For our first symposium of the new year, we decided to ask several Christian leaders what they thought might be the most important issues to be faced by the church in 2018. We were delighted with the diversity of emphases provided by our panel as each individual analyzed out the various issues facing Christianity in the months ahead.
We will be hosting several similar symposia over the next year, with different questions as time and current events progress, but for this time we asked, “What are the most pressing cultural issues facing Christians in 2018 and what will Christian faithfulness look like in light of those issues?”
Contributors are as follows. Please click on a name to see a particular contribution:
Ryan T. Anderson; Bruce Riley Ashford; Hunter Baker; Mindy Belz; Bill Brown; Jim Daly; David Dockery; Greg Forster; Mark Galli; Os Guinness; Kristan Hawkins; Cathi Herrod; Mark Hiljeh; Scott Klusendorf; Sean McDowell; G. Shane Morris; Jeff Myers; Roberto Rivera; Warren Cole Smith; Ed Stetzer; John Stonestreet; Owen Strachan; Glenn Sunshine; Jeffery Ventrella; J. Warner Wallace; Andrew T. Walker; Roland C. Warren; Trevin Wax
Properly understanding sex, gender, gender identity, and gender dysphoria will continue to be pressing concerns in 2018. A proper understanding is a prerequisite for properly forming people in the truth and properly ministering to people in need. As new gender ideologies are promoted throughout America, their lies will impact not only those who suffer from gender dysphoria, but all children who need to mature in their self-understanding as a boy or girl, man or woman, a potential husband or wife, father or mother.
The best studies of gender dysphoria show that between 80 and 95 percent of children who express a discordant gender identity will come to identify with their bodily sex if natural development is allowed to proceed. They show that “transitioning” treatment has not been shown to reduce the extraordinarily high rate of suicide attempts among people who identify as transgender (41 percent, compared with 4.6 percent of the general population). And they show that people who have had transition surgery are nineteen times more likely to die by suicide.
We should be tolerant—indeed, loving—toward those who struggle with their gender identity, but also be aware of the harm done to the common good, particularly to children, when transgender identity is normalized. Transgender activists are not merely asking for tolerance or kindness; they are demanding affirmation, not just from adults but from children and adolescents who are already challenged by the normal process of sexual development. In a culture where transgender identities are not only affirmed but celebrated, everyone will be compelled to construct their own gender identity, unaided by a common understanding of sex differences and why they matter.
A sound understanding of gender rejects sex stereotypes on the one hand and androgyny on the other. The virtuous mean is a view of gender that reveals meaningful sex differences and communicates the difference they make; a view that takes sex differences seriously while upholding the fundamental equality of the sexes as complements to one another. The most helpful therapies do not try to remake the body to conform with thoughts and feelings—which is impossible—but rather to help people find healthy ways to manage their tension and move toward accepting the reality of their bodily selves.
I wrote When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment to help everyone think through these issues. The book provides a nuanced view of our sexed embodiment, a balanced approach to policy issues, and a sober and honest survey of the human costs of getting human nature wrong.
Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and the author of When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.
One of the most pressing challenges for Western Christians is to explore the implications of our civilization’s transition to a secular age. As Charles Taylor has argued, Christian belief has not only been displaced from the default position, but is aggressively contested by numerous other options. Christianity is merely one option among many, and an implausible and unimaginable one at that. Thus, Christians have a unique opportunity to reimagine our social, cultural, and political witness so that it speaks with salience to our secular age .
In this vein, Lesslie Newbigin’s exhortation is prescient: “The call to the Church is to enter vigorously into the struggle for truth in the public domain. We cannot look for the security which would be ours in a restored Christendom. . . . We are called, I think, to bring our faith into the public arena, to publish it, to put it at risk in the encounter with other faiths and ideologies in open debate and argument, and in the risky business of discovering what Christian obedience means in radically new circumstances and in radically human cultures.”
We must embrace our secular age as the context within which God has called us to minister. Indeed, when the Lord returns we will meet him first and foremost as his church, but we will also meet him as citizens of the modern West. Being a citizen of the secular West is not the most significant dimension of our identity, but it is an inescapable one for which we will give account. For that reason, it is incumbent on us to tailor our witness for a secular age.
Bruce Riley Ashford is Provost and Professor of Theology & Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
I think 2018 brings us to the issue that largely catapulted Donald Trump to the Republican nomination and then to the presidency, which is immigration. We have the questions of the border wall and the plight of the “dreamers” who have been brought illegally to the United States by their parents. Christians should be highly attentive both to the outcome of these issues AND to how they conduct themselves as they play a part in the drama of politics.
There should be little question that Christians should not be immigration hawks of the “keep them out” variety simply because we believe in the brotherhood and sisterhood of men and women under the fatherhood of God. I don’t say that to suggest nations should not have borders or some orderly process of immigration, but there is something wrong with a tribal sense of us v. them as we consider immigration across our long border with Mexico. Christians should be emphatically for the development of a reasonable and charitable resolution of the problem and for the victims (such as the “dreamers”) to find access to a good way forward. Have the laws been broken? Absolutely, but in the case of dreamers they had no choice in what their parents did. That matters in the moral analysis.
With regard to the resolution of the larger immigration question, I truly cannot see the wall as a good remedy to the problem. I do not understand why we don’t adopt a much simpler solution, which would be to create something like a NAFTA worker’s visa with paperwork approximately as complicated as getting a passport. If we did something like that, there would be no need for border crossers (unless they are truly malevolent) to be undocumented. That would solve problems of taxation, insurance, and law enforcement. In addition, we could adopt a solution of this type without damaging the integrity of our normal citizenship process.
Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science at Union University and a fellow of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Whatever you may say about downward trends in prevailing culture, one trend decidedly is up: American, and indeed global, wealth. In 2018 stock indexes already have hit new milestones, after U.S. stock exchanges boasted gains of more that 25 percent in 2017. If the U.S. economy grew in 2017, besting GDP forecasts and previous years’ rates of expansion, the world’s other leading economies grew even more.
Poverty we still have with us, but by any measure Americans are richer, more materially blessed, and more held by safety nets than ever before. Yet in our Christian communities we spend little time collectively talking about what to do with our plenty. “Stewarding resources” is code language for fattening IRAs or launching capital improvement campaigns more often than it’s about growing the kingdom of God.
Historians may compare this era’s prosperity, coming off the technology advances of recent decades, to the early 20th century booms that followed the Industrial Revolution. In that century Christians asked themselves how to harness their newfound wealth for the lost and downtrodden. A 1910 missionary conference in Scotland launched a century of evangelism, researchers say, their work multiplying across the globe. In 1900 the least evangelized made up 54 percent of the world population. Today, thanks to the pastors, teachers, doctors, and many others who went forth to serve—together with the many who supported them financially—the least evangelized comprise 25 percent of the world’s population. What might another century of mission-minded zeal together with 21st century wealth do for a world in need of gospel truth and healing?
Mindy Belz is senior editor at World News Group and author of the book They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run From ISIS With Persecuted Christians in the Middle East (Tyndale, 2016).
The descent into a self-identity obsessed culture has diminished us. Who you are has no meaning; what you are, or say you are, is vital. The truth that each person is created in God’s image is rejected in education, law, politics, popular culture, and even religion. The consequences are devastating.
For example, Mark Lilla, professor at Columbia University, points out that college campuses have given themselves over to narrow “pseudo-politics of self-regard,” contravening any substantive approach to larger issues. “It has left them unprepared to think about the common good in non-identity terms and what must be done practically to secure it.” The result is not personal freedom but bondage to a flood of sexual/social/racial adjectives. Similarly, Pascal Bruckner warns, “Being guided only by the lantern of his own understanding, the individual loses all assurance of a place, an order, a definition.”
Forget deep discussions or rousing debates about crucial issues. Every utterance – now or in the past – is trolled to uncover “what you really are.” Culture destroys creativity and honest expression and creates the fear of being identified as racist, phobic, sexist, or misogynist.
As followers of Christ, we “regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16) and take seriously the mandate to identify others (even those opposed to us) as made in God’s image. In the midst of an antagonistic culture, we live out acceptance, respect, and grace to all. We honor virtue when we see it and call sin by its proper name. We care for the least among us- the unborn, the elderly, the disabled – and show the world the amazing joy of finding true identity in the One who created and redeems us.
Bill Brown, PhD, Senior Fellow for Worldview and Culture, The Colson Center.
Let’s begin with religious liberty. I see this as a watershed issue, and I’m convinced that it’s coming to a head in our time. By now everyone has heard about the plight of Jack Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Bake Shop whose religious right to decline participation in the legitimization of same-sex marriage is currently hanging in the balance. Christians can’t afford to stay silent on questions of this nature.
Then, of course, there’s the ongoing 45-year campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade. As far as I’m concerned, this one isn’t going away until we’ve achieved solid legal protection for every human life – from the cradle to the grave!
The high divorce rate in this country is another problem that desperately needs to be addressed. Meanwhile, the raging opioid crisis deserves to be treated as something more than a drug epidemic – it’s a fundamental familyissue. I’m speaking from personal experience here: my wife and I are currently caring for two foster children whose biological mother overdosed and died last year.
I could go on, but I’ll close with this thought. First-century believers like Peter and Paul took it for granted that discipleship entailed going against the cultural grain. As 21st-century Christians we face a similar situation. The Constitution is neither absolute nor infallible, and there is no biblical guarantee that our freedoms will always be maintained. Under the circumstances, faithfulness to Christ can mean only one thing: we have to keep on keeping on no matter what the cost.
Jim Daly is President of Focus on the Family, and author of When Parenting Isn’t Perfect.
It seems to me that as we seek to contemplate the pressing cultural issues facing Christians in 2018, we must do so while finding ways to address the fragmentation of our culture, the polarization of our politics, and the overall fracturing taking place in our midst. Certainly, we must continue our efforts to strengthen engaged Christian worldview thinking and faithful Christian living. In this regard, I want to encourage us to think afresh about our calling to be agents of reconciliation in this hostile, divided, and fragmented world.
We are reminded in passages like 2 Corinthians 5 and Ephesians 2 that as we prioritize the message of reconciliation, we do so with the understanding that this message focuses on personal implications regarding our relationship with God, which must not be disconnected from the corporate and communal aspects (Eph. 2:11-19). We need to be reminded that reconciliation has not only been accomplished, but that its implications need to be applied. Our involvements and activities for 2018 will be many and manifold, but among the highest priorities needs to be a recommitment to our calling as agents of reconciliation in this hostile, broken, and fractured world, doing so by example and proclamation, in relationship and in actualization. We must pray for a fresh wind of God’s Spirit in our midst to bring renewal to our gospel convictions, as well as to strengthen our determination to exemplify Christian faithfulness in our service to both church and society in the year ahead.
David S. Dockery serves as president of Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
In the US and around the world, the biggest cultural issue facing Christians is whether we can find a way to share our nations with our neighbors who don’t believe as we do. And the biggest factor in whether we are successful in finding a way to do this will be whether we really want to do it.
The rise of religious freedom in the modern world has overthrown the certainties of older cultural orders – everything from whether boys will use the girls’ bathrooms to whether bondholders will be paid what they’re owed has been cast into chaos by our lack of a shared moral and metaphysical worldview. The public crises that are gripping our nations as a result are many and grave.
Will we be humble enough to seek solutions to this dilemma whose ultimate aim is peaceful coexistence with those of other beliefs, even if that involves hard sacrifices and not getting our own way all the time? Or will we listen to the charlatans who whisper that our problems are all someone else’s fault, and we can make everything right again – without painful sacrifices on our part – if only we can defeat our enemies in political battle?
It is difficult not to give way to panic when faced with such urgent crises, but, as Whittaker Chambers said, the great question of our time is who controls our destiny: God or man? If we believe God is in control, we ought to have the humble courage and perseverance to stick with religious freedom, however painful it may be. For we know that our job is not to save the world; it is to offer our neighbors the light and hope of the one who already has.
Greg Forster is the director of the Oikonomia Network and a visiting assistant professor of faith and culture at Trinity International University.
The most pressing cultural issue is that many–in the church and out–do not know Jesus Christ. Christian faithfulness means worship, discipleship, neighbor love, evangelism, and hope. Just like 2017. And 1017. and A.D. 117.
Mark Galli, editor in chief of Christianity Today
If we fight the battle at any point except where the battle is really being fought, we might as well not fight. Luther’s famous maxim is urgent for Christians today. The U.S. is experiencing its gravest crisis since the Civil War, but there is no agreement as to what the crux of the battle is. The division in this country is not just between Progressives and Conservatives, “coastals” and “heart-landers,” and “globalists” and “nationalists.” It is between “1776,” and the heirs and allies of the American revolution, where faith and freedom went hand in hand; and “1789,” and the heirs and allies of the thinking of the French revolution, where faith and freedom were mortal enemies.
The current crisis is a tale of these two revolutions. Both cry “freedom,” but their views of freedom are diametrically opposed. They have different roots (the Bible versus the Enlightenment), different views of human nature (realism versus utopianism), different views of change (incremental versus radical), different views of freedom (the power to do what you ought versus the permission to what you like), different views of government (protective versus Progressive), different views of accountability (“under God” versus without God), and different views of righting wrongs (repentance and reconciliation versus reparation and revenge).
If this is correct, the challenges are plain. The question before America: Is the “constitutional Republic” to be restored or replaced? The question before us as Christians: How do we live and speak so faithfully that we honor our Lord and his ways in response to one of the greatest apologetic challenges and one of the greatest cultural challenges in all history? Now is a time for what Rabbi Heschel called “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.” All who are Evangelical and unashamed can be confident that the good news is more than sufficient for the gravity of the hour.
Os Guinness, author “A Free People’s Suicide” and the forthcoming “Last Call for Liberty.”
Increasingly in American culture, selfish tendencies poison debate as everyone looks at an issue asking, “What’s in it for me?” Rather than seeing the dignity and worth of all people, as our nation’s founders struggled to do, we are encouraged to evaluate people for what they cost, what they are capable of doing or what they may contribute. This leads to the abortion mentality that ignores the infinite worth and irreplaceable value all life holds.
We all remember Thomas Jefferson writing that our God-given, unalienable rights include the right to life, but we forget that he also said, “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” Today, government and the courts too often chose who deserves to live and who may die. The most pressing cultural issue today is a watered down, devalued assessment of life, leading to policies like abortion and euthanasia based on assumptions of a person’s contributions to someone else’s bottom line.
We must tirelessly advocate for the least of these, helping people understand that a human being’s worth is infinite. We can’t be afraid to roll up our sleeves and help young families with their practical, day to day needs, and we must follow the golden rule, in respecting the value of another’s life, as we want our own lives to be respected.
Sadly, an Institute for Pro-Life Advancement<http://studentsforlife.org/2016/09/07/abortion-a-big-problem-inside-churches-says-new-ipa-poll/> commissioned study conducted by Barna found that only 5.5 percent of Protestant pastors had a pro-life ministry at their church. The number among Catholics was higher, but when you consider that Gallup has reported that 52 percent of women having an abortion self-identify as Christian and Lifeway research put that number closer to 70 percent, clearly Christians are not doing enough to teach and support a culture of life.
Kristan Hawkins, president, Students for Life of America.
While many Christians are currently engaged in conversations about the issues of human sexuality, freedom of conscience, children needing forever homes, the opioid epidemic, and parents’ rights, perhaps the most pressing issue facing Christians is the ever-widening chasm within the evangelical community over how to engage in those very cultural issues. This lack of a unified voice coupled with so many departing from biblical fidelity hinders efforts to model a different path to a culture in desperate need of clarity, civility, and leadership.
Christian faithfulness upholds the truth of Scripture while also showing grace and love to those who disagree. Christian faithfulness involves having the courage and strength to stand on biblical truth in our culture and even in our church communities that increasingly compromise on those truths. Faithful believers must learn to live, work, and speak in the tension between grace and truth in a compassionate, loving manner. Faithful Christians should lead the way to minister to those in need: whether it’s finding a forever home for a child in foster care, ministering to the ones suffering in drug addiction, or reaching those in the transgender or gay communities. We must care for the woman considering an abortion or the elderly facing the end of life. Simply put, Christian faithfulness involves putting biblical fidelity into practice daily. And, yes, it also requires engaging in the public policy process; meaning that in the 2018 elections, we must purpose to stand for foundational principles in a winsome and loving way.
Cathi Herrod leads the Center for Arizona Policy (azpolicy.org) whose mission is to promote and defend foundational principles of life, marriage and family, and religious freedom.
The most pressing cultural issues facing Christians in 2018 are the same cultural issues facing human society at large, for, as Abraham Kuyper famously put it, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” Christian faithfulness therefore consists of acknowledging Christ’s all-encompassing lordship and yet that God has taken the risk of granting us true freedom, even unto our eternal state.
Philosophy, politics, and economics can be understood to be the “ruling” human disciplines in this light, for they deal with what and how we believe, how our societies are governed, and especially how belief and government are expressed within our financial systems and choices. Our pressing issues in 2018, therefore, will remain centered on how we understand our freedom—regardless of the particular regimes under which we may live—including both its temporal and eternal implications.
Christians understand that, biblically, not all things are beneficial, and freedom is not license. Perhaps the Western medievals (transcending particular cultures, actually) had it most right: pursuing synergies within and across Truth, Beauty, and Goodness—which describe God and His loving, gracious sovereignty fully and succinctly—defines our best cultural work; issues that arise in furthering that orientation, then, are always the most pressing. Under this are subsumed the ever-present challenges of justice and right(eous)ness in our societies: from poverty to sexuality to identity to community. By properly defining humanity Himself, Jesus properly resolves all.
Mark Hijleh, Provost, The King’s College (NYC)
We’re facing a crisis of anthropology: What makes humans valuable in the first place? The dividing line is clear: Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life or you don’t. Cultural élites espouse equality, but they have zero basis for it. In a universe that came from nothing and was caused by nothing, human beings—whatever their stage of development—are cosmic accidents. So, what gives us equal value in the first place? Secularists reply with personhood theory, a body/person dualism that allows us to set aside entire classes of humans that can be killed from other classes that can’t be. Those humans with limited cognitive ability—embryos, fetuses, and the mentally disabled—are fair game.
Christians must persuasively challenge this destructive view of human equality. First, personhood theory asserts, but never justifies, why greater cognitive ability is correlated with greater moral status. Why is greater cognitive ability value-giving in the first place? Second, personhood theory results in savage inequality. If cognitive function determines value, those with more of it have a greater right to life than those with less, regardless one’s age or level of development. Finally, the idea that a human becomes a person only after some degree of cognitive development is absurd. It amounts to saying, “I came to be after my body came to be,” or, “I inhabit a body that was once an embryo.” Christians have a better answer: All humans have value because we bear the image of our Maker.
Scott Klusendorf is President of Life Training Institute and author of “The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture.”
The pressure for Christians to conform to certain cultural trends that are antithetical to Scripture, especially in the area of sexuality, is only going to increase in 2018 and beyond. Some high-profile court cases are pending in regard to religious liberty. But even if the Supreme Court rules favorably, cultural pressures will continue to mount. There will be a greater cost to living faithfully to Scripture in our increasingly secular culture.
While Christians must engage culture at every level (i.e., politics, sports, entertainment, etc.), there is a pressing question parents and grandparents must tackle: Am I teaching my kids and grandkids a biblical worldview? Studies consistently show that parents have the most significant influence on the next generation (Yes, more than YouTube “stars”). And grandparents are close behind.
But this only happens if we are intentional in our efforts. Do you talk with your kids about pop culture? Theology? Do you intentionally engage them in conversation to help them think Biblically? Or are you too busy? Our culture is hitting a tipping point in its rejection of biblical truth, and Christian parents and grandparents must not retreat or live in denial, but use this as an opportunity to equip young people.
And perhaps no issue is more important than biblical authority. I am convinced that the debate today is over authority—is it feelings and personal autonomy? Or is it God’s Word? We must help the next generation see that real freedom comes through Christ.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. Author, Speaker, Professor
What is the right Christian posture toward politics? This question takes on new importance heading into the 2018 mid-term elections. It’s a major cultural issue because the last election arguably changed how Christians think about voting, and how the rest of Americans feel about Christians.
Polling consistently shows that evangelicals supported President Trump in his bid for the White House, despite revelations during the campaign that he was anything but a poster boy for the Moral Majority. Many have noted what a reversal this was from the 1990s, when evangelical leaders proclaimed that “character counts” amid a presidential sex scandal.
Now, a year into Trump’s presidency, his Twitter activity has cemented a public persona defined by anger, defensiveness, and insults, even toward nuclear-armed world leaders and a disaster-stricken territory (Puerto Rico). A new poll shows the president’s support among evangelicals slipping, but the question is whether his character and behavior have anything to do with it.
The dilemma facing Christians ahead of a Congressional election is this: Do we continue rewarding candidates who campaign using anger and insults, who play on fear of outsiders and opponents, and whose personal lives contradict the values we profess? Or do we reward candidates who focus on policy rather than people, who demonstrate personal integrity, and who know how to effectively communicate their values without resorting to “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking” (Ephesians 5:4)? Our public witness and right to be taken seriously by a watching world may depend on our answer.
G. Shane Morris, Senior Writer, The Colson Center for Christian Worldview
The cultural issue I’m most focused on in 2018 is the generational divide. Summit Ministries’ research shows that Millennials and Gen X church-going Christians hold very different views on issues such as marriage, life, religious liberty, and economic freedom. They increasingly embrace postmodernism and Marxism instead of a biblical worldview.
We need a gut check. On the issues we’re concerned with, are we speaking the truth or are we just being cranky based on when we grew up? I firmly believe we can discern a worldview that runs with the “grain of the universe” as Steven Garber puts it. Sin distorts things, but in Jesus we can know the truth and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).
Fortunately, the generational divide is mainly a communication divide. Young believers want our help in articulating a biblical worldview in a humane, thoughtful fashion. But we must do better: platitudes that sound good from the pulpit ring hollow with younger generations.
Let me illustrate. I recently viewed a sermon of a 70-something preacher saying, “When I was young, the only thing coming out of the closet was clothes.” The middle-aged congregation applauded heartily. But young Christians I’ve spoken with said, “What are we supposed to do with that? If we said something like that at work, we would be shunned and never taken seriously again.”
Whatever pressing cultural issues need tackling in 2018, Christian faithfulness will involve preparing believers to have “water cooler conversations” using public arguments that make sense to rising generations.
Jeff Myers, Ph.D., President, Summit Ministries
I don’t know if it’s “the most pressing cultural issue” Christians face in 2018 but recovering our moral credibility should be at or near the top of the list. As the Nobel Laureate from Hibbing, Minnesota famously said, “let us not talk falsely now” – our moral credibility is in tatters. If 2017 was the year that America realized that sexual harassment and even assault is fact of life for far too many American women, far too many Christians either didn’t get the memo or deleted it before reading it.
The Washington Post tells the story of a prominent pastor who was not only was credibly accused of assaulting a teenage girl in the youth group he led, he admitted the essential truth of the allegations. The congregation’s response? A twenty-second standing ovation. Granted, stoning may be have been a bit much, but a standing ovation tells the victims of sexual assault volumes about how little this group of Christians care about what happened to them.
And it’s not just this group of Christians. A month ago, 80 percent of white Evangelicals voted for a man who was also credibly accused of similar conduct. While he denied the allegations, it didn’t matter. The Evangelical governor of the state said that while she believed the allegations, electing the right kind of senator, i.e., one who would vote to confirm conservative judges, took precedence.
We have ceded the moral ground on this and other issues to Hollywood and the mainstream media. Until we make credible efforts to take it back, we have no business asking them to care about our issues. After all, that’s how we have treated them for the past four decades.
Roberto Rivera is a senior fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
I believe he is right. The Christian church faces a crisis today because it has forgotten important parts of its own story, and it has forgotten how to tell its story to a skeptical world. Non-Christians and nominal Christians are now telling the story of the world, and the result is a false witness, a false narrative, a false – or, at best, an incomplete – understanding of both reality and the biblical narrative.
Poet and novelist Marion Montgomery once said that the role of the prophet is to call us to “known but forgotten things.” That is the challenge for leaders of the Christian church today. We must remind ourselves of and call our brothers and sisters in Christ to “known but forgotten things.” We must first be faithful ourselves, and we must realize that a part of our faithfulness is to recover our role as storytellers among people starving for the true story of the world.
Warren Cole Smith is the Vice President-Mission Advancement of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
One of pressing cultural issues facing Christians in 2018 is the challenge of mission creep. By this I mean, the struggle in allowing worldly goals and objectives to crowd out or dilute our mission for the kingdom of Jesus.
In 2017, we witnessed our Christian public image take a beating, often from times when professed believers allowed some competing objective to become their driving focus. Such reprioritization, even when portrayed as Christian, compromises kingdom mission by injecting political or social identity. This always damages our witness, unnecessarily placing obstacles between Christians and their neighbors.
Now, 2018 promises to be more divisive as culture trends towards greater social, economic, and political polarization. As the volume increases, Christians will face mounting pressure to join the cycles of outrage in favor of causes we believe are important. This presents a challenge to the church to fight against allowing these divisions into our community and gospel proclamation.
Christian faithfulness in light of these issues begins from a reevaluation of how well we are living out our mission in the midst of our neighbors. While we should not shrink from engaging in the political world, when we are defined within our community or workplace by these peripheral identities, we reveal that some other mission has diluted the kingdom mission to which Jesus has called us.
In the midst of this chaos, Christians need to remain focused on Jesus’ mission for the church: to show and share His love in a broken and hurting world.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D. Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism
Executive Director, Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College
There are plenty of cultural waves that will continue to matter in 2018: i.e., the heated way politics divides everything, racial strife, the collision between sex and religion, etc. Underneath those waves, however, are the deep cultural shifts that have changed the way we experience life and the world. Among these shifts (or, what Brett Kunkle and I call cultural undercurrents in our book “A Practical Guide to Culture) none is proving to be more important than the fundamental dismantling of any collective understanding of anthropology. In other words, we face so many incredibly important issues right now with no coherent sense of what it means to be human.
As a result, ours is a culture of contradiction: one that fights sexual harassment after celebrating the legacy of Hugh Hefner, one that cries out for human dignity while actively working to eliminate both the costly elderly and children with disabilities in utero, one that simultaneously proclaims certainty that sexual orientation is immutable and that sexual biology is up for grabs.
Christian faithfulness in this cultural moment will not be possible unless we ground our thinking on a clear biblical sense of who we are as humans in light of our relationship with God and others. Moral proclamation isolated from the rich vision of every human as bearer of the imago dei will—to the world around us–sound only judgmental and cruel. As cracks continue to show in the sexual revolution’s promise of freedom and fun, the church will have an incredible opportunity to offer a better way, but only if we are clear on what it means to human. And only if we are willing to endure the brutal, inevitable backlash.
John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center and co-author of A Practical Guide to Culture
Our age presents us with numerous challenges, but many of them reduce to one befouled source: a counterfeit vision of humanity promoted by a burn-it-down cultural playbook. In other words, according to mainstream wisdom, the human person is not made in the image of God, but in the image of the pagan gods, however shrouded from view they may be. Pansexuality thus trumps the biblical vision of love; the body is a script for self-expression, not the vessel of the Spirit; we will find happiness when we remove all moral, theological, and cultural restraints of the traditional kind, and embrace an unbounded ethic. As Roger Scruton has pointed out, this program is not “progressive”; it is regressive, yet promoted as if it has the very wind of hell behind it.
Christian faithfulness in such a time cannot mean less than this: pulpits that ring with vibrant proclamation of the whole counsel of God and delight to unfold the many-orbed beauty of biblical anthropology, and normal Christian witness that is unflagging in love for fallen humanity, unbowed by intimidation from activists who live to tear down what is virtuous, and consumed with the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the true man.
Owen Strachan, PhD, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of “Reenchanting Humanity: Biblical Anthropology for the 21st Century” (B&H Academic, 2019).
The biggest cultural crisis we are facing is a neo-Gnostic denial of objective reality in favor of subjective feelings, opinions, and experience. The postmodern mantra, “that’s true for you but not for me” has now metastasized into a radical redefinition of identity. The culture tells us that we are who we feel like we are on the inside, inventing whole new categories and words out of whole cloth to allow for unlimited self-definitions that bear no connection to external reality. Ironically, we are expected to treat a person’s subjective identity as objectively true, whether or not it conforms to objective facts.
The emphasis on the subjective also means that rational discourse and debate is impossible, and, further, that language that challenges a person or group’s “reality” amounts to a type of violence. Physical violence in response is thus self-defense.
As Christians, we need first to respond to people trapped in this type of thinking with love and compassion. They are not the enemy; they are captives of the Enemy suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. It is our job to rescue them. At the same time, we must always speak the truth in love to the best of our ability; we must not affirm their false views of reality. It will cost us, just as it cost Jesus when He testified to the truth. And like Jesus, when we are attacked, it should be because we spoke the truth, not because we lacked love when we did it.
Dr. Glenn Sunshine is a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University and a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
For the vibrant Christian, Christ’s Lordship serves as the enabling and orienting north star in the Story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. For 2018, clarity, conviction, and courage for navigating the cultural waters and living that Lordship Coram Deo should emphasize 1) Mediating Institutions: The coercive State cannot remedy the fracturing of society. Rather, revitalizing civil society via mediating institutions must reconnect and heal the culture. 2) Identity: For the outward looking Christian, reality dictates only two identities: Union or non-union with Christ – The Christian must jettison all competing politicized notions of identity as unreal and/or injurious to human flourishing. 3) Anthropological Telos: The key question underlying most of the cultural chaos today either fails to answer, or wrongly answers, this fundamental question: What is Mankind FOR? Getting this inquiry right unlocks many cultural, legal, and political quandaries. 4) Language and Reality: Language exists to convey truth, not utter nonsense or lies. To the extent Christians mislabel reality as created by God – sex, marriage, freedom, equality – culture will be corroded. 5) Celebrity-ism: The Gnostic impulse is strong culturally, and one aspect of it spawns elitism, including elitist leaders “in the know.” Christians must politely push back on this form of idolatry both within and without the Church. 6) Exercising Religious Freedom: Contra to the Gnostic impulse, the Christian faith is to be lived in the created-good world, even if that effort is unpopular. The jurisprudence protecting speech has never been stronger, yet the will to speak and live is wilting on many fronts.
Jeffery J. Ventrella, Alliance Defending Freedom
Imagine you’re a prosecutor charged with the task of impaneling a jury for a homicide trial. As you interview each potential juror, you discover that none of them believes anything is objectively true; denying either the existence of objective truth, or that truth can be known with enough certainty to render a verdict. To your dismay, every candidate believes truth is simply a matter of personal opinion or cultural consensus. What are the odds you’ll find twelve people who can examine the historical events that led up to the murder and determine what truly happened?
Our culture increasingly produces this kind of juror. In 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was “post-truth,” an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In a culture that increasingly rejects the existence of objective truth, what are the odds anyone will ever examine the historical events surrounding the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus and determine what truly happened?
As a cold-case homicide detective, I learned a long time ago that one of the most important steps in a criminal trial is instructing your jury. If your jurors reject the foundational nature of truth, they’ll never reach a verdict. Christians now face a similar challenge when trying to communicate the truth of Christianity: the most important first step in evangelism may very well be instructing our hearers. We’ll have to help people understand the nature of truth, so they can determine what’s true about Christianity.
J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Biola, and Author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith
Christians belong to distinct, yet overlapping jurisdictions—preeminently as citizens of the kingdom of God, but also earthly kingdoms. This means our existence can be fraught with authority crises—the Word of God or the spirit of the age? I am burdened by Christian susceptibility to false authority centers: the cult of celebrity authority, allowing social media to determine the guardrails of allowable discourse and ethical witness, or giving ear to personalities that presume to speak with more gravitas than they may actually possess.
I want to believe that Christians are formed more by daily rhythms of Christian piety than by their iPhones, Facebook, or popular afternoon talk shows with endearing hosts, but I do not think that is the case. An inability to differentiate competing loyalties hampers discernment, so we live in an age where Christians are horrified more at the prospect of unpopularity than by what the Bible calls sin. That, ultimately, is a crisis of authority, because it indicates we’ve been habituated more by worldliness than holiness.
Unless Christians are willing to name, unmask, and deconstruct false authority centers that compete for our affections, I think Christianity in America will wither away not by overt persecution, but by a failure to differentiate falsehood from righteousness, and that a result of an authority crisis. This concern is not limited only to 2018, but it has been a slow burn that I see as a real threat to an enduring gospel witness. Persecution is not the only way to end a church; all you need are blurry lines.
Andrew T. Walker is the Director of Policy Studies at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Over 60 million lives have been lost to abortion in the United States. Pro-life Christians have not ignored these deaths. We marched, we enacted legislation, and we raised awareness about the humanity of unborn life. Yet, much of the pro-life movement’s focus has been on the legality of abortion. We must also address our cultural desire for abortion. Laws don’t always change hearts. But, the church through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can.
For too many Christians, abortion is a political problem, not a ministry and discipleship opportunity. Our research found that nearly four in ten women who had abortions were attending church, at least monthly. These women believed that their local abortion provider was a better alternative than their church family to help them in their time of great need. Indeed, Pro-life Christians have made an impact on the polls, but much less in the pews. Pastors and church members need to retake their rightful place in the pro-life movement by recognizing that ministering to the abortion vulnerable is the Great Commission.
Finally, there needs to be a paradigm shift in our response to the abortion challenge. It’s not enough to preach that abortion is an attack on the sanctity of human life; we must recognize that it is an attack on the sanctity of marriage and the family as God designed them as well. If we want to prevent the loss of unborn lives and ensure that children have abundant life, then it’s time to embrace the Gospel and emphasize the role that strengthening the institution of marriage and restoring responsible fatherhood have in helping to create a culture that is not only pro-life, but rather, pro Abundant life as God desires.
Roland C. Warren, President & CEO, Care Net
Worldwide, persecution towards Christians remains the greatest cultural issue. Christians face more persecution than do members of other faiths, and the forms of persecution they experience today are increasingly extreme. For those of us who live in free in societies, Christian faithfulness calls us to “remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily” (Heb. 13:3). In 2018, Christians should look for ways to advocate for brothers and sisters across the world who face extraordinary challenges.
In the West, the most pressing cultural issue facing Christians in 2018 is not external but internal. We suffer from a shriveled moral imagination that has led to a shrunken understanding of the gospel and a corresponding crisis of confidence in its power.
In order to face the external cultural pressures of this age, we must find ways to cultivate a biblically formed imagination so that Christians can resist the powerful pull of nostalgia, see through and past stale partisan allegiances, and reclaim the importance of character in public and private life. Only a renewed moral imagination can engage stubborn divisions of race and class with something more powerful than the resentment that currently engulfs all sides in the culture wars. Only a renewed moral imagination can proclaim and embody an alternative vision of flourishing in matters related to sexuality and marriage. A renewed moral imagination is necessary for churches to thrive in the midst of cultural upheaval.
Trevin Wax, Bible and Reference Publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources, author of This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel and Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context