Conservatives have been arguing for years that America is faltering and may soon be lost if we do not readopt the values our society once held. “America,” they say, “is a culture in decline.” The recent decision by the Supreme Court making gay marriage legal in all 50 states is one such example.
While we recognize that this is true the real question before us is, “Can we do anything about it?” I think there is only one way out of our cultural mess. I don’t want to give up on our culture, but I also recognize that America may have reached a turning point from which there is no going back. Let me explain my thinking.
Cultures are not static phenomenon. Cultures are dynamic, always changing and subject to a variety of forces that facilitate change. The most fundamental change is that of worldview.
“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions that we hold about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”(1)
Culture is essentially the outward expression of personal worldview. The most important aspect of worldview is the religious ideas that thrive at the heart of a person: God is real or isn’t, morals are static or fluid, man is good or bad, rights are natural or prescribed, and so on.
It is man’s nature to change, and thus worldview and culture changes with him. Thus, cultures are dynamic.
The America of 200 years ago wasn’t the same as the America of 100 years ago, and 50 years ago, and 20 years ago, and today. While Christians may hope and pray for America to recapture its lost values, that is unlikely to happen. What country has ever recaptured its past without again abandoning its values? We even see this in the scripture.
Israel during I Samuel was not the same Israel as II Samuel, or Kings, or the period of the Minor Prophets, or even in Jesus’ day. To be sure, during the reign of men like Jehoshaphat, Josiah, and Hezekiah, Judah began to take the Mosaic Covenant more seriously—but it didn’t last. From the first moment of rebellion against the covenant the kingdoms we’re pronounced doomed, even hundreds of years in advance of the actual judgment (I Kings 14:15-16).
In his book, Transforming Worldviews, Paul Hiebert notes, “Without shared beliefs, communication and community life are impossible.”(2) This is essentially what has gone wrong with America. We have embraced the idea of widely disparate cultures and religions within the nation and often fostered them with a victim mentality, which as a result has left us without truly shared beliefs upon which to base heart communication and a sense of true community. Nowhere is this more apparent that in our spiritual pursuits and moral values. As an example, the gay community and the conservative Christian community do not share common values and are left, politically, at war with one another until either side is willing to abandon its core beliefs. That will never happen (a Christian community that abandons its core values can no longer be called Christian). In the end, the wider culture will either support and embrace one view or the other. Since Christianity is no longer America’s prime influence, the sinfulness of man inevitably exerts itself and concepts like gay marriage become acceptable and eventually, normal.
So What Is To Be Done?
The beauty of the Gospel of Jesus is that it also creates a culture within a culture. It creates a kingdom within a kingdom in a transcendent way. The ancient Romans recognized this when Roman authorities remarked on Christian practices that were markedly different from what other everyday Romans practiced. Roman authority scorned and persecuted Christians for this. “By embracing the faith of the Gospel Christians incurred the supposed guilt of an unnatural and unpardonable offense. They dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education, violated the religious institutions of their country, and presumptuously despised whatever their fathers had believed as true, or had referenced as sacred.”(3)
Ultimately, what stands before us is not a nation that has rejected traditional values. Rather, it is a nation that has no faith in Jesus. Why should a nation that doesn’t know Jesus embrace the values that were taught by him? The values themselves won’t save the nation. That can only be done by the person, Jesus. Even during Jesus’ day Israel was greatly motivated by the Mosaic Law and their faith in God, but their ultimate rejection of Jesus resulted in the Romans destroying Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).
Therefore, the choice that is before us is to either advance our values to the culture or advance the person of Jesus. Traditional values are important and necessary, but they are not the final answer. Personal transformation through Jesus is the answer. Even then a nation may be lost, but the nation within that nation, the nation of those with faith in Jesus will continue and spread and grow as it always has through all history, regardless of culture or national identity. It is the true kingdom within kingdoms that will never fall as long as the person of Jesus remains its core.
The Gospel is the answer to a declining culture. Evangelism is the means to stemming the tide of personal evil. Discipleship is the necessary task for strengthening a people whose faith and values will forever be under the assault of those who despise the true knowledge of the historical Jesus.