Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Plight of American Christianity

Hedonism, pluralism, relativism, humanism, empiricism, individualism, socialism, and post-modernism. These are but a handful of the godless philosophies that permeate American culture. The pattern of American culture is as antithetical to the Christian worldview as any pattern could possibly be. One may retort that atheistic cultures are far worse, citing perhaps the lack of religious and other basic freedoms that are suppressed within them. After all, in some cultures, Christians are not free to worship, witness, or engage in a number of other sacred practices. However, there is something far more disturbing about a culture that murders 1.5 million unborn babies each year, accepts, encourages, and promotes the practice of homosexuality, and practices the highest divorce rate of any other country in the world, all the while professing to be distinctly “Christian” in its worldview. Ever wonder why this is?

To be sure, there is a distinct gap between what we see described in the Bible as “Christian,” and what we see accepted in modern culture as Christian. For those of you reading this in other parts of the world, perhaps some of it may resonate with you as well. It is certainly not my intention to target American Christianity as if these problems are isolated to American culture. However, American culture truly has some unique cultural issues that other societies do not seem to have. For example, the divorce rate in American culture is higher than any other culture in the world. Yet the percentage of people who say they are Christian in the United States is relatively high at 78%. What is responsible for this gap?

As mentioned at the outset, there are a number of competing philosophies and religions in American culture. It would be naïve for one to think that these philosophies have little to do with influencing, to one degree or another, a number of our ultimate philosophical commitments. At least two contributing factors come together, in my opinion, to create this phenomenon that I call the God gap. Actually, there are three. First, we are a product of our culture. We are exposed to a pleathora of philosophies from the time we are young children. It is only reasonable that these philosophies weave their way, in one form or another, to one degree or another, into our thinking, our outlook, our worldview. Such results are about as avoidable as getting in the water without getting wet. The second problem is somewhat related because this is a way of thinking that traverses most other ways of thinking. In American culture there is this idea of openness, or tolerance as we call it. Americans consider themselves very open minded. In many cases, some Americans even equate this open-minded tolerance with intelligence quotient. Closed minded or narrow minded people are viewed us unintelligent, and uncultured in many cases. Others believe this open-minded tolerance to be the single greatest ethic one can achieve. To them, closed minded, intolerant people are bigots, cruel, and evil. In fact, to some, the only real evil that exists in the world is the evil of intolerance. Hence, this explains why, in American Christianity, the most quoted verse in all the Bible has shifted from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world,” to Matthew 7:1, “Judge not.” And finally, the third problem is, well, the reason that the first two problems exist in the first place not to mention every other problem that every other culture faces today, id est, sin.

These numerous philosophies are deeply imbedded in our sub-conscious mind. We find ourselves thinking according to these patterns without even realizing we are doing so. It’s like breathing. We do it without consciously thinking about it. Now add to these conditions the fact that we have moved wholly away from developing critical thinking skills and we have a recipe for a huge gap between Christianity in word, and Christianity in deed. One may call it Christianity in theory in contradistinction to Christianity in fact. Critical thinking’s practice of thinking about one’s thinking, what we call metacognition, in practice can help with this gap, but only insofar as one’s cognition has been transformed by God’s power and is in the process of being reformed or renewed by God’s word. This goes back to the sin problem mentioned earlier as the third problem.

We are all converted to Christ with a sin nature that has a way of thinking that will tend to reject God as we begin the long slow process of sanctification. Without realizing it, we view some of these patterns of thinking as simply, the right way to look at things. For example, the American dream of prosperity, home ownership, cars, and other materialistic possessions transfers into Christianity and becomes God’s blessings on us in our way of thinking. That is not biblical thinking, but many if not most American Christians think it is. American Christians tend to think that America is somehow God’s favorite country in the world. If you were to listen to some, one would think that God is an American. God is not an American. But our mind has been so macerated with this kind of thinking that we fail to recognize it. This is why it is so important that all Christians immediately begin the process of renewing their mind with God’s word at the point of conversion so that they can move away from cultural conditioning and be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Metacognition will help, but only as it uses the Word of God as the standard by which we think about our thinking. Eventually, all those philosophies that have infected our thinking will be identified one by one and weeded out over time. However, make no mistake about it. This is a long process and it takes tremendous effort. Diligence is the word that comes to mind.

The second contributor to the plight of American Christianity is tolerance. It is the reason that many Americans no longer take their Christianity seriously. The idea of tolerance has been married to the concept of “Once-Saved-Always-Saved,” to form an unholy alliance that has resulted in the degradation of the Christian lifestyle to the point that it is impossible to tell who is a Christian and who isn’t a Christian by how they conduct their lives. It use to be that biblical correction served as the tool by which genuine Christians were regained and purity was maintained in the church. However, pluralism and an extreme attitude of diversity and tolerance has seen the disappearance of church discipline. Now, everything is a private matter and no one has the right to call us on the carpet for how we conduct our lives. Such behavior is seen as intolerant, narrow minded, intrusive, an invasion of privacy, and exclusivism. Americans value individualism as much as any culture in the world if not more. That individual spirit and attitude has led to the thinking that fellow believers, pastors, and churches do not have the right to expect us to maintain biblical standards in our lives. My relationship with God is between me and God. A few years back there was a major Christian artist that openly left her husband, without biblical grounds, divorced him and married her bass player. Rather than respond with moral outrage at this overt rejection of God’s standard and open display of contempt for God’s design for marriage, the Christian community rallied around her in total support. What the church should have done is rallied around her marriage to help her save her marriage at all cost. But since American Christianity has displaced godliness with personal happiness, the church had no moral power to respond appropriately.

Tolerance is a self-defeating concept. Complete tolerance is impossible. People who contend that tolerance is the greatest of all ethical values fail to realize that they also do not tolerate people who disagree with them. Why is it that those who promote the homosexual lifestyle are viewed as tolerant and those who reject it viewed as intolerant bigots? Why isn’t the person who is for homosexuality viewed as intolerant of the idea that sexual relations should only be between a man and a woman? People who are tolerant exclude people who they consider to be intolerant of their views. Aren’t they doing the same thing that the people whom they claim to be intolerant bigots do? The answer is yes they are. The question I have is why do we let them get away with it without challenging them? We are charged to stop false teachings and every thought that opposes Christ and take them captive. In order to do that, we must think more biblically and more critically about our thinking. Paul said, Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5) Paul also commands, “Set you mind on things above, not on things that are on the earth.” (Col. 3:2)

We have a problem with infectious worldly philosophies, and an attitude of tolerance that is antithetical to the rudimentary elements of Christianity, not to mention a sin nature that is predisposed to wander from biblical thinking every chance it gets. Pastors, teachers, elders, and professors have their work cut out for them if Christianity is not to become an insignificant, irrelevant religious social club whose ability to influence people and turn the world upside down is forever relegated to the archives of ancient history.

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