Genocide is a horror that demands justice. World courts have been convened at Nuremburg to judge Nazis for the Holocaust of Jews in the Second World War and at The Hague to consider crimes against humanity by Serbian president Slobodan Milosivic. Surely similar proceedings are ahead to deal with those responsible for astonishingly brutal actions in Darfur, Sudan. Genocide demands that someone be held responsible.
We have been considering the provocative theory that there is a sort of intellectual genocide taking place against the Christian idea in the West. (See Part one and Part two) Over the past four decades or so, there has been a steady diminishing of the evangelical, Biblical viewpoint in our culture’s marketplace of ideas. If there is genocide, then there must be justice. Who is responsible for such an outrage?
If you listen to evangelical culture warriors, there is no shortage of suspects to bring to trial. Sometimes, they name names. Other times, they devise a blanket term to demonize a broad range of people and issues. The first group I heard named as the enemy of evangelical Christians was the fuzzy “secular humanists”. (If you say that just right, you can almost spit.) This group tended to leave God out of life and elevate human potential over divine power. We used to call those folks “lost” and pray we could reach them, but now they just seem to tick us off.
That term proved a little unwieldy for fund-raising, so the next focus of our anger was the “media elite”. If you got really angry, you would say “left-wing liberal media elite”—sort of like when your mom used all three of your names when she was upset. I guess that started with Norman Lear and People for the American Way, but it quickly morphed into a suspicion of all network news programs ( except those on Fox, of course) and all news anchors and commentators (except O’Reilly or Rush, of course).
“Let’s take America back” language, letters, sermons and conferences soon tipped evangelicals over the edge. We sprayed buckshot attacks at an increasing variety of people identified as the reason for our nation’s slide into a moral freefall and for the loss of Christian influence on the society. Think of this rogue’s gallery that evangelicals have been urged to suspect, boycott, harangue or ignore as dangerous over the past couple of decades: rappers and writers, movie directors (think Spielberg and Tarantino) and studios, Phil Donohue and Oprah, senators, legislators and politicians (inevitably Democrats), judges and Supreme Court justices, PETA and Planned Parenthood, peace activists and gay advocates, pornographers and liberal Protestants and of course, the Clintons and Obama. And that’s just a partial list.
Now listen carefully. In many of these cases, there have been legitimate reasons for Christians to oppose on Biblical grounds, express appropriate righteous indignation that matches the heart of a holy God, or take a prophet’s stand in the face of cultural decline. No denying that. As in every age, there are people and movements which actively oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is an enemy of men’s souls, “the god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor.4:4)
Even so, the cumulative weight of all this has been to place the brunt of responsibility for the diminishing influence of the evangelical, Biblical message on somebody else. There is always a vicious enemy “out there” treating us badly and making our message less visible or viable or accepted. It’s always “them”; “they” are taking Christ out of America, actively removing Christians and the Christian idea from the culture. It’s nothing less than theological genocide.
And I beg to differ. I don’t think it’s “them” and “out there”. The root of the loss of the Christian idea and influence in the West is “us” and it’s “in here”. It’s much less genocide than it is suicide.
Why would I say such a thing? Do I think evangelical Christians want to be marginalized? Do I think we want to lose a seat at the table of intellectual engagement and not be taken seriously? Do I think we want the evangelical idea to become an antique reminder of days gone by?
No, but I think evangelical Christians themselves have been the primary reason that the evangelical idea has diminished in our society. And the reason is very simple: we have forgotten the gospel.
Take a casual poll of the average evangelical church today and you will be hard pressed to find a majority of members who can even articulate the gospel. Even with hints, most end up with some version of paganism (satisfying the gods by a combination of my devotion and fate), Mr. Rogers good-neighborliness; “therapeutic moral deism” or some other individualized theology that is unrecognizable as the Biblical gospel of grace through Jesus. For at least a generation we have assumed that the people in our churches know the gospel. For the most part, they do not.
Paul said that the gospel of Jesus “which you received, in which you stand and by which you are being saved” was “…of first importance.” (1 Cor.15:1-3) The gospel is far more than four points of an outline that we recite off the back walls of our minds. It is more than a formula to start a relationship with God. The gospel is the profoundly rich reality of all God has purposed, accomplished and promised for us in Christ. The gospel is our oxygen, our lifeblood and our DNA. Apart from the gospel, the church does not exist. Apart from the gospel, we have no identity. Apart from the gospel, we have no life or power. Apart from the gospel, we have nothing to say.
Now when you don’t know that gospel or its comprehensive implications for all of life, you won’t have confidence in the transforming power of the gospel. If you have no confidence in the gospel, you will not live the gospel. You can’t communicate it to secular mind. You can’t engage ideas, systems, worldviews or policies with gospel-drenched reality. You are at the mercy of the next energetic, compelling, media-savvy idea that comes down the pike. And so little by little, conversation by conversation in break rooms, classrooms or boardrooms; across the backyard fence, on the sidelines at the soccer field on Saturday morning or even alone in the glow of the television, the gospel disappears. Like an early morning fog lifting in the sunshine, the gospel just melts away.
Why has this happened? Having lost a basic knowledge of and confidence in the gospel, evangelicals have embraced replacements. Usually it’s not an abandonment of the faith, like converting to Mormonism. It’s giving in to a more subtle temptation. Like Jesus in the wilderness, our shining enemy comes with plausible offers. Instead of being nurtured by the gospel’s Living Bread and word, we have too often chosen to stuff ourselves with the white bread of the culture, just like everybody else, so our souls are malnourished. Instead of trusting our Father’s plan and ways for changing the world by making disciples and serving the world in love, we have too often embraced the spectacle of marketing, business savvy, shock value advertising and more to gain attention from an indifferent society. Instead of living with hearts ablaze with a consuming passion for God’s glory and expanding the borders of His Kingdom, we have too often worshipped personalities, hankered for political power and acted like we wanted a Sally Field Oscar moment from the world, squealing “ Oh, you like me…you really, really like me.”
All of that happens because evangelicals have, for the most part, lost the gospel at the center of our hearts and our churches. So, if the gospel has faded from view in our society, if the Christian idea is absent from the marketplace, the reason may not be hateful, godless opponents. The reason may be careless evangelical Christians who have forgotten that we hold God’s “treasure in jars of clay”. (2 Cor.4:7) and that the “gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom.1:16)
In the conclusion of this series, we’ll consider some proposed solutions to regain the centrality of the gospel.