A few years ago, a friend of mine from high school, who used to consider herself a Christian, encouraged me to check out a book that she thought I would like. The book was called “The Unlikely Disciple,” and to this day, it is one of my favorite reads because it offers a unique perspective, a perspective that recently came to mind in reflection with the times in which we live.
The book centers around a college student from Brown University who decides that instead of doing a semester abroad in a foreign country, he would instead do a semester in an environment that is just as foreign to him: Liberty University.
Kevin Roose, the author and central figure of the book, pretends to be a Christian, even though he is himself agnostic and politically and ideologically liberal, and he writes about the perception he has of evangelical Christians from spending a few months at one of the largest Christian colleges in America. The book was not an attack on Christianity at all, but the experience of reading the book was like looking in a mirror and seeing how outsiders to the faith see us. It was an honest look from his interactions with other students and seeing what we are really like, what we profess to believe in and how much our actual walk matches our talk.
The truth of the book echoes in my heart for what has been burdening me recently for the church in America. This is the simple yet profound truth: the world is watching us.
Ronald Reagan once said, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”
Reagan was talking about America and the Cold War, but the essence of that message speaks to the crossroads moment that I believe evangelical Christianity faces here in America in 2023. America is divided and teetering, Judeo-Christian influence seems to be eroding, and while it is certainly perilous times in which we find ourselves, it is also the opportunity of a lifetime for every believer in Jesus and for the church at large. The question is, how will we respond to this moment?
Christians can stand out or blend in, we can speak up or shut up, we can live out and reach out to others with an authentic faith in Jesus or we can damage the name of Jesus. We can either hold to compromise our convictions or stand by them, we can either show others compassion or we can give into the undercurrent of anger and lack of civility that increasingly seems to be dominating our culture. Jesus called Christians to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The question facing us is whether we will rub off on the world or whether the world will rub off on us.
Some say that America is more divided than at any time since before the Civil War, so is the church rising to this moment with displaying Christian unity or will the church itself and Christians become as divided with each other over secondary issues and over politics to an extent to where we look as divided to the world as our country is? Will we speak the truth in love, or will we in the name of love omit biblical truth or in the name of proclaiming truth, leave out love?
Our society seems as if it’s becoming increasingly toxic and polarizing. This has been seen especially with the mass shootings plaguing our nation, the cyclical debates over the causes of them and over continued injustices in our society. Are we going to be “kind and tenderhearted” (Ephesians 4:32) or will we be just as hateful, nasty and tribal?
With the cultural crescendo we are amid, which COVID seemed to accelerate, and with the 2024 presidential election cycle upon us, America and the church in America have arrived at an inflection point where it needs to be asked: What is our mission? What do we want to be known for? How will we respond to this moment? Will we as Christians be counter cultural or will we get caught up in the culture wars raging around us?
The truth is the church, and the Christian, should not be able to fit entirely with any political or ideological camp because the gospel is above all that and both liberals and conservatives need Jesus Christ.
Christians should be careful to remember Jonah, who was so caught up in demonizing the other side and so filled with anger and vitriol to the oppressive people of Nineveh that he ran from carrying out his mission to proclaim God’s message of compassion and warning of judgment because, truth be told, he hated them too much and wanted them to perish. Christians, Jesus said, should be known for their genuine love for each other and for the outsider to the faith. We must not lose sight of our mission given by Jesus Christ, which is not to gain political power or influence at all costs but rather to proclaim the life-changing power of the gospel of Christ, in the hope it will change hearts and minds, and in so doing, ultimately change the world. Jesus does not say in Matthew 24 that he will return for the church once it’s sufficiently proclaimed political and ideological talking points or once enough elections have been won. Jesus said he will return once the gospel has been shared with everyone.
For anyone watching, it seems to be clear not only that we are in for difficult times ahead as a country and world, but that our politics are ugly and getting uglier from all sides. We must stand out by not allowing the toxicity of our cultural and political climate to rub off on us; we need to rub off on it. And while, certainly, Christians can and should participate in the political process and vote our conscience, may we be careful not to betray our values and beliefs in the name of advancing them.
The world is watching.
“Do all things without complaining or arguing, that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14-15).
Stephen Mitchell is the senior pastor of Trinity Bible Church. He also is the host of a regular podcast, “Real Christian Talk with Pastor Steve,” available on all podcast platforms.
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