By Jim Tune
Sociologists tell us societies are not held together by rules and laws, and that order cannot be enforced by swords or guns alone. People must find their motivation and meaning in powerful ideas—beliefs that justify their institutions and ideals.
Writer Percy Bysshe Shelley once said, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” I think he was trying to say that, through their vivid imagery and memorable rhythms, poets have the power to shape how people think. In 1703 Andrew Fletcher wrote, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” Fletcher was right—the first line of engagement for Christians should not be found in attacking the government, but reforming the culture through the renewal of minds—one life at a time.
Frontal assaults only mobilize the opposition. Start an organized campaign against pornography, for example, and before long the civil liberties groups along with the pornographers will marshal a better-funded defense. We are more effective when we penetrate behind the lines, influencing or subverting the culture from within.
Our attempts to engage a post-Enlightenment secular culture through protest, placards, and politics are guaranteed to fail. Our war is not simply with flesh and blood, so why do we insist on waging cultural wars the world’s way? I think we need to change the conversation. The question is not, “How do we save the church’s values in a godless culture?” because in the end, that’s not the gospel.
The question is, how do we point people to Jesus? How do we show them the love that’s big enough and wide enough and deep enough for all of their questions, struggles, failures, and fears? I’m afraid I don’t know the answer. I do know that nostalgic reminiscing about the past is for those who no longer have the vision to creatively engage with contemporary challenges and opportunities. We live in an era that is, if not post-Christian, certainly post-Christendom. When the best we can muster is to protest this change, we end up looking angry and unloving.
Through church planting we have opportunities to influence culture by sharing our story, one that too often has been cluttered and obscured by hubris, creative laziness, and unhelpful political alliances. We are not a lobbying group—we are the church of Christ! Our compelling story—the gospel of Jesus Christ—ought to conjure up grand images, ideas, and words powerful enough to win hearts and inspire people to acts of commitment, sacrifice, and service.
Does that mean we never engage in controversy? Of course not. Sometimes a good fight is necessary. But effective churches today are doing more than fighting. Effective churches are painting an alternative story—an alternative to the rotting myths of modernity—and presenting a compelling vision to otherwise anesthetized minds. We’ve a story to tell. And everyone loves a good story!