Win the Culture War, Lose the Soul – Intellectual Agreement or Actual Conversion?

In the first chapter of Will Willimon’s book The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized, Willimon makes the case that too much of our preaching has not relied on the power of the Gospel to not just hear and agree with what is being said but to be converted by the message. The reason people have a hard time hearing is because they are so caught up in the powers and cultures of this world that the Gospel becomes foreign to their ears. It is not that the message is complicated and hard to understand but because the message is counter-cultural. He believes we have taught more to get people to agree with the truth of the message more than we have preached to actually convert people out of the world and into new life through Christ. Now that is something to chew on for a while. Do you agree?

Now this ties into Christianity and the culture wars really well. Much of the ruckus we have made over social issues like gay marriage and abortion has been to get the other side to agree with our stance but comes short of actually intending to convert people. We have isolated evangelism from the whole discussion and seen gay marriage, abortion, etc as separate issues that have little to nothing to do with conversion. We believe the world needs to agree with our stance but we don’t see this as an opportunity to move beyond agreement toward conversion. We have thought if people will just get it right on these things that everything and everyone will be okay. We have been taught to believe that Christian faith is agreement with certain truths over and above the tenants laid out by other religious or even non-religious groups. That is just not the case! That is part of it but not all of it. There is a huge difference between agreement with Christian truths and actual conversion and disciple making. Jesus didn’t say “Go and make the world agree with everything I have commanded” He did say go and make disciples, teaching them to actually obey the commands of Jesus and live in submission to him starting off with baptism. Jesus was talking about converting the world, not changing their minds on a few issues. True conversion goes further than intellectual ascent and requires a change of identity.

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.

6 Responses to Win the Culture War, Lose the Soul – Intellectual Agreement or Actual Conversion?

  1. Pingback: Conversion or Correction? « Committed To Truth

  2. See my comment at the “Pingback” above. – Committed To Truth.

  3. Good thoughts Matt! Although I have not read the book, Willimon’s point has been generally true for American Christianity since the Enlightenment (faith as a cognitive ascent and then a life lived based upon those rational beliefs). In my experience, many ministers with this worldview work from the assumption that 1) True Christianity is based upon a returning to America’s Christian moral roots, and 2) Non-Christians actually long for the Gospel, but they are just too caught up in sin to respond to it (hence the devotion to the Word “convicting” the heart/mind). Actually talking with diverse groups of non-Christians sets a different, more complex picture. Many non-Christians have either never lived in a morally-rooted America, agree with that goal, or agree on how to obtain that goal if it is desired. Or non-Christians don’t want what they think Christianity offers (at times a benign “niceness” and at times hypocritical phonies). More to your point, I have seen both cases. On the one hand, some evangelize by being a totally counter-cultural “Jesus Freak” (preaching the truth and people can either accept or reject it). Generally this method does work on some people, but still churches are in decline even with this passionate tactic. On the other hand, other Christians evangelize by minimizing the changes in life and treating Christianity as an add-on to a good life rather than a total rewire of orientation. Both methods are unfortunately missing the point, and churches are suffering because of it. Three questions in analyzing our churches and evangelism are: How much diversity on social issues exists in our church setting? Also, are conversions to Christianity as dynamic as the ones we read about in the NT? What do the answers to these questions suggest about the nature of social adherence and the penetration of evangelistic methods on those “different” than our church environments?

    • mattdabbs says:

      Is it possible people aren’t drawn to the church because what they see in us appears worse to them than what they see in the world? That is bound to happen but the problem is when they are right. If we claim to be different but aren’t…that is a problem. The world sees it, smells it and knows when people are phony. They aren’t dumb.

      • To be fair, I’ve seen a lot of non-Christians make over-generalized statements based on their own personal experiences. You’re right though, people aren’t dumb; in fact they may be preaching to us better than we do within our churches . . . that is that our schedules, convictions, and love for others are not totally reflecting our commitment to our beliefs.

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