As the new year starts, we continue to check ourselves by examining the Barna Group’s six Christian Megathemes, major shifts that have recently changed the way Christians think about and practice their faith within the last decade. Highlighting the problems we face is important, but I want to go beyond that and provide some possible solutions as well. Click here to read previous entries.
Theme #5: The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
The concept of tolerance is so prevalent today that you cannot help but be pummeled by it anywhere you turn. As an apologist, I often hear the claim that I’m being “intolerant” by someone who simply doesn’t want to follow a Christian standard of morality. That’s not too much of a surprise, really. But Barna shows a much more worrisome trend. He writes:
Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies. This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for. That may not be surprising in a Church in which a minority believes there are moral absolutes dictated by the scriptures.
Note Barna finds that “The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for.” This is a very real poverty in our day. There are things worth fighting for and things worth dying for. Sometimes an idea is so valuable that people should be willing to lay down their lives to defend it. The early Christian martyrs certainly held this view. Stephen, who confronted the Jewish leadership in Acts 7 was stoned because his theology offended them. The Bible says they were furious at him, they covered their ears because he spoke things that were offensive to them, and they yelled at him before stoning him. I've seen the same reactions when I speak up for biblical values. But just because he offended them, doesn't mean he was wrong.Quite the contrary, his testimony serves as a model of standing up for righteousness.
One thing that I notice repeatedly in our modern world is how those critical of Christianity tend to hijack Christian foundations and then use them for their own pleasures. Just recently, I read an article on how a group of atheists were demanding to be included at the prayer service for the mayor of Washington D.C. They don’t have clergy, but “human celebrants” instead. This bit of ridiculousness parallels the weekly political lessons offered in the former Soviet Union; they are both a shallow attempt to counterfeit a religious service.
Counterfeits are Satan’s stock in trade and he is very successful at using them to mask real needs. The true concern comes in when the Church adopts these counterfeits and begins to teach them as actual. Take the idea of tolerance; the very word has lost its basic meaning. If I have a toothache I may call my dentist. He could respond “We don’t have any appointments open today, can you tolerate the pain until I can see you tomorrow?” Tolerance means that something is wrong, but I can put up with it for some other reason. We started with the Christian principle that all people are made in the image of God and therefore hold the responsibility of making moral decisions, but our modern day society has changed it into anything that anyone does should be considered legitimate. A degree of tolerance is important in a pluralistic society, but that doesn’t mean we cannot speak out against sin and seek to influence change in our society. That’s the difference.
Barna again writes “The challenge for every Christian in the U.S. is to know his/her faith well enough to understand which fights are worth fighting, and which stands are non-negotiable.” I think apologetics fits here perfectly. One of the main focuses of giving a reason for the hope that is within you is demonstrating that there are clear moral laws we all need to follow. The Christian needs to know how to present the biblical case for issues such as abortion, homosexuality, sexuality, service to the poor and other hot-button topics of our day, and he or she needs to be able to counter the opposing arguments that are offered in response. That means we need to study more and be attractive and persuasive in those conversations whenever they come up.
As the influence of relativism becomes more dominant in society, we need to be more intentional in countering its message. In most Christian churches today, even those who hold to a strong view of Biblical authority, most of our young congregants hold to a view of relativism. If we don’t speak out now, we could lose more than a cultural fight. We could lose the very concept of right and wrong, and without that Christianity becomes just another way of self-expression.
Tips on Countering the Trend toward RelativismFor the individual:
- Begin to see the exclusive nature of Christianity. Make sure you know what the essentials of the Christian faith are.
- Look for good books dealing with relativism and its claims. Two I recommend are Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Beckwith & Koukl and Paul Copan’s True For You but Not For Me.
- Pick a “hot topic” issue, such as abortion, and learn how to defend your views.
- Know how to argue for your position in a winsome manner. Check out Greg Koukl’s Tactics for more on this.
- Pastors need to clearly and repeatedly teach that truth cannot be compromised. We need more sermons on the dangers or relativism and why faithfulness to the Biblical standard is essential.
- Create a list of often asked questions on controversial issues and clearly define what your Church’s stand is on each. Make this available on the church website and in the foyer. Let folks know how they can get one.
- Develop an apologetics ministry or a current affairs class and teach people how to discuss these tough topics. Use role-playing techniques to help people understand how real-life scenarios will play out.