Secularization

Secularization, Privatization, and Pluralization.  Yes, these are big “tion” words that needed to be explained to me as well.  These three movements are the cultural currents that have been involved in America becoming post-Christian.  These next three out of four weeks we will be focusing on those three movements.  This week we begin with secularization which is the process of becoming secular (modernly defined as “non-religious”).  America is not fully secular yet, but it is in the process—secularization.  Most Americans would not support Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought, “God is dead.”  America may not be losing its belief in God, but it is losing religion.  What does that mean?  Well, America is becoming more and more secular because institutionalized religion is no longer attractive.  Many Americans are now viewing beliefs and religions as a personal matter, not something that is big and organized like the church (That’s privatization…we’ll talk about that more in part 5).

What are the results of secularization?

What results does this have on the church in America?  “Secularization: The church is losing its influence as a shaper of life and thought in the wider social order, and Christianity is losing its place as the dominant worldview” (James White, Rise of the Nones, p. 46-48). 

James White retells a very revealing story in his book.  Through this story, he reveals events that have happened over in Europe and are beginning to happen in America.  Right now, churches are still part of our society in America.  You can still find them listed on a map.  In Russia, churches are no longer listed on a map.  When the man in the story challenged a Russian interpreter that there was a church on the map, this was the interpreter’s answer: “That is a museum, not what we call a ‘living church.’ It is only the ‘living churches’ we don’t show.”  This is the point of the story: “Those things that mankind has most believed in are no longer on the map of reality, or if they are, they are relegated to a museum.”  C. S. Lewis put it this way, “Almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.” (White, Rise of the Nones, p. 46-47)

Because of secularization, Millennials are growing up without a biblical worldview.  Secular humanism has molded their worldview (Secular humanism is defined by the Council for Secular Humanism as “a comprehensive, nonreligious life-stance incorporating: a naturalistic philosophy, a cosmic outlook rooted in science, and consequentialist ethical system”).  Once again, this point should not surprise us.  Growing up in a post-Christian America Millennials don’t have the influence and nurture of the Bible like they once had.  Because Christianity has turned many Millennials off, they are going to look in other places for answers to life’s questions.

What feeds secularization?

How is America becoming more and more secular?  What feeds secularization in America?  White has another very good observation:

Consider the secularized subculture currently resting at the top of the American educational system, the media of mass communication, and the upper echelons of the legal system.  These are the epicenters of culture and the means by which values and ideas come into being and are disseminated.  While their forces may be relatively thin on the ground, they are very influential, as they control the institutions that provide the ‘official’ definitions of reality. (White, Rise of the Nones, p. 47)

The educational system, mass media, and the legal system have given Millennials the answers.  These are the things that have replaced the Bible and now influence and nurture Millennials.

What is the influence on Millennials?

What are some results of secularization influencing Millennials?  Evolution is accepted instead of creation.  Abortion is accepted as protecting women’s rights instead of murder.  Homosexual and Transgender are accepted sexualities instead of traditional heterosexual relationships (I name these three because they are the most obvious and talked about in our Christian circles).  When teachers, news anchors, and judges are saying these are right, overtime many in America become convinced (We will talk more about that in part 7 on “truth”).

What should the church do/not do?

Christianity has tried to fight against these systems throughout the last century.  But for centuries, the longest fight for the church has been against science in general.  Science has attacked the church from three different sides: 1. Copernicus—the universe is heliocentric as opposed to Earth-centered (The Cosmological Attack), 2. Darwin—the origin of humankind by way of natural selection (The Biological Attack), 3. Freud—the idea of the soul is conditioned; God is a projection of human desire (The Psychological Attack) (White, p. 33).  For such a long time, the church has defended itself against these attacks (with one exception—the church eventually acknowledged that the Bible never states that everything revolves around the earth).  The science world has also fed this battle.  Scientism is a movement (much by atheists) that completely acknowledges its battle is against the church and faith.

Unfortunately this battle has created a problem.  With its attacks against science, the church often portrays that it has to be God or science—it can’t be both.  For this reason the church has been labeled as “Anti-Science.”  This is an unfortunate stigma.  Yes there are many things in the science world that go against the Bible—Darwin and Freud are good examples from above.  So we always need to be cautious if a certain science belief goes again the Bible. 

But as Christians, we must understand that science in general is a not a bad thing.  God has given us a rationalistic and creative brain.  That is a gift that we can be good stewards of in the science world.  I grew up in a good Christian atmosphere where I was taught that science is a way for us to understand God’s creation.  In his book, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman devotes a whole chapter to the church’s label of “Anti-science.”  He has a lot of good insights.  You really just need to read this chapter, but here is a good summary:

Our modern economy, language, media, and society are dominated by science, whether we like it or not.  If we are to be shapers of culture, rather than blind consumers of it, we must prepare our young people to be in-but-not-of science.  What does that mean? Young Christians who are called into positions of scientific inquiry and pedagogy ought to be encouraged by the Christian community to follow their callings to the utmost of their abilities. We need to help them discover how their chosen field of study and work is closely connected to God’s design for the world and for them. (You Lost Me, p. 142)

That is what we can do for the future of our youth, but how do you talk to non-Christian Millennials who already have been influences so greatly by secular humanism?  It’s very difficult because Christians already have that stigma of being “Anti-science.”  So how do we confront those secular humanistic beliefs?  Well, secular humanism is very rationalistic and scientific.  So to confront a rationalistic mindset, you have to approach it from a rationalistic mindset.  Pastor Tim Keller has a methodology that has worked for him:

Our premises must be drawn wholly from the Bible, yet we will always find some things in a culture’s beliefs that are roughly true, things on which we can build our critique. We will communicate something like this: “You see this ‘A’ belief you have? The Bible says the same thing—so we agree. However if ‘A’ is true, then why do you not believe ‘B’? The Bible teaches ‘B,’ and if ‘A’ is true, then it is not right, fair, or consistent for you to reject ‘B.’ If you believe this—how can you not believe that?” We reveal inconsistencies in the cultural beliefs and assumptions about reality. With the authority of the Bible we allow one part of the culture—along with the Bible—to critique another part. The persuasive force comes from basing our critique on something we can affirm within our culture. (Timothy Keller, Center Church, pg. 125)

Pastor James Hein takes this methodology and applies it to the topic of evolution:

I regularly use this teaching technique on the issue of macroevolution. Most young adults operate with “macroevolutionary beliefs” since that’s what they learned in their science textbooks. However, most young adults also often have compassion for the oppression of human rights around the world. So I establish that such human sensitivity (an ‘A’ belief for them) is a wonderful attribute, but gently point out how this is inconsistent with their ‘B’ belief of evolution. Evolution is predicated on the idea of “survival of the fittest” and “the strong eat the weak.” So if you believe in macroevolution, you cannot logically say that it is wrong for a stronger country in the Middle East to devour a weaker country. That’s merely the advancement of the species, natural selection. At that point, their ‘A’ belief trumps their ‘B’ belief, and they feel compelled to correct the cognitive dissonance. I don’t know that I’ve ever explained macroevolution to a young adult that way and not had them say, “Hmm. That’s interesting.” (James Hein, “Preaching the Law without Being Judgmental” Preach the Word, Vol. 19 No. 2)

Next week I’ll share more examples of the same methodology to have conversations without being judgmental.

So once again, we as Christians have a challenge ahead of us.  We are swimming upstream in America’s secular humanistic culture.  What is our plan?  The old saying fits well: “It takes one to know one.”  Be like Paul, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20).  Do your best to understand these influences on America’s culture so you are prepared for those conversations.  Millennials will see you not as anti-science, but understanding.  Then they may give you a hearing so you can share God’s Word with them.