I learned as a parent that things are more often caught than taught. As a child, when I asked my Dad “why?”, his response was usually “because I said so!” Though this was never a satisfactory answer I did understand it was his way of saying he was the boss. Every parent learns there is a time when actions speak louder than words. When our actions contradict a belief or action, we are trying to teach our children, we are basically telling them to not do what we are doing but do what we say is right. One case in point was when we were teaching our children about swearing and using inappropriate language. As parents we knew that if we used words that we were telling our children were inappropriate, as well as disciplining them for the use of these words, we were setting a double standard. The importance of leading by example became very real one evening when we sat down as a family to watch a movie. As the G rated movie progressed, one of the characters said one of the words we classified as inappropriate. As an adult I had heard much worse but when the eyes of four young children all of a sudden focused on me to see how I was going to respond, it became apparent that I had a choice to make. That choice was going to either support the moral lesson we wanted our children to learn or contradict it. Nothing was said. I just turned the television off. My kids never complained. I wish I could say I have always been that good of an example to my kids in everything, but I would be lying if I did.
Both Christian Smith in his book Lost In Transition and Kenda Creasy Dean in her book Almost Christian focus on the challenges that face young people in the American culture. Interestingly, both authors also focused on the aspect of parental influence on a young person’s beliefs. Dean states “Perhaps parents and teenagers do not argue much about religion because they seem to believe almost the same thing.” She explains that many teens mirror their parents’ religious beliefs. Christian Smith claims that parents are teaching their kids and they are learning the lessen well. “We in the older adult world are failing youth and emerging adults in these crucial ways because our own world is itself also failing in those same ways.” Long ago I heard that if as parents we don’t instill our convictions into our kids, our convictions will be only beliefs to them. If they in turn don’t instill their beliefs into their children, they become nothing more than myths. Though I don’t remember where I heard this, it has proven more than once to be true.
Charles Taylor seems to shed light on this in his book A Secular Age. His study on secularization reaches far beyond the removal of God from public spaces and the decline of religious attendance. He focuses on the conditions of belief and how we now have a space for unbelief within a culture that was once focused on a belief in God. It is this space of unbelief that has brought with it a lack of concern for others and a focus on personal material gain. Taylor later states that one of the results of this material gain mindset, often reinforced in our business educational system, is a lack of empathy toward others. Life has been reduced to a code of conduct based on a strong sense of personal discipline. This leads to a broad sense of morality focused on getting one’s life together through an act of self-control. All one has to do is look at the self-help section on Amazon to see the value in Taylor’s insight. Taylor discusses what he calls the Modern Moral Order. Within the Modern Moral Order is the exploration that in a humanistic culture human sympathy along with a desire for universalism leads to the idea that the highest level of morality is human dignity. Taylor explains, “we can say that we owe it to our own dignity to act this way, and this is what the moral source consists in. That is, this is what one can appeal to, oneself or another, to bring us into line with what we ought to do.”
How does one navigate a secular culture that places the pinnacle of morality on human dignity? What do we do with a gospel that calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross (Luke 9:23), as well as, warns us against exalting ourselves and becoming humble (Luke 14:11)? How do we convey a gospel to the Modern Moral Order that states that in order to find life we need to lose it for the sake of Christ? (Mt. 10:39) Could it be that we don’t really understand the Apostle Paul’s call “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called?” (Eph.4:1) Paul prays for his readers to be strengthened with the power of the Holy Spirit in their inner man (3:16), to be grounded in love and to know the vastness of the love of Christ (3:18) in order to walk in a manner worthy. This calling is to be done in humility, gentleness, patience, and long suffering in love for one another. (Eph. 4:2) Could it be that we forget that we cannot through personal effort or human dignity raise ourselves up to walk in a worthy manner? We walk through and out of the power of the gospel. Only in Christ are we worthy. This is the glory of the gospel.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007) 398-99
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