In our last post we considered how the way society thinks is changing. However, when we come to investigate why Christians have lost their voice and influence in society then the picture becomes even more stark. In the past the UK used to be a country that listened to, and even respected, Christian leaders as a voice of moral authority. This is no longer the case. The structures within society do not lend themselves to helping us discuss the important issues of life and faith. Thus, this leaves us without a platform to defend or explain our position.
I see three main areas where these changes have occurred which mean that rather than being a city on a hill, we are now a city in a valley. We are hidden from society and our light is not shining as brightly because our platform, confidence and practice have been eroded. For each area I propose some ideas for how we can break out of our silos.
1. Erosion of Christian Structures
Many years ago Christianity was at the heart of the community. Everything happened either at the church, or through the church. Everyone knew the minister and the church had a dominant role in the life of individuals. There were also strong community bonds that held influence over the behaviour and attitudes of the church and wider society. While not everyone liked the church or its leaders, they at least knew who they were and their opinion mattered within the local parish. However, there was undoubtably a nominalism and deadness to some of church life that sometimes put more importance on respectability and appearances than genuine faith and true piety.
In the past, we used to think we could just open the doors and people would come in, this is no longer the case. Secularisation has been one of the major causes of this change – diminishing the influence of the church as a public voice and removing it from the market place. Our place in the centre of society has gone, we are now on the periphery. New ways of establishing a presence in a secular nation and our communities must be found if we are to engage with our culture.
Breaking down the Silo: The only way we can break out of our silo is to establish living connections with those around us. We will have to balance the desire to share our faith, with the need to first listen to others. We need to first learn how to serve and love our community as an end in itself – to love it as God loves us, with no thought of what we will receive in return. For too long we have separated the word and deed – swinging to either extreme. Fortunately many churches are re-engaging in their community in various ways and many individuals are seeing the importance of establishing strong community connections. In the business community and the arts, I see a vision among many for affirming what is good in society and building bridges. The task is to contribute something positive to society.
The challenge we must ask ourselves is: “Do we find ourselves only ever complaining or moaning about society? Do we find most of our time is spent with other Christians?” We need to learn how to affirm what is good; seek new ways to build connections with the community we live / work in and look to serve people holistically. If we do this, getting opportunities to share what is so important to us won’t be a problem.
2. Privitisation of Faith
We are constantly told that “It’s ok to believe what you want in the privacy of your own home, just don’t go forcing anyone else to believe in the tooth fairy”. Our lack of confidence means we retreat from engaging in public debates; we internalise our faith and it becomes private – not to be shared in public. A misrepresented view of science is used to support this pressure with prominent secularists claiming that “you cannot be logical, rational and have a faith”. This is made worse by the wide disagreement between Christians of how to understand scientific evidence and how this relates to biblical inspiration. We are divided and confused, so we stay silent.
Breaking down the Silo: I sometimes wonder if we have gone down a wrong alley by creating a space between apologetics and the gospel? Perhaps we see the gospel as the message about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and apologetics about defending biblical inspiration, creation or explaining why there is suffering etc. This gives the impression they are two separate things, the former being essential, the latter optional. When our apologetics is weak or under threat we are tempted to retreat to focussing on the gospel. We then stick to communicating only these core themes, but they are detached from a broader meaning and context in society.
But does this fit with biblical patterns? In Acts 18 (in Athens) and 26 (before Agrippa) Paul takes the eternal truths of God’s saving plan and interweaves them with contemporary issues, values and culture through the backdrop of God’s redemption of mankind. There is no distinction between where apologetics starts and ends and the message about Jesus as Saviour and Judge starts and ends. We need to reclaim the pattern of communicating the gospel as: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return >> within God’s redemptive plan >> within the broader Christian worldview. Our message needs to touch on each of these three areas every time we communicate. This is how the new testament authors explained the eternal truth that they were communicating. In Acts 26.1 Paul uses the Greek word apologeomai when describing the act of declaring his message – not the content of the message itself.
3. Compartmentalising our Lives
Because of the pressure we feel from #2, we make our lives fit into various boxes of work; home; social; church. We create a spiritual / secular divide and have in our minds a view of what constitutes a spiritual activity (i.e. things done at church or supporting the work of the church) and social / secular activities (that have little, if any, spiritual value). We see the value of activities as they relate to our ability to either fund or directly engage in spiritual activities (as defined previously). The impact of this is that we live in different worlds, adapting to the expected behaviours and norms within each box. The increasing pressure to keep faith out of the workplace means that while we may try our best to live out our Christian principles in our workplace, we struggle to articulate our faith. It will also mean that we become desperate to spend our time in activities which we deem to be the best use of our limited time. Time spent in secular activity will become simply waiting time until we can “do something of eternal value”.
Breaking down the Silo: I was fascinated by this interview with Tim Keller, particularly the fourth question. I think many of us are guilty of saying we believe all callings are equally valid (that’s not to say they are all equal), while at the same time we still act as though some callings are more God-honouring than others. In a mark of true humility and honesty, Keller admits that he feels this tension. The only way to break out of this silo is to reclaim a biblical view of work, where whatever we do can and should be done for the Lord – an incredibly liberating and affirming position.
So the question is: “Are we constantly feeling that our time is being wasted, because we are not doing more spiritual work?” (that’s not to say we shouldn’t prioritise our time or set aside individuals to be devoted to preaching and prayer). And: “Are we intentionally cross-fertilising our boxes, at the right time, so that people see us in a different context?” Social media is a perfect tool to do this cross-fertilisation – “Are we using social media intentionally; who is listening or following you? Is it only people who think the same way as you do?”
Let me know your thoughts on these and other silos and how we can break out of them.
2 thoughts on “A Call To Cultural Re-engagement – The 3 Silos”
Being a secular person, I’m not sure the church in the UK is doing as bad as you say. In a morally barren political landscape, church leaders like Rowan Williams or Peter Selby do stand out as beacons of morality and reason because of what they say and not who they are. Who they are matters because who one is usually limits what one says. So, as seculars, if even the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out about something, we listen.
In communities too, churches are not doing that badly. In Edinburgh where I live I can count three churches that are open to all people and engaged on important issues such as poverty and youth in ways that I see as right. Four if you count the Quakers. And that’s what I notice without looking out for them particularly. There’s probably more. I don’t see churches engaged in negative polemics as one might see in the US, although I do see many that look like irrelevant monuments.
As seculars we care about two things. We mostly hold equality or feminist values and we’re very annoyed when christians (or muslims or jews) engage a general moral debate and then soon after go on to promote a patriarchy agenda. This happens too often. A lesser concern is when people believe an obviously fictional tale such as creation too literally. Being transcendental is perfectly fine. We all are. But seeing someone apparently unable to separate fact and faith means we can’t trust that person to do medicine or educate kids properly.
Thanks so much for your considered response Pavlos. I appreciate you taking the time to respond and it’s really helpful to understand your perspective on the secular and religious landscape. I’ve taken a bit of time to think through what you said and would respond with a couple of things. As the census results showed today, while religious affiliation is declining the church is still influential at a certain level. I’m not saying that every church and Christian is at the extreme of each of these silos (just as not every person who isn’t a Christian is at the extreme of the chasms in my previous post). Rather these are (some of) the underlying forces that are at work and need to be verbalised if they are to be understood and overcome.
I recognise that each church and Christian will be at a different point along a spectrum of cultural engagement, with some, as I noted above, doing some good work. I guess, from inside the church, I see more that concerns me than encourages me, and many are unaware of how detached they are. Thus, I am suggesting that we, on the whole, don’t have these issues fully figured out and I’m seeking ways of modelling these concepts and challenging the status quo.
I appreciate your honesty in your last paragraph – as a scientist and someone who believes in a creator God I would probably draw a different line to separate fact and faith than you would. I agree that it is a good thing that we don’t have the polemics over here that you see in the States, but the downside to that (for my side) is that any evidence or scientific theory that support a creationist point of view do not get any air time, meaning the public discussion is all one way. For me the turning point was whether I really believed God was able to create something from nothing…but that’s the subject for another post!
Hope you check in on future posts – I appreciate your honest feedback…