Editor’s Note: Over the past twenty-four months or so, one of the questions we receive most often is how Western culture changed so rapidly. Our response is … it didn’t. All of what we are witnessing has been in the works for a very long time. We and others have been writing and speaking on this for decades. In the process of reformatting our past Journal articles into web-ready blogs, I came across just such an article, written ten years ago and printed in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of the Midwest Christian Outreach Journal. Oh, it isn’t short.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19, ESV)
As a youth, I grew up in a family that was not Christian. My father was an Atheist but not really a philosophical Atheist. I doubt if he really thought through his beliefs, but he was a consistent Atheist – perhaps one of the most consistent Atheists I have known. He simply asserted God did not exist, and thus, he lived life as he chose. My mother, although having gone to church as a child, did not bring her former experience into the home. There wasn’t much in the way of spiritual discussions, but she did read and believe the writings of Edgar Cayce, who was known as “The Sleeping Prophet.” (He was a psychic who advocated reincarnation and other Eastern metaphysical beliefs/practices.) She would go to mediums to have her future read, and one of her best friends, after my parents divorced, was a practicing witch. In spite of all this, we grew up in an essentially Judeo/Christian culture. Whether one was a Christian or not, the Judeo/Christian moral values and ethos generally permeated the Western world, particularly the United States. Christianity had a comfortable place in our world. Sure, there was rebellion, but then we really cannot look to any time in history where there wasn’t rebellion against something. Supposedly, Plato claimed that Socrates said:
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners and contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.1Bartleby.com, Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989: accessed 1/14/2024
Someone might have believed in reincarnation, and although Christians viewed that as false, it was rare that the person was vilified for their belief. The Civil Rights Movement exploded on the scene in the 1960s, and it, too, was based on a Judeo/Christian worldview. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders preached essentially Bible-based sermons to advocate the idea of treating all people – regardless of color – with respect. Pornography was available, but it was regarded as wrong, and even though Playboy Magazine could be purchased from under the counter, it was carried out of the store in a brown paper wrapper. Sexuality was not flaunted. Individuals could choose to go against the prevailing morals and ethics, but there was a certain inner sense of shame they felt in doing so.
However, the winds of change had been blowing gently behind the scenes and were bringing with them a revolution, but few noticed. That is the thing about real revolutions, the most effective ones, at least. They happen so quietly that you don’t see them until they are done, and then, it’s too late.
Were There Warnings?
The short answer is “yes.” However, because Christianity was so comfortable, and its morals and ethics were such an integral part of cultural thinking, the warnings went ignored or unnoticed. We and others have written on many of these issues in the past, but a recap might be in order.
A living, vibrant Christianity had retreated from cultural engagement in the 1930’s and 40’s. At the same time, those who adhered to Darwinist and Communist/Marxist/Socialist worldviews (going under the name “Progressives”) filled the significant vacuum bequeathed to the halls of academia. Christians created and maintained a sort of “Christian ghetto” in an attempt to protect their offspring from exposure to ideas (either against or not compatible with Christianity) that would challenge their faith. Progressivism nearly won in the 1930s and 40s in the social and financial areas of the nation. However, two critical things happened, which seemed to stem the tide for a while.
First, Social Darwinist Adolph Hitler lost the war, and the world saw the result of social Darwinism and the eugenics it espoused. This slowed the impact of the beliefs and teachings of Margaret Sanger (foremost birth control/abortion/eugenics advocate) and other Progressives in their work of pruning the “human garden” to aid evolution for the further advancement of whom they viewed as the most highly evolved … the white race.
Second: There was the rise of the Conservative Intellectual Movement of 1945, which was mostly led by Roman Catholic thinkers and businesspeople who made a strong case for Capitalism. Progressivism was the main point of view taught at the big universities by this time, which was the impetus for the book God and Man at Yale written by (then) young, conservative thinker William F. Buckley, Jr. His basic point was that it is fine to teach pro-communism/Progressivism and against Capitalism, but Yale and, by extension, the other universities should be honest with their Capitalist donors. As you might guess, the book stirred up quite a hornet’s nest of controversy.
During the 1950s, psychiatry/psychology really began to come into its own with the advent of Abraham Maslow’s humanistic psychology. Maslow’s theories included the hierarchy of needs, self-actualization, and peak experiences as a way to become fully human. Intellectual elites and cultural thought-shapers began changing the way man thought about himself and others. Psychiatrists and psychologists became the new priests of the new religion. Both of these were road markers or warnings about what was coming, but few recognized it.
Each of these four areas (church abandoning culture, the rise of Socialism, economics, psychiatry/psychology) transformed Western civilization and, when combined, brought about a cultural U-turn back to where society was when the church was born in the first century. The common denominator of each area was that it challenged the Judeo/Christian worldview and its claim to be the base of reality.
The false worldview of Darwinism eliminated the need for a Creator. In this view, we and, in fact, all of creation are little more than accidents in time and space. Once the cosmos accidentally and for no apparent reason sparked, the universe simply mutated and changed until everything we see came to be all by itself- divided over time and sheerly by chance. Throughout the 1960s, the move was made to teach Darwinism alongside Creationism in school. Within a few years of winning that right in court, Creationism was soon eliminated from public education. Teaching the truth of God as Creator was no longer deemed necessary, and therefore, God’s morals and ethics could easily be swept aside.
With the Christians near abandonment of the major universities, the worldviews of Karl Marx, Lenin, and others would shape the thinking of the future educators, politicians, public servants, and, yes, leaders in the church. In addition to the liberalism that had been growing within the church, Liberation Theology (Marxism wrapped in Christian terminology) was birthed and growing in the 1950s and 60s. Without the active involvement of Christians in areas of cultural thought, those who were shaping the world went on without biblical influence, having what we might call a “Christian hangover.” The influence of Judeo/Christian morality continued for a while longer-more by habit than anything else; but the hangover would dissipate, and the Christian worldview would be abandoned. Until that happened, Christianity would continue to feel comfortable and safe.
Christian Capitalism had been the driving force of the U.S. economy nearly from the beginning. Communism had been tried within the settlement of Jamestown (from 1607 to 1611) and was a miserable failure.2“When US tried Communism [History of Jamestown: 1607 to 1611]” Rakesh Wadhwa, Jan. 24, 2005; accessed 1/14/2024 In his excellent book, Urban Apologetics, in the chapter on “Christ and Social Justice,” pastor and author Christopher W. Brooks wrote:
In Sirico’s opinion, Christian capitalism has proven to be the most effective means for helping ensure financial freedom for all. He states, “Capitalism offers wide ownership of property, fair and equal rules for all, strict adherence to the rule of ownership, opportunities for charity, and the wide use of resources.”
To some, this may sound naively optimistic, but Father Sirico spells out and explains his philosophy of the virtues of a market-based economic approach in his book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. The underpinnings of his view on what makes an economy just and good is a right cosmology. Our cosmology is our belief on how the world has been created and the practical principles that should impact the way we live as a result of those beliefs. For Father Sirico, cosmology begins with the fact that an all-powerful and all-good God who has created the universe has also made man with intrinsic dignity and in His image. Therefore, a moral economy is built upon two pillars: first, cultivating humanity’s dependence upon God as creator and sustainer; second, a moral economy, which preserves a person’s intrinsic dignity by ensuring equality of opportunity, not equal outcomes.3Christopher W. Brooks, Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City, Kregel Publications, 2014, 141
Like Darwinism and its impact on science, there is much more to this issue. However, our shift away from a Christian free market and toward Communist/Socialist economics eliminated the need for Judeo/Christian economic morals and ethics and, by extension, any reliance on God. In this economic environment, the State (Federal Government) decrees what is fair and right, redistributes wealth as it sees fit, and removes any personal responsibility toward one another. Those who resist are punished. Morals and ethics are no longer derived from the God Who exists outside and separate from creation, but instead, they are decreed and enforced through a mobocracy as administered by the mob in power at any given time.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow impacted a young pastor by the name of Robert Schuller, who founded a church at a drive-in theater in Southern California that later became the Crystal Cathedral. Up until then, humans were viewed as flawed – basically not good – and laws, morals, and ethics protected society from bad individuals. Psychology, on the other hand, persuaded its adherents that everyone is a victim. Whatever angst you felt, issue you faced, or sin to which you were prone was no longer to be viewed as your own fault, but rather, it was the fallout of someone else’s actions. Schuller grabbed onto Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and built a church based on satisfying your “felt needs.” Armed with “positive self-esteem” (you really are good) and “the power of positive thinking,” you could accomplish anything. As Schuller wrote:
Sin is any act or thought that robs myself of [sic] another human being of his or her self-esteem.4Robert F. Schuller, Self Esteem the New Reformation, Jove Publishers, 1985, p 14
Jesus never call [sic] a person a sinner.5 Robert F. Schuller, Self Esteem the New Reformation, Jove Publishers, 1985, p 100, 126
Feelings became the arbiter of what is true. As the high priests of psychology invaded culture and psychology became the grid through which the Bible would be interpreted, the church began changing direction and its understanding of human nature. The new view being embraced in culture was that humans are basically good; therefore, laws, morals, and ethics needed to change to protect the good individual from evil society. The four seemingly separate threads (as previously outlined) running through the church and culture were tributaries that emptied into the river of cultural change in the mid-1970s and afterward.
The Tributaries Converge
By the mid-1970s, some new movers and shakers in the church concluded that evangelism was supposed to be done in the church by professionals. Training, equipping, and challenging believers to share their faith in the marketplace virtually vanished, and a sort of Christian multi-level marketing plan was created as the “Church Growth Movement” was born. The ministry of the church [i.e., training, equipping, praying (with and for), and comforting believers was gradually abandoned, and the mission of the church (the proclamation of the Gospel outside the walls of the church) replaced it. As much as was possible, anything that might be “offensive” to unbelievers was eliminated, and a user-friendly “experience” replaced it. Unwittingly, psychology became the grid through which the Bible was to be understood and to convey “spiritual” truth. Personal experience and feeling good about faith were the arbiters of what was true.
In another segment of the church, the breath-taking recognition that culture had shaken off the hangover of Judeo/Christian morality set in. The attempt to reinsert itself into cultural thought-shaping began in earnest with the advent of the Moral Majority (1979) and the election of Ronald Reagan. But the “die had been cast,” as they say. Although slowing down the new cultural change slightly, Christianity was regarded as passé and viewed as limiting one’s personal rights and individualism.
So, on the one hand, some churches were working at looking more and more like culture in an effort to “be relevant,” while on the other hand, other churches were working hard at reclaiming culture for the faith and restoring the moral and ethical guidance which had previously been provided by Christianity. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the shift away from belief in objective, knowable truth was underway in earnest, and “relative truth” was embraced by the culture. Morality was no longer considered objective and knowable because according to the new thinking – it was not objective and knowable. The prevailing belief that everyone was entitled to “their own truth” resulted in those who were attempting to demonstrate the folly of this absurdity were now being marginalized. Sure, Evangelicals had the right to hold to their truth, but they were not to question culture’s new relativism or say anyone else’s claims were false.
President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the “War on Poverty” in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. Although well intended – after all, we would like to eliminate poverty – this would have a detrimental impact in several areas over time. Churches and charitable organizations would play less of a role in assisting the poor, not only in supplying food, clothes, and other needs but also in guiding them to take personal responsibility and training them to provide for themselves. As a result, the spiritual guidance that previously came from those organizations was eliminated from the life of the community. As the Federal Government programs grew and rewarded bad behavior and irresponsibility, poorer communities began realizing they received more benefits by having more children out of wedlock. Therefore, there was greater dependence on an increasingly Socialist government that worked at eroding Judeo-Christian morals and ethics and replacing them with new ethics-the new ethics of self. Hard work, taking risks, entrepreneurship, and business success came to be viewed as evil, and Capitalism was made the “boogeyman” and cause of all the world’s ills.
Fundamentally Changing America
Although true faith has always been personal and salvation is individual, it has also been connected to and taken place as part of a community. Although rugged individualism has always been highly valued in the United States (and, indeed, in many cultures), until recently, it has never been disconnected from responsibility to the community. The rugged individual was respected not only because he or she could fend for and provide for himself/herself but also because they stood up for the weak and the hurting and was their protector. This is reflected in our books, films, and stories. Gladiator, Brave Heart, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List are all morality tales of rugged individuals who suffered great loss or started out being self-centered but who were transformed into heroes whose lives inspired others through their self-sacrifice. The scene of Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List as he is preparing to flee ahead of the arrival of the Allied Forces reduces us to tears:
Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just … I could have got more.
Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Oskar Schindler: If I’d made more money … I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just …
Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Oskar Schindler: I didn’t do enough!
Itzhak Stern: You did so much. [Schindler looks at his car.]
Oskar Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. [removing Nazi pin from lapel] This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. [sobbing] I could have gotten one more person … and I didn’t! And I … I didn’t!6Schindler’s List (1993), screenplay by Steve Zaillian, book by Thomas Keneally – http://blog.blcklst.com/category/schindlers-list/; accessed 1/14/2024
The transformation of a self-centered opportunist to an other-centered rescuer sacrificing everything to save the lives of more than 1,100 human beings well reflects the Judeo-Christian morals and ethics of the period in which this true story occurred.
In contrast, the new individualism is based on denying personal responsibility. Healthcare paid for by someone else is deemed a “right.” A guaranteed high wage is a “right” whether one is qualified, industrious, or not. Beliefs are idolized as personal and subjective, and no one has a “right” to claim another individual’s or group’s beliefs are false. Churches and religious organizations may be allowed to provide for the poor or hurting as long as they exclude any biblical teaching or moral guidance from the Scriptures.
Subsequently, sexual sin is now outdated. Homosexuality must not only be affirmed as normal, but also must be celebrated; and marriage can be redefined to include same gender unions! This slippery slope will be further expanded to include those beliefs that advocate other deviant sexual proclivities. Even now, university academics are making the case that pedophilia is normal.7The Telegraph, “Paedophilia is natural and normal for males”, Andrew Gilligan; assessed 1/14/2024 An Australian court is considering legalizing incest.8“Australian judge says incest may no longer be a taboo,”; accessed 1/15/2024 Being a financially successful businessperson is now judged to be a great moral evil. Objecting to the federally approved and perpetrated religions of Darwinism and/or Climate Change are the unpardonable sins. Christian clubs on college and university campuses may have to accept members (and even have leaders) into their group who are diametrically opposed to the groups’ beliefs and charter.9Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, accessed 1/15/2024 All religious views, groups, and most anything which is opposed to Christianity is protected, while the move to eliminate Christianity from being seen or heard in the public square is underway. All claims must be tolerated except, of course, biblical Christianity.
There has been quite a bit of angst that the current President and his administration are fundamentally changing America, and it does seem that way. In reality, they have merely pulled back the curtain to expose all of the fundamental changes that these four tributaries have already brought about as they flowed into the river of culture. It was little observed as it took place. The warning signs were missed, and the revolution is over. First-century Paganism and beliefs have resurfaced and reclaimed culture. The Church Growth Movement gave birth to the Emergent Church, which, in many cases (Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Jim Wallis, et al.), has embraced cultural Paganism in the name of being “missional.” The belief is a dangerous self-deception. Dr. Randy White, in his article “Why I am Leaving the Church Growth Movement,” writes:
Even if I believed that these “missions projects” were as successful as the church websites claim (“we had an awesome God-thing happen at our last gathering”), I don’t think it has any lasting impact. As I see it, the Christian is not so much to engage his society, but to come out from it. The church today is filled with those who are both in the world and of the world, and who are organized to change the world into a kinder, gentler place to be. The success rate of the megachurch missional-church movement has been an utter failure. Society is more liberal and godless than ever before, with no end to its decline in sight. The mega missional church will gather in their multi-campus celebrations this weekend and slobber over themselves for their victories, even while these same churches have been totally impotent to bring about societal change.10“Why I am Leaving the Church Growth Movement,” Dr. Randy White; accessed 1/15/2024
Why is this the case? They maintain an illusion of being biblically centered:
Thirdly, I reject the missional-community church growth movement because it is deceptive. Participants in these churches feel like they are stalwart conservatives in a Bible-believing, Gospel-proclaiming, Hell-reducing, Kingdom-expanding church. They consistently proclaim, “My preacher really preaches the Bible.” True, their preacher does hold up a Bible and talk about how true and authoritative it is. He even quotes from the Bible fairly consistently (“I know the plans I have for you … I will never leave you nor forsake you … I am come that you might have life more abundantly … (and, of course) bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse”). What these church members do not know is that they have adopted the leftist agenda (socialism) or neo-con agenda (reconstructing a Christian society), which is as empty as it has always been.11“Why I am Leaving the Church Growth Movement,” Dr. Randy White; accessed 1/15/2024
Many Christians, Joy and me included, mourn the passing of Judeo-Christian morals and values from culture, but is that because it was truly more God-honoring, or was it just more comfortable to Christians? We are not sure, but suspect it is the latter. When someone like Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy affirms his belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, the media and government officials rise up as one voice to utterly and publicly condemn him. He has no right to such a belief and must be punished. Brendan Eich, founder and former CEO of Mozilla Firefox, was forced to resign after it became public knowledge he had donated $1,000 of his personal finances in 2008 to support Proposition 8 in California. We do not know if Eich is a Christian or not, but the situation demonstrates that supporting what is commonly viewed as Judeo-Christian morality will not be tolerated. We have reached the end of comfortable Christianity. So, where do we go from here?
A Silver Lining?
In many ways, we find the church is in the same type of culture in which it was born in the first century. It was not embraced by the powers that be, was not welcomed, or made to feel comfortable. Christians rejected the idea of multiple gods, insisted that there was only one true God, and were condemned as Atheists. All truth claims were regarded as equally true, valid, and tolerated, provided one swore, “Caesar is Lord.” Christians refused and refused to participate in Caesar worship. This comes through clearly, as Paul instructed in Romans 10:9-13, that salvation comes by swearing, “Jesus is Lord.” This differing affirmation was a punishable offense. In their context, the church was the place where ministry occurred. Sound biblical teaching informs the right Christian thought and living. In a culture that reveled in sexual promiscuity, Christians were to refrain from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5). Sex was part of the rituals in a number of first-century beliefs and practices: Dionysus with orgies, Aphrodite also with orgies and sacred prostitutes, and Thesmophoria for married women to engage in sacred ritual sex/fertility rites. The Etruscans practiced wife-sharing, and no one knew who the father of any individual child was. Most Roman men of means had not only a wife but also a mistress and a Catamite (a young boy with whom the man would have sexual relations). Christians eschewed all of these practices. The Apostle Paul stated that he didn’t judge outsiders but that we must judge these things within the church (1 Corinthians 5:12).
Christians were pro-life and regularly went out in search of abandoned babies and took them in to raise as their own. They demonstrated the power of Christ living in them by the way they lived their lives (Col. 1:27) and were trained to defend their beliefs to the non-Christians around them (Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15). Each believer was a missionary to those they met (2 Tim. 4:2). The idea to figure out ways to get non-believers to come into church so the professional could sneak up on them with the Gospel is foreign to Scripture. So, what should the local church change? In his excellent book Urban Apologetics, Pastor Christopher W. Brooks uses Martin Luther as an example:
In The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther, we learn what made Luther’s ministry and his local church so special: “Besides his academic work, Luther had also assumed responsibility of the parish of Wittenberg as a preacher. In their inseparable connectedness, these two, lectern and pulpit, formed together the decisive continuum of Luther’s theological existence.” Put another way, what made Castle Church so special was Luther’s commitment to training believers to become theologically proficient and practically equipped to live out their faith in the Wittenberg context. It is precisely this type of commitment to discipleship and contextualization that is needed in every local church and in the life of every apologist. That is to say that every apologist needs a church, and every church needs an apologist. One could argue that it was Luther’s connection to Castle Church that created the platform for the birthing of the Protestant Reformation.12Christopher W. Brooks, Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City, Kregel Publications, 2014, 145-146
This really is what we see in Scripture: elders were commissioned to guard the flock from false teaching creeping into the church and from false teachers rising up within the church (Acts 20: 28-31). They were to teach and practice sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:11-16). Yes, they would be ridiculed. No, they did not have a comfortable faith. They were dragged before the authorities and publicly accused; well let’s read it:
These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus. (Acts 17:6-7, ESV)
Do you suppose that’s how they transformed civilization?Ω
© 2024, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.
|Bartleby.com, Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989: accessed 1/14/2024
|“When US tried Communism [History of Jamestown: 1607 to 1611]” Rakesh Wadhwa, Jan. 24, 2005; accessed 1/14/2024
|Christopher W. Brooks, Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City, Kregel Publications, 2014, 141
|Robert F. Schuller, Self Esteem the New Reformation, Jove Publishers, 1985, p 14
|Robert F. Schuller, Self Esteem the New Reformation, Jove Publishers, 1985, p 100, 126
|Schindler’s List (1993), screenplay by Steve Zaillian, book by Thomas Keneally – http://blog.blcklst.com/category/schindlers-list/; accessed 1/14/2024
|The Telegraph, “Paedophilia is natural and normal for males”, Andrew Gilligan; assessed 1/14/2024
|“Australian judge says incest may no longer be a taboo,”; accessed 1/15/2024
|Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, accessed 1/15/2024
|“Why I am Leaving the Church Growth Movement,” Dr. Randy White; accessed 1/15/2024
|Christopher W. Brooks, Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City, Kregel Publications, 2014, 145-146