My reference to the popular Newsboys song reflects the witty and pro-evangelistic nature of the Christian sub-culture. Christians can be smart and clever when talking about ministry and living under Jesus. Ironically, it also highlights the alien nature the Christian sub-culture bears in the eyes of the world. And while Christians rightfullyacknowledge that we are strangers and even aliens in this world, we often bear such a stigma for the wrong reasons.
Christians are more often identified by what we are against than who we are for, who we hate instead of who we love, and what we preach instead of what we do. Part of this barrier to the Gospel is the Christian sub-culture. In my list of initial points regarding our crisis in evangelism, I stated the following:
“A disconnect from the world since we are immersed in an expanding Christian sub-culture.”
Even if we have a proper understanding of the Gospel, the here and now Lordship of Christ that reunites God with his creation, this message will do little good for a world separated from the Christian church by traditions, misunderstandings, politics, cultural differences, pop-culture, etc. I write this from the perspective of someone who has been trapped inside Christian sub-culture and continues to struggle esacaping it.
A Glimpse of the Christian Sub-Culture
When I think of the Christian sub-culture, there are a number of items that come to mind: Christian music, Christian fiction, preachy Christian bumper stickers, elements of the religious right, stiff morality rules, uninformed anti-evolution books, ultra-literal interpretation of the Bible when advantageous, etc. Perhaps I am wrong in saying this, but I think the Christian sub-culture often embodies the worst parts of Christianity. Someone else may want to call my list the “worst parts of Christian sub-culture,” but I stand by my assesment that creating a parallel culture to the world that we are supposed to reach is problematic and counter to the Gospel. It’s one thing to make redemptive music or fiction, carrying the Gospel message into all that is created. Yet it is completely counter-productive to withdraw from the world, declare secular elements corrupt, and start a different cultural stream. The chief end of such work is the entertainment and encouragement of Christians, creating a happy little bubble that is barely welcoming to any members of the world who want to “cross over.”
The Christian sub-culture creates its own rules and requirements, thereby separating itself from the secular culture. For example, the list of restrictions on Christian fiction is quite hilarious. Christianity Today provided a list of such guidelines in a past issue and it included prohibitions on characters who drink, swear, gamble, and don’t even think about anything vaguely sexual. The order of the day is for a good, clean story that never interacts with the dirty elements of real life. Never mind that the Bible mentions drunkenness, murder, rape, and sex (yes, “laying” with your wife is more than a friendly pat on the back). And so we place barriers between ourselves in the world. We cannot enjoy film, music, books, or anything else that is secular because they will pollute us. And so we are just that much more removed from the world.
Another element of the Christian sub-culture is the church. We simply do not take enough time to think about our approach to Christian community. The vast majority of churches out there operate in a seeker-sensitive model that says, “We’ll fight off the traditionalists in our church to make it more comfortable for visitors.” This obviously fails to account for actually reaching out to those who will never park in their lot, shake hands with a greeter, or sit through a sermon. We pity the poor folk like this. Such people will never have a chance to attend “our” church, the best place in the world.
I’m not kidding here. Christians are convinced that their churches are simply the best. Who wouldn’t want to attend? Over time a Christian’s whole world may be within the walls of the church. All friends, family, work, volunteering, etc. can be done within the church itself. And who wouldn’t want to sacrifice two or three evenings a week, a Saturday morning, and a Sundary morning for their church? And so the Christian sub-culture builds momentum, having removed people from active interaction with secular culture and institutions. The church and Christian sub-culture has become all and in all.
The inevitable problem that every congregation must face is this: we attend the most wonderful church in the world, how can we reach out and bring people in? If you’re lucky, this will be the worst you say. But often the conversation degenerates into: How we can lure people in and slip in the Gospel? And if desperation sets in, the question becomes: People are not coming, but they need the Gospel. How can we give it to them even if they don’t want to hear it? And that is when things get ugly.
Enter books, tracts, and seminars on evangelism. The Gospel is distilled into a short presentation, people learn how to share their testimonies, presenters share effective communication strategies, and proven methods are extolled. Christians willingly submit to act like spiritually dead, but interested folk who are deftly won over to the Gospel in a few short minutes. They feign weeping and pray the prayer in the back of the tract. And by the end of the book or seminar, the former lambs leave the fold as zealous crusaders who will win souls for heaven.
Here is the problem, Christians who have been removed into another sub-culture are missing some key elements:
I could go on, but I think my point is clear. Christians immersed in a sub-culture don’t have a clue about what they are getting into when they try to share the Gospel . But what worries me the most is my last point.
How can the church drop its agenda and just live in the world? How can we rediscover the way to be salt and light? The church has gotten so deep into its sub-culture that we no longer know what is normal. Some Christians are suspicious of modern missionaries who live in and interact with the secular world, fearing pollution. Others simply stay put and work on thriving within the Christian sub-culture. They do many things well within their churches and may even have a dynamic relationship with the Lord, but their Lord’s love for the world has never caught on in their own hearts. One of the most important issues facing the church today is this: “How does the church provide a redemptive and prophetic influence in the world today?”