Scarcely a week goes by when I don’t hear about some prominent Christian seeking to arrive at an accommodation with the broader culture in the name of “relevance.”
A recent high-profile example involves a prominent New York City pastor whom I greatly admire, in which he and his wife justified their not taking a position on same-sex marriage because “Jesus [never] addressed it on the record in front of people.”
Let’s set aside his questionable hermeneutics, and instead focus on the futility of what he and others are trying to do. I certainly do not question his good intentions: I’m certain he believes that talking about controversial issues will only get in the way of his trying to bring people to Christ, and I understand that.
Let’s also set aside the issue of what kind of disciples this avoiding of two thousand years of settled Christian teaching can produce. Again, for now let’s focus on the futility of trying to arrive at an accommodation with a culture that is continually, to borrow a phrase, moving the goal posts.
My friend and colleague Roberto Rivera recently illustrated this point at BreakPoint.org with regard to movies and television. For the past few decades, many Christians have eschewed previous criticism of specific content such as nudity, sexual situations, and violence for what was considered to be a more “nuanced” approach. And I’m one of them.
But as Roberto noted, while this was happening, producers, screenwriters, and directors “doubled down” on the objectionable content. A show like “Game of Thrones” contains levels of nudity, sex, and violence that would have been unimaginable even a decade or so ago, even on pay cable.
And there’s no sign that this trend will reverse itself. The price we’ll pay for nuance and being conversant in cultural trends will be to rationalize watching things that are frankly harder and harder to justify watching.
As another colleague of mine put it, Christians have to realize that there are things that no Christian can “blamelessly watch.” At that point we have to willingly embrace being “out-of-step” and being thought of as perhaps “strange.”
So as Roberto Rivera put it, “we might as well be holy,” since seeking an accommodation with the culture is, in his words,” a “loser’s game.” As soon as we bend a little, they insist we bend some more and then some more again.
The same is of course true in the area of sexual ethics. No sooner did Christians concede that some hypothetical committed same-sex couples should perhaps be treated in ways similar to the way that married heterosexual couples are than the proverbial goalposts, as we said, were moved even farther.
Time magazine proclaimed the plight of transgendered people “America’s next civil rights frontier.” In the blink of the cultural eye we went from that hypothetical committed same-sex couple to denying that “male and female created He them.”
As Roberto put it, “There is no winning or even staying afloat in this game, so we might as well not play at all. We might as well intentionally embrace our status as outsiders and not care what people think of us.”
Now, does that mean we abandon the culture? Absolutely not. We engage the culture with truth and beauty where we can. But we do not participate in the unlovely and the obscene.
In other words, we need the courage to be different, which as Roberto pointed out, is an essential part of what it means to be holy—to be set aside. The fact that the alternatives will get us nowhere should make our choice obvious, if no less courageous.
Metaxas is currently the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org) that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million.
Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries