Transforming Our Culture From the Bottom Up (Part Two)


In my last post I critiqued what I call ‘Top-Down’ approaches to cultural transformation.  Such approaches can be summed up in one phrase: political activism.  Any attempt to transform the culture through legislation and political cajoling–such as court battles, petitions, electing certain individuals into office, etc–will ultimately be unsuccessful because at the heart of every culture is . . . the human heart.  Thus, true cultural transformation, I argued, could only come from the bottom up.  Because, when individuals are transformed, the culture will be too.

In light of this reasoning, I challenged Evangelical Christians to stop funneling the majority of their time, energy, and money into futile ‘Top-Down‘ methods and to start focusing on making true disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say we should be totally silent in the public square or that Christians should not be involved in politics at all.  It is especially not to say Christians should stop utilizing political approaches when it comes to issues regarding the sanctity of human life or social justice.  Certainly, we must do everything within our power to stop the daily slaughter of innocent children through abortion or to put an end to human sex trafficking.  These issues, almost by necessity, will include political and legal interaction.

It is to say, however, that a ‘total’  or ‘big picture’ approach to cultural transformation should primarily focus on discipleship and not political activism.

The idea here is simple: the more Churches invest time and energy cultivating virtue among their parishioners, engendering and strengthening the faith of their children, helping people grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, engaging in acts of service, and inviting the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts of the lonely and the lost through both the preaching and daily living of the word of God, the more our culture will be renewed.  As individual lives are transformed, individual people will bring their faith to bear on important decisions at the office, or in the laboratory, or at the film studio, or on election day, or walking in the park . . .

After all, true disciples are called to live out their faith, to bear good fruit, in whatever circumstance they find themselves in: whether they are a doctor, a lawyer, an educator, an artist, a filmmaker, a shoemaker, a scientist, a soldier, a plumber, a scrap metal worker, or even homeless.  Whether slave or free or Jew or Gentile, we are all called to view our world through the truth of God’s Word.  We are all called to good works–as St. James states, “faith without works is dead.”  The more we behave like disciples, and the more disciples we make, the greater long term impact we will have on our culture and, indeed, the world.

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Transforming Our Culture From the Bottom Up (Part One)


Our culture is changing and many say for the worse.  Studies show that the general population is beginning to change its attitude towards organized religion and Evangelical Protestantism in particular.  Unlike past generations, people are growing increasingly suspicious and even ambivalent towards Christians.  In the mean time, our government and, in fact, all of our social institutions  are becoming increasingly secularized.  Organized prayer has been removed from schools, the Ten Commandments have been taken down from public spaces, and the push for same-sex marriage is growing stronger than ever.

Conservative Evangelicals look upon these changes, along with the atheism and skepticism pervasive among our universities and the rampant materialism and immorality propagated by the media, in horror.  Filled with indignation and fueled by fear they have, for years, waged a ‘cultural war‘ in an effort to stem the rising tide of secularization.  Through political maneuvering, legal battles, boycotts, public demonstrations, radio shows, and a host of other devices, Evangelicals have attempted to reclaim American culture for Christ.  It seems, however, that no matter how loud they cry or how forcefully they push, the tide will not be pushed back.

Young Evangelicals are growing dissatisfied with the religion of their parents.  Many are leaving the church and embracing the plethora of experimental, ‘post-modern’ expressions, of Christianity which are far more liberal and, therefore, less resistant to the political and ethical stances of secularism.  Some are rejecting religion outright, joining the ever increasing ranks of the ‘New Atheists.’  On top of this, advocates for Gay-Rights are growing increasingly more powerful and influential.  Mortified by this, Evangelicals are pushing back even harder–continuing to utilize the same political/social methods to “save America from moral decay” as they have for the past thirty years.

The tragedy in all of this is that these ‘Top-Down’ methods–the political maneuvering, the legal battles, the boycotts, the public demonstrations, the petitions-will never transform our culture.  You simply can’t transform a culture from the top down.  You can’t cultivate virtue, engender faith, or change hearts, through legislation; but these are precisely the things that need to happen in order for our culture to change.  Cultures develop within communities which are, in turn, built upon individuals.  When individuals change, the community will change, and eventually, so will the culture.  Cultures are transformed from the bottom up.

Before his Ascension Jesus told his followers to, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  This Great Commission is the key to real cultural transformation and is, coincidentally, the very mission of the Church.  Until Evangelicals begin to take this seriously, they shall continue to wage a futile battle for our culture.

The Failure of Evangelicalism: How Evangelicals are Killing Their Own Religion


To anyone who isn’t a stalwart conservative or burying one’s head in the sand, it’s quite clear that the Evangelical community is facing a drastic shift in direction. I would contend that while the shift was inevitable, it’s not a good shift. It’s trending towards a more liberal theology, a more anti-intellectual philosophy masquerading as intellectual, and growing in incredulity towards anything traditional or ancient. I’ve lamented it many times before, but it seems to be a growing problem, specifically for the younger generation.

What really hit me was yesterday when I was looking for books on deep theology concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation. It dawned on me that I couldn’t go to a Lifeway or other typical Christian bookstore (ones that are generally associated with evangelicalism). Instead, in order to find the books I needed I had to go to a store that caters to Eastern Orthodox. Once there, I looked for what I needed and of all the books I looked through, not a single evangelical author was available. This is not due to the bookstore bias against evangelicals (they had plenty of books by evangelicals and even supported some of these books…in the spirituality department), but because in order to find a qualified theologian on the Trinity who isn’t neo-orthodox or liberal you have to turn to the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholics. In fact, the last great intellectual thinker for evangelicals who wasn’t neo-orthodox or liberal would be Francis Schaeffer, but even he claimed to be more of an evangelist than an academic (though there’s no denying that he was influential for many in the evangelical tradition). Likewise, this isn’t to say that there are no orthodox evangelical thinkers in the world of theology, merely that the most authoritative voices for the conservative movement tend to be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Certainly there are some great minds in the evangelical church, but these minds are usually geared towards apologetics (which tends to be weaker among the Orthodox), and many of these great evangelical philosophers are extremely weak when it comes to theology. Why is this? I would contend that because evangelicals have had either a fearful view of the patristics (or at least an apathetic view of the patristics), so fearful that they’ve avoided reading this essential material. For many evangelicals, Christianity apparently began around the time of the Reformation, thus ignoring a wealth of historical teachings that we need to pay attention to. When we abandon our history and tradition we begin to seek anything that is new; but truth is immortal and ancient, truth is without time, truth is before our existence, so we should never need to find anything new, for whatever is new is not truthful.

But this is merely the intellectual side of the faith. On the existential side of faith (which is a different side of the same coin), all three branches are failing, but evangelicals are failing the hardest (or so it seems). Why is it that evangelicals are trending towards a more watered-down faith? Along with the anti-intellectualism running rampant in evangelical circles (conservative and liberal), there’s an apathetic approach to holiness. Holiness seems to be a list of rules rather than a lifestyle we live. For conservatives, holiness is a matter of avoiding drugs, avoiding sex before marriage, avoided alcohol, avoiding certain types of music, avoiding saying the wrong words, and is purely individualistic and internalized. For the more “progressive” branch of evangelicals, holiness is about avoiding oppressing the poor, avoiding oppressing anyone perceived as oppressed, avoiding making absolute statements (for absolute statements are absolutely wrong), and looks more towards the community and how we act in it to determine how holy we are.

In both cases, both sides are right and wrong. The “emergent ethic of holiness” is really just an overreaction to the conservative ethic that we’ve seen for so many years. While we should be personally holy, which means abstention from certain actions, being holy is also contingent upon how we act towards our fellow humans, specifically those who are economically oppressed or oppressed by their status in life.

The failure of Evangelicalism is two-fold; it is an intellectual crisis and an existential crisis. We cannot reach the minds of a young generation, nor can we reach the hearts of a young generation. We’re still stuck offering simple platitudes of the faith, avoiding the deeper issues of the faith and casting such teachings to seminary (where many seminarians are beginning to fail to understand these essential doctrines). At the same time, we’re holding “prayer drives” thinking that if we pray for someone that it’s enough, even though the Bible says such an attitude is wrong. James 1:22-25 reads:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

He goes on in 2:15-17 to write,

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

When our churches raise money for bigger and better sanctuaries (or “worship centers” if your church wants to be cool), when our churches create ministries that cater to members rather than asking members to cater to those in need, when our churches become more concerned with the size of the church rather than the heart of the church, is it any wonder that young people are abandoning the evangelical church in droves? When they see people bicker over how to best fix a broken clock in the sanctuary, do we really expect them to stay? If we aren’t putting our beliefs into practice, then what value do our beliefs really hold to us?

If evangelicalism is to survive, then it must grab hold of the ancient faith that it has abandoned and begin to practice it as well. It must lose its love of numbers, it must abandon all hope of having a megachurch, and instead focus on truly helping people in the neighborhood who need help.

We need pastors to start preaching sermons on the Trinity and how the Trinity applies to our lives. Same with the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and other essential doctrines in the faith. We need churches that tell the members, “We don’t have a ministry to help you, but we have ministries you can help.” Will this cause our numbers to take a nose-dive? Absolutely. But that is what is needed; we need to lose some excess weight. If evangelicalism is to survive, then its adherents must begin to live like Christ, otherwise it will quickly die out. And if it can’t follow Christ both in thought and deed, then it is a death I welcome with open arms.

An excellent quote on Christ’s sacrifice


I am finishing up St. John of Damascus’ work An Exposition on the Orthodox Faith. I have slowly been working through his three main treatises (Fountain of Knowledge, On Heresies, and An Exposition) and will soon be done, so my posting about St. John will probably slow down. Until then though, I wanted to share this extremely powerful quote:

Since our Lord Jesus Christ was without sin…He was not subject to death, even though death had by sin entered into the world. And so for our sake He submits to death and dies and offers Himself to the Father as a sacrifice for us. For we had offended Him and it was necessary for Him to take upon Himself our redemption that we might thus be loosed from the condemnation – for God forbid that the Lord’s blood should have been offered to the tyrant! Wherefore, then, death approaches, gulps down the bait of the body, and is pierced by the hook of divinity. Then, having tasted of the sinless and life-giving body, it is destroyed and gives up all those whom it had swallowed down of old. For, just as darkness entirely disappears when light is let in, so is destruction driven away at the onset of life, and life comes to all, while destruction comes to the destroyer.

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