Ever since Paul addressed the philosophers in Athens, there has been but a small number of those who embrace the gospel. The church has nevertheless grown throughout the world precisely through such witness.
In our own nation’s religious history, we’ve always had skeptics, deists, various cults, transcendentalists, and atheists who kept us on our toes. Not only theologians and pastors, but many people in the pew were at least able to formulate the Christian faith over against the arguments of its detractors. They could reach for the Trinity, Christ’s Incarnation, vicarious Death and victorious Resurrection, as well as the doctrines of original sin and justification, as the Christian answer to the perennial paganism of our fallen hearts.
However, today, we have an entirely new situation. We’re faced by a bewildering diversity of religions, spiritualities, and philosophies, which often coalesce to form an impressive opposition to any particular creed and its claim to ultimate truth. At the very time that the culture is most distant even from any implicit Christian memory and seems most powerfully anti-Christian, not only the people in the pew but pastors and theologians seem the least capable of articulating the Christian faith, much less of offering persuasive arguments for it.
The August 31 (2009) issue of Newsweek features an article titled “We’re All Hindus Now.” Lisa Miller acknowledges, of course, that most Americans aren’t practicing Hindus, but she appeals to various surveys to show that even most Christians—including many evangelicals—in America today embrace more Hindu tenets than Christian ones. She refers to two examples. First, the resurrection of the body. She points out that most Americans apparently assume that at death the soul—that is, the real part of a person, is finally released from its bodily prison-house, to float off somewhere or to be reincarnated. Second, she refers more generally to the widespread belief that all paths lead to God or the divine: another major Hindu tenet, but opposed to Christianity’s central claim that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator and Savior.
Non-Christian writers like Harold Bloom can write a best-selling book arguing that the pervasive American religion is basically Gnosticism and a bevy of sociologists can confirm all of this from their own angles, but none of this seems to register in the evangelical world as an alarming state of affairs. We keep hearing that our doctrine is fine; in fact, we teach too much. Our problem is that we’re not living transformed lives. I think we need a reformation at the roots.
We’ll always fall short of God’s commands for our lives, but if our lives are really no different at all from the lives of our non-Christian neighbors, maybe it’s because our operating convictions aren’t all that different either.