Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I've said it before and I'll say it again: When it comes to the culture wars, I am a conscientious objector.

Since the 1970's evangelicalism in America has taken to getting involved in public cultural activism and the political sphere with unprecedented vigor. Evangelicals have followed the voices of religious leaders like Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and James Dobson to raise their voices in the public debate about such issues as abortion, the erosion of personal morality especially as portrayed in the entertainment media, and the gay rights movement. In the process, evangelical Christianity became so connected to the conservative wing of the Republican party that at times the two seemed indistinguishable. This involvement had its high water mark in the presidency of George W. Bush and the Republican domination of Congress.

As a result of this evangelical embrace of a culture war approach to their mission in the world, churches, pastors, and individual Christians have been swept up into having to choose sides on many complex issues and to adopt a "Christ against culture" mentality. This has coincided with the development of an entire Christian subculture, which in my view has isolated believers from their neighbors and genuine redemptive interaction with the world.

Thus, evangelicals find themselves in the equivalent of spiritual trench warfare. We are dug in to our positions, separated from our "enemies," seeing things only from one perspective, and having no real contact with those on the other side except to bombard them relentlessly. Doesn't sound like a Great Commission lifestyle to me!

As Michael Spencer observes on his Internet Monk blog:
Every day I listen to and read Christians whose consideration of other persons is on the basis of politics and cultural conflict. Not the Gospel. Their anger and frustration dominates, not the Gospel.
Frankly, I don't want any part of that approach. And so I've decided to conscientiously object to that path of life and "ministry."

Here are some of the reasons I've gone AWOL...

(1) The culture war approach assumes the position that America is somehow different than other nations in our manifest destiny, a "Christian" land that must be "saved" and "brought back" to its Christian "roots."

In the minds of those who assume this, there is an idea of some kind of vague Eden that once existed in our nation when people all went to church, lived moral lives, and the government supported the teachings of Christ. 'Twas never so.

(2) The culture war approach holds that the media is the arena in which we should fight our battles, that it accurately represents the reality of the situation on the ground, and that therefore we must make our voice be heard through the media in order to win peoples' hearts and minds.

The simple fact is that most people listen to broadcasts that confirm their beliefs, not challenge them. You won't find the conservatives lining up to see the latest Michael Moore or Bill Maher film. Nor will you pass many liberals listening to Rush in their cars or catch them watching Fox News at night. Culture warriors generally preach to the choir.

But that's not the only problem. By moving to a media-driven strategy, Christians have become conditioned to seek the spectacular and forsake the down-to-earth path our Savior teaches us to take--the small, seemingly insignificant, seed-planting approaches of loving our neighbors in the context of real daily life. That is the mystery of how the Kingdom comes and how the world is changed.

(3) The culture war approach relies on political machinery as a primary weapon to restore righteousness to the land.

This means we have allowed the world to choose the arena, the weapons, the rules, the referees, and the definitions of what it means to "win" or "lose" in the conflict. In addition, it makes Christians vulnerable to the temptations of power, which are among the least understood among us.

(4) The culture war approach teaches us to fear, dislike, oppose, and look down on our neighbors rather than lay down our lives for them in sacrificial love.

It pits us "against" them, when the Incarnation teaches us to be "with" them.

(5) The culture war approach leads to Christians unwisely choosing our battles and showing a misleading face to the world.

Must a person have "correct" political or cultural opinions before he can come to faith in Christ? The simple Good News of Jesus and his gracious salvation can become so mixed with righteous "positions" that the Gospel itself gets distorted.

IMHO, the culture war approach has a lot more in common with the way the Pharisees lived out the religious life and ministry than it does with our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles.

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