Our problem in American culture does not occur when we say “I believe in Jesus.” It occurs when we say “Jesus is the only way.” The exclusive claims of biblical Christianity are not welcome to many in our religiously pluralistic and morally relativistic culture.
This was the topic of a seminar I attended in Dallas this week at the 2006 International Forum on Christian Higher Education. The seminar was entitled “Proclaiming Jesus in a Pluralistic Culture.” In it we discussed how Christian truth can be presented winsomely and effectively, yet respectfully, in a culture buffeted by many competing belief systems.
I believe a public moral consensus—what scholars have called “the sacred canopy”—is necessary to a sustainable culture and society, particularly a free society. In the past, perhaps as late as the early 1960s, much of the American public moral consensus was based upon the tenets of biblical religion. Adultery, murder, theft, work, play, right and wrong, all these and more were rooted in a broad definition of Christendom—or what in the 1950s began to be called Judeo-Christian beliefs.
Today this is no longer the case. Today we work with multiple sacred canopies, some of which proffer conflicting views of fundamental issues like the definition of marriage, the beginning and meaning of life, a “right to privacy,” so-called alternative sexualities, and much more, including differing attitudes toward environmental conservation, stem cell research, poverty and the poor, health care, etc.
So, if a public moral consensus is the glue that holds a society together, and that consensus breaks down, how do the centripetal forces this creates keep the society from tearing itself apart? And if Christians are mandated by God to evangelize the lost and transform the culture for the glory of God, how can they do this in a pluralistic society without being accused of forcing our morality upon others?
This is not an easy question to answer because it involves issues of church and state and associated questions of religion and politics. One thing we can do, though, is recognize the difference between sin and crime, immoral and illegal.
For example, I believe people who use vulgar language and people who commit adultery are involved in sin. But I do not want my government to legislate these sins by calling them crime. On the flip side, I believe that while abortion may be legal, it is not moral, so while abortion is not a crime, in my theology it is a sin.
The extent to which we work to “contextualize” our biblical worldview in a free and pluralistic culture is one of the most challenging questions of our day. I don’t want to live in a theocracy like Iran or a near-theocracy like Afghanistan. I also don’t want to live in an irreligious but politically dictatorial nation like China. I don’t want the United States to be a Christian theocracy, nor do I want my country to lack the influences of biblical truth.
How I live my faith amidst increasing religious and moral diversity will tell the tale not only of my own testimony but also of the spiritual and political vitality of my country. What would Jesus do?
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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