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Rethinking Christian Discipleship for A Secular Culture
Things are constantly changing.
At times, those changes align, causing new paradigms to emerge. I think we are living in that kind of time. The shifts we are experiencing are forcing us to rethink the place of the church and the story of Jesus for a secular culture.
While many are trying to understand these changes fully, I think the words of a renowned Church global thinker are accurate when he notes, “the fundamental missionary experience is to live on terms set by others.” You might not consider yourself a missionary, but it is becoming increasingly clear that this new emerging secular culture will force you and me to at least start thinking like one. As part of this shift, let me suggest three things that need our attention again.
I am famous for having a selective memory of the past. I remember the good but leave out the bad. We use the phrase ‘Good Ole days’ without realizing our past also had many difficult challenges. The Bible states, “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
This is helpful, God-honoring wisdom. It is wisdom wrapped in the Biblical promise that God’s work and His kingdom continue no matter how unstable the future seems. As Christians, we must resist the temptation of just longing for some good old days when we felt in control or comfortable. God, the Holy Spirit, is with us as we move forward and “go and make disciples.” This happens when we learn from the past and remember we are not called to live or long for it.
For many, the word ‘secular’ triggers a strong defensive attitude. For others, there is an instant reaction to being afraid. Many use the term ‘secular’ to emphasize that the Christian narrative is no longer the dominant one. While these types of responses continue, we should be careful not to forget that there is an aspect of our secular culture that is not against Christianity. In fact, it’s not even anti-God or anti-religion. It is becoming clear that many are curious about faith and all kinds of spiritualities.
Last year TIME magazine highlighted the emerging trend of astrology and esoteric beliefs among young people. Although “younger generations are continuing a trend moving away from organized religion,” this is far from the atheistic world we anticipated. Our response to this must be to make disciples who can engage with this new world. Jesus sent his earliest followers out into a hyper-spiritual world, and they were sent to Go and Make Disciples (Matthew 28). For Christians, the hope of this command is only realized when we learn to live as those who trust Jesus and his teachings. The Jesus we worship as Lord entered our world and took on flesh for our sake. His life was a model of ways we may also need to be present as visible representatives of the Gospel in our secular age.
Let’s be honest. This is not what we signed up for or even expected. Having said the first disciples of Jesus also did not sign up for the joy and suffering of following Jesus in a complex, spiritually charged world. They knew what we were learning. We cannot just assume that by telling people about the Good News, they will understand and believe. Many are too indifferent to even argue against us.
I think that the apologist and theologian Alister McGrath provides us with a vision of our purpose and calling at this time. He writes, “if the gospel is proclaimed in a language that our culture cannot understand…then the church has failed in its mission.” It is clear, from my context, that the church is failing at this important call. I am learning that many people don’t even understand who Jesus was to even be offended. We must revisit what we believe in a way that invites others to explore it as well. Only then will we know when and how to share it with love, respect and wisdom as the Lord leads. Again, the Biblical truth stands true, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6).
The days of telling people what to believe are over. It’s time to teach people what Jesus has called us to by being witnesses of a new way of life. This is our first apologetic. Then, and only then, we will taste the deep joy of knowing that Jesus, our living Lord, still will us “until the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
For more on this topic, check out one of our recent episodes of “The Link” featuring Dr. Domenic Ruso. You can view it here ⬇️