In my last blog post I sought to bring to the fore some of what ails our beliefs and behaviors of Christianity in the West but more specifically in the United States today. In this post I would like to continue where I left off; and that is to offer a hopeful way forward for the faithful.
Hardly any Evangelical leader today would argue that we are currently living in a post-Christian and post-truth culture. In the last ten years we have seen a myriad of books that have been published to counter the cultural slide; titles such as Renaissance by Os Guinness, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and To Change The World by James D. Hunter come to mind. These modern day prophets, in their speaking and writing have warned, consoled and provided a new fresh way to view the world in the context of Christianity today.
If we grant the premise that we ultimately are what we love1, our understanding of how culture’s devolvement may simultaneously help us recover a proper vision of God’s kingdom. It is this understanding, an awareness, that counts as the first step.2 To illustrate this, one of the joys in my life has been teaching my son how to play competitive tennis. My family encouraged this sport in him as soon as he began walking and after years of practice he now is able to keep up with college-level tennis players. However, every once in a while he experiences a bad streak in his game in which his forehand strokes, his main competitive advantage, fail him — and fail him badly. When this happens I, as his coach, would tell him two things: (1) explain the mechanics of his stroke, what makes it work and what causes failure; and (2) physically demonstrate the proper correction, a slight tweak in how he grips the racket in order to hit the ball with enough spin and pace.
This analogy highlights two important things in our approach if we are to redeem culture for Christ: belief and behavior. This dynamic tie in respectively to the two things I mentioned above. Belief here is defined as propositions that are true and justified. It’s what counts as knowledge. Behavior on the other hand is the practical way in which one acts or conducts oneself. No one doubts the ineluctable relationship between belief and behavior in the sense that proper belief produces proper behavior. Taking this further, the common view argues that to correct a bad behavior one must correct the bad belief. This is an idealized way of looking at connection but we know this is false. Because if this were true we would not be discussing culture decay. James D. Hunter astutely observes:
Consider, first, the fact that communities of faith have been a dominating presence in American society for the length and breadth of its history. There is some evidence that suggests that there are even more Americans who are worshipping as part of a congregation today than in the past.1 As late as 1960, only 2 percent of the population claimed not to believe in God; even today, only 12 to 14 percent of the population would call themselves secularists. This means that in America today, 86 to 88 percent of the people adhere to some faith commitments. And yet our culture—business culture, law and government, the academic world, popular entertainment—is intensely materialistic and secular.3
For far too long we have fought the culture wars with more education (belief) at the expense of forming behavior, thinking that if we only taught a generation rightly all will be well. We forget that in the politicization of education, it is downstream from culture as other social structures are. In other words, our educational system, institutions curriculum, frameworks, organizations, etc. are a result of the forces that have shaped culture. Perhaps the solution may be found in shining a light to the oft-neglected part of the equation: behavior? Rick Warren, pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, expresses this sentiment concisely in a statement he has often repeated:
I’m looking for a second reformation. The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs. This one is going to be about behavior. The first one was about creeds. This one is going to be about deeds. It is not going to be about what the church believes, but about what the church is doing.4
Warren is absolutely correct in his invitation and challenge to this generation. We know why, but do we know how to behave? What resources can we draw upon that will help us in the formation? In this short blog, I regretfully have not found enough time and space except to mention the first step in our project to improve culture, and that is a thoughtful awareness of the nuances of the challenges that keep believers in a cultural cul-de-sac.
1 Justin Taylor, You Are What You Love: A Conversation with James K. A. Smith, The Gospel Coalition (TGC), October 29, 2017, , accessed February 28, 2019, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/you-are-what-you-love-a-conversation-with-james-k-a-smith/.
2 Vincent Jude Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 192.
3 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 19.
4 Rick Warren’s Second Reformation, Beliefnet, , accessed February 28, 2019, https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/2005/10/rick-warrens-second-reformation.aspx.