Win the Culture War, Lose the Soul

I hear this a lot these days. Christians are fighting the wrong fight. They saw we have gotten distracted and missed the point. We have engaged the wrong “enemy” with the wrong tactics. They say we might just win the culture war but at the expense of winning many souls to Christ.  Rachel Evans recently posted an article entitled “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation.” It only got 487 comments in a short period of time. Apparently something she said might just have resonated with two or three or four hundred people. She has a way of doing that.

Here is where I think people like RachelRex ButtsJonathan Merritt and others are right…our generation is tired of all of the politics. We are tired of the bickering. We are tired of trying to leverage worldly powers for the good of the kingdom of God. It is like we really believe God needs our help and the help of our legislatures to get it right these days. So we try to bring about change through worldly channels. It gets tiring. It really does. Their voices and opinions have brought some needed balance to the conversation. However, there are a few things I feel have been left out that I want to add.

First, there are some fights in life that are worth fighting to the day you die. I am not saying we have picked all the right ones all the time and through all the right means but we can’t go to the extreme of saying there is little to nothing that is really worth fighting for. What you are willing to fight for shows where your heart is. Honestly, we all have things we are willing to stand up for and speak out for or against. It is just a matter of which issues we believe are important enough to do it. I believe scripture needs to help us define and refine our list and not the world.

Second, I don’t think we can allow the world’s reaction to truth dictate which things we talk about and which ones we avoid. Hear me on this. I am not saying be unloving. I am saying the standard for what Jesus and the church is to talk about is not based on how the world reacts to the conversation, unless we are doing it in a way that is unloving, uncaring, and anything less than compassionate. If we are unloving the world may help us correct our tone but the content must always come from scripture. It only makes sense that there is going to be a certain group of people in the world who get up in arms when you speak the truth in areas they disagree on. That is the way the world works. In John 16:8-12 Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes, “he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” and “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth”. Jesus tells us there is truth, especially in regard to sin, righteousness and judgment that the world is not going to want to hear and yet it still stands as truth.

Third, Rachel and others express how tired they are of it all. Well, I am too. However, our own personal level of fatigue does not determine the worthiness of the fight. If it did Elijah should have given up years before he was taken up into heaven because he was also tired of battling the religious and political powers of his day. There are some fights worth fighting and those fights are going to make you tired from time to time. They are going to make you wish they would end. The truth is, some won’t. Now we have probably taken the extreme in the past that many of the fights worth fighting for were political. That was a mistake. We need to open up the New Testament and have a good look to see which fights Jesus and his followers deemed worthy of a fight and which ones did not. I think we have gotten too worldly in our definitions of which issues should get our attention.

Fourth, in some ways my generation has gotten lazy. I am not saying all of us but some have. We are used to things being worked out for us and handed to us. I am not pointing fingers. I am not speaking against Rachel, Rex, Jonathan or anyone else. I am just saying that we have a real tendency to not stick with anything for any length of time. That means our willingness to stick with a cause or abandon a cause is not the measuring stick for whether or not it is a worthy cause. I am tired of trying to teach my three year old to share with his little brother. I am not going to give up on that one and lose that battle. He has to learn it. It is that important. It would be easier in the short run to just give up but it would be much tougher in the long run. I think that is true with some of the issues we face today. We want short term results at the expense of long term gains. So don’t upset the world. Don’t speak out because someone might get turned off from Christianity. We lose our gumption.

Fifth, one of the problems we have is that we, Christians, have zeroed in on a small handful of issues to scream about at the expense of some others. My opinion is that when we spend a large amount of time on 2-3 issues and neglect other issues that are just as relevant we lose our relevance. Let me get more specific. When we spend a large amount of time on homosexuality and abortion (both things worthy of attention, mind you) to the neglect of many other things including the mission of the church and even sins that are in the same lists as homosexuality in scripture but aren’t really talked about very much, people stop listening to what we have to say. On the surface it at least appears we are more willing to poke at issues that are distant to us than those which are more personally relevant and might require personal change on our part. In other words, it is easier to condemn homosexuality when you don’t struggle with it than it is to condemn pride, which you do struggle with. When we do that we lose credibility.

Last, there is a real tension that I struggle with that I haven’t heard anyone mention that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Starting with Rob Bell and now from dozens of others I have heard people decry the bullhorn man. You have that guy out on the street corner preaching people to hell. I know that extreme and I don’t like it. It is often hateful and impersonal. It does some damage. I think we can and should avoid that approach.

Then take Isaiah who in Isaiah 20 preached against sin in Israel completely nakedGranted, his audience was God’s people and not people in the world…which is another issue for another day but still something that should be pointed out when it comes to the role of the prophet. If an Isaiah appeared on the scene today he would be called crazy by some Christians. Some would tell him to stop because of what people might think about Christianity based on what he was doing. Some would think three days of naked preaching was long and crazy. Isaiah went three years! Should people have warned him about who he was going to lose and who would be turned off? How do we find this balance? How do we stay the course? How do we balance the prophetic voice and telling people the tough things that need to be said by someone with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ? How do we know which fights are the right ones and which ones are not worth our time? What would we tell Isaiah if he were alive today and what does that tell us about ourselves?

A few answers:
Much of the answer to these questions comes from embracing grace and truth at the same time. I think we also have to realize that first and foremost any rebuke we have to speak is to be first aimed at God’s people and not the world. Another solution comes from having our nose in the Bible. It is easy to have worldly standards if you let the world be your guide. It is hard to know the truth if you are out of tune with God and His Word. These are all difficult things and I don’t claim to have all the answers. It is important we approach all of this with humility and I hope that is evident in everything I have said above. If not feel free to let me know that I missed it! I do hope some of the points made in this post help someone gain some perspective especially when it comes to the centrality of God and scripture in shaping our views and approach on these issues.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

4 Responses to Win the Culture War, Lose the Soul

  1. K. Rex Butts says:

    You too have shared some great thoughts in this ongoing conversation of how Christianity should exist among culture. I would not describe myself as “tired”. I think I am more frustrated with Christian attempts to fight a battle in ways that seem to undermine the message we preach. I am still confident that making disciples of Jesus (people who learn to live by the same beliefs and values Jesus lived by) is the way forward. And I agree, that disciple making will only happen as we embrace both grace and truth.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

    P.S., thanks for the recent plug-ins.

    • mattdabbs says:

      “I think I am more frustrated with Christian attempts to fight a battle in ways that seem to undermine the message we preach. I am still confident that making disciples of Jesus (people who learn to live by the same beliefs and values Jesus lived by) is the way forward.”

      Yes and yes. I am reading The Intrusive Word by Willimon and he makes some great points about what we communicate and how we communicate it. He says that we are trying to get people to agree with what we say rather than trying to convert people. There is a big difference and I think he is dead on. All this talk about gay marriage isn’t going to convert anyone at all. We have come to believe that intellectual agreement is more important that actual conversion. Bad move.

  2. Good thoughts! When Christians look to government to bring in the kingdom of God, they are looking in the wrong place.

    You correctly state that we are distracted from our mission, which is to follow Jesus and lift Him up before a fallen humanity. We go ballistic about homosexual marriage – while we wink at the prevailing hetero-sexual porneia [Greek for fornication], a word that has found its way into the English language as pornography, where it combines with another Greek word that meant writing but now means graphic.

    Yet, even harassing the world about its prevailing sins is not our mission. We are here to introduce the world to another Way, the Way of the Cross – but most of us are not really willing to bear our cross to follow Jesus. We may follow Him if it is “convenient” – but not if it involves suffering. But being crucified with Jesus is always going to be painful. We might ought to consider Jesus’ question of James and John: “Can you be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

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