by Chris Martin
If you can find an instance in a TV show from the last 10 years of a child respectfully admitting his disobedience to his father like Beaver Cleaver did in the 1950s, or an instance of a father delightfully disciplining his child to the tune of sappy string music, I’ll buy you lunch.
Those things just don’t happen any more. Our culture has changed.
On a recent episode of The Exchange with Ed Stetzer, Michael Wear, a consultant on the intersection of faith and politics said, “Millennials grew up in a culture where they didn’t learn about religious life through cultural osmosis.” He’s right.
Older millennials (born 1980-1989) grew up and younger millennials (1990-2000) are growing up in a culture identified more by relative morality than by religious morality. But that’s not the whole story.
In the early-to-mid 20th century, American culture was shaped by the God of the Bible and saturated with biblical morality. My parents, and even more their parents, grew up in a culture in which Christianity was, as Wear observes, consumed in a form of “cultural osmosis.”
The millennial generation lives in no such culture. Today’s American culture is shaped by a different god and saturated with different moral paradigms. Tolerance is the god of this age and its moral paradigm is rooted in the freedom to pursue one’s personal fulfillment at all costs.
The question is this: “Are millennials fortunate or not to live in a culture in which learning about religious life through cultural osmosis is impossible?” While many may assume growing up as a Christian in a secularized culture can only be a negative experience, I believe there are both pros and cons.
Three benefits of growing up in a secularized culture
I attended public school from kindergarten through high school, and then attended a private Christian liberal arts college. I would not trade growing up in an urban public school setting for any alternative option. Growing up in that environment, particularly playing high school football, gave me a window into what the world is like.
Seeing what students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds experienced, participating in various cultures, and interacting with a variety of religious and moral systems helped make me who I am today. Similarly, growing up in a secularized culture has shown me firsthand the varying viewpoints in opposition to Christianity.
Seeing what drives and motivates people who do not share my Christian values, I am forced to evaluate my own pursuits and passions. I have to ask myself, “In what ways do my motivations and pursuits look different from theirs?” and “What role does Christ and His gospel play in the way in which I conduct myself?”
The Demise of Cultural Christianity
Before, it may have been easy for Christians to assimilate with Christianized American culture, somehow meshing the “pursuit of happiness” and “bearing one’s cross.” Today, it seems, the secularization of culture has made the culture’s pursuit of happiness vastly different from the bearing of one’s cross.
Ed Stetzer writes:
Less people are calling themselves Christians and those who are will take it more seriously. In other words, cultural and congregational Christians, or the “squishy middle,” is collapsing while convictional Christians are staying relatively steady.
On the surface, it appears as though the church is bleeding members—the number of Christians in America is dwindling. But, as Stetzer observes, what the church is losing in number, it is gaining in strength.
Deepening of Faith
Growing up in a secularized culture exposes one to challenges and arguments surrounding the Christian faith that may not be as prevalent in a culture infected with Christianity. The old saying, “Because the Bible says so,” may have worked as an apologetic 40 years ago. But it is scoffed at today.
The secularization of culture requires the Christian to think beyond “because the Bible says so,” and answer the question, “So what if the Bible says so?” Defending the faith in such a way matures the Christian in ways a Christianized culture may not.
While a secularized culture may diversify the Christian and give him or her the opportunity to learn to defend the faith, such a culture certainly comes with its difficulties.
Three negatives of growing up in secularized culture
It’s never easy growing up in a culture different from your own. Whether you grow up as a missionary kid in Africa, a white kid on the south side of Chicago, or as a Muslim in rural America, cultural differences can be tense.
A study released last month in the Washington Post reveals some disturbing information:
The study of religious discrimination in hiring recently published in the journal Social Currents found job applicants whose résumés betrayed a religious affiliation were 26 percent less likely to be contacted by an employer — except for Jewish applicants.
Any matter of religion, Christian or otherwise, has become somewhat inflammatory in nature. The god of tolerance and its relative morality has usurped the God of the Bible on the throne of culture, and tolerance has no preference for other gods or ethical systems. Tolerance declares in an American Western sort of way, “This culture ain’t big enough for the both of us.”
In a number of roles over the last six years, I have taught and discipled students and many times I have to deal with this type of question, “Why does God have to give us all these rules?” The standard of righteousness put forth by God in His Word often comes off as some sort of otherworldly rulebook through which God hopes to rain on our parades and ruin all of our fun.
When I talk to students, I am reminded of the importance of God’s Word as it relates to culture and flourishing. God doesn’t give us rules and laws because He wants to keep us from having fun—God’s Word reveals how the world works best!
It’s no coincidence things go bad for us when we live contrary to His Word. It’s not that He’s punishing us, it’s that He knows how the world works. The Bible isn’t a spell book, a rule book, or a map. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to his people so we might know and love Him and understand how His world works.
When Christianity and its influence are absent from culture, society suffers. A culture void of the unconditional, sacrificial love found in the gospel of Jesus is a dark place.
Misunderstanding the Gospel
Perhaps the greatest negative when it comes to the secularization of culture is that the Christian’s understanding of the sinfulness of man has unnecessarily been received as hateful bigotry. God’s Word warns us, however, of how His message is going to be received.
1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.”
The things of God are foolish to those who are not of God. We cannot expect any different. The very idea a gospel that claims to be a message of “love” would condemn certain lifestyles is absurd in the eyes of the world. When the world and everything in it is about humanity, the Word of God is foolishness.
But the world and everything in it is not about humanity and its freedom, it’s about God and His glory. When one views the gospel through the lens of eternity, it comes into focus.