My Post-Christian cringe
PLYMOUTH – The reports of spiritual awakenings on campuses and the release of the Jesus Revolution film reignited a personal concern that is always on my heart.
Today as an adult man, I find myself much less tolerant of the term, “Post-Christian.” When I read the term or hear it used, I raise my shoulders. I grit my teeth. I cringe. I guarantee you will never find me applying the label “Post-Christian” to anything. Let me explain my reasons.
Over sixty years ago, on August 3, Christianity Today published an editorial entitled “Hope in a Post-Christian Era.” The article’s opening statement said, “The opinion is current in some Protestant circles today that the tide of history has turned against the Christian church and that the efforts of believers must be directed toward retrenchment or, perhaps ultimately, toward a radical transformation of the gospel message.” In 1962 when that editorial was originally typed on a mechanical typewriter and I was three years old, I could not have understood the title nor the words in the editorial. Today, the term of Post-Christian within the title annoys me.
Recently, during March 2023 while I was outside the United States visiting a Dutch territory, I studied a text written and edited by Professor Herman Paul and Scientific Researcher Adriaan van Veldhuize from the Netherlands. Their book entitled, Post-Everything: An Intellectual History of Post-Concepts (Manchester University Press, July 17, 2021) displayed how the term Post-Christian dates as far back as the 1930’s when it was being used by right-wing political secularists who were celebrating the fading influence of Christianity on their respective cultures so that radical nationalism could influence the people toward preparations for World War II. Why would I embrace or use a term, almost one hundred years old, originally created by those who celebrated the decreasing influence of Christianity?
I respect the rights of others who will continue to use the phrase, Post-Christian, but I will never use that descriptive term. I believe this is a case where a label such as Post-Christian is misleading and damaging. I believe those who will continue to use that phrase commonly justify their usage by explaining that Post-Christian signifies:
An era in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion.
A culture in which Christian values and worldview are marginalized.
A people who once defined themselves as Christians now identify as “Nones.”
Why will I never label something Post-Christian? I believe the hyphenated, two-word phrase expresses the wrong message to those who are not following Christ and those who do follow Christ. It gives the impression that the Lord placed an expiration date on an era, a culture, or a people. When in reality I cannot think of an era, a culture, or a people where followers of Jesus Christ did not have to behave as missionaries. From the first century until present day, there have been times of increased and decreased influence. Oftentimes, the ebb and flow of Christianity’s influence had more to do with the health or sickness of Christianity’s expression in the lives of its followers and/or leaders than the response of a particular era, culture, or people.
Bleak Point of View
I cringe when I hear or read someone trumpet-out, “We are living in Post-Christian times,” or a person describes geographic environments, such as a nation or a continent, as Post-Christian. Some see hopelessness everywhere and they labor to make sure everyone hears or reads their gloomy analysis and their catastrophic predictions. We have all heard that misery loves company; but I often wonder if the Holy Spirit takes delight in the company of those who lost confidence in Him to sustain or start another divine movement. How can the hopeless ones cry out “retreat” when the Holy Spirit advances forward with redemptive plans? I cannot imagine.
I am puzzled why anyone would think it accurate to describe a period of history, a locale, or a people group as previously, completely Christian. The phrase Post-Christian incorrectly creates the notion that there was a period of time, a location, or a people group that was at some moment 100% Christian and then at some moment God’s influence withdrew. Was there a heavenly meeting where the Trinity announced that personnel and resources were being withdrawn from a period of time, one place, or a people to influence others elsewhere? I cannot fathom that. God is the best at multitasking.
I am grieved when some create the horrible, false impression that God’s plans are overturned when believers’ societal influence and believers’ affluence is taken away. There are believing global heroes who impact others for Christ through suffering and persecution while living in the midst of poverty and enduring the chaos of violence, both in North America and worldwide. God’s desires can become reality even when believers lack political influence and even when believers are poor and even when believers are marginalized. Have not God’s plans, at times, been conducted and completed because believers suffered? I cannot ignore Scripture. There are plenty of biblical examples.
Henny-Penny: The Sky is Falling
I fear that some have taken it upon themselves to panic, and mislead others away from a better-placed confidence in the Holy Spirit by reenacting the part of Henny-Penny from the children’s English fairy tale where a falling acorn hit an old hen on the head. Frightened and believing the sky was falling, Henny-Penny incessantly repeated to everyone she met, “Goodness gracious me! The sky’s a-going to fall; I must go and tell the king.”
Henny-penny convinced a rooster, a duck, a goose, and a turkey to join her rush to see the king with the worst news. On their way to see the king, the doomsday-barnyard band met a sly fox who convinced them that his deep, dark den was a short-cut to the king. With Henny-Penny’s agreement, she sent her friends one-by-one into the fox’s den ahead of her. The fox acted as if he was heroically leading the way to the king, when in reality he lurked in the darkness of the den and dispatched the naïve creatures one-by-one. At the last second, Henny-Penny just before dropping herself into the death-trap suddenly decided to return to her perch to lay one more egg before seeing the king and consequently forgot to tell the king about the falling-sky.
Not Post-Christian, Just Divine Patience
Because there is abundant evidence of God’s resolve in Scripture, I will forever believe all of us live in a Christian-something era, culture, and people where the anticipation of God’s influence is present every second of every day, even when we do not easily see it.
Rather than waving flags of hopeless surrender in huddles of despair and anger, why not join the Lord in the never-ending war for redemption, discipleship, and transformation? Ephesians 6:12 (NLT) says, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world.”
I especially love the image of God patiently waiting for the salvation of more people as described in 2 Peter 3:9 and 3:14 (NLT) where it says, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent . . . And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.”
I will never call anything Post-Christian because I know the Lord never retreats from a period of time, nor a place, nor does God abandon people. Psalm 121:4 (NLT) reminds us, the Lord “never slumbers or sleeps.”
The next time others write or speak the phrase “Post-Christian,” after I finish recoiling; I will smirk and then silently repeat in my head, “There is no such thing as Post-Christian-anything; instead, God is everywhere patiently giving people time to be saved.”
I strive to live in anticipation of the Lord’s movement every day of my life. As evidenced by today’s news, events, and reports, there will be spiritual movements that remind us that the Lord will do what he desires, when he desires, where he desires, and among whom he desires, when he desires. I like living with that reality and that description more than how others choose to describe today’s life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Tony L. Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.