glacier

Culture Shift – Part 1

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”

Candidate Barack Obama, June 2007

The conservative [especially] evangelical community was stirred into a frenzy by the above quote. Political opponents from coast to coast sought to use it as a rallying point for their base. While four years later I find few statements that I can heartily agree with from our now president Barack Obama, this is definitely one of them.

Cultural shifts are difficult. They are not always sudden and jarring like a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. They tend rather to change landscapes like the slow crushing move of a glacier. The cold hard reality is that culture is never static, which poses a significant problem, as we [humans] don’t much like change.

The Christian, more than any other, must be flexible and ready to adapt to the realities of cultural evolution. We are to be men and women, on mission; a mission which involves a commission to “go.” So, like culture, we are also not static. Our default however, is to tend toward inflexibility. This means that the life for the Christian will [almost] always involve some level of discomfort. As strangers and pilgrims in this world we will never truly find home, in this life. It is this truth that Jesus identified when he said to a potential seeker,  “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20)

Acts chapter 11 highlights for us a major cultural shift for the early church, one which I’m convinced mirrors what the 21st century evangelical church is now facing in the US and western Europe.

Briefly, Acts 11 brings the church face to face with the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ prophetic promises. Jesus prophesied saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

For roughly the first 10 years of the church’s existence, it found its base among Jews and Samaritans, primarily. Those who filled her ranks came from a theistic worldview; they were religious. Gospel uptake among those of a theistic persuasion was pretty good. At the birth of the church during Pentecost we witness something akin to the crusade evangelism of the 20th century as 3,000 were converted. Shortly after that there came another 5,000 (depending on how you read it). But a decade in, at Acts chapter 10, we witness the gospel’s advance into a paganistic, pluralistic, polytheistic, somewhat secularistic environment. Acts 11 reveals the apostolic reaction to what we could call “culture shock.”

Culture shock is what happens when you wake-up one day to find the culture around you has changed, and you have not. The evangelical church in America is experiencing a culture shock similar to that of the church in Acts 11. President Obama’s quote exposes the cultural shift, which the church is beginning to wake-up to. How we (the church) react to this shift will shape much of our evangelistic efforts in 21st century America.

6 replies
  1. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Good word Miles….”culture shock is what happens when you wake up”.

    That statement suggests that we need to constantly stay awake to the world around us, lest we fossilize in our traditions and preferences. I think we need to make our bottom line less cluttered, but radically more firm.

    “Jesus and Him crucified”…and perhaps, as they say, “the rest is just details”.

    Reply
  2. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Good word, Miles. I, too, when Obama spoke of us not being a Christian nation felt no anger or outrage. For me, it was a “Well, duh,” kind of a moment In fact, I don’t think we were ever a Christian nation where the values of the gospel prevailed in society. We were a nation where the majority of the people held to the Judeo-Christian ethic, but we were never a nation where the majority of the people had been spiritually transformed by Christ. Rather, we were a nation holding to the moral precepts of Biblical revelation. We were bound together not by a common spiritual experience, but a common moral philosophy – but no longer.

    As the Judeo-Christian ethic is becoming a weaker philosophical foundation for our nation, rival moral thinking is gaining ground, notably relativism. I agree with Bill’s notice of what you wrote, “…culture shock is what happens when you wake up…” Culture change is happening all the time, it’s when we wake up that we take note of it. We can no longer assume that we are speaking to audiences where the Judeo-Christian ethic prevails – even among ‘Christian’ congregations. Relativism isn’t exorcised upon conversion. It is progressively neutralized by discipleship and sanctification.

    Thanks for your post.

    Reply
  3. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    Miles,

    Great post. Sadly, I must agree with you that Obama’s statement is currently true. I’m sad because we’ve lost our way as a nation, and replaced truth with multiculturalism and its ideals.

    I’m teaching right now at a conference of 2,000+ Korean-American believers in Philadelphia. The theme of the conference is from Joel 2:12-14 … that if we turn to the Lord in dramatic ways, the Lord may indeed turn again and bless our nation, as He promised Judah, to whom Joel wrote.

    {12} “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; {13} and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. {14} Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?

    That’s one of my hopes. My ultimate hope is for the 2nd coming of Messiah Jesus. But I also hope for revival in America.

    Thanks for posting.

    Reply
  4. Daniel Fusco
    Daniel Fusco says:

    Great post for sure.

    There are a lot of writings presently about the end of Christendom (not the end of Christianity). In this definition, Christendom is a pasteurized form of Christianity that has a privileged place within a host empire (be it Roman, Western, European, American). Obama’s statement is clear. Christianity no longer has privileged status in America. And I say praise God! The church was never as on target as when it was on the margins, pilgrim and on the go!

    Reply

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