Which is not really a new phenomenon.
Right. Think about that prayer in Acts 4 in the face of resistance to the gospel, “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (29). There was hesitancy even then, in the early church, to speak God’s Word, knowing it was going to be costly. So when I think about the root of picking and choosing, I think it’s probably a lack of confidence in God’s Word and a fear of speaking and applying it to these cultural issues for fear of how it will affect our reputation. Nobody wants to come across as hateful. Nobody wants to come across as arrogant, as narrow-minded.
How has your international ministry informed your perspective on the clash of faith and culture?
I’ve spent a good bit of time in northern India—home to 600 million people, almost none of them followers of Christ. Who am I to say to Hindus, Muslims, Sihks that if they don’t believe in Jesus for their salvation that they would spend an eternity in hell? That seems pretty narrow-minded, pretty arrogant, even hateful. And it would be all those things if it weren’t true. If it’s true, then it’s not arrogant at all. It’s not hateful; it’s the most loving thing to say, if it’s true.
We’re deceived into questioning the authority of God’s Word and then we’re deceived into being quiet with it because we think that’s actually more loving. The reality is, the most loving thing we can do is to share God’s Word, but to do so with his compassion—not beating people over the head with the Bible. It’s because we love the people around us that we don’t stay silent. It’s because we care that we take God’s Word and apply it to the pressing issues in our day.
I think God is using this rapidly shifting moral landscape for the good of the church—it’s helping us realize what Scripture is saying. We adhere to it not because it’s a belief we hold in common with the culture, but because it’s the truth of Scripture in front of us.
You talk a lot about how the main issue is being focused on Christ, which certainly resonates with the New Testament. Do we have a New Testament pattern for engaging specific cultural issues? Did the New Testament church directly fight prevailing cultural values they felt were at variance with Christianity in their cultural setting?
We definitely have a New Testament pattern for engaging culture with the gospel, which is where the greatest offense lies—the news that there is one God who is all-authoritative, who has created us, who owns us, to whom we’re accountable.
Think about it: Claiming there is one God who created all and has authority of all is in contradiction with the world—with atheism as well as Hinduism and Buddhism. Then you get the reality that we’ve sinned against him—that because of our rebellion we deserve eternal punishment.
Then there’s the reality that God became a man, Christ, to make a way for our salvation. Now you’ve offended 1.5 billion Muslims—who would say God would never debase himself by becoming a man. And then, Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—is the only way to be reconciled to him through his death on the cross, his resurrection from the grave; there is no other way.
This is why Paul talks about the offense of the cross.
We always have to be on guard in the church against trying to remove the offense of the cross. We absolutely work to remove other obstacles to the gospel, to help people understand the gospel, but we never remove the offense of the gospel.
That why, on the deepest level, I’m concerned that a lack to trust in the authority of God’s Word on various social issues really goes back to a lack of trust in the authority of his Word when it comes to the essence of the gospel.