eighties, local litfandom had a saying “I’ts gotta be Christian; look how shoddy it is.” Another saying in the same circles was “It’s gotta be good! The Christians are denouncing it!”)

          I am most familiar with this in writing, where the CBA’s Payola-to-Play monopoly has given us Amish Bonnet Romances and Altar Call Endings — “Just like Harlequin, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

          (And when did “Christian” without any modifiers come to mean “White American Fundagelical” or “IFB with the labels painted over?)

          And considering the title of the original posting, I think I just answered it.

    • dumbgi ox says

      “It should be overwhelmingly obvious to everyone — after this length of time — that the GOP has cared about only one thing — enriching its corporate and Wall Street buddies at the expense of the middle and working classes.”

      Amen.

      • dumbgi ox says

        Hate this keyboard.

      • Which is why Wallstreet companies like Goldman Sachs and Countrywide; and Big Oil like BP paid massive amounts of money to…the Obama campaign. Which is why the Democrats have been trying very hard to shut down businesses like the one owned by a friend of mine. Sure, he’s middle class, has a wife and kids, and can still only just get by, but his small business produces CO2, so screw him. It’s also why Democrats enjoy kicking the job field I want to go into in the face repeatedly. It’s also why it was the Democrats keep bailing out big businesses. Because the GOP only cares about Wall Street.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbnWF24eafo

        • Josh in FW says

          Thank you Cipher for presenting the other side.

          The GOP bashing gets out of hand on this blog. I admit that the GOP manipulates many religious folks, but the Dems are equally guilty. The name calling and hyperbole are counterproductive. Just like all Dems are not Marxist athiests our to destroy America, all Reps are not Ayn Rand fanatics and Robber Barron worshippers that want to rape the middle class and the poor.

          • I wonder if it’s a pendulum-swing sort of thing. Many who are currently American evangelicals grew up in the 80’s and 90’s with parents and churches who were into fighting the “culture war”. They saw that this did not work in terms of “restoring morality” to America, and so have backed away from it. Meanwhile the rise to prominence of individuals like Donald Miller, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, etc. who combine left-wing political views with evangelical faith has probably contributed somewhat to this way of thinking. At the church I attend, which has many young adults, I would say it is probably evenly split between Democrat and Republican. (And the Democrats tend to be much more vocal about their political views.)

          • Josh in FW says

            Good point Bill. There probably is a pendulum aspect to it.

  9. To me it is a cart-before-the-horse-issue. For many Christians, changing the world equates to laws, and actions that institute control over activities that we may deem morally objectionable. In doing so we are trying to create a Utopian society of our design where even non-believers are forced to conform. Not exactly an effective way to reach people.

    Based on my own pathetic life as an example, if we can’t even transform ourselves to the slap-happy, perfect, live life to its fullest Christian, (I kind of thought Christ dies because I couldn’t justify myself) how can we possibly hope to change others?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      For many Christians, changing the world equates to laws, and actions that institute control over activities that we may deem morally objectionable. In doing so we are trying to create a Utopian society of our design where even non-believers are forced to conform. Not exactly an effective way to reach people.

      Especially when what Islamic Culture Warriors have done when they won their Culture Wars against Secularism and “instituted control over activities deemed morally objectionable” to create the Perfect Islamic Republic of their/God’s design “where even Infidels are forced to conform” has become general knowledge. Not good publicity for the whole Theocracy concept.

      • You really like comparing people you don’t agree with to the Taliban, don’t you, HUG? I think Godwin would like to have a word with you…

  10. AV – Maybe I should clarify. Everyone has heard that religion and politics is best not discussed in the work place. However, it has become a matter of basic values being discussed that has become a politically incorrect . Right and wrong, good and evil are not what they historically used to be. Yes, I stick to my reference that my grandfather would be quite shocked and dismayed that basic core values would offend co-workers. He would also be shocked that open displays of the Christian faith are frowned upon in the work place, while the Muslims litigate “work place accommodations” so that they can pray 7 times a day.

    Further to Lee’s point, it is not a matter of a great number vs. the few. The illustration we see from scripture is that a few zealous people can create a great number of believers. The apostles gave their lives to ensure that others heard the message of the “good news.” What they great number do with the message is not our business.

    A watered-down religious climate (aka a secular & materialistic climate) is what the enemy (Satan) wants. If the majority of Christian believers ease-off basic core values and resist discussion about or taking a stand on any given point, then we are rendered useless. I am reminded at this point of how politically and religiously “incorrect” Jesus and his disciples were perceived to be. Imagine if they had limited their witness to their work ethic and simply listening to co-workers and forming friendships outside of work.

    The Muslim belief is growing in numbers because they actually have zeal and they are activists for their beliefs. They show disgrace toward those who offend their beliefs. The secular Christian culture on the other hand have tucked their tail between their legs….there is no zeal, there is no outrage. We should blame the same folks that Jesus did….the spiritual leaders. Lee, the New Testament is the account of a few men who “changed the world” by being zealous advocates for Christianity. It was quite the “cultural phenomenon.”

    Grace and peace.

    • David Cornwell says

      I don’t know what kind of occupation your grandfather was in or what part of the country he lived in. But it would have been very uncommon for the people I was acquainted with or worked with to openly discuss religious values or proclaim those values in the work place or in the public square. It wasn’t that it was shunned exactly, it was that it just was not done. The politicians of the era sometimes referred to God in a general way, but did not have to openly proclaim their faith in a personal way such as we ask them to do today. I’m referring to Truman and Eisenhower especially. Truman used language in campaign speeches that would shock today’s population. The people I knew tried to live out their faith but most did not have bible studies on their lunch hour or spend that time reading the bible. They weren’t constantly “witnessing” to their faith.

      I started working at my father’s place of business when I was 15. He had a small farm equipment dealership. He also had gas pumps outside that helped pay the rent. We saw many people each day. Many of them were very profane. He didn’t ask them to watch their tongue each time he heard a “damn” or “shit” or sometimes worse. Or have religious slogans posted around the business. Yet he lived out his faith. People knew he had certain values and was a Christian and respected him for it. I knew this because customers would make comments to me. He didn’t question each politicians religious beliefs or subject them to a list of questions concerning social issues. If he considered them honest enough (most politicians weren’t trusted entirely) he voted for them. He had an innate sense of the “real thing” or a fake regardless of party label. He didn’t like “wind bags.”

      We didn’t live in a northern state or New England either, but near an Ohio Valley city where his business was located. Others may have had a different experience, but this is mine.

      I’m not sure turning our culture into anything other than “secular” would be a good thing. Think of historical examples where it was a good thing, and let me know.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        He didn’t ask them to watch their tongue each time he heard a “damn” or “shit” or sometimes worse. Or have religious slogans posted around the business. Yet he lived out his faith. People knew he had certain values and was a Christian and respected him for it. I knew this because customers would make comments to me.

        In other words, your father was REAL about it.

        I’m not sure turning our culture into anything other than “secular” would be a good thing. Think of historical examples where it was a good thing, and let me know.

        Well, those “God’s Shadows Upon The Earth” (literal translation of “Ayatollah”) who were in power (and their privileged Talibani) always thought it was a good thing. Perfect, in fact.

        • “Ayat Ullah” means “proof of God”–i.e., the sheer wisdom and personal piety of an Ayatollah is supposed to persuade unbelievers. The phrase “shadow of God on Earth” is used of Persian emperors.

          Tamam shud!

      • David Cornwell writes, ” But it would have been very uncommon for the people I was acquainted with or worked with to openly discuss religious values or proclaim those values in the work place or in the public square. It wasn’t that it was shunned exactly, it was that it just was not done.”

        I agree, David. When I was growing up, people who did that were looked at as being rude, busy-bodies. Our relationship with God was a private thing, other than the fact that we attended Mass weekly and then attempted to live the “golden rule.”

    • Good points, although I think we differ a bit on semantics. I would call New Testament Christianity a “counter-cultural phenomenon”. It had no root in culture. The source of the movement was divine. The leaders of that movement were indeed a small group that made a big impact. The question is, though, where are such leaders today? Men and women who leave their jobs, family, and comfort to care for the poor, the sick, the dying? They toil in humility and cultural anonymity. I once heard a very well-known author and speaker having a dialogue about hunger in Africa, and she stated that she would love to make a difference, but she didn’t have the resources to just go to Africa and serve. My immediate thought was, “Lady, if anybody’s got the resources, you do.” Today’s “Christian leaders” are more well-known for the size of their churches and political affiliations than they are any stance they take on faith.

      You stated that “If the majority of Christian believers ease-off basic core values and resist discussion about or taking a stand on any given point, then we are rendered useless.” Our issue here is that our Christian culture has picked and chosen topics that they consider sinful to make a stand on…homosexuality, abortion, public display of the Ten Commandments…while ignoring the sins that plague the people sitting in the church pews…adultery, pornography, lying, and on and on. Why do we do this? Because the people in our pews pay the bills for the church building, and we don’t want to offend them. Forget whether we’re 50 years removed from talking about faith in the workplace…We need a John the Baptist to prepare the way for the return of the Lord!

      The core values must be loving God, and loving people. Jesus was pretty clear on that. Doing those things generally don’t make you famous, but they do create ripples of hope in our world.

      • I’ll add to my statement…not only are today’s real Christian leaders the ones who are leaving the world behind and ministering to the sick and hurting of the world; it’s also the Christians who care for their families, strive to do well in their jobs, love their neighbors without narrowly defining who their neighbors are, and quietly pray in their closets for the Christ’s kingdom to come. If the world is truly to change because of Christian witness, it will be because of people who live humble, anonymous lives. Not because of any politician or televangelist.

    • Somehow, I don’t think the problem is that Christians are, on a whole, not “radical” enough. This is basically what I grew up hearing in youth groups, at Campus Crusade, and at other venues. If we, as Christians, were more faithful, more sold out, less afraid of people, etc., then we could change the world. I simply don’t think this is true anymore.

      For one thing, trying to live like this is simply tiring and unsustainable. I simply can’t be an activist while I’m at work and still do what I need to do while I’m at work. If I were responsible for hiring people, I’m not so sure I’d want to hire a “sold out” Christian to work for me, if that meant that every conversation he had with a client would turn into a conversation about the 4 Spiritual Laws.

      I don’t believe the world needs more radical Christians. I believe it needs more normal one. More normal in the sense that it needs more normal people who are faithful to their vocations and who are loving Jesus by loving their neighbors, co-workers, mailmen, etc. Anyone one can shout at the devil. It takes perserverence to stick in there and love the neighbor or co-worker who annoys the heck out of you.

      • That was just crazy good Phil!!!!

      • “I don’t believe the world needs more radical Christians. I believe it needs more normal one. More normal in the sense that it needs more normal people who are faithful to their vocations and who are loving Jesus by loving their neighbors, co-workers, mailmen, etc. Anyone one can shout at the devil. It takes perserverence to stick in there and love the neighbor or co-worker who annoys the heck out of you.”

        Eugene Peteson phrased Romans 12:1-2 this way in The Message…”So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. “

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If I were responsible for hiring people, I’m not so sure I’d want to hire a “sold out” Christian to work for me, if that meant that every conversation he had with a client would turn into a conversation about the 4 Spiritual Laws.

        Classic Internet Monk, “Wretched Urgency.” And the reason I’m very leery of even speaking to the self-identified Christian at my shop. (I became a notch on too many Bibles in my college days to ever want to go through being put on the spot like that ever again.)

        I don’t believe the world needs more radical Christians. I believe it needs more normal one.

        Internet Monk Classic, “I’m Weary of Weird Christians.”

        • “I don’t believe the world needs more radical Christians. I believe it needs more normal one.” Perfectly said.
          Christians so often have that notch-in-the-belt mentality in which they quit seeing people as fellow human travelers on this journey through life but as prospects to ratchet up their numbers and then despise and villify them when they refuse to play the conversion game.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The Muslim belief is growing in numbers because they actually have zeal and they are activists for their beliefs. They show disgrace toward those who offend their beliefs. The secular Christian culture on the other hand have tucked their tail between their legs….there is no zeal, there is no outrage.

      Everyone jumps on the winner’s bandwagon, and FEAR BREEDS RESPECT.

  11. @all: i’m truly struggling to keep my head above water today with depression. please pray for me.

    • Lord, have mercy on your servant.

      Jason, if you have not already done so, I hope you can get in touch with a good therapist. You may have to try a few on for size, but I bet there’s someone in your community who will be a good fit for you.

      Sending you a “virtual hug”.
      Dana

    • Jason, know that you are not alone in this. I’ve been there, and so have others. It will not last forever, so hold on. I will be praying for you, my brother.

    • Hey Jason! Praying for you as soon as I log off and start driving to run errands.

      Lifting you up to the One Who can carry it all! Has carried it all! Will carry it all!!

      Thank you also Jason, for even posting this……I love that!

      I was where you are just last week. It broke. I’m grateful!

    • I too have been there. As black and sorrowful as it is, hang on. It will pass. We send you our love and may it surround you in warmth and comfort. Prayers.

  12. Francis Schaeffer used to talk about the lower storey/upper storey view of reality, and Fr Stephen Freeman has riffed off it many times. It is the dualist view of reality, that there is a “spiritual” sphere and a “regular/ordinary/material” sphere, and anything that has to do with God gets relegated to the “upper” or “spiritual” area. God is seen as essentially far away, and this is reflected, in one example, in our vocabulary regarding “miracles” and God “intervening”. The secular society is the full flowering of the Enlightenment/rationalist era in which this dualistic sensibility became fixed in Western culture in general.

    However, the seeds for it were sown in the Medieval centuries, with 1) the notion that the rational mind could figure out everything (Scholasticism) linked with 2) the dualist Western ecclesiology of the structural “Church on Earth” reflecting the “Church in Heaven”, and 3) a misunderstanding of the term “heaven and earth” in scripture in the first place, helped along by a turning away from the Jewish roots of Christianity. The Jews were not dualists, and “heaven and earth” is a term that means “the entirety of reality, consisting of all that is not seen and all that is seen”, not two different realities. Eastern Christianity resisted and rejected all of this metaphysic, as well as other dualistic threats (the “classical” heresies and others).

    To me, this is the biggest metaphysical difference between the Eastern and Western expressions of Christianity, and, the gulf is very big, and lots of stuff is swimming in it…

    I really don’t think the serious Christians of the first few centuries AD were very concerned about changing the world. They simply loved people, worshiped the Trinitarian Godhead with a focus on Jesus, and saw death as defeated and so were not afraid of it.

    Dana

    • Dana, thanks for this post, I was about to write something along the same lines. I think the upper/lower storey metaphor explains it all, or much of it.

  13. WOW – My comments have been distorted about my grandfather as though I am saying people should grab a soap box and preach politics and religion in the work place lunch room. I made no such claim. The point was simple. Christianity is becoming less influential because of changed ideals. Today’s generation is very different from my grandfathers generation. How is it different? The difference is in what society perceives as right and wrong or good and evil. Going beyond that, the differance in legalities and political correctness is EXTREMELY different. To debate it is to ignore history.

    • First, chill out… No one is trying to debate, but we are discussing things. I’m sorry if I misinterpreted your comments earlier.

      Society’s values have changed since the ’40s and ’50s, as they always will. I just don’t know that I would describe the values of that era as overall “more Christian” than now. There were some areas that on the surface seem to be better, but there were plenty of things that were just well-hidden. Would African American people say that American society as a whole was more Christian back then? I kind of doubt it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I’m just old enough to remember the tail end of the Nifty Fifties firsthand, and it was NOT the Godly Golden Age you hear from Christian Culture War puppets. And the Fifties they preach isn’t even the REAL 1950s (which had some aspects — primarily a style and “can-do” confidence — I had wished we’d kept through the sea change of The Sixties), but a Mythological Fifties according to Ozzie, Harriet, and Donna Reed.

        You know why it’s been mythologized so? Because “1953 was the absolute peak of church attendance”, ergo it HAD to be Godly. Just look at Ozzie, Harriet, and Donna Reed!

  14. Wow, some of these posts really are interesting and thought provoking: Dave Cornwell, you should write more and get some of your stuff published. Some of Dave’s comments sparked this thought:

    Maybe the problem is not so much a widely secular society, but a certain kind of secular society where the church really has no apparent voice or ‘traction”. It’s not just that MOST people think x, y, and z about GOD, Jesus, and the gospel, but the church is not longer taken seriously as an option in figuring stuff out. Richard Dawkins and crew may choose to marginalize ANYTHING we offer him, but maybe we have largely marginalized ourselves, and not so much in number as in impact.

    The “how” in all this is our topic du jour. Maybe part of the marginalizing is that in trying to out MicroSoft MicroSoft and out Disney Disney, we’ve lost quite a bit of our credibility and told people essentially, “Hey, if you find a product out there better than us…..” And maybe they did !!

    Look forward to reading more when I’m not having to work at work…. 🙂
    BTW today is, I think, 3:16 day where we are supposed to remind the world of John 3:16 and so “impact the world…..” or so the radio station tells me…..

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Richard Dawkins and crew may choose to marginalize ANYTHING we offer him, but maybe we have largely marginalized ourselves, and not so much in number as in impact.

      Three words:
      KENTUCKY.
      CREATION.
      MUSEUM.
      And its attached “Ark Experience” theme park.

  15. I am going to get off topic and say, again, I love this place!

    I love the conversation, the encouragement, the community, the openess of everyone!

    Thank you!

    On topic, I’ll say that we lost impact when we lost focus. On Him. Period.

  16. The strive to achieve the American Dream has consumed more of our energy than living the simple gospel of loving our God and our neighbors.

  17. I think that we like to limit the Lord to Church and our personal relationship with HIm. Anything outside of that and either the fear of “persecution” or the cultural vein of keeping one’s religion to self kicks in. American Christians are not really a minority though we act as if we were one lacking collective prudence and fortitude to really engage the various realms of culture head on aside from certain personalities that everyone seems to always get mad at or embarrassed by.

  18. I think that we like to limit the Lord to Church and our personal relationship with HIm. Anything outside of that and either the fear of “persecution” or the cultural vein of keeping one’s religion to self kicks in. American Christians are not really a minority though we act as if we were one lacking collective prudence and fortitude to really engage the various realms of culture head on aside from certain personalities that everyone seems to always get mad at or embarrassed by.

    • The Church in America then has been reduced to nothing more than being the cheerleader to the world’s last superpower rather than a strong participant as in the case of the Roman Empire.

  19. this is from the Amazon interview with Hunter:

    Political strategies are not only counter-productive to the ends that faith communities have in mind, but are antithetical to the ends that they seek to achieve.

    @Chap Mike: are you far enough along with the book to fill this in for us ?? What kind of “antithetical” is he talking about ??? Sorry if I’m jumping way ahead, I know it’s lent and all, but I dont’ do PATIENCE very well.

    GregR

  20. What an interesting discussion. I wonder what effect Dispensational Eschatology has had in this whole area with its fixation on trying to read today’s news paper into the prophets and so having a short term mentality about the future. If it is all going to end soon anyway why get too involved in our society? Let’s just preach so people do not get ‘left behind.’ Just a thought!

    • Just for clarification this is a different Phil than the one above, Phil L

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      When The World Ends Tomorrow (at the latest), don’t expect anybody to concern themselves with the future. Because they have NO future. And since It’s All Gonna Burn, they’re not going to concern themselves with anything in the Present.

      And when you have No Future, the Future has a habit of still happening anyway, just without your input or influence. And when everybody else continues into that Future, you WILL be Left Behind.

  21. Andy Zook says

    I think the answer to Hunter’s question lies partly in Western Christianity’s emphasis on orthodoxy (or right thinking) over orthopraxy (right doing). Hence lots of americans who say they believe in God but don’t act like it.

    • “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do as I say?”

      i think the ol’ mental ascent vs. conviction in practice consideration one of the ongoing issues plaguing the Church catholic since its inception. and if a society has the added luxury of a high standard of living and relative peace within its borders, the temptation to pay lip service vs. heart service easy to identify…

      i am particularly fond of the Jesus Movement since i am a product of that amazing dynamic. and it is recent enough history for many to identify with or at least appreciate if they are younger. was the spiritual momentum stalled by a focus on the “thou shall nots” vs. the simplicity of the gospel in word & deed? i do know some of the ex-hippie types that i looked up to then that started out as on-fire disciples either reverting to a drug lifestyle or if they continued on as a disciple, became more of a clean-cut doctrinally correct version. maybe they were harder on their peers than the older generation was when they welcomed them into their churches with arms wide open…

      nearly every one of my early ‘mentors’ ended up back in the world right where they left off before finding Jesus out on the streets. i was disappointed of course, but not to the point of deciding everything i went thru just a ‘phase’…

      hmmmm…just a bit of a rabbit trail rumination here…

  22. ” patience is something worked into us, not given.”
    ?

  23. There’s another side of this topic. On the one hand, Christianity doesn’t have all the impact that it might ought to have. On the other hand, much of the impact-for-good that can be observed doesn’t come from Christians.

    Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Right now there are men doing that. They are the emergency workers in the Fukushima nuclear plant. Everyone else is getting as far from that place as possible, but those men are right there and they aren’t going to leave until the damage is contained. They are doing what Jesus said was the greatest love. But they are doing it out of patriotic zeal or devotion to their employer, not because they are Christian. I hope God gives them full credit.

    Japan’s occupational safety bureaucracy passed a new regulation a day or two ago raising the permissible levels of radiation a worker can be exposed to to waaaay above what it was before, just to keep what those heroes are doing “legal.” It would be more appropriate if they’d just throw their hands in the air and cry, “Save Us!”

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2011/03/17/2011-03-17_japan_on_verge_of_nuclear_meltdown_but_heroic_workers_fight_reactor_fire_to_stop.html

    • cermak_rd says

      I don’t know that they are doing it out of patriotic zeal or devotion to employer. I think in many cases they are doing out of selfless devotion to their fellow countrymen and families. I heard a snippet from a letter from a man to his wife, read on the radio, it didn’t sound like he had much hope of surviving this experience. I don’t know if there is an afterlife, but all these workers have certainly qualified themselves as mensches.

  24. I can’t help but notice that the people who propagate Christian values do so, not for the sake of the message of Jesus, but for the sake of protecting America itself from disintegration. They seem more worried about their own comforts, and places of prominence as American citizens, than the Message they preach. People go on and on about the dangers that America is in, but all I hear is their own personal fears superimposed over their seemingly innocent message of love for their country. I hear love of self.
    To me true faith in Jesus means that I am greatly enriched and blessed simply by having my eyes opened to reality: God and His love, my own estrangement, etc. All outward things – like promenence, a house, job (the ‘fat’ of the land) – are secondary, if not inconcequencial. The people trying to “take America back” are trying to take back the ‘plenty of the land’ , the oil and the wine (the fat), not the moral fabric of society.
    These underlying motives of fear and self-preservation kill the message before it even leaves people’s mouths.