On Sunday evenings at Central Baptist Church, during our EQUIP time, we are going through a new study entitled Biblically Correct, written by my friend Evan Lenow (Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX). In this 10-week study, Christians are challenged to be prepared to speak biblically about many of the pressing cultural issues of our day (sanctity of life – at the beginning and end of life; human sexuality – God’s design and human distortions of it; marriage; Christian life in the public square). One of the key elements necessary for speaking biblically into our culture in the most effective way is to understand the way our contemporary culture thinks and operates (which is drastically different than it was even 20-25 years ago). Below is an introduction I wrote for our church family as we prepared to embark on this study together:
It used to be that people had a right to be heard, a right to share their perspective freely, even if others would radically disagree with it. We call that “freedom of speech.” This was granted to the one sharing the ideas. Those who were willing to hear those ideas shared freely – even if they strongly disagreed with the ideas being shared – were called “tolerant.” An intolerant person was simply one who refused to hear ideas they disagreed with.
This worked particularly well (for Christians) when the cultural consensus was largely shaped by a Judeo-Christian ethic, drawn largely from the Bible. During this time, there was a small number of “true Christians,” a large “mushy middle” (made up of immature Christians, as well as ‘nominal’ Christians who were not truly Christians), and a small number of anti-Christians.
This worked within a philosophical framework known as modernism, which, in part, included a few core values: truth is knowable; truth exists independently and outside of me; truth is absolute – it is true in all places, at all times, for all people, in all circumstances.
So, if you disagreed with a person, you would disagree with the ideas espoused by the person, but you recognized that the person was independent of the ideas they held, because truth exists apart from them. So, I could disagree with (or “attack”) their ideas without attacking the individual.
Now over the past few decades, there has been a tremendous shift in how we understand knowledge and reality, including truth. We have shifted from modernism to post-modernism. While it is very difficult to define post-modernism (and some people even claim that we have moved now to post-post-modernism; and a context that is largely post-Christian), we can at least look at how the culture’s understanding of truth has changed. Now, truth is no longer so much knowable/discoverable as created; it doesn’t exist independent of me but is seen as part of me (“what is true to me”); truth is relative – that is, it is not true in all places, at all times, for all people.
So, now, within this new framework of truth and reality, there needed to be a new tolerance. Tolerance is no longer, because I respect you as a person, I respect your right to openly and freely share your ideas in the marketplace of ideas, even though I may think your ideas are wrong, or even horribly ridiculous. The new tolerance says, “I believe your ideas are equally as valid as mine, even if they are in complete contradiction to what I believe.” Therefore, today, an intolerant person is one who refuses to call all ideas – even obviously contradictory ideas – equally valid and true.
So, there is a new right to be preserved. It is no longer the right to be heard, but rather the right not to be offended. And, within a post-modern context, this is necessary. Remember in modernism, truth is absolute and outside of you. So, when I disagree with your ideas, I am still respecting you as a person and your right to believe what you will. In post-modernism, however, the ideas are tied to the person, because you have created your own truth – whatever is true for you, or seems good to you. So, as a post-modern (which I am not), because I don’t believe that there is absolute truth that exists outside of me – but rather truth is something that is a part of me and is created by me – for you to attack my ideas is for you to attack me. Therefore, you are “intolerant” and bigoted, according to the new definition of tolerance, if you won’t agree that my ideas are equally valid to your own AND if you won’t willingly support me and participate with me in my ideas (think same-sex marriage).
Now, rather than seeking to be Biblically Correct,Christians are challenged to be Politically Correct – (from Merriam-Webster) agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people; conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.
Remember the three groups of people from above – small group of true Christians, large mushy middle, small group of anti-Christians. While the ends have not largely changed, the mushy middle has shifted dramatically. While in a modernistic context based largely on a Judeo-Christian ethic, the mushy middle leaned toward the Christian side due to acceptance of those generally held ideas. But, now, in a post-modern context, where the only evil is “intolerance,” which, according to them, means adherence to the idea that there is absolute truth, you can imagine what the mushy middle will do – they will form to the mold of the world (exactly what Paul tells Christians we must not do in Romans 12:2). Therefore, Christians are isolated. We look odd. We are labeled bigots and hate-mongers. (Sounds a lot like Jesus and His followers, right?) I think this shift can be a good thing for us in terms of our mission. People are now much less inclined to identify with nominal Christianity. It costs them too much. So, they turn and walk away – much like the crowds in John 6 who walked away and no longer followed Jesus when He told them He was the Bread of Life, rather than simply giving them physical bread.
But now we have to decide how we will respond. And, we have two options: bow to our culture and adopt the contemporary view of tolerance and politically correct speech, so that we can make those around us happy and not stir the waters too much; OR we can stand upon the sure foundation of God’s Word, seeking to be Biblically Correct, rather than merely politically correct, trusting God to lead, guide and protect us. The first way puts us headlong into the current of our contemporary culture and will cause us not to ruffle feathers. The second way puts us headlong against the current of our contemporary culture and will ruffle all kinds of feathers, though it will also allow us to walk in obedience and faithfulness before God.
Jesus and Paul warned us that this would be the result of following Jesus. Jesus said if you follow me you are living as part of a different kingdom under the rule of a different king. They hate me, and they will hate you. Paul said to Timothy that we should know that all who seek to live godly lives will suffer persecution. But, because we fear God, we have no reason to fear man. Even if standing for God cost us our lives, man cannot kill us because we have eternal life that man cannot take away.
So, we must be ready to take a stand that is Biblically Correct – to engage our culture with biblical truth. And, the only way to do that is to know and understand God’s Word. Plus, don’t forget, it is not enough to believe the right thing, but we must always speak that truth in the right way, with love and grace – Colossians 4:5-6; being wise as serpents and harmless as doves – Matthew 10:16. Also remember that those who reject you and rise up against you are not rejecting you but Christ, whom you represent. So, let the heart of Christ for the lost be that which is in your heart (Matt. 9:36) and have compassion on those who are lost, like shepherdless sheep, and share with them the only way to find forgiveness of sin, life, hope, joy and peace – through repentance of sin and surrender to Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord.
If you would like to bulk order copies of Biblically Correct to use in your church, email Evan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for bulk discount.