There is a strain of commentary that has been more or less constant for the past decade or so, and its thesis is basically thus: A certain group of Christians, by virtue of their cultural position, are embarrassed by the Church and their fellow Christians. They think that the Gospel will be advanced if Christians suck up to their cultural overlords, jettison or hide anything that clashes with the consensus of cultural elites, vote Democratic, and (worst of all) be winsome instead of bold. The world, which is negatively inclined against Christianity (but may not have been up until recently), laughs at such efforts. These “elite” evangelicals are misguided at best and malignant at worst, driving the Church into syncretism (or worse) with their interminable niceness.
I think this is the best statement of said argument (and it contains the valuable insight that there are methodological assumptions in every field), but you can find variations of it in many different places. I think it ultimately doesn’t hold water, and here’s why:
There are no “sides” in Christendom.
This is a problem that afflicts all of us from time to time, but if you never break out of it your criticism will always fundamentally unserious. Christians everywhere—around in the world, in the West, in America, perhaps even in your denomination—are different and embrace things for different reasons. It’s easy to cast our conflicts in terms of binaries, but whether the issue is Critical Race Theory or our last President or sexuality or the value of winsomeness you will find Christians who agree on the fundamentals of the faith but disagree on the substance of the issue at hand. And you’ll find people who go to church but believe some heresy who agree with you, people who disagree with you whose self-sacrificial love for God and His children dwarfs yours, people who agree with you for entirely bogus reasons, and people who simply do not care because they’ve got better things to do. If you think that “your side” (i.e. the people who read your blog) has all of its theological and practical (that is, obedient to God) ducks in a row such that you can define yourself as the good guys fighting against everyone else who’s either wicked or ignorant, you are halfway to tripping on your own shoelaces.
Some of these battles are important, of course, and many are opportunities for Christians to collectively demonstrate faithfulness or unfaithfulness. It’s worth writing and fighting about these issues, just not in a way that creates a dividing line out of whatever the cultural flashpoints du jour is or imagines your enemies as a shadowy cabal that holds all the power and is one election away from ushering in a Handmaid’s Tale or Stalinist regime. If you’re reached the latter point, that feeling of exhilaration you get when you score a point against those nasty “elites” is actually the upward sensation that precedes a shoelace-induced faceplant. The world is too complex and the Church is too diverse to take any us-versus-them narratives in Christendom seriously.
Your preferred solution has been tried and failed.
We have the luxury of living in an age where no movement is unassailable, thus, no one can claim that their own farts smell more pleasant than the rest. Homeschooling, Classical Christian schooling, “Worldview Education”, having your precise set of right doctrines: the last generation tried them all and look where we are now. Being winsome and culturally relevant has also been tried and isn’t exactly forming the disciples we want. Churches that preach the Gospel, serve their neighbors, invite said neighbors to hear, teach the Bible, praise the Lord, and administer the sacraments are everywhere (see previous point) and we’re all struggling to get by. If there was a solution to the problem of cultural decay or an Option to keep our kids from straying, it would be obvious by now. We can and should discuss the terms and strategies of faithfulness, but there’s a bunch of people out there who tried it exactly the way you think it should be done and they didn’t turn out the way you would have hoped.
The long defeat is a real thing. There are humiliating episodes in the recent history of the Church: Was “the world” positive or negative towards Christianity when pastors were being jailed for marching the Civil Rights Movement or when a church was bombed in 1963? Was “the world” positive or negative towards Christianity when churches across the world decided to cover up abuse by their own leaders? Was “the world” positive or negative towards Christianity when the most powerful legislative body in America voted three times in a row to put anti-abortion judges on the Supreme Court? We need strategies of engagement and patterns of faithfulness that learn from the past and hope in God’s provision for the future.
It’s terrible mind-reading.
There are, I admit, Christians who match the description given in my first paragraph. Some of them are in positions of power or write books. Some have already gone all the way to apostasy, others are milking the opportunity to badmouth conservative evangelicals every chance they get. (I get the sense that it is incredibly lucrative for a handful of people, but there’s only so many people who will buy books or subscriptions based on what they hate.) However, simply because you can find representatives who match your stereotype doesn’t mean that everyone who’s embracing winsomeness is one tweet away from running off with his mistress and launching a Patreon for apostasy. Lumping everyone together is mind-reading, and it’s lazy.
I am, undoubtedly, a card-carrying member of the evangelical elite that people love to hate. I say the things I say because I want the Church to be faithful to its mission, I want Christians to be obedient to Christ, and I want non-Christians to experience the love of God in word and deed. Sometimes I give conservative evangelicals a hard time because I love them and I want them to experience certain joys in Christ that I think they’re missing out on, and I give liberal Christians a hard time for the same reason. I see people saying and doing things that don’t honor Christ, and when the Church doesn’t honor Christ it drives away people who are being drawn to Him. I’m not sucking up to my cultural overlords, and neither are most (most, not all) of my friends.
So quit trying to read my mind. You’re not very good at it anyway.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org