Cultural hostility toward Christians in the United States is at an all-time high and — let’s face it — that's not going to change. But we would be much better off without all the “culture wars” division.
With the chasm between the sacred and the secular growing wider, I’m not convinced further definition of our differences is the best route to revival. And it turns out Danny Akin, the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, isn’t convinced, either.
“We do believe — together — that no one should be coerced when it comes to their particular religious beliefs, whether they are religious or not religious,” Akin said in a video on the Openly Secular website. “They should have the freedom to express what they believe and they should be able to do so without hatred, without discrimination. They should not be put down because they happen to disagree with another person in terms of what they believe.”
Religious “nones,” those who self-identify as atheist or agnostic, make up 23 percent of the U.S. population, up from 16 percent in 2007, according to a Pew Research Center study. Plus, millennials are walking away from organized religion, too. Today, 27 percent of college students say they never attend religious services, up from 12 percent in 1970, according to a PLOS One analysis.
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If Christian churches aren’t careful, there’s a good chance it’s going to lose touch with America’s biggest generation — the millennial generation.
For years, the Christian community has reversed the gospel, extending invitations with caveats instead of open arms, all the while picketing our differences on capitol steps around the country.
In Matthew 28:19, Matthew wrote, “Therefore go and make disciples.” Yet, somehow, Christians have decided to declare proverbial war on the “outsiders” before inviting them in.
Why would anyone be surprised when no one shows up? And it doesn’t seem like the trend will change, unless Christian leaders follow the examples of people like Akin and California pastor Rick Warren.
In its latest “Daring Faith” campaign, Saddleback Church, the southern California church Warren leads, raised $70 million to combat social and economic issues, such as poverty, hunger, sickness and lack of education, according to the Christian Post.
“Building a bridge has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs,” Warren said in a 2014 interview with Pastors.com and the Christian Post. “Because Jesus commanded us to take the gospel to everyone, I spend much of my time with groups of people who completely disagree with what I believe. I’m constantly trying to build a bridge of love to nonbelievers, to atheists, to gays, to those I disagree with politically and to those of other faiths.”
Millennials are looking for clarity and authenticity, not prepackaged talking points and theologies strictly tethered to political party lines. Don’t get me wrong — politics do matter and Christendom has a role to play, but not to the detriment of growing Christianity.
I am an advocate for Christian involvement in cultural issues, but the appeal has to be more than an inch deep and an inch wide. Marching into the “culture war” armed with a picket sign calling the nonbeliever an enemy of the evangelical right is certainly anything but the holistic approach the gospel provides.
At the end of the day, I’m not suggesting Christians should walk away from hot topic issues. In fact, I’m hoping for the exact opposite. I’m advocating for a Christian community that doesn’t distance itself from those with whom it disagrees, but meets them where they are with love and grace.
The Christian community should be careful not to put the cart before the horse. Evangelism should be about growing the Christian church, and discipleship — within the Christian community — should be about building a robust gospel worldview that addresses culture, head on.
The Christian faith is countercultural in every sense of the word and the gospel has armed Christians with much more than a picket sign. So let’s drop the “culture wars,” build bridges and stand compassionately by our convictions.
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