This post is a brief explanation for why I am writing a series about why believers must question their cultural Christian assumptions. For the first post in the series, click here.
Before diving into the next topic, “Shouldn’t Christians be nice?” I thought a little more explanation about why I am writing this series might be helpful. Nearly all of us who were raised in church, went to youth group or college ministry, or simply grew up in the heart of the “Bible-belt” were inundated by the tenets and cliches of cultural Christianity. Priorities are supposed to be “God, family, and country,” and “The United States was founded as a Christian nation.” Right is right and wrong is wrong – period. If someone is truly a Christian, he or she must do certain things or act certain ways. Think about a time when you reacted to another person’s words or actions and thought, “If he were a really a Christian, he would __________.” The way in which you completed that last sentence reflects your cultural Christian thinking.
If the last paragraph was not helpful, consider how often you have used “churchy” words and phrases – “I felt led to…”; “It was a God thing…”; “I asked Jesus into my heart;” or “God calls us to love.” Those few examples are part of a language often labeled “Christianese.” Christianese is the language of cultural Christianity, which partially reflects or was once based upon a biblical truth yet is not biblically faithful or accurate. This superficial language, though waning today, has massively influenced the thinking of most Christians. The way in which you use (or once used) Christianese is another indicator of your cultural Christian assumptions.
Cultural Christianity, which describes the common ways in which biblical principles are applied in a particular culture, has shaped our theology and everyday lives more than we care to admit. We as believers rarely (or never) challenge these assumptions in light of Scripture. We find ourselves feeling unnecessarily burdened, guilty, or anxious about what to do or how to act because cultural Christianity has bound our consciences and stripped our liberty. We judge ourselves according to how others interpret or perceive our words and actions and forget that God alone is Lord of the conscience.
It is for the reasons given in the last paragraph that I am writing this series. Only by re-examining and critiquing the cultural Christian assumptions that have (wrongfully) shaped our lives as individuals and as members of the Church can we hope to find where generations before us, or where we ourselves, have strayed from Scripture.
This task is uniquely urgent as American culture – especially American Christian culture – increasingly embraces sinful, unbiblical views of race and sex. A significant reason for the decline of so many churches is not the change in secular culture, but the change in Christian culture. The noticeable divide between older and younger generations of Christians is not just because of the culture “out there” (in the world) but is also because of the culture “in here” (in the Church). In other words, the war is not only between secular culture and Christian culture; the war is frequently between two subsets of cultural Christianity.
So, the next time you think “Shouldn’t Christians __________,” challenge that assumption. Open your Bible and see what God actually says to his people. You might be surprised to find that “being a good Christian” requires something quite different than you originally thought.