Monday, January 21, 2013

Louie Giglio and Preaching to the Culture

On this the day of Obama's 2nd inauguration, Mark Galli has a piece in Christianity Today on the Louie Giglio fiasco and its significance for Christians and their engagement with culture. The overall thrust of the piece -- that the Church needs to preach Christ crucified vigorously, and ditch the moralistic therapeutic deism -- is admirable, but Galli makes some crucial mistakes in his diagnosis of the problem. He says:
When the culture takes issue with the church today, it carps about our oppressive sexual ethics (especially our opposition to homosexual behavior) and our various prosperity gospels (from the most egregious health-and-wealth messages to the more subtle but equally dangerous sermons on how faith in Christ can improve your marriage, your business, and your self-esteem).
With regard to the first, I don't get the impression that Galli thinks this is a problem on the Church's end -- let's be charitable and assume he doesn't. Then this is a non-issue: the Church rightly stands up for its sexual ethics in the public square, and the culture rightly (given its values) tears at its garments and wails. This is as it should be. May it ever be so.

The real mistake is with the latter. The claim that our culture takes issue with self-help, life-management tactics is utterly false. Not only does the wider culture not take issue with this element of American Christianity, but this aberrant strain of the faith is a direct outworking of -- and sustained ally to -- our cultural values and ideology. Thus, when Galli declares:
The current state of our preaching is driven by an admirable desire to show our age the relevance of the gospel. But our recent attempts have inadvertently turned that gospel into mere good advice—about sex, about social ethics, about how to live successfully. This either offends or bores our culture.
One wonders which culture he could possibly be referring to. Again, with regard to preaching about sex, sin, and repentance, our culture does rage against us and we should welcome the fury with delight. With regard to preaching practical, self-help therapy, our culture has no issue at all and is in complete sync with the Church on this point.

Another small complaint about Galli's piece is the introduction, in which he echoes the unfortunately widespread downplaying of Christian persecution in this country -- such as that suffered by Giglio and Hobby Lobby -- by noting that other Christians, at other times and places, get killed and tortured for their faith. Expressed in syllogistic form this argument seems to go something like:

Premise 1: There are many levels of severity of persecution.
Premise 2: ?????
Conclusion: Relatively mild persecution is not persecution at all.

We are called to live faithfully and to suffer through the persecution that might result. And we should encourage our brothers and sisters who suffer persecution, no matter what form it comes in. This obsessive need to downplay legitimate persecution, just because it's not as bad as it could be, is abhorrent. Murdering Christians for their faith is wicked; chasing Christians from the public square because they refuse to submit to the anti-Christian secular hegemony is also wicked, not to mention anti-American. If we are going to serve as a prophetic witness to the culture, we have to call out persecution for what it is rather than shrug it off.

With all that said, Galli is still right about the prosperity gospels, subtle and blatant, which need to be rooted out from the garden of Christianity. What he doesn't seem to get is that, even if this purge were wholly successful, this is much more likely to make Christianity even less attractive to our culture. Thankfully, we're not called to market the faith effectively, but rather to repentance, faithfulness, and holiness.

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