By Mark A. Taylor
The deterioration of Christian influence in our culture has caused the collapse of stable families in our society, right?
Although many conservative Christians believe the above idea, at least one writer challenges it.
Mary Eberstadt, in her book How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, proposes that the collapse of family structures in our country and several others has caused the loss of religious influence, not vice versa.
Quoted by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition website, Eberstadt said:
People are social beings. They learn religion the way they learn language: in communities, beginning with the community of the family. And when family structure becomes disrupted and attenuated and fractured, as it is for many Western people today, many families can no longer function as a transmission belt for religious belief.
In other words, as Jim Street summarized it in CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s August 15 Beyond the Standard BlogTalkRadio program, “The loss of a family’s authority over people may be tied to a culture’s distance from God.”
If this is true, then building up families is one of the church’s top priorities. And yet all three of the panel members in our program agreed that making families healthier is a difficult challenge for the church.
This is true because, too often for too many, the church makes little connection with the Christian’s everyday life. “People take their lives to work more than they do to church,” Street said.
“Real relationships have multiple contacts,” Randy Gariss added, but “plastic relationships” have fewer. “Education doesn’t capture the imagination,” he said. People need examples, not classes. People from dysfunctional families discover how healthy families live by seeing them in action, he said—eating with them in their homes, spending time with them in a variety of settings. People respond to models more than another lecture or sermon.
Arron Chambers observed that, “Every marriage has some sort of dysfunction in it, but we don’t know it. Every marriage looks perfect at church.” And sometimes church members are least willing to accept direction for change from their minister. Chambers, who has done marriage coaching with more than 400 couples in the last five years, confessed that it’s easier for him to deal with non-Christians than church members. His experience (it “shocked” him at first): he needs to be much more careful addressing difficult issues head-on with Christian couples. Evidently non-Christians are quicker to admit their weaknesses and “get down to business” about addressing them.
“There’s an atmosphere of judgment more than an atmosphere of understanding” at church, Street observed. “People are hesitant to bring their lives to the church.”
This is just one of several important ideas discussed by Chambers, Gariss, and Street in our latest presentation of Beyond the Standard. Listen to the free hour-long discussion “What About Marriage?” at www.blogtalkradio.com/standardpublishing.