Welcome back to our series about the future of Christian leadership. This is an extended version of a conference talk I gave at the recent Acts29 National Conference. For this series, I am leaning on 1 Corinthians 16:13–14, which says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” I think this short passage captures several important themes that work together to form a vision for Christian Leadership. Those themes are the five verbs in the passage, four of which form two pairs of ideas that work in tension with one another.
The first tension is between the twin commands to “Be Watchful” and “Stand firm in the faith”. For the last couple of weeks, we have looked at what it is we are supposed to be watching for. Last week, we talked about the need to watch for Influence, not Power. This week, we will wrap up this section by talking about the need to look for illogic and inconsistency.
I write this section with two minds. First, I want to encourage some of you to think deeply about the illogic, inconsistency, and even hypocrisy in atheistic ethics and worldview. There are a lot of holes in the seemingly unstoppable post-modern culture and they need to be exploited. My other mind is hesitant to release young, arrogant hounds who want to “own the libs” like Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson, rather than lovingly but clearly disentangle truth from fiction and expose the progressive agenda for the fraud that it is in order to present the gospel as an alternative option.
I think the former is of dire importance for pastors to do in their pulpits and the latter is arrogant and foolish and leads to nothing but internet fights. So hear me clearly, I think pastors need to observe the culture closely and drink deeply from the well of modern media, for the sole reason of understanding the message so completely that they can dismantle it without resorting to reductionistic, straw-man arguments. There are gaping holes in the logic and they can be exploited easily, but they must be exploited from a place of deep love for the people who believe it and hope for their salvation. No one ever gets shamed into the Kingdom of God.
So where do we find the illogic in modern culture? Let’s start with Human Rights. The modern concept of human rights has its roots in the Bible. We only know that humans are worthy of respect and dignity because the Bible says that all people are made in the image of God. This is the foundation for it all. Without this presupposition, upon what would we base the idea that all people are equal? We are not equal in any measurable way. We all have different sizes, shapes, capacities, productivity, achievement, and so on. Why would we assume that all people are equally worthy of respect and dignity?
In fact, because modern culture has assumed the truthfulness of evolution as a scientific explanation of our origins, we should value all living beings by their ability to procreate and survive. Since survival of the fittest is the mechanism by which humans leaped to the top of the food chain, why would we change now? By this logic, people who are mentally or physically handicapped are clearly less valuable than those who are not. Left on their own, they would not survive and in fact, in nature, they would be left on their own. But we, as a culture, believe that the weakest among us should be lifted up and protected. But why would this be true? Aren’t we just watering down the gene pool by allowing these weak and handicapped people to survive?
This is one of the most foundational inconsistencies in postmodern culture. We want to say that there is no god and that all things have natural causes, but we won’t allow those natural causes to actually play out in real life. Each and every time I preach about sexism, racism, dignity, or any other idea even tangentially related to this, I bring up this inconsistency and challenge the nonChristians in attendance to make sense of this. The truth is, they cannot. But it is not enough for us to simply demonstrate the inconsistency. We then have to build a case for why the Christian faith actually offers a far more coherent and satisfying view of human life.
Another example of this is the current thinking around sexuality and gender. Carl Trueman’s book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self should be on all of your bookshelves as a go-to resource for how we got where we are, especially as it relates to sex and gender. The short version is that the center of authority shifted from God to the Self, and in the process, so too did the virtues and vices that govern the world. Now, the highest virtue in our culture is unfettered self-expression or “authenticity”. To be your full self without any shame or hesitation is the height of human experience in the postmodern world. Therefore the greatest vice is anyone or anything that prevents you from being your full self (as you define it). This is why words like harm and violence have come to mean anything that doesn’t fully affirm whatever choice of self-expression
We have now completely lost the philosophical foundation to say anything is objectively good or evil and instead can say no more than “I don’t like that”. Why? Because without an objective moral code (and an objective moral being to communicate that code), we can’t make universal moral statements. Therefore, what is good to me may or may not be good for you and there is nothing I can do about it. Now, no one lives this way, and that’s the point. The illogic creates necessary hypocrisy and we need to point that out.
There are endless ways that postmodern culture is illogical and incoherent. When I sit down to preach a sermon, I start with my text and do my exegesis. Once I have done that, I step back and ask, “what is this passage about?” and try to find a word or phrase that best sums up the point. From there, I ask myself, “what does the world say is true about that idea?”. I try to explain this in good faith, in a way that a real, smart person would articulate their position on the subject. I don’t use straw man arguments and I try not to be reductionistic. A nonChristian should be able to say, “even though I disagree with this pastor, he does understand my position and has stated it clearly.”
Then, I try to demonstrate how that perspective is illogical, incoherent, or inconsistent. I do so clearly, graciously, and without mocking (usually). But there is no confusion about where I stand on the issue. This is very important. We have to walk the line between being vague and squishy and being an argumentative jerk. We have to be crystal clear and gracious. Demonstrate how the idea doesn’t even work if you assume their own ideas, not just that it doesn’t square with the Bible.
But we can’t stop here. We then have to paint a picture of how Christianity understands this same idea in a way that is both more logical and more satisfying. That is the proclamation of the good news and that is our main task as preachers. So we can’t ignore the ideas around us, nor can we simply argue against them, we must pay attention, understand them, and dismantle them. So that we can accurately and relevantly preach the gospel to our neighbors.