Whether we like it or not, the American culture is changing rapidly. Over many years, the trend toward pluralism has been growing and now is becoming reality. The idea that Judeo-Christian principles will be understood, much less accepted as de facto, is fast disappearing. Although there are clearly exceptions, the trend around us is unmistakable. Varying worldviews, presuppositions, and beliefs about the Divine and humanity are all emerging and vying for legitimacy and often control.
The sad, and often dangerous part, is that as diversity of worldviews grows, so does the tendency toward defensiveness, dominance and even hostility. How many times in the last few years have we been stunned at the sheer horror of watching people lose their life at the hands of someone who felt it was their right to assert their ideology or opinion over others. While far less frequent, but equally hurtful, is the hostility that increasingly characterizes the public rhetoric on big issues about which people feel deeply.
The initial reaction to this growing pluralism by our dominant Christian culture is resistance. Especially large segments of evangelical Christians take the stance that we must hold back the tide and preserve, if not protect, the Gospel of Christ against the attacks that confront it. Energy, money, and strategy is developed to create a wall to protect against the rising tide of encroaching pluralism and all the aberrant behaviors and beliefs that come with it. Media, state houses, and power centers of our nation swirl with hotly contested arguments that force people to the extremes of their belief devising better and more ways to defeat the opposition. And the militant attitude breeds a win/lose, zero-sum-game environment. Evangelical Christians are cast in the role, and sometimes take it on themselves, of being adversarial and in opposition to anything that is a threat to the Gospel.
Of course it would be nice to have a wonderful Christian environment where people are all centered on Jesus, the Bible is the central authority for faith and life and there is acceptance of one another even when there may be some differences of opinion. Well, that really sounds like the image of the Church that Jesus envisioned.
Part of this situation is really our own doing. With a history as a Christian nation, there has been little opposition to beliefs about God and the Bible that shaped the early days. No significant persecution, no serious threat to freedom, no real opposition to the moral truths of the Bible. And so we allowed ourselves to become comfortable with a Christian faith that became almost synonymous with daily American culture. The line between what is the gospel and what is culture is somewhat blurred. So, our sense of missiology (bringing the Kingdom on earth) is likewise blurred. Theology and missiology are confused.
Our theology does not change. Our understanding of God, Jesus, the Bible remains anchored. But if we are truly to advance the work of God in the world, our missiology must change as the environment in which we live out our faith changes. Very few people would expect that when missionaries take the Gospel to foreign cultures they begin with imposing expected behaviors. That would be unacceptable. In fact that kind of behavior resulted in the Peoples Republic of China outlawing foreign influence in religion. Rather, effective missiology always begins with listening, learning, and understanding. Once relationships are developing, the Gospel of Christ is implanted on the carrier waves of relational trust and with great care. That is how the Kingdom comes to the hearts of people, societies, and cultures. Demanding behaviors that are framed as litmus tests for Christian faith is no different than any other religion.