A few years ago, a friend of mine from high school who used to consider herself a Christian, encouraged me to check out a book that she thought I would like. The book is called The Unlikely Disciple, and to this day it is one of my favorite reads because it offers a unique perspective – a perspective that recently came to mind when reflecting on the times we live in. The book centers around a college student from Brown University who decides that instead of doing a semester abroad in a foreign country, he would instead do a semester in an environment that is just as foreign to him: attending Liberty University.
Kevin Roose, the author and central figure of the book, pretends to be a Christian, even though he is himself agnostic and politically and ideologically liberal. He writes about the perception he has of evangelical Christians from spending a few months at the largest conservative Christian college in America. The book was not an attack on Christianity at all, but the experience of reading the book was like looking in a mirror and seeing how outsiders to the faith see us. It was an honest look from his interactions with other students and seeing what we are really like, what we profess to believe in, and how much our actual walk matches our talk. The truth of the book that echoes in my heart for what has been burdening me recently for the Church in America is a simple yet profound truth: The world is watching us.
Ronald Reagan once said, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”Reagan was talking about America and the Cold War, but the essence of that message speaks to the crossroads moment that I believe evangelical Christianity faces here in America in 2023. In case you’ve been living under a rock, we are in trouble in many ways. America is divided and teetering, our society is collapsing, Judeo-Christian influence seems to be eroding, and while it is certainly perilous times in which we find ourselves, it is also the opportunity of a lifetime for every believer in Jesus and for the Church at large. The question is, how will we respond to this moment?
Christians can stand out or blend in, we can speak up or shut up, we can live out and reach out to others with an authentic faith in Jesus or we can damage the name of Jesus. We can either hold to compromise our convictions or stand by them, we can either show others compassion or we can give into the undercurrent of anger and lack of civility that increasingly seems to be dominating our culture. Jesus called Christians to be the light of the world, and the salt of the earth. The question facing us is whether we will rub off on the world or whether the world will rub off on us.
America is more divided than at any time since before the Civil War, so is the Church rising to this moment with displaying Christian unity, or will the Church itself and Christians become as divided with each other over secondary issues and over politics to an extent of where we look as divided to the world as our country is? Our culture is clearly sick and confused, seen clearly in topics like sexuality, gender, and abortion rights. Will we speak the truth in love, or will we in the name of love omit biblical truth, or in the name of proclaiming truth leave out love?
America and the Church in America have arrived at an inflection point where it needs to be asked: What is our mission? What do we want to be known for? How will we respond to this moment? Will we as Christians be counter-cultural or will we get caught up in the culture wars raging around us?
The far left pushes a message that will conflict with what the Bible says when it pushes its agenda on sexuality and gender ideology, and euphemisms that minimize the barbaric nature of abortion. But the far right pushes a message of political retribution and nationalism that conflicts with the sermon on the Mount, and that can cause us to forget that ours is a spiritual kingdom to advance, not an earthly one. The truth is the Church and Christians should not be able to fit entirely with any political or ideological camp because the Gospel is above all that, and both liberals and conservatives need Jesus Christ.
Christians should be careful to remember Jonah, who was so caught up in demonizing the other side and filled with anger at the people of Nineveh that he ran from carrying out his mission to proclaim God’s message of compassion and warning of judgment. Christians, Jesus said, should be known for their genuine love for each other and for those outside the faith. We must not lose sight of our mission given by Jesus Christ, which is not to gain political power or influence at all costs but rather to proclaim the life-changing power of the Gospel of Christ in the hope it will change hearts and minds, and ultimately, the world. Jesus does not say in Matthew 24 that He will return for the Church once it sufficiently proclaimed political and ideological talking points, or once enough elections have been won. Jesus said He will return once the Gospel has been shared with everyone.
For anyone watching, it seems to be clear that not only are we in for difficult times ahead, but that our politics are ugly and getting uglier from all sides. We must stand out by not allowing the toxicity of our cultural and political climate to rub off on us but we need to rub off on it. And while, certainly, Christians can and should participate in the political process and vote our conscience, may we be careful not to betray our values and beliefs in the name of advancing them.
The world is watching.
“Do all things without complaining or arguing, that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).
Pastor Stephen Mitchell is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Maryland. He also is the host of a regular podcast, Real Christian Talk with Pastor Steve, available on all podcast platforms.