A threat “the church has not encountered before”
One of the transformative consequences of stepping away from our daily lives is an enlarged perspective when we return. Like a helicopter sightseeing tour that shows us a beautiful location from a higher view, retreating from the routine can help us see ourselves more clearly from God’s perspective.
One of the clear messages I sensed from God in recent days is that his people must prepare more urgently than ever for the challenges that are coming. We are in the early stages of a movement the church has never faced before, one which threatens us in ways that are now becoming clearer.
Sociologist Philip Rieff describes the era when the Christian movement began as the “first culture.” It was dominated by a pantheon of gods whose followers were content with their religion and not missionary toward the larger world. According to Rieff, the Christian movement sparked a monotheistic and evangelistic “second culture” which swept away the “first culture.”
Now we are in what Rieff calls the “third culture,” which Australian pastor Stephen McAlpine describes as “hermetically sealed off from anything transcendent.” It “recognizes only horizontal identity constructions, not vertical ones. Here is where meaning is determined, and here is where authority lies. It is ours to construct—and deconstruct.”
McAlpine adds: “This third culture is highly evangelistic and actively hostile to second-culture values.” For example, it considers sexual “freedom” and “authenticity” to be vital to personal and social flourishing. Biblical morality is therefore seen as dangerous to society and potentially deadly to LGBTQ individuals. The same vitriolic stance is taken with regard to abortion, euthanasia, or any other personal “freedoms” that are “threatened” by biblical faith.
According to McAlpine, this is a “new religion” and rival gospel “the church has not encountered before.” It seeks nothing less than to replace Christianity with its secular vision for a better future.
"The world's deep hunger is to hear from, not just about, God"
What seems to be very bad news is actually the shadowside of very good news.
Every human being is made in God’s image for personal relationship with our Maker (cf. Genesis 1:27). Nothing in secular culture can fill this “God-shaped emptiness” that Pascal described. The further our society moves from biblical truth, the more people will hunger for biblical truth.
Therein lies our opportunity and our challenge.
Frederick Buechner noted, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” “The world’s deep hunger” is to hear from God. Not just about him—from him. The storms our culture faces are so grave, we cannot navigate them without divine leadership, provision, and protection.
You and I are conduits through whom our Lord speaks to our world. But we cannot give what we do not have. We cannot speak a word from God unless we hear a word from God. To meet “the world’s deep hunger,” we must first meet with God.
Our “deep gladness” comes from such intimacy as well: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). David testified: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
More than at any time in my lifetime, evangelical Christians need to follow David’s example today. As we face the cultural challenges that lie ahead, we desperately need a transformative, empowering connection with our Lord. I plan to say more about this connection next week; for today, let’s close by choosing to make it our first priority as the people of God.