Christians* in a Pagan Empire

I see the panic in some people’s eyes. I see the confusion.  They seem to be saying, “What happened? I thought we were a Christian nation.”

The point of this blog post is not to debate if the Founding Fathers of the  United States of America founded it as a Christian nation. The answer to that question seems to depend on the perspective from which one begins. Clearly, in the early 1800s, Christianity in its Protestant and comparatively speaking, evangelical form, had an enormous influence over the direction of the country. What some stand in shock of today, the loss of that influence, began gradually in the late 1800s, but it has accelerated exponentially in recent years. In other words, we shouldn’t be shocked.

Also, we should not panic. On one hand, we should not retreat from the public square, build walls around what remains of us, and scream and shout at those outside. The Pagan Empire that I refer to in the title is not the USA but rather the Roman Empire. Christianity has been in this situation before today. In fact, it thrived there. It may thrive again if we prove ourselves to be faithful, which brings me to the other hand.

We must not give in to the temptation to compromise with the world, to heed the call to “modernize” or “post-modernize” or whatever philosophy rules this month. So-called progressive Christians who encourage us to compromise with the world so that we can continue to have a voice are terribly deceived. First of all, to compromise Biblical truth in exchange for worldly influence (yes, some conservative, fundamental Christians are guilty of this as well) is not progress but regression. Also, historically, such assumptions have proven false. Sociologists Peter Finke and Rodney Starke in their book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, point out that the churches that thrived in the USA were “aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.”(Finke and Starke, 2005, p. 1) They also assert that those churches and denominations that “rejected traditional doctrines” and “ceased to make serious demands of their followers” declined.

So, the the first step for Christians and churches to thrive in our present situation is to accept it for one it is. We are one voice among many competing voices, some of which also claim to speak for Christianity. We live in a pluralistic nation, but we do not accept pluralism. (For a more in-depth discussion of that last sentence please find and read the book that I reviewed here.) Yet, we have the right to speak (at least for now) and to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us do so faithfully and boldly. And let us learn from Scripture–from those who came before us–how to live as Christians in a “pagan” world.

Over the next several days or weeks (I don’t know yet), I will write blog posts about Scripture passages that speak to how we should relate to government and society, even when both stand against us. Today, I dealt with the first step we must take–accept reality for what it is. We do not live in a Christian nation, nor do Christians have the influence that they once enjoyed.

Our priority is to share the Gospel and make disciples. But the Bible says other things about how to relate to those around us. What will follow are steps that have no particular order. I hope to write a blog post on each one.

  • Pray for leaders, for our nation, and for the church.
  • What the Bible says about paying taxes.
  • What the Bible says about obeying laws.
  • What the Bible says about doing right to all people.
  • What the Bible says about the priority of obeying God above all others.
  • What happens when the price for following God is high.

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*Yes, I am using Christian here to refer to conservative, evangelical Christianity. Yes, I know there is a broader meaning. I do not mean to exclude so much as not to have to explain what I mean in every paragraph.

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Review of Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage

(Full Disclosure: Baker Books provided me with a free copy of this book for review purposes. I am under no obligation to write a positive review.)

In Same Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet courageously take on perhaps the most controversial subject of our day.

“Thoughtful” is a fitting description of this book. In the first part of the book, the authors consider what has happened in the culture regarding marriage. They also explain why traditional marriage is important from theological, cultural, and sociological perspectives. In the second part, they explain what Christians can do in light of the cultural push not only for same-sex marriage but also to silence any opposing point of view.

Many consider any opposition to same-sex marriage or support for traditional marriage in necessarily the result of hate and bigotry. Some will reject McDowell and Stonestreet’s book outright for those reasons. However, reasonable readers will recognize that they have thoughtfully and without malice presented an alternative to today’s cultural narrative.

Unlike many apologetic books, someone who did not major in philosophy can understand this book. It equips one to argue in favor of traditional marriage thoughtfully and without becoming shrill or resorting to clichés. It is an excellent book.

Review of The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw by Norman L. Geisler and Daniel J. McCoy

(Full disclosure: Baker Books provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. I am under no obligation to give a favorable review.)

Main Idea of the Book

In The Atheist’s Fatal FlawNorman L. Geisler and Daniel J. McCoy seek to point out inconsistencies in atheist’s arguments against the Christian God’s existence. Namely, they point to the contradiction between atheist’s claims that if the Christian God were real, he would have to do something to stop moral evil and the idea what God has done to prevent moral evil is in fact immoral because it violates human freedom. These ideas contradict one another because the atheist on one hand insists that a good god would prevent evil in a way that would logically limit human freedom while at the same time insisting that a good god should do nothing to limit human freedom. It is an inconsistency that cannot sustain itself, and Geisler and McCoy believe that an intellectually honest atheist would have to back away from one side or other of the argument. The authors, also, point out that what atheists deny a good god should do, they believe is acceptable when done by society.

Strengths of the Book

The authors believe that to argue against a position they must be able to state the opponent’s argument in a way their opponent would find acceptable. There are no straw man arguments in the book. The authors extensively quote atheists and take pains to state their views accurately. It is refreshingly to see a polemical issue approached in this way.

Another strength of the book is that the author’s state the scope and limits of their arguments clearly at the beginning of the book. Too many Christians pursue or think they have an argument that will shatter all atheist opposition. Geisler and McCoy do not claim to have that argument. Rather, they seek to equip their readers with the skills to recognize inconsistencies in the arguments of atheists. Christians can hope by pointing out such flaws that perhaps their atheist friend might be honest enough to doubt his or her own skepticism.

Weaknesses of the Book

Some readers may have the idea from ‘fatal flaw’ that this book will give the argument that shatters the atheist’s system. If such an argument existed, someone would have already wrote that book. Christian readers should know that no one comes to Christ apart from the Holy Spirit. The reader should not want more than what the authors offer. The arguments in the book are a place to stand one’s ground and coherently reply in a manner that hopefully will make the atheist more open to the Christian argument. The title perhaps should have been different but only because some readers may misunderstand the meaning. However, the title is correct in that the atheist’s argument against God’s existence fails due to the inconsistencies that Geisler and McCoy point out.

Another weakness is that certain sections of the book is not accessible to some readers. Readers who are unfamiliar with apologetics and philosophical arguments could feel frustrated in sections. However, most of the book is accessible to the average Christian, far more so that many apologetic books.

I recommend this book to Christians in settings where they interact with atheists or to people struggling with doubts about these issues. Geisler and McCoy give an excellent and brief counter to some of the arguments that atheists make.