We live in an increasingly secular culture. This should challenge...
I have argued in recent blogs that we need a coherent Christian culture in Britain today and have been legitimately challenged to spell out how that might be achieved. There are many positive Christian initiatives such as food banks, street pastors, debt counselling, faith schools and the hospice movement that manifest neighbour love but they are not turning back the tide of secularism. So how might we go about doing that without imitating King Canute?
There are three possible responses to the secularist worldview. We can compromise and accommodate to it, retreat into a pietistic ghetto or engage in a counter-cultural movement. In the light of Jesus’ teaching about being salt and light – being different to make a difference – accommodation and retreat are not options for committed Christians. Indeed, the consistent message of the entire Bible is that God’s people are to be holy, set apart for his service. Those who acquiesce in a godless culture neglect this vital differentiation and those who retreat into a ghetto make no difference and accept the privatisation of their faith. Uniting to change our nation and culture is the only legitimate option.
Some Christians will respond that their priority is evangelism to rescue individuals from a godless life, not the re-Christianisation of society. They will contend that Christendom belongs in the past and in any case compromised the Church. Whatever one’ views on that there is surely a case for both/and not either/or. Luther and Calvin recognised this, as more recently did the Lausanne Movement and leaders such as John Stott. They took the view that creating a cultural climate in which the Christian faith is perceived to be plausible helps evangelism.
Effective engagement in culture debate calls for some essential skills. A willingness to think long term is one. Changing public opinion can take a generation as Wesley, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury learned. They committed their whole lives to achieve their goals and they did not have to contend with a media dominated by post-modern secularists. Experienced evangelists have seen people dramatically convicted of their need for salvation in an instance under the influence of the Holy Spirit but equally experienced lobbyists know that at the level of social change that does not happen. To achieve change in public policy one normally has to build relationships and earn the respect of those in power to persuade them to make the changes one wants. That is the level and the way in which a Christian counter-culture needs to operate. Nor, should agents for change use biblical language in public debate where it will not be understood. A Christian leader who did this on the Moral Maze programme was laughed out of the discussion by the panel.
The essential motive for a Christian counter-culture has to be love. Before that is dismissed as a sloppy sentiment it is important to recognise that it is the core idea of the Christian faith. Jesus’ teaching and example make this plain as do St Paul’s letters. Those who opt out of engagement with contemporary culture and retreat into a pietistic ghetto are failing to love their neighbours who have no faith or relationship with their Creator. The same is true of those who accommodate to secular culture.