What Causes Fragile Christian Faith?

Christians love truth. We love truth because the God of the Bible is the God of truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).” We are not post-modernists who claim there is no truth, or that one person can have one ‘truth’ while another their own contradictory ‘truth.’ Logically, ‘truth’ cannot contradict itself. Rather, the Christian worldview is a cohesive consistent truth abiding worldview. In fact, as I labor to demonstrate through my ministry overall, the Biblical worldview is the only cohesive consistent truth abiding worldview. It is against the standard of the Bible that every attempt at understanding truth is to be weighed.

Some years ago I engaged with the writings of Francis Schaeffer for the first time. Schaeffer was first and foremost a lover of God. He had a passion that the God of the Bible would be known and worshipped. As a Pastor he fought tirelessly to cut through the lies that were being fed to his people through the education system and through the media of his day, and he took the uncomfortable and often hated path of tirelessly defending God’s Word in order to strengthen and build up God’s people. Schaeffer was jealous for God (Numbers 25:11). When he saw false ideology sneaking into the hearts and minds of Christians, he saw that false thinking as an attack against the God he loved, and so he fought back with truth and love. In his book A Christian Manifesto Schaeffer writes,

“It is not too strong to say that we are at war, and there are no neutral parties in the struggle. One either confesses that God is the final authority, or one confesses that Caesar is Lord.”

Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto 2005

These words lie central to so much of the work God has been doing in my own heart over the last decade. I have sensed that same pulse that drove Schaeffer welling up inside of me over the last near decade of ministry in Chicago. Many Christians have forgotten that we are at war; a war not fought with spears and swords but with sacrificial love and bold Biblical confrontation. At nearly every turn the Word of God is being challenged or undermined in the public square. Most often when the Christian voice is represented, it is often one of weakness. Many Christians are so bombarded by this secular blitzkrieg of ideas that they have developed an overwhelmingly fragile faith. Like Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33), they see the waves of secular argumentation and they feel as though at any step they may sink through the water.

Further, the culture war has taken a sharp turn over the last decade. Christians who think and live Biblically, are no longer considered strange outsiders to the secular norm, but rather are considered the chief villains in our culture’s new progressive direction (Note: the idea of progress actually requires a fixed standard or aim to measure success by otherwise it is simply movement, not progress). As a result, the faith of many Christians has become a sort of privately-held, embarrassing, seemingly anti-intellectual part of their life. Rather than engaging the battle and pushing back against the powers of darkness, we have conceded defeat and allowed demonic ideology to thrive. It is as if we have hidden inside a house of cards and we’re wondering how long the walls will hold. But this is not how Christians are to behave. Schaeffer clarifies our responsibility as those who bare the truth when he says,

“Truth always carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.”

Schaeffer, A Christian View of the Church. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer 1985

How did we get here? I often scratch my head at the fragility of modern Christianity, especially because of the rich Christian heritage that formed Western culture as we know it. From my vantage point I see at least four primary causes of modern western Christian fragility. It is helpful to know these ideas and why they lead to Fragile Christianity if we are going to be able to lay a stronger foundation.

1 The Seeker Sensitive Church Movement: The Seeker Sensitive Church is a movement over the last few generations in which churches, in an effort to reach as many lost people as possible, structured and designed their churches to appeal to and appease non-Christians. The Sunday gathering of a Seeker Sensitive Church often is a combination of a visit to the House of Blues and a Ted Talk. In a sense, these churches did everything they could to not appear overly Christian so that they might not scare away too many non-believers who might be attracted to the visual and mental stimulation of a good rock concert and an interesting speaker. This ministry philosophy impacted everything from what happened on Sunday morning, to what topics and passages were selected to be preached from, to what activities the Church busied themselves with throughout the week, as well as how money was spent. The results were mixed. On the one hand, it seems that these seeker sensitive churches truly did reach many people for Christ during that generation. On the other hand, the type of Christians these churches developed were often just like their seeker sensitive churches, fairly non-committal on any issue that might strike a non-believer as irksome or controversial. Rather than developing believers who were rooted confidently in the Scriptures, they created many Christians who were quite fragile in their commitment to a Biblical worldview.

2 A Wait-It-Out Mentality: Since the early 1900’s the primary American view of how the world is going to end has been Pre-millennialism. Without getting too much into the weeds on theology in this post, Pre-millennialism is the view of the future that believes that culture around us is going to get worse and worse until one day Jesus comes back to usher in a thousand-year period of “almost heaven on earth.” This idea is taken from Revelation 20:4 which mentions a “thousand -year” period. Personally, I do not hold to this theological perspective. Nevertheless, it is the most popular among lay Christians in America. When this theology is taken to its extreme, it causes Christians to live with a wait-it-out mentality. In other words, if it’s going to get worse and worse, then Christians should not expect that they will have much of an impact on society at all. Therefore, the safer and perhaps wiser course of action is to barricade yourself in and wait until Jesus returns. It is a tragic reality that this is exactly what many Christians have done. Rather than boldly confronting sinful society’s erroneous ways, and becoming agents of bold Biblical change, have hidden themselves in the safety of their bunkered churches. What a far cry from Jesus command in Matthew 5:16 to, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

3 A Practical Denial of Biblical Sufficiency: The doctrine of Biblical Sufficiency states that the Bible is sufficient for a life of faith and service. We do not need any additional books or ideas in order to navigate the challenges that we are confronted with throughout our life. While most Christians might say they believe in this historic doctrine in principle, in application they often live their lives and overcome challenges in such a way that demonstrates they do not truly believe it. This amounts to a compromise of sorts, a compromise in which the Bible is devalued from its status of sufficient to a new status of helpful. The marks of this compromise are clearly on display all across the modern Western Church. We have developed a worldview within the Church where the Bible is no longer seen as the centerpiece of all we do and how we do it. Rather we are consistently looking to the tools of the world, the ways of the world, and the strategies of the world to navigate life. We want a little bit of the Bible and a little bit of the Enneagram. We want a dose of Scripture along with a dose of the Corporate Leadership Principles. We want a teaspoon of Genesis and a gallon of Darwin. This rejection of Biblical Sufficiency has worked its way through the Church, through our literature, and through our minds to the point that many Christians today are wholly untrained in how to think Biblically at all.

4 A Failure to Remember History: Christians today stand on the shoulders of giants. The men and women who preceded us in generations past worked tirelessly to purify and reform the Church. All around the globe, under varying degrees of persecution, Christians have fought for godliness in their own lives and godliness in the culture around them. Many of the false ideologies we are facing today are nothing less than reemergence’s of previously defeated foes, ancient heresy’s showing themselves in new and creative ways. Speaking of the early Puritans and their fight to reform the Church and seek after Christ Joel Beeke writes,

“It was not that they thought of themselves as pure or fully Reformed; it was that they wanted to reform in an ongoing manner what in the church and in themselves remained to be purified.”

Joel Beeke. Following God: An Introduction to the Puritans

Modern Christians have failed to see our story as part of the rich legacy of Christianity, precisely what the Scriptures invite us to do. Our lives are deeply intertwined with the saints of the past, with their stories, their shortcomings, their challenges, their trials, and their victories. Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).” We need to learn how to retell over and over the heroic stories of the Saints of the past. We need to re-learn actual American history, and how the Puritans, armed with Scripture and a love of Christ, shaped the cultural values of a land that would one day become the nation of America. We need to read the biographies and the stories of those who risked greatly in order to see society changed (John Knox, William Wilberforce, DL Moody, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Newton, Suzannah Wesley, Manasseh Cutler, the list goes one!) We dishonor our Christian legacy by standing passively by as the Christian foundation that was laid before us is aggressively dismantled before our eyes.

Concluding Thoughts

My heart is to bring a renewed confidence to my Christian readers. I aim to demonstrate that Christianity is not just a private set of beliefs, but is rather a powerful holistic worldview to be lived out boldly and publicly. It ought to be our aim to combat the modern fragility of the Church by demonstrating the strength of the Christian convictions. My great prayer is that in doing so, Christians might once more pick up the mantle of faith that has been passed down to us from former generations and carry it boldly before a hurting and watching world. Further, that as we bear witness to the world of Christ’s Lordship, that we ourselves would have our minds renewed and our hearts drawn intimately towards Jesus our Savior. The goal of the Christian life is not to have all the answers; far from it. The goal of the Christian life is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

Oh God may you stir us up to greater affections and deeper pursuits of our Savior than we ever knew possible.

Comments 1
  1. Thank you for this. Another person whose work in these areas has impacted me greatly is Nancy Pearcey. I believe she studied under Francis Schaeffer. Her book, “Total Truth”, should be required reading in all churches. I’ve heard good things about her book, “Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality.” But I haven’t read that one yet.

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