Public Square

There Is Something Wrong with the Salt and Light

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Christian author and scholar, Os Guinness, began his recent talk about the Christian struggle to influence culture with this alarming observation – there is something wrong with the salt and the light.

This talk drives home the urgency of our call to influence culture, as Hugh Whelchel discussed recently when he asked, “should Christians even try to influence culture?” Guinness’s comments are a great encouragement and challenge to the church.

Christianity’s Biggest Competitor for Hearts and Minds

Even though the percentage of the American population who self-identifies as Christian is on the decline, it is still the largest faith in the country, and our country has the largest percentage of Christians of any other modern country. Yet, our influence on culture is far out-paced by smaller groups.

Our biggest competitor for hearts and minds is not atheists who want to argue over the existence of God, but the non-religious, post-modern cultural taste-makers who find no use for God.

Guinness asked, “Will the West sever or recover its Judeo-Christian roots?” Europe has been severing the roots of faith for a while, but Americans are still considering their answer.

Guinness stressed that this question is about more than cultural identity. It is about the foundations of human dignity, equality, and freedom growing out of our Judeo-Christian roots. “Followers of Jesus are the last great champions and defenders of human dignity…of freedom,” he warned.

Three Great Cultural Transformations

There are three great transformations causing us to lose cultural ground, according to Guinness.

First, there is a shift from the industrial revolution where we built with force, energy, and fire, to a new revolution where we engineer with biology. This era of biotechnology is what Guinness calls a new Babel, “a drive for humans to be like God.”

Second, we are shifting from an industrial age to an information age. The amount of information we are capable of creating and consuming is ever-increasing. Given that we are sinful creatures, this information age has also had the effect of expanding human sin to a “titanic proportion.”

Third, there is no single definition of modernity any more. There are multiple “modernities.” For better or worse, globalization used to be synonymous with westernization and Americanization. That’s not true anymore. As countries like China and regions like southern Africa become modern, they will not have much in common with the West.

What the Church Can Do to Keep from Losing Its Saltiness

To prepare for and adequately address these major transformations, Guinness recommends several tasks for the church to undertake.

One of the more urgent tasks is contributing to the future. Today there are “visions of tomorrow like nothing humanity has ever seen,” such as the singularity, artificial intelligence, trans-humanism, and the social construction of gender. We can’t say Jesus is the answer without addressing the “grand philosophical, ethical, medical, scientific challenges” places like Silicon Valley are leading the world in answering.

As Christians, we actually have a lot to say about the future. The narrative of Scripture does not stop with John 3:16. We are called to build Christ’s kingdom on Earth, and he promises he will return to bring about its completion. We are given gifts and talents to use in our economy, to fight the effects of sin, and help bring about human flourishing.

We have a hope for the future those separated from God can never have. That is the vision for the future we ought to be speaking into our world. Whelchel’s answer to the question of engaging our culture was, “Yes. The Bible calls Christians to engage, redeem, and restore culture. This is at the very heart of the cultural mandate.”

Let us not forget that we are called to actively engage the world around us, lest the salt loses its saltiness.

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  • “The Bible calls Christians to engage, redeem, and restore culture.”

    No it doesn’t. It calls us to preach the gospel; sow the seed. But we can’t make people believe it. When people reject God, God allows them to pursue their sinful lifestyles, as Paul wrote in Romans 1.

    Western culture was Christian because a majority of people were believers or nominal believers who went along with Christian principles. The percentage of the population held by real believers hasn’t declined. Nominal believers have decided to quit being hypocrites and embrace their paganism.

    Religion determines culture so as the country becomes more pagan so does the culture. The only thing Christians can do is continue to witness and sow the seed. The germination and growth of the seed depends on the condition of the soil, not the quality of the sower.

    Our views on “singularity, artificial intelligence, trans-humanism, and the social construction of gender” will not impress unbelievers if the gospel doesn’t. Jesus said people reject him because they love darkness and their deeds are evil. Paul said they know the truth but suppress it in unrighteousness. They don’t reject the gospel because we haven’t addresses artificial intelligence.

  • Pete Smith

    I don’t find the three great cultural transformations to be unique at all. There is nothing singular in the move from industrial economics to biotech. Humans have always tried to usurp God’s throne. The new babel is no different from the old.

    Information has always been increasing. Again nothing unique here.

    Modernity? Nothing unique there either. Pre-modern times had their idols, modernity has its idols and now post-modernity continues. Mankind has not changed.

    Haven’t taken the time to listen to his talk, but if the above accurately represents his ideas, then I respectfully disagree.

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