This is going to be an interesting Easter season. In a previous era, under sociological conditions of “Christendom”, Christianity was sufficiently woven into the fabric of Australian society that even non-Christians accurately knew what the Bible claimed about God, Jesus, and the nature of “salvation” – how to be “right with God”. Non-Christians knew that Christians believed that God made the world; that we’ve all turned away from God; Jesus is God become human; Jesus died and rose to forgive us for turning away from God. And that’s why they rejected Christianity – because science has “proven” that there is no God; people are basically good – the doctrine of sin is bad for our ego; Jesus was just a good man, not God incarnate… etc.
Well, that was then. Today, under “post-Christendom”, Christianity has been so marginalised and misrepresented that the majority of non-Christians do not have the opportunity to accurately learn what the Bible claims about God, Jesus, and salvation. In particular, young people and immigrants genuinely have no idea what Christians believe. “Jesus Christ” is to them a swear word.
However, another aspect of contemporary post-Christendom is that the cultural trappings of Christianity still exist. The shops are full of not just buns, but hot cross buns. And many of the chocolate Easter eggs are empty – just like the tomb was on that first Easter Sunday.
We still have the opportunity to proclaim the real meaning of Easter to an ignorant nation. The question is – will we have the courage to do so?
Part of the post-Christendom marginalisation and misrepresentation of Christianity has been the constant vilification of Christianity and Christians as being “bigoted” “intolerant” “homophobic” “transphobic” “cisgenderists”, because we stand against the values of contemporary culture. Here in Australia, we’ve recently seen this kind of censorious prejudice in the hysterical response to the Bible Society releasing a short video where Andrew Hastie, a Christian, and Tim Wilson, an atheist homosexual, discuss same-sex marriage, then drink Coopers beer. Coopers was vilified for publicising the possibility that same-sex marriage might not be good for individuals and society, came under commercial pressure, and capitulated by issuing a rather craven apology.
[Update 29 March: and over the last few days there’s been a social media campaign shaming major corporations into requiring Christian executives to step down from being board members of Christian organisations. One Christian organisation has been forced to request the kind of protection usually reserved for organisations like women’s shelters.
The latest person to be targeted is Stephen Chavura, a Macquarie University academic. Will the university remain a place of free thought, free speech, and the free, if robust, exchange of ideas – all the qualities that are usually associated with “academic freedom”? We’ll have to wait and see.]
Similarly, in the USA, Princeton Seminary – a theological college of the socially progressive, theologically liberal PCUSA – announced they were awarding Tim Keller – a minister of the theologically conservative PCA – a prize for contemporary cultural engagement. They were promptly vilified for awarding someone who held to traditional, historically orthodox, Biblical views of sexuality and male leadership of congregations. So they rescinded the prize – but are still permitting Keller to deliver the lecture associated with the prize. Keller, instead of being insulted by the withdrawal of the award, has agreed to speak on Lesslie Newbigin and the missional church movement.
The cultural opponents of Christianity are actually correct. Christians believe, amongst other things, that:
- Jesus is the unique manifestation of God, and the only way to be right with God – and by implication, all other religions are false;
- Healthy sexuality is not fluid, but ordered, and that order is heterosexual monogamy;
- Healthy gendered self-identity is not fluid, but binary.
All of these contradict contemporary assumptions concerning ‘tolerance’ and sexual fluidity.
As Christians, we believe our beliefs are:
- Rational: they can be articulated in a calm, non-violent manner that invites deep thought; and the proper way to respond to this presentation is in an equally calm, non-violent, thoughtful manner;
- Healthy: living by them is good for human beings because it agrees with human nature.
However, these high-profile attacks on Christian speech and identity demonstrate that contemporary permissive, hyper-sexualised Western culture is irrationally and unhealthily prejudiced against Christian identity and life. Therefore, Christians are under pressure to self-censor – to not take the risk of even trying to say that belonging to Jesus, and living his way, just might be good and healthy. We need to work up the courage to publicly identify as Christian, and engaging in the uncomfortable, counter-cultural activities of rationally explaining, and publicly demonstrating, the goodness – the ‘healthiness’ – of Christian identity and life.
The thing is – hiding our Christian identity will, in the long run, be even more dangerous. If we hide our Christian identity when it’s ‘dangerous’ or ‘inconvenient’, we will at least be ineffective in evangelism. If we get used to doing so, we will, little by little, drift away from Christ – because our real God will cease to be Jesus and instead become our personal comfort. This is the sort of thing the writer to the Hebrews warned against – Heb 10:32-39. Also, compare Mark 8:38 with Rom 1:16-17 and 2 Tim 1:8-2:3.
Under post-Christendom, people are genuinely ignorant of the gospel, but many cultural trappings of Christianity remain. One of them is the Easter holiday season. We can use these cultural trappings to explain the gospel to people. But another aspect of post-Christendom is the subtle (or not-so-subtle) pressure upon us to stay silent – to censor our speech concerning Christianity. So, speaking about Jesus this Easter will need courage – courage to not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ crucified and risen.