A New Cultural Moment

…becomes a cultural winter. Two spiritual leaders* believe something is stirring and is a move to the dark side. It’s us, in the West and specifically the United States. We’ve turned. We’ve changed. We have lost our direction.

How so?

“We both believe that we are in a new cultural moment,” said Duncan. “We need to know where we are, how we’ve gotten here, and how we can forge a biblical, faithful consensus on how we’re going to address that together.”

Keller picked up the conversation by painting a bleak picture of where America is as a culture: “This is an unprecedented time in human history. There have always been relativists. There have always been doubters of God. There have always been atheists. What’s new is the breadth of conviction that there is no such thing as truth. There have never been whole societies built on that idea. Never.”

He explained that the fallout from this conviction is seen in myriad ways: from the collapse of popular opposition to same-sex marriage to the increasing hostility to Christianity in cultural institutions (academia, the arts, etc.) to what Keller likes to call the rise of “the nones,” a reference to a recent Gallup survey reporting on religious affiliation.

“For many, many years in America, a very small percentage of people said ‘no religious preference.’ Now it’s up to 20 percent.”

Humanistic perspectives such as rationalism, individualism, relativism, and pragmatism have all contributed to this religious indifference. As well, perhaps, the seeming irrelevance of various evangelical movements has done little to draw the “nones” back into the fold.

“After a generation of ‘seeker churches,’ half a generation of ‘emerging churches,’ everyone knows that younger people are far less religious than the generation before … and despite all the things that we’ve been doing for the last 30 years, we’re losing them.”

Because of this, Keller explained, America is facing crises in almost every sphere: “Global capitalism is sick. … There’s a crisis in education; nobody knows what we’re producing. … There’s a crisis in politics, crisis in the academy, crisis in the arts, crisis in the middle class, crisis in the family.”

And for Christians, the crisis could increasingly look like decreasing religious freedom, especially if courts decide that “freedom of association and religious exemptions really aren’t compatible” with the increasing spirit of “inclusiveness.”

“It could be very wintery for Christians,” Keller said.

At least in America it could be. But in the church globally, Keller explained, there are “spring breezes” of Christianity flowing across Asia, Africa, and South America.

“Whenever people say to me, ‘We’re getting more secular,’ I say ‘No, only white people are getting more secular.’”

Keller says Wake up! But, how many times have we heard that? Lord Jesus, what is it going to take to have your people see you and your values?

“I think one of our biggest problems as a denomination or as Reformed people and evangelicals is that we don’t really know how to talk to late modern culture.” — Tim Keller

“I think one of our biggest problems as a denomination or as Reformed people and evangelicals is that we don’t really know how to talk to late modern culture. When I hear the average PCA pastor, it is very clear to me that they are preaching to the person who feels like they ought to be in church somewhere. Most of us have been conditioned to speak to people who don’t have one foot out the door. … You’re not used to preaching to people who do have one foot out the door, and when they do leave, they’ll never come back to any kind of church at all. … The relativism, the individualism, the pragmatism which is late modern culture — most pastors don’t have that in mind.”

These men believe one hope is in university. They believe college ministries are a great place to develop leaders.

Also we need to take our faith into the workplace more boldly.

“We have to make sure people aren’t sealing off their faith from their work, only being Christians inside the church. Reformed people have more resources for that than any other group,” he says. “But the ways to support people out there right now are pretty weak. We need to be better about supporting nonclergy in their work. We need to be commissioning them and praying over them, and not just over pastors and missionaries.”

Some of the commenters has some good thoughts:

John Hendrickson says:
July 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm
What can one expect when they church has taught an irrelevant Gospel message that is no wider than be good boys and girls and hang in there until you die and finally get to Heaven.

It is a shame that the Reformed community has not led the way on the pre-death, pre-Heaven responsibility of believers to live in this world as if God has really created and given meaning to all things. As Nancy Pearcey so clearly lays it out in Total Truth, Christians have been living with a two story understanding. That is, they have been taught to live as practical atheists.

Greg Kern says:
July 17, 2013 at 2:08 am
It’s not complicated to understand why the current generation is leaving the Church: The traction of the 20th century “revival” era — which featured notable figures like Charles Spurgeon and Billy Graham — has finally fizzled out in modern times. Today’s generation of young people seem to be saying these things:

1) The Church isn’t listening to us.
2) Christianity isn’t as intellectually compelling as Secularism.
3) We have absolutely no interest in Religion.
4) We don’t have to be Christians to do good things.
5) God and politics are a volatile mixture.

To the extent that churches have failed in these 5 areas, the “Nones” are finding meaning and fulfillment elsewhere. What to do about it is indeed an urgent…

What is your perspective on the shape of culture, the church, and spirit in the world?

* Dr. Ligon Duncan III, pastor of First Presbyterian Church (Jackson, Miss.) and Tim Keller, popular author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (New York City)

Full Article


5 thoughts on “A New Cultural Moment

  1. P, good post, by the way, when the face of evil was revealed and it turned out to be “loved ones”, then many of our persuasion did not have the character to stand up to it. We can hate sin and love the sinner. These people were like poor disciplinarians who let everything pass! They just do not have the right stuff to confront it.

    Neither do I have faith in the universities to raise the next great leaders, for I have been to the Universities…and they teach relative ethics. no help is likely to come from there.
    But I know of a few great clusters of young men and women who do Jesus’ work in the inner cities, among the poorist of the poor. They have the strength of character to confront sin and yet love the sinner. One such group is affiliated with Tony Campolo, and is known as “Red-letter Christians” because they try to follow all of Jesus commands in the sermon on the mount and the rest of the New Testiment.
    I think our leaders of the future will likely come from groups like this who radically live their Christianity.


    • Daryl, thanks for your reply. I am glad to put up something that elicits your response.

      I do think we have a “situation” on our hands. Not one that Almighty God can’t handle obviously, but, one that makes me pained for my grandchildren and their children.

      Thanks for noting Red-letter Christians. If you have any links on their work, please post them here for me and others.

      I do have one friend who is working in a situation like them. She is with a group who loves the downtrodden in Vancouver.

      Grace and mercy!


    • Just to clarify one point–they did not say university education is the hope. The hope is the development of Christian leaders in campus ministries who learn to speak the cultural language because they are constantly exposed to it on the university campus. University education has been a loser of values for even before I entered in the 60’s.


  2. Pingback: Why Millennials are Leaving the Church | The Good News

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