As the revolution in the understanding of human identity and its concomitant reordering of the hierarchy of moral goods proceeds apace, the challenge to the Christians in the wider world is obvious: That which has been historically normative in the West (Christianity’s cultural dominance) is being shown to have been theologically exceptional. We are being once more made conscious of what was obvious to first-century Christians: the fundamental difference that exists between the city of man and the city of God.
To borrow a phrase from Dean Acheson, we have lost an empire and have yet to find a role. The loss of status is sudden and deep, a shock no doubt to the naive who did not realize that, hey, the world does not like being told that man/woman/trans (delete where applicable) is not the measure of all things. The churchmen, the academics, the Presidents of Christian liberal arts colleges who thought their status would always give them a place at the cultural table are discovering to their horror that those who perhaps simply rolled their eyes at belief in the Resurrection are somewhat less indulgent when it comes to dissent over identity politics. In a public square dominated by emotive polarization of opinion, policed by the pitchfork wielding mobs of pop culture, and increasingly refereed by the law courts rather than the ballot box, places at the table are by invitation only. And guess what? Christians are no longer on the guest list.
So what is to be done? I would suggest simply this: That the Church is to continue to confess her faith and to do so faithfully. This is not a call for cultural capitulation, for the Church’s act of confession has always had a twofold aspect. First, it is catechetical and connected to the discipling of those within her bounds. Second, it is polemical because her very insistence on the truth of Christianity and of the kingship of Christ necessarily involves public repudiation of all other pretenders to the throne. Those who are deeply grounded in their Christian identity by their churches on a Sunday will think more clearly about how to respond to the challenges they face Monday to Saturday.
I suspect in the coming years the temptation will be to focus on the latter, on protest, as we fight in the public square for freedom of religion. Yet we must not allow the immediacy of the public problem to blind us to the critical importance of proper teaching for those within the Church. The redefinition of human identity which we are witnessing today is so comprehensive in its scope that Christians need something equally comprehensive if they are to be able to hold fast their confession. And—mark this well—our children will only think that protest worthwhile if we have taken pains to teach them that the Church and her confession are important in the first place. Teach your children by precept and example that church is an optional extra and you teach them that protesting the world's values is the folly of fools.
Churches which are doctrine-lite, or which define themselves with a ten or twelve point doctrinal statement, or which portray themselves as a nice, fun supplement to the more important things of life, are rather like the little pig who built his house of straw. When the wolf blows, the house will simply vanish in the wind. For Christians to continue to protest the world in the public square, they need first to be deeply and seriously grounded in the historic, doctrinal, and elaborate Christian faith. A faith built on Wikipedia articles or reducible to 140 characters points to no lasting city.
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. His previous posts can be found here.