…contemporary Christians cannot be at home in almost in any period of church history. If a present-day Christian attempts to read the work of almost any Christian leader from before the 19th century, he is likely to be shocked by the leader’s supposed rudeness and ‘unchristlikeness.’ For example, in an article on Athanasius—one of the most formative leaders in Christian history—a Gospel Coalition writer observed that modern Christian readers are likely to ‘sniff at his angry style of writing.’ In a preface to a translation of Luther—by two Lutheran academics—the translators remarked that ‘Luther was a person of his time, and his language expresses the roughness of the age.’
Of course, it is only people in the past whose choices are explained away by their social context. Nobody reads a Christianity Today editorial and says that, after all, the author ‘is a person of his time, and his language expresses the gentility of the age.’ Instead, it is 21st-century, middle class evangelicals who are implicitly assumed to have finally gotten christlikeness right after all these years.
Charles Taylor too long and dense for you? I understand. Here’s a nice podcast on the topic of secularism, with a focus on pastoring and discipleship.
“That’s life in a secular age. That’s belief under the conditions of doubt. That’s pastoring and leading the church under the conditions of doubt. Because even watching things happen—whether you’re watching people move from death to life, through salvation, or whether you’re watching people experience healing, physical or emotional or whatever—the reality of secularism is that there’s this nagging, needling condition of doubt.” — Mike Cosper
A poet or prophet or politician who holds an eschatological vision of history believes that history isn’t random or haphazard but has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
While agreeing with apologists on the importance of knowing and critiquing the worldview of those we’re trying to reach, Wax maintains that our critiques lack an understanding of the eschatological underpinnings of modern and postmodern worldviews that have drawn people away from the gospel.
In addition to championing reason over revelation and logical thinking over religious devotion, the Enlightenment ushered the West into a world that looks forward not to the promised New Jerusalem, but to a man-made utopia. In order to emphasize the coming light, Enlightenment eschatology demonizes the past as dark, ignorant, and backward.
In keeping with the progressivism of the 18th-century Enlightenment, the 20th-century sexual revolution also heralded the decay of revelation-based religion and the rise of reason-based science. However, in keeping with its 19th-century Romantic roots, the sexual revolution sought a new kind of mysticism that promised to free the disenchanted modern from the materialism and naturalism of the dour Age of Reason. Forsaking both repressive “medieval” moral codes and any form of scientism that would reduce man to a cog in the machine, the sexual revolution sought “transcendence through self-discovery and expression” (140).
As for the third rival worldview, consumerism, Wax effectively exposes it is as the most subtle and insidious of the three. If, for the architects of the sexual revolution, marriage is merely a vehicle for aiding our search for sexual self-fulfillment and expression, then for the high priests of consumerism, it’s nothing more than a commodity without intrinsic value.
Rory Shiner thinks that 2018 is the time for evangelism. I agree.
Talk to student workers in AFES, for example. They are the ones on the front line, sharing the gospel with the very generation who have been raised on intersectionality and gender fluidity and the whole bit. And yet, again and again, from campus to campus, these student workers are saying that this is the best and the freshest evangelistic environment they’ve seen in their life time.
People are so post-Christian that the gospel is fresh and interesting. They know so little that there’s less prejudice. And if they have an impression of Christians at all, it’s so outrageously negative that all you have to do is offer them a cup of tea and not punch them in the face and you seem like Mother Theresa.
Think about this, and it makes plenty of sense. People in the last 60 years or so have felt, in rejecting Christianity, that it is old and outdated and childish. That they already understand it, and can dismiss it as false. But now they might still have some of that attitude, but in reality they know nothing about Christianity. It’s easy to get someone intellectually curious about Christianity now, or surprise them with how little they know. And this leads to critical engagement. And critical engagement with Christianity leads to Christians.
The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Don’t be afraid or discouraged. Go on the offensive, fight the good fight, and win souls for Christ.
Many of you will have noticed that I reference the book A Secular Age by Charles Taylor quite regularly. Outside of scripture, no other book has been more influential in shaping my thinking about the Western world. Where we are, how we got here, what it means, and where we’re going.
If for some reason you don’t feel like spending 4 months digging through this 900 page tome, then there is an alternative that I haven’t read myself, but some of my friends recommend. From James Smith, the author of You Are What you Love, it is a summary of Taylor, containing many of his most important ideas, and it seems to attempt to make them explicitly and directly relevant to the Christian apologist. I also believe that Smith is Reformed, which always wins points in my book.
If those are too hard (and I strongly encourage you to take one of those two options, even as audiobooks or something) then I have found a reasonably good series of YouTube videos, they seem to be recordings of a philosophy class at a university discussing the book. They are not an alternative, but they may be helpful.
On Wednesday I had the privilege of hearing David Robertson speak at Menai Anglican Church. He covered many topics, mainly in the area of evangelism and apologetics in modern culture. I took some notes, here they are in their very rough and unedited form. Perhaps some will be useful:
Proclaiming Christ in a post Christian culture:
- Acts 17:6. What kind of world was being turned upside down? Don’t just influence, turn upside down. Jesus does this. Not politics. Gospel
- Ireland and Scotland changed quickly. Why are people dancing and singing for abortion? Surely if abortion is permissible, it is a bittersweet and necessary evil.
- We are regressing to a Greco-roman pagan world. Not progressive.
- Secular utopianism. Pinker’s enlightenment, ignores bad stuff. Things can only get better. But things aren’t. Advancing to nirvana never happens. Hitler thought he was progressive. Lewis Namier. Most academics were Nazis.
- Religious Fundamentalism. Unthinking Christianity included, but also Islam. Progressive utopian have to believe all religions are fundamentally the same. But Islam is a political system. Welcome them and spread the Gospel
- State fascism. Control of the state over everything. If we remove the church from culture, the state now provides the function of the church: Morality, schools (social engineering, what to think. Safe schools). Values of the elites imposed. Guilty until proven innocent in university sexual assault committees.
- Consumerist dumbed down materialism. Affluenza. Cannot serve both God and mammon. Prosperity Gospel, exported out of the West, is evil.
- New age paganism. Sexuality, mother earth, “cool”. Trying to be different. Nothing new under the sun.
- Sexual confusion and dysfunctional families. Nothing surprising here. Especially pushed in schools, even primary school. Children need a mum and dad.
- Equality: we are becoming unequal. Only focused on sexuality, but finance is more important.
- The church. Society needs Jesus. Don’t patronise poor people, they need the Gospel more than soup kitchens. Australia will become worse soon perhaps. Billy Graham 1959 had long-lasting impact. Moore college had a big impact. Immigrants are an opportunity. But weak on 25-40 year olds, who are sheltered. Tribalism. Struggle with answering objections. And we are going to decline in 10 years without renewal. What can we do: Don’t fight to save Christendom. Make more disciples
- We will never have difficulty in evangelism if the glory of the Lord fills the temple. Don’t let them see us as fake, dead, boring, unreal. Let them think we’re crazy or wrong. But not dead.
- Ireland makes us angry because it’s people shaking their fists at God. Our primary emotion should be sorrow, as God is being mocked.
- How to present our views on social issues? They are shibboleth issues, testing if we are culturally orthodox. Jesus responds with a question to get to the bigger issues. Don’t answer in their framework, take it to a wider framework. Don’t avoid and don’t compromise, but go bigger.
- Sidenote: narratives and metanarratives, new sincerity, end of post-modernism. This is good for us.
- Society has a vision of the church. But it is wrong. The church is for glorifying Jesus and proclaiming the Gospel. Don’t use care for the poor as evangelism, it’s patronising and manipulative.
- Australia has phenomenal opportunities to be useful in Asia for evangelism
“A Theological Sickness Unto Death – Philip Rieff’s Prophetic Analysis of our Secular Age” is the title of a paper published in TGC’s Themelios journal. I have read Rieff’s My Life Among the Deathworks and am working my way through the related A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. For evangelists and apologists wondering what is going on in our culture, and wanting to survey the cultural landscape in order to better strategise our evangelism and apologetics, this article may be helpful.
In Rieff’s view, therapeutic ideology, rather than Communism, was the real revolution of the twentieth century. Compared to Freud, the neo-Marxists were cultural conservatives who still believed in the notion of authority and the idea of a cultural code. The proponents of Freudian therapeutics, on the other hand, would not countenance authoritative frameworks and normative moral codes. In a therapeutic culture, authority disappears. In place of theology and ethics, we are left with aesthetics and the social sciences. Thus, therapeutic culture was born. This tradeoff would turn out to be so destructive that Rieff would describe the United States and Western Europe (rather than the Soviet Union) as the epicenter of Western cultural deformation.
In contrast to the first and second world cultures whose social order is undergirded by a world beyond the visible and a moral authority beyond the self, third world cultures (contemporary Western cultures) sever the connection between sacred order and social order, limiting the “real” world to the visible and locating moral authority in the self. Similarly, whereas each of the first two worlds sought to construct identity vertically from above, our third world rejects the vertical in favor of constructing identity horizontally from below. Rieff knew the result of this rejection would be nihilism: “Where there is nothing sacred, there is nothing.
The construction of a fourth world will involve a recovery of sacred order and, by extension, recoveries of revelation and authority, and of transcendent meaning and morality. Recoveries such as this do not enact themselves; they await a people who will speak and act responsibly. This fourth world “people,” Rieff argues, must articulate and embody seemingly defunct notions of truth and virtue, a formidable task in our radically disenchanted and morally permissive third world culture. Nonetheless, in spite of the formidable challenges posed by third world order, there are already cracks in the foundations; although it once seemed liberating to fire God from his post and live without limits, the third world will soon realize that a world without boundaries is a frightening—not a freeing—place. Thus, a responsible people must arise to manifest the beauty of the “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not.”