Christians are in a unique place in history. Over the past 200 years, American Christians have experienced unparalleled prosperity and peace. We’ve had a reprieve in some ways of what has been the norm for all of Church history. Jesus promised that in this world we will have trouble. He was right, of course, there has been much trouble, both in the immediate days after Christ for his disciples and throughout history.
Because of the way this nation was founded, the laws of the land ran parallel in many ways to biblical ideals. I’m not saying the founders were all Christians, I don’t think that is true, but regardless, their worldview was undoubtedly influenced by Christian principles. Gregg Frazier has written an invaluable work that details the actual beliefs of the founders of the United States. Suffice it say, most of them could not sign the doctrinal statement at the church where I pastor, but their view of God, government, and family coalesced well with a biblical understanding.
Things are changing, fast. Christians find themselves frustrated and in shock at the cultural tsunami around them. It seems like this moral revolution, to borrow Al Mohler’s favorite term, fell out of nowhere, but did it?
In his book, Assumptions that Affect our Lives, Dr. Christian Overman lays out a paradigm that I’ve found extremely helpful. Notice the bullseye in the chart. Our worldview is the control center. Worldview establishes values. Values determine behavior. Once values take root and behavior becomes common place, our culture is shaped.
So often, we want to change culture but we neglect to see what has actually shaped the culture. Culture did not fall out of the sky, culture is shaped by individual behavior that stems from values that are shaped by worldview. We will accomplish very little cultural change by trying to change the culture. Cultural change will come when the gospel of Jesus Christ changes one’s worldview. Here’s what I mean by these four terms:
Authors have broken down this concept of worldview in different ways. I like to think of worldview as answering four questions: Where did we come from? What is wrong with the world? What is the solution? Where are we headed? Think about it. All of the world is trying to answer these questions. You can watch the news and pick out these four questions. The Christian answers are clear. We believe man is created by God in his image, we believe the problems of the world are a direct result of sin, we believe redemption in Jesus Christ is the ultimate answer for sin, and we believe God has a plan to return and set all things in order.
Your view of the world establishes what is important. Let’s take the abortion issue. Christians are informed by the Bible that life begins at conception, we are created imago dei, so therefore, we value all human life. Abortion is rampant not because of legislation, necessarily, it is rampant because people do not value human life.
You necessarily act on your values. CS Lewis talked about a sense of “oughtness” that man has. Distinct from the animal kingdom, man is wired to take risk that are driven not simply by a survival instinct but driven by our love for others and an inherent sense of right and wrong. If we want to change the way people act, we must change what they value.
Though the concept of culture could be a complex conversation, I’m only here using culture as a way to speak of the collective mood and actions of the people. When we try to change culture, renew culture, reinvent culture, or otherwise engage culture, we have noble desires that I think are often shooting at the right target but not quite the bullseye.
Let’s again take abortion as a test case. I often see stats about abortion being “America’s Holocaust.” I also see people create charts demonstrating those killed by abortion compared to various wars. These are often true stats and they are horrible. While these stats may stir up believers towards action, are they effective to change the mind of a pro-choice advocate? I doubt it. Why? Because they do not share your view that all life comes from God. If it’s just a clump of cells, then it has little value, therefore abortion is an option and hence, we have a culture that promotes abortion. The laws of a people will reflect the values of that people.
We have to be willing to have long conversations with people about what drives them to value what they value. We must learn to engage at the worldview level, not simply decry what we don’t appreciate in the culture. The “culture war” is a war in which a lot of punches are thrown but few are landed. When someone has their worldview rearranged through the gospel of Jesus Christ, true cultural change will come.