A New Normal
Another election has come and gone. Post-election muckraking is at an all-time high. We continue to watch events unfold around a divided populace, where many are feeling extreme difficulty with what has transpired and struggle to accept a result they declare to be unacceptable. A number of people have communicated hopelessness, anger and fear; showing dissent in abundance, outrage in the outcome and disparaging remarks fueled with passion.
We are not strangers to this kind of disagreement. Over the past ten to twelve years, American communities have become more and more heavily at odds with one another. While some recent propaganda may laud the idea of being Stronger Together, the post-election activity would assume that message to just be powerless talk, used to motivate one side of the divide.
The truth is that the new normal is division. The truth is that we have become Lincoln’s house divided ideologically and legislatively. It is in this dire time where we, the Christians in America, need to begin a new conversation with the world around us.
The Church in America has been banging a new drum throughout the last decade. A new Gospel of relevance, intentional living and authenticity has been put forth for the unsaved populace to see and hear. The commission of eternal reality has been minimized for the sake of earthly reality, experienced in everyday life. A new hope of social currency and transparent brokenness has gripped the Christian’s existence in society. Out of it has come a postmodern approach to the Gospel called the Missional lifestyle.
These tenets of this emerging ideology resonate with a renovation of community, an equality of human value and a liberation from the systematic past that has entrenched so many Evangelical communities in their dogmatic religiosity. In response, a rift between traditional implementations of faith and these new kind of Christians has grown. Rather than become irrelevant, many believers have reinterpreted what it is to engage each other, address the issues facing our world and interpret the will of the Almighty.
Not long ago, in a small group experience, I had to come to grips with how much this division has been knitted into the current fabric of Christian community within our culture. That night, the week’s sermon discussion was set to be about the sovereignty of the Almighty. In light of a recent public outcry and a terrible incident of violence; the time was refocused for an open interaction about a particular social issue and, as Christians, how we should deal with it.
The discussion started with context; provided by listening to a popular pastor speak on the issue. We next moved to a period of talking about what we thought about the issue, how we engage with what happened, how we identify with the people involved and what we could do to make it better. As this was a church group, the need for salvation was brought up, as well as the need for prayer; but they were somewhat dismissed as important things to do, and not the solution with the right level of impact.
It was determined that real world actions were required. Working to change the social convention was a more effectual way to address the need. Our call-to-action as the “Church” was to denounce the injustice, declare our support for the victimized and join the front lines of protest against this evil. As the discussion came to a close, we were challenged to be more open for discussion with others, more active in the fight against the issue and exert more effort to not live at odds with those who are unlike us.
After a short time of prayer, we ended the formal meeting and began a casual, hang-out time. Conversations sprouted where people voiced their appreciation of being a part of a community that could be vocal about our culture’s needs and so ready to address real issues, with real solutions. This is a good group. One who truly gets it, and is willing to engage others with the truth that is relevant to our times.
Sounds like a recipe for success, doesn’t it? Engage others. Be empathetic. Solve problems. Be the difference in the world. Love your neighbor. We can be the voice of reason amidst the chaos. We can show the human community how much we’ve progressed from the Bible thumping, Christianese speaking, dogmatic theocrats of Christendom’s past. We are no longer those kind of Christians (or at least some of us aren’t).
Love. Impact. Mission. Illusion. Reality. Pay close attention Christians, this is where it gets hard.
This recipe for success is not one of God’s power; it is one of human power. It is one where humans live according to a missional construct that is validated by a vision they fuel with passion. It is a life of intentionality, modeled on a human solution to address the brokenness found in our world. The rallying call for salvation is not to God, but how we might use our abilities to save ourselves. This mission leaves the impact God intended, for an independent ability to subjectively make a difference in the social sphere we determine worthy.
The life of a new creation in Christ is meant to be lived with a renewed mind, in Christ. The life codified by new revelation, a differing approach to the human condition or a systematic skepticism is living with a renewed mind in postmodernism, rather than Christ. The difficulty resides in the illusion that the amount of leverage, determinism and altruism the human community contains is sufficient enough to heal a broken world. The power of the Spirit described in Acts 1:8 is seen as unfit for a real world solution, and is replaced with an in-depth understanding of the people, relevant issues and the culture needs of the society.
This ideology begins with the idea that what God called us to do in the Bible is cryptic, ambiguous, out of sync with modern social standards or is too difficult to understand. It’s a mission that leaves behind what God actually said, for the personal interpretation and postmodern application of what He really meant when He said it.
Many Christians today have built an understanding of who God is in their own perspective, their own reason and their own value system. This is the new normal of Christendom; to believe in yourself and lean on your own understanding. As a result, these Christians are not following the One True God as much as they are following a god of their own making.
The god of one’s own making has an overriding principle: Conscience. Throughout the election season, conscience has been the overriding authority amidst choices that are less than savory and where public accountability is largely ineffective. The most attractive practicalities and perspectives are understood in discussions of conscience.
The Christian message for many this season has been largely the same. Pursue purpose in accordance with your conscience. Vote according to your conscience. How does this group defend this, with a good conscience? The illusion of what we validate with our conscience has overwhelmed the reality of what God speaks to in these times. The Christian conscience just seems to carry another set of options to pick and choose from.
Falling on the heels of moralistic therapeutic deism, a new evolution of belief structure has been borne. This conscience validated perspective gathers a functional pluralism of common moral truths, focused on love, peace and understanding. The path to significance with conscience is paved in earthly relevance and reason, rather than an eternal paradigm.
Complicating this road are concepts that the world has put forth in what good is and who God has revealed Himself to be. An illusion, set into the fabric of the world, informs us that we can know anything and be what we choose to, based on our own criteria and our effort to bring it about. The Bible teaches something far different.
Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that the things of God are foolishness to those who do not believe. Yet, in a postmodern search for truth, the bible is deconstructed, undergoes comparative analysis and is recompiled to fit the worldview that validates the illusion of the world as reality. Far too many Christians have come to resonate more with the world’s perspective over the Biblical one.
The foundational message here is that if we accept the world’s illusion of God, the reality of the world is hidden from us. When we architect our own ontological perspective, the god we come to know is not the One True God. We trade God’s truth for a lie, worshiping and serving the creation above the Creator.
It’s not surprising to find out that a great number of believers have no more hope than their unsaved friends and many of them live in the same confusion as the non-believing masses. They have used the world’s methodology for determining reality and allowed that reality to validate their purpose: Associate with the things you approve of, stand against the pieces that violate your convictions, and above all, remain true to yourself and your conscience.
These 21st century Christians have applied this same logic to God and how his truth interacts with American culture. It has happened so repeatedly in recent years that it is hard to distinguish truth amidst so many permutations of faith under the Christian banner. In many cases, even the drive to be theologically correct has been comfortably sacrificed on the altar of being true to one’s self. No one is shocked to hear that many Christians suffer from the same levels of division that exist in the secular world.
Rather than seek unity, as we are called, too many Christians are leading the charge to be divisive with their brothers and sisters in Christ in light of conscience and political association. We hear angry words, demanding answers, anecdotes of hate in our newsfeeds and character judgements of people we know only by reputation (or propaganda). Trusting the Lord with all one’s heart is absent in these public outbursts. Leaning on one’s own understanding and acknowledging one’s conscience is in abundance.
Somehow, amidst the journeys, paths, missional lifestyles and other euphemisms for a life lived with Christ, we have replaced the Galatians 2:20 concept of death to self and the indwelling life of Christ, for a fundamental shift of “My life, I live for Christ, according to my conscience.” It makes for Christians who know their opinions, their ideas and their preferences well more than they know God’s commands, God’s heart for man or God’s picture of what it is to be in communion with Him.
Seeking God for who He says He is has become cumbersome task of ineffective faith. Many believe that it immerses the believer in archaic language, cultural irrelevance and regressive social sensitivity. The preferred evolution of faith merely requires the Christian to reinterpret truth to fit our modern culture and progressive society. This makes for people who can readily talk to the world about love, community, integrity, hope, service, and so on…, in relevant and poignant terms because they have allowed the worlds definitions of these disciplines to carry more authority than God’s.
Functionally, many Christians present a reality that reflects themselves as mediators to Christ, rather than Christ as mediator to the Father. They impart sound moral logic rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer an atmosphere of non-judgment, approval and acceptance rather than a release from the penalty of sin. They provide heightened, emotionally charged engagements and connected communities that allow one to be true to one’s self, rather than transcendent, first-hand experience of the Almighty, that calls for the denial of self for the sake of Christ. In the end, communities are multiplying rapidly that have no actual foundation in God as He revealed himself in the Bible, through his Son and powered with the Holy Spirit.
As a result, the hope many Christians put on display sounds more like seasoned and informed life experience, rather than rich and diligent experience of the Almighty. A divided America illuminates this acutely, as Christians try to balance all of the specific pieces of ideology they have brought into their web of understanding. The existence of a sovereign God, ruling and overruling in the lives of men and women becomes a piece of archaic theology, where it is impossible to reconcile circumstances, current events or unwanted outcomes with what our conscience is dictating.
As a result, the amount of reality in a number of Christian’s understanding of the One True God is shrinking. It is replaced by relevant issues, second hand experiences of God’s truth and the acceptance of attributes applied to God by a secular culture who does not know Him. There are hints of God’s reality, buffered by palatable illusions that make him fit the social need. The replacement of a Gospel message with credible social agendas gives America the comfortable confidence that the abundance of those kind of Christians will soon be a thing of the past.
The power, innate to belief and only sourced in the living God, requires seeking Him to afford the ability to produce transformative love in a broken world. The nuance of the worlds illusion altruistically puts people ahead of God and declares this missional living amidst humanity. The bible calls the elevation of human power over the Almighty’s as idolatry.
There are fewer sermons today about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. God knew that in order to exemplify his kind of love to your neighbor, it would require all of your abilities engaged in Him. Yet, after myriads of agendas termed to be the embodiment of the Gospel, Christians have conceded to a subtlety that makes engaging God secondary to whatever culturally relevant evolution loving one’s neighbor takes.
As a result, we see powerless Christians engaging in the world’s methodology as they address issues and define their reality. They have traded the truth of Christ for a lie. They have traded the power of the Spirit for social relevance. They blog about progressive issues to disassociate themselves for credibility sake. They live in communities of equation, pretending that the brokenness that is in the world, lives more powerfully in Christians than the One True God.
Romans 8 says that those who live in the flesh, cultivate a mindset of the flesh and those who live in the Spirit cultivate a mindset of the Spirit. If we are going to be a light to a dark world, especially in this volatile season of post-election trauma, we must be seeking God for his ideas about the reality of the world, rather than what conscience might dictate.
The amount of reality that exists in your understanding of the world is directly proportional to the reality that exists in your understanding of the Almighty. This is personified, not by the personal gravitas in which you impact the world around you, but specifically in the amount of yourself that has been put to death for the Christ that lives in you. The good of God’s purpose and good according to the world are two different masters that many are trying to serve.
I challenge you Christians: Do you profess the One True God or the god of your own making? Are you looking to make an impact for the betterment of society or with an eternal perspective? Are you promoting a new normal, or living in the 2000-year-old reality that friendship with Christ equates to enmity with the world? God has called us to seek Him first and his righteousness. He has promised to be faithful; to go before us, and to go with us in this world.
I charge you to begin a new conversation with those around you. Not one that makes you friends with the world, but one that illuminates the only true hope we have. Above all, pray. Engage the Lord for who He really is. Meditate on his Word and direct those caught in a divide to the One who bridged the divide for all mankind.