As the late Allan Bloom noted, a mind resolutely determined to be absolutely open is often, in actuality, quite closed. The closing of the postmodern mind will present a challenge for the church in this post-Christian age. Swirling worldviews and a reflexive relativism come together to form a mentality often closed to all substantive truth claims. Gathering clouds of darkness and the eclipse of truth present the believing church with a great challenge – will we surrender in a spirit of cultural compliance?
We must recognize that the church has been compliant for far too long, and if we are effectively to challenge the prevailing worldview of postmodern culture, the church must become a post-compliant people. What will it take for Christians in this generation to be awakened out of complacency and compliance? If we are complacent in this culture, if we are compliant in the face of its demands and expectations, then there will be no preaching of the gospel. There will be no authentic church. There will be no authentic Christian witness. We will withdraw into our Christian cave, and we will cower there. We will not witness, we will not work–we will simply retreat.
A recent debate between Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff is very revealing. In a book entitled Religion in the Public Square, Robert Audi takes the secular argument–which is the prevalent position in the academy–and argues that Christians have no right to make Christian arguments in the public square. It is fine for Christians to make arguments, he says; they just cannot show up as Christians. Following in the work of the philosopher John Rawls, Audi goes so far as to say that when we enter the public square, we must bring with us a purely secular rationale. In other words, any argument we make must be essentially and purely secular, and such arguments are to be motivated by secular concerns alone. They cannot even be spiritually motivated.
Think about what this means on the issue of homosexuality and homosexual marriage, to take just one example. I believe historians will one day point to this issue as the catalyst for a great and lamentable cultural revolution in America. The world will be categorically different the moment homosexual marriage is normalized in this country. Then we will find out how many Christians there are. We will find out how many churches there are. Who is going to recognize these same-sex unions? Who is going to solemnize these same-sex unions? Not the faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ! Any church that would normalize and celebrate what Scripture condemns has set itself in direct opposition to revelation, reason, and the witness of the martyrs. Those who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel did not do so in a spirit of cultural compliance.
Think for a moment about this issue of same-sex marriage in the context of Audi’s secular rationale. I was in Washington recently and heard a presentation in which a very well-informed person–one of the nation’s leading researchers on the issues of the day, said, “Look, we have to understand that we are not going to be able to bring God into the same-sex marriage debate. We are not going to be able to use spiritual and biblical arguments, so you Christian people are just going to have to understand that.” I was up next to speak, so I said in response, “Here is everything I know about marriage apart from God – nothing of binding significance. Now that that is out of the way, I can tell you that everything I know about marriage, everything I know about sex, everything I know about gender, everything I know about homosexuality, I know from the Word of God. That is all I know. That is all I can know, and I am not going to not talk about it. And if we lose this battle while preaching the Scriptures, then brothers and sisters, we lose gloriously!”
There are many who will say that what must be pressed in this debate over same-sex marriage are the deleterious social effects of undermining marriage – and leave all theologically-based arguments out of the picture. That argument, however, is not only wrong in principle, it is a pragmatic failure. We will never get anywhere with that, because the people driving the movement for normalizing homosexuality really aren’t primarily concerned about those issues. A culture that will compromise itself into accepting homosexual marriage will never really be convinced by such arguments. In the final analysis, all we have is the authority of the Word of God. We Christians are the world’s most eccentric people in a postmodern age. We are committed to a faith that is structured by a book that is two thousand years old. Beyond eccentric, we are increasingly seen as dangerous. A people who live by the light of an ancient book – and who dare to call it the very Word of God – will look exceedingly dangerous to the prevailing worldviews of this age.
The entire biblical truth claim is under assault in today’s culture. We see the tightening grip in the tenacity of all this onslaught. We see a culture that increasingly loves darkness rather than the light. We can see the logic of the culture, and we can see that the church has been compliant too long. Thus, when we turn to Hebrews chapter 12, we are confronted with an exhortation that instructs is that the reality must be different for us. The prophet Joel warned of that apocalyptic day of judgment that is coming–a day when the sun will turn to darkness and the moon will be turned to blood. In Hebrews 12, we are confronted with another warning of judgment–this time addressed to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews writes of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. One represents the covenant of old, and the other represents the New Covenant in Christ. Sinai represents thunder and shaking and fear; Zion represents the festive joy of the people of God in the work of Christ, in the Kingdom of the Redeemer.
In this passage, we are also told of a shaking that is about to come. In Hebrews 12:26, the author quotes from the prophet Haggai in chapter 2, verses 6-7: “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.'” Then the writer of Hebrews picks up by saying. “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)
We are now in a time of shaking, and there is more shaking yet to come. As we read the book of Hebrews, this too is pointing towards an eschatological shaking and sifting. But just as in Joel, there is both an eschatological and a present application. There is a shaking now happening in this generation, and this shaking will be followed by more and more violent shaking yet. We are about to see what remains and what falls. In this time of shifting and sifting and shaking, we are going to be tested, and we are going to find out what we are made of.
Look at Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Yes, there is a whole lot of shaking going on! But there is one kingdom that cannot be shaken, and that is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What does that kingdom look like? It is certainly a kingdom of victory, but it is sometimes a victory that doesn’t look to observers like victory. Look at Hebrews 11:32: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated–of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:32-38)
I think it is fair to say that to the casual, outside observer, this picture does not look much like victory. But in the eyes of faith, it doesn’t get any more victorious than what this passage declares. We don’t get to choose our times. We don’t get to choose our challenges. We didn’t choose to live in a post-Christian age. We didn’t choose to confront the postmodern mind, but this is where we are, and it is time that we become a post-compliant church. While all is shaking and shaken around us, the one thing that cannot be shaken is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this kingdom is visible in His church.
In a post-Christian age, confronted with the challenge of the postmodern mind, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be a post-compliant people. Anything less is just another form of spiritual surrender.