Which of these do you want to be true of your faith at the end of next year:
Seeking God for all he’s worth?
Seeking an unreal substitute?
Frustration and anger?
Or leaving the faith altogether?
Which do you want to be true for your family or your church?
The choices each Christian makes in the next year will determine where he or she ends up, and where we as Christians end up together. I’ve been thinking this through visually, taking just one slice of life under consideration: the relationship between the believing and unbelieving Western world, especially in America. (Click on the image to open a larger version in a new tab or window.)
We are seeing a rise in strategic atheism and social secularism. Strategic atheism is best represented by Peter Boghossian, whose Manual for Creating Atheists is the most strategically savvy attack on belief that atheism has produced in many years; Mikey Weinstein of the Freedom from Religion Foundation; and Sean Faircloth, who I am told is about to begin making a splash in the next U.S. election season with his charges of “theocracy” against Christian and conservative values. Atheism isn’t getting any wiser, but it’s getting smarter. It’s not just about books any more: it’s about taking strategic action. The difference may not be immediately evident, but it won’t be long before it becomes impossible to ignore.
By “social secularism,” I mean the increasingly enforced doctrine that religion should remain out of the sphere of social dialogue.
Concomitant with that, I think we all expect to see increasing social pressures on the faith, including the gay “marriage” debates, liberty-reducing HHS mandates, and even faith-neutral events like economic disruptions.
The rise of social secularism has been impossible to miss—except we did miss it, until it was overwhelmingly upon us. Gay “marriage,” for example was coming our way long before we recognized it for what it was. The same thing is dangerously likely to be true for strategic atheism. It’s coming. We need to keep our eyes open.
At any rate, all that points toward disillusionment with the Christian “experience” for many believers who have failed to recognize the difference between Christianity and the American dream.
I see four likely endpoints to the paths Christians take. I don’t mean to oversimplify, but I believe that stating it more plainly helps people make decisions more clearly.
I’ll start with the outcomes on the right-hand side of the graphic, on the bottom. I believe we’re likely to see a damaging increase in frustrated, angry “Christianity,” of the sort that Fred Phelps currently epitomizes. Where Christianity has been about the “experience,” where additional substance is lacking, and where the experience lets a person down, frustration is likely to lead to anger. It’s unhealthy, and it’s not real Christianity.
The opposite outcome is perhaps even more likely: an unrealistic holding on to substanceless experience. “Health-and-wealth” Christianity comes to mind there.
There will also be an increase in defections and departures from the faith. This is inevitable when an insubstantial belief meets a strong experiential challenge along with arguments against faith.
In contrast to all that, some Christians will find it a time of substantial growth in knowing God God rather than being caught up in shallower things. The path to that destination has much in common with the road to anger, unrealism, or defection, but it includes two crucial steps in addition. The first is deeper Christian community. The second is a significant increase in the intentional understanding of the truth of God through study of the Bible and the even more intentional (though no less biblical) study of theology. Included with that—and growing ever more important every day—is a corresponding increase in understanding how we know it is true, through apologetics.
I’d like to be able to expect that along with this we would see a significant upward shift in Christian self-sacrificial love, but that’s less clear to me. There’s already a lot going on in this realm, though there’s room for much more. Christian financial giving is one measure of that: it’s considerably higher than that of non-religious America, but it’s far less than the typical suggested 10 percent.
At any rate, we stand at a crossroads. I believe you can choose your outcome, your family’s outcome, and your church’s outcome. The key choices you will make will be the ones concerning Christian community, Bible, and apologetics.
You have a new year ahead of you. What choices will you make as you enter in to it?