I just read (skimmed really) an article published online by Charisma Magazine called Year in Review: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel. Among other things, the article defines three different types of Christians. I’m listing them below because they’ll factor into my essay by the by:
- Couch-potato Christians: These Christians adapt to the culture by staying silent on the tough culture-and-faith discussions. Typically this group will downplay God’s absolute truths by promoting the illusion that neutrality was Jesus’ preferred method of evangelism.
- Cafeteria-style Christians: This group picks and chooses which Scripture passages to live by, opting for the ones that best seem to jive with culture. Typically they focus solely on the “nice” parts of the gospel while simultaneously and intentionally minimizing sin, hell, repentance and transformation.
- Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.
While the author is focused on this crisis in Evangelicalism, it’s not unique to Christianity. One of the long-standing issues in Judaism is assimilation of Jews to either secular culture or conversion to Christianity.
Last May, Arutz Sheva published Assimilation, the Jewish people’s worst nightmare outlining this, although a little over two years ago, Tablet Magazine posted an article called Why the Myth of Vanishing American Jewry is so Hard to Dispel.
All of these essays are very long and I’ll admit in not reading the entire content of each one.
In general though, the blame for Christians leaving the church or creating churches that are largely secular in their values, as well as for Jews assimilating and either identifying as cultural (but not religious) Jews or at least joining liberal Reform synagogues, is laid squarely at the feet of popular, secular culture, and by that I mean progressive liberalism.
I recently reviewed a book written by the late Andrew Breitbart titled Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World. It was written during the Obama administration and covered how the news media, entertainment industry, and university system have all been co-opted by socialism and liberalism so that they have almost overwhelming control of the national “message” being transmitted today.
But while Breitbart was addressing how Tea Party conservatives could fight back and send a message of their own, I can see parallels between his points and how religious structures in our country, really in western culture, are being impacted in the same way.
The question is, assuming all this is correct, how can Jews and Christians (and I’m including Messianics in this mix) successfully communicate their/our values to the next generation and make it stick?
As I wrote in my previous blog post, I haven’t been particularly successful in that arena.
Of course this comes to mind:
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.
–Proverbs 22:6 (NASB)
That sounds nice in theory, but is it really successful?
You aren’t her parents anymore, her parents are Axl Rose and Madonna, you can’t compete with that kind of constant bombardment.
-Albert Gibson (played by Tom Arnold)
from the film True Lies (1994)
As our culture increasingly diverges from the values taught in Christianity and Judaism, it sends a powerful message to everyone, including younger people who want to be relevant and not perceived as an enemy or bigot by their larger peer group.
And our modern culture has a much larger and louder public relations department than the family our religious instructors.
So is it hopeless?
I hope not. On the other hand, you’d just about have to keep kids locked in a closet and never let them on the internet, watch TV, listen to the radio, go out to watch movies, or go anywhere and associate with anyone except like-minded religious people.
Only the most conservative and reclusive groups do that kind of thing. In fact, I’ve encountered some progressives that think raising Jewish children as Orthodox and controlling their hair styles, clothing, and educational environment is a form of child abuse (although for some strange reason, they don’t have the same problems with Muslims).
Not only does secularism teach values different from the Church and Synagogue, but they teach that Christian and Jewish values (conservative or traditional ones) are bad, wrong, homophobic, islamophobic, racist, sexist, patriarchal, misogynistic, and so on.
No one wants to be thought of as a bigot, but the message being transmitted is that religious thought and observance is all of those things, and the only way to not be a bigot is to stop being religious (or create a religion that embraces secular progressive values).
I’m sure there are young Christian and Jewish people out there who have adhered to their religious values to one degree or another, but it certainly seems as if we’re trying to repair a ripped artery with chewing gum and scotch tape.
I know there are plenty of pundits who have written about the “culture wars” and what to do about it, but I’m not so sure how successful their solutions are (if they have any).
One problem that I don’t think is being addressed was raised by the Charisma Mag author:
Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.
The problem is whether their values are truly based in the Bible, or based rather upon conservative Christian interpretation and tradition?
I came across the notion of “teaching correct doctrine” in my previous sojourn in church. I left over two years ago, but my experiences are still vivid in my memory.
The problem might not always be religious vs. secular values, but how religious values are defined and understood.
Messianics, by definition, have come to the conclusion that normative Christianity does not have an entirely correct understanding of the Bible, especially when it comes to the Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people.
In fact, at least in my own experience, the Church has been wrong about so many things, that I’ve re-examined at large number of topics, including Christianity’s and Judaism’s stand on Gays in the church as well as in the Synagogue.
I came up with an answer that is a lot more nuanced than “Homosexuality is an abomination,” but still determined that Same-sex sex and marriage is not presupposed anywhere in the Bible.
But I looked, I didn’t just assume.
That might be a big problem younger people are having with religion. Conservative Christians and Jews rely on what they were taught and the explanations they were provided without engaging in an honest investigation into those beliefs.
Instead of just telling some young person “Homosexuality is a sin” or “Eve made Adam sin with the apple,” maybe engaging them and taking them through an investigation as to why these values are adhered to. Further, if a traditional value is discovered to be false (“the Church replaced the Jews in all God’s covenant promises”), adjust or eliminate the value.
While some churches have done this relative to Israel and the Covenants, other Christians have found it necessary to leave the Church and to either join Messianic congregations or, lacking access, finding online venues to nurture their beliefs and values.
But conducting an extensive investigation of scripture to define religious values takes time, effort, and resources, plus the willingness to question your own traditions. Christianity and Judaism might not be willing to do that, since tradition has a tendency to take on a life of its own.
One final point, and this has been said before, is that parents and religious teachers must walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Most younger people will learn more about your values by watching you live them out (or your failure to do so) than anything you’ll ever tell them.
That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but you do have to be consistent. If cultural values lure you in at one level or another, you will probably lose the war for the next generation.
I wonder if we already have?