Evangelicalism and the Sickness of Western Culture Part 1 — Where Healing Begins

Evangelicalism and the Sickness of Western Culture Part 1 — Where Healing Begins

Wallace Henley |

Contemporary Western culture is critically ill.

This is the frequent lament of many evangelical Christians—including myself.

But it's time to face a hard fact: What's wrong with American (and Western) culture results from what's wrong with many churches and Christian movements within it.

The focus here is on evangelicalism for three reasons: we are often the most outspoken regarding the ills of culture; we seek to base our worldview on the Bible, and have passion for the application of biblical values in society; we have enough influence remaining to have tilted the voting balance in a presidential election.

But what if we are actually contributing to the problem?

Christopher Dawson wrote that Christianity is the soul of Western civilization. In a human, the "soul" is the psuche, or "psyche," according to the Greek New Testament. It is the organ of self-awareness and identity, thought, emotion, and volition.

In a living person, if the mind gets confused, emotional instability takes over, and erratic, destructive choices become the pattern. Such symptoms suggest the individual is having a nervous breakdown, or going insane.

Western culture is having a breakdown because the Western "soul" is losing its equilibrium. Consider just three symptoms of many currently evident among churches, Christian organizations and movements in one big chunk of the West, the United States:

  • Schizophrenia—A strange coalition ranging from dispensational Southern Baptists to health-wealth Pentecostals and Charismatics gathers periodically in the Oval Office—viewed by some as almost a civil "holy of holies"—while another group of evangelicals assembles at one of the monumental institutions of evangelicalism—Wheaton—to discuss their distress about "evangelicals in the age of Trump." When a president becomes the point of definition for what a true evangelical—or any biblical Christian—is or is not, the diagnosis is grim indeed.
  • Paranoia—Some liberal churches seem to view Donald Trump as the "Beast" of Revelation. Meanwhile, some conservative Christians appear to equate Hillary Clinton with Revelation's "Scarlet Woman." Many Christians walk in constant dread when God has called us to be givers of light and hope midst the gloom.
  • Irrationality—Even the Catholics are showing signs of soul-sickness with the scandal of clergy sexual abuse, and now the emergent pope leading the Catholic Church into postmodern theological ambiguity. Irish voters celebrate their new-found right to deprive their unborn children of their right-to-life in a country once called "staunchly Catholic."

But before we evangelical Christians judge the culture and other parts of the Body of Christ, we must first assess ourselves. The Bible we take as our infallible authority is in-our-face blunt: "it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God." (1 Peter 4:17)

If that was true for the church in first century Rome-"Babylon," the words are searingly relevant in our contemporary "Rome-Babylon"—especially when we consider the rest of the passage: "... if (judgment) begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?"

There is thus a direct link between the health of the Church within a society and the well-being of the culture itself. The principle is established in 2 Chronicles 7, as God says of Solomon's newly consecrated Temple,

"Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually..." (vss 15-17)

It is on this foundation that the great promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 stands:

"... if My people, who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Most Christians understand the Church to be the continuation of the Temple as the "building" of God, consisting now of "living stones," and hence the "place" authorized to call down blessing on the nations where the "living Temple" resides. (1 Peter 2:5)

The Church loses its authority to bless societies when it conforms to the culture rather than God's Kingdom.

Our current insanity is like the crazy man who sees himself in a mirror, turns away, immediately forgetting the "kind of person" he is. (James 1:23-24) The Bible is the "mirror" showing us our identity and characteristics in Christ. But we Christians have too often turned away and stared at ourselves in the "mirror" of the culture. We seek to find our identity in that distorted sideshow glass, and forget the true and beautiful identity reflected in the "mirror" of the Word.

Perhaps some degree of judgment is already upon us, when things "whispered behind closed doors" are being "shouted from the housetops for all to hear." (Luke 12:3 NLT)

We must take seriously Jesus' admonition to remove the "log" in our own eye before we pass judgment on the "speck" in someone else's. (Matthew 7:5)

Therefore, the first priority for the healing of our culture is to judge ourselves. This requires the humility of Isaiah, when he confessed, "I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." (Isaiah 6:5)

Judgment must start with us personally. The personal examination is painful. But we cannot pass corporate judgment until we have asked God to search and know our hearts, and reveal the "wicked ways" in us personally. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Both personal and corporate repentance can help bring healing to our sick culture.

Wallace Henley, a prolific author, is senior associate pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church, and designer of the Belhaven University Master of Ministry Leadership degree. He worked in the White House and U.S. Congress.
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