As a Christian and a conservative, I believe we have reached a crossroads where we need to seriously reconsider our approach to cultural engagement. The swift undercurrent of moral decay continues to take most Christians by surprise while our pragmatic approach to morality rooted in tradition and dependent on consensus forces us down the slippery slope of relativism. As much as we want to protect our freedom of speech, have we really had all that much to say? As much as we want to protect the right to life, have we been focused more on the right than the life created in the image of God? And in all of our efforts to defend traditional marriage, have we capitulated to non-biblical perspectives in our appeal to the safety of tradition instead of a risky appeal to Scripture? An explicitly Christian worldview has not been welcome in the marketplace of ideas for some time. As a result, believers have caved to society’s demands for a secularized message under the guise of “public language,” an attempt to give the appearance that morality can be dislodged from its worldview foundations. This enterprise has been anything but successful. Yet Christian conservatives continue to clamor for moral revival in pluralistic setting that might, for only a short time, reflect certain values consistent with Scripture. The problem with this conception of moral revival is that it is about as effective as yo-yo dieting.
The recent conversation over Glenn Beck’s appeal to the generic god of conservative values has shown that the problem is not so much with Glenn Beck as it is with a church un-phased by the dismantling of her worldview. She is a church afraid to make claims on the nature and foundations of morality. What’s worse is that she is a church that has actually been duped by her own strategy because the public language once used to bandage the moral hemorrhage of society is now core to the belief system of these well-meaning Christians. The doctrine of God no longer is foundational to the message but is viewed more as an impediment to results.
Moral revival must not be separated from spiritual revival. Questions of morality must always point back to a rational justification and worldview. To begin the process of morality at the point of values guarantees a clash of worldviews where Christianity is merely on par with her competition. But where the moral life of the follower of Christ begins is in commitment to her God, not to the comforts of a culture that thrives in the impact of Christian values without commitment to the triune God of Scripture.
This is not an argument for a repeat retreat from culture, but an appeal to recognize that we can’t trust consensus for an establishment of moral values that cohere to a Christian worldview. The shaping of culture and values is inextricably tied to the gospel where as hearts are changed, new and renewed disciples learn to commit their lives to the ethics of heaven for the purpose of pleasing God first and for the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth.
In 1979, Koop and Schaeffer wrote:
the humanist worldview has also brought us to the present devaluation of human life it is naïve and irresponsible to imagine that this worldview will reverse the direction in the future. A well-meaning commitment to ‘do what is right’ will not be sufficient It was the materialistic worldview that brought in the inhumanity; it must be a different worldview that drives it out. An emotional uneasiness about abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and the abuse of genetic knowledge is not enough. To stand against the present devaluation of human life, a significant percentage of people within our society must adopt and live by a worldview which not only hopes or intends to give a basis for human dignity but which really does. (Whatever Happened to the Human Race, p. 81)
Pretending (it is possible) to be without a worldview or pretending all worldviews are acceptable to answer the great moral questions of our time, is quite naïve. Moral revival is possible, but not unaccompanied by a gospel-framework; a society searching for meaning is left unaided by a Christian morality that sets Christianity aside as if it is only an ancillary aspect of the moral conversation. We must be as committed to the foundations of morality as we are the moral positions themselves, because without understanding Christianity for its exclusive claims makes it likely that breaches in the moral code will be viewed as merely harmless infractions. As time goes by, we tend to become more desensitized to the sin that grieves our Lord and Savior when our primary arguments against these public matters are more about their impracticality.
Moral revival begins with spiritual revival, and first the church must awaken from her restless slumber and reinvigorate her commitment to the authority and teachings of Scripture. Culture can also be a part of this moral revival, but in a way that believers are reaching into the lives of unbelievers with a love your neighbor ethic grounded in a love for God. This God cannot remain the generic god of politically correct conservative pluralism, but must be defined and embraced as the almighty God of biblical Christianity. We are faced with a choice between the compromise of consensus or theological substance which can actually ground Christian ethics.