Have you noticed the shift in our society? We have gone from a society grounded in a Judeo-Christian worldwide to a diverse, generally post-Christian culture. There were many contributing factors in this shift—the Vietnam War, the 1960’s counter-culture, and the sexual revolution among them. Add to these the national disillusionment after Watergate and the scandals of fallen Christian leaders in the 1980’s and you have a motivation for rejecting traditional beliefs and values. As a result, for many the church is now viewed as antiquated and irrelevant.
Unfortunately, many in the church have not recognized this cultural shift. This is especially true in how we view those outside the church. Before the worldview shift unbelievers were comprehensible to us. Living within a Christian consensus, unsaved people acknowledged right and wrong, even if they didn’t live up to their knowledge. If you were witnessing to someone and stated, “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23) there would likely be agreement from them. But with the sweeping changes that have occurred in our culture, this is no longer the case. Unfortunately, we sometimes approach personal evangelism with models that were applicable 50 years ago, but today are not always effective.
Consider the prevalence of postmodernism. For the postmodernist everything is relative. There are no absolutes; nothing is certain. This is true not only regarding morals, but truth itself is individual and subjective. Have you heard this: “What is true for you is not true for me”? Each person determines their own morals and beliefs, and lives accordingly. Thus all moral and belief systems are equally valid and acceptable. So when Christians assert that our faith is true and all others false, it seems narrow-minded and judgmental, even ridiculous and nonsensical.
How do we respond to those who approach from such a completely different perspective? First, we must not compromise our message. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16)—not only for the Jew and the Greek but also for the postmodernist, or for anyone else for that matter. However, in presenting the Gospel we must understand that we may have discard some assumptions. For example, we cannot assume that the person we are witnessing to understands their own sinfulness and need of a Savior. Yet, we do know from Scripture that this person does have a divinely-instilled moral sense. It then becomes our task to awaken this. Point out that both Scripture and reason clearly demonstrate the presence of a universal moral consciousness. Our presentation of this may not be readily accepted, but we know God’s truth can penetrate their heart and set them free.
Another postmodern concept asserts that there are no “metanarratives,” that is, no overarching explanations. There are no “big stories” that explain history, human nature, or the universe. However, this angst-ridden attitude actually provides an opportunity for us. Just as we all have a moral sense, we also have an inherent desire for a reality larger than ourselves, something that gives purpose and meaning to life. I think our current fascination with superheroes illustrates this. Why are Superman, Spiderman and Captain America so popular? Could it be that we want to believe in someone that can rescue us and straighten out this messy world we live in. In this light, Christians definitely have something to offer. We have the BIG STORY, the grandest narrative of all. So in a day when people are floundering in meaningless despair, we can declare the Good News of the Savior.
In another area, various studies reveal unbelievers’ attitudes about Christians. A common response is that Christians are always against something, not for anything. This is probably a result of our holding to absolute moral standards. But in a world that doesn’t believe in absolutes, this is perceived as being judgmental, or just plain contrary. There is a lesson here for us. Although we cannot retreat from biblical values, we must not fall into the trap of only speaking in protest of the culture. Our message is a positive message, with life-affirming and life-changing power. A good question to ask ourselves might be this: When I am around unbelievers, do they perceive me as someone who is anti-whatever, or as a person who is loving and approachable?
One Christian group spent several years interviewing non-believers and asking them about their views of church people. The results of their study may surprise you. They discovered that 95% of those outside the church feel no hostility towards Christians. Indeed, they expressed a desire to get to know Christians better. Certainly we are seeing a growing anti-Christian bias in some segments of our society. This is most noticeable in the media, and from certain organizations. Often these are the most strident voices we hear. However, this should not discourage us from reaching out to our neighbors, coworkers, friends and families—who are probably waiting for us to demonstrate kindness, compassion, even old-fashioned neighborliness.
Another result of the shift in worldviews is the perception of religion itself. Religious institutions, especially the church, have become increasingly suspect to many. They like Jesus. They like spirituality. Indeed, they think of themselves as spiritual people. But they don’t trust “religion” per se. “Organized religion” has become something negative, to avoid. This is amply reflected in the rise of the “nones,” those who when asked about their religious preference, they answer “none.” One study found that this segment of respondents increased from 5.1% in 1972 to 18% in 2010.
Frankly, much of the blame for these trends rests with us. The moral failure of so many Christian leaders has caused doubt as to the legitimacy of our faith. Does the Gospel really change hearts and lives? When you couple this with the unkind, critical, sometimes mean-spirited words and actions of some Christians, it is no wonder that we seem untrustworthy. To counter this, we must learn to be winsome again. We must reaffirm the primacy of love for all men, even our enemies. Even as we have received grace, we must show grace towards others.
Ironically, while western religion has become offensive, our society is now very enamored of eastern religion. If fact, there is a growing religious easternization in our entire culture. In 2009 Newsweek published an article entitled “U.S. Views On God and Life Are Turning Hindu.” The article noted that while the vast majority of Americans self-identify as Christians, that eastern beliefs are becoming more prevalent. For example, 65% of Americans believe that all religions are basically the same and that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” Such beliefs are the norm in Hinduism and Buddhism, not Christianity. With its emphasis on subjective experience rather than objective truth, eastern mysticism fits in very well with the prevailing religious views of many Americans. This trend is further reflected in a study from the American Bible Society which found that 46% of Americans believe all faith books are equally true. To believe that the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita are equally valid is more consistent with eastern religion rather than Christianity.
How do we address this trend? Awareness of the issue is the first thing. However, most church people are woefully unaware of this. We must wake up to what is happening. Secondly, we must remember we have a message—a message of grace and truth. We can present the Good News that promises more than just a transitory feeling of bliss. The Gospel is based in historical reality—Christ’s life, death and resurrection. This Gospel offers certainty in this life, and in the life to come. And it is free for everyone. This message is worth telling to any New Ager, yogi, Buddhist-convert or guru-devotee.
One last point is of significance for both the religious and secular unbeliever. For many today doctrine is not really important. When truth is relative, then any belief is acceptable. Of course, such a position is completely contrary to biblical Christianity. Yet, we can still build bridges to those who hold this view. While they may discount what we believe, they can still be touched by our attitude and behavior. You see, it is hard to reject love. People may argue with our doctrine (to their own damnation), but it difficult to argue against unconditional love, acceptance and grace. To reach those outside, the bottom-line must always be, “the greatest of these is love.”
* Note: This article by Victor Morris originally appeared in the Church of God Evangel, October 2016.
Truth Builders is a ministry initiative of Advancing Native Missions. However, the content of this site is the personal opinion of Victor Morris, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, views or conclusions of Advancing Native Missions, its leaders or staff