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A CALL TO RESURGENCE
WILL CHRISTIANITY HAVE A FUNERAL OR A FUTURE?
By MARK DRISCOLL
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2013 On Mission, LLC, and Mark Driscoll
All rights reserved.
CHRISTENDOM IS DEAD
WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF SEATTLE
I have spent the last twenty years of my life ministering in one of the least churched and most liberal cities in America.
In many ways, Seattle is not just post-Christian; it's pre-Christian. We never had a Christian heyday. The Puritans landed on the other side of the nation. The Great Awakenings did not touch my hibernating hometown. The evangelical church-planting movements, the denominations, the publishing companies, and the theological institutions spread to the South and Midwest but never to the Great North Left. The county I live in voted enthusiastically for gay marriage and marijuana, which means I can now smoke a joint while marrying a dude. The Netherlands decriminalized marijuana; Jamaica overlooks it; we legalized it, so I guess we're to the left of Amsterdam and Kingston, if you can believe it.
When I first planted Mars Hill Church out of a college ministry in Seattle in 1996, we were a small group of broke, newly converted, single indie rockers trying to reach a city that was home to more dogs and cats than children or evangelicals. Today a growing majority in the United States, Canada, and Europe—especially young people and urbanites—think and act pretty much the same as the people I've been trying to reach. In the providence of God, I was granted, along with other ministers in cities like mine, the great honor to plow new ground and scatter gospel seed early—with all the birds, rocks, and thorns that Jesus promised.
Of course, the rest of the country and the world are not destined to become just like Seattle. But I am convinced that what my church has seen become normative in our city will soon become normative elsewhere. The tsunami of cultural change hit our beach first, which puts us in a position to help others learn from our fruit and our failure. Maybe our little church plant was like Noah's dove, sent to explore the landscape of a new world.
I have been hated, protested, despised, lied about, threatened, and maligned so many times and in so many ways I could not even begin to recount them all. I have made mistakes, committed sins, failed, and said things in ways that should have slowed down the forward progress of the gospel. Yet while we started with about a dozen mainly broke, single, arty people in the living room of our rental home with literally nothing but an open Bible and open hearts, we've seen God graciously build a church one changed life at a time. We've become one of our nation's largest and fastest-growing churches, based upon an hour-plus of Bible preaching every week. It truly makes no sense. But every time the media ask me what the secret is, I tell them the same thing: it does not matter what is against you if Jesus is with you.
Jesus said the fields are "ripe for harvest," and he was not exaggerating. For multiple years in a row we have baptized over a thousand new Christians. Many if not most of them are young, single, college educated, and not virgins, who have spent more time with porn than with Paul and who represent the first generation of faith in their families, breaking decades of unbelief, perversion, addiction, and folly. All of this is happening in what some affectionately call The People's Republic of Seattle. Our run won't last forever, and not every church will experience exactly what we have, but there are reasons for hope.
For those Christians concerned that culture is trending more hostile to the faith, I assure you after two decades on the front line that this is not a time of retreat but rather resurgence. This is not a time for compromise but rather courage. The fields are ripe. And as Jesus says, "the laborers are few"—in part because the prophets of doom are many. I'm frankly sick of all the books and movies trying to predict when Jesus will return and we'll get to start our eternal vacation at his all-inclusive resort called heaven. I'm also sick of the nerd parade of books and conferences that approach the Bible like scholars whose mission is to get their master's rather than soldiers who are on mission with their Master.
We've got work to do. There are lost people to reach, churches to plant, and nations to evangelize. Hell is hot, forever is a long time, and it's our turn to stop making a dent and start making a difference. This is no time to trade in boots for flip-flops. The days are darker, which means our resolve must be stronger and our convictions clearer.
ONE NATION, UNDER GOD?
If you don't believe me that evangelical Christians' days are getting darker, consider the spirituality of our 2012 presidential candidates. Unlike in past elections, candidates proving themselves to be born-again Christians is no longer seen as helpful for campaigning. The loser's beliefs were clearly Mormon. The winner's beliefs were clearly unclear.
On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama placed his hand on a Bible he may not entirely believe to take an oath to a God he may not entirely know. Jesus alone will judge his soul one day, but in the meantime we are free to be confused by a man who says he's a Christian while ending his speech to America's largest abortion provider with, "Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you." Anyway, with a hand on the Bible, he swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, concluding with the words, "So help me God." He then made a speech that invoked God five times. In a conspicuous display of religious pageantry, an array of leaders representing numerous faith traditions witnessed the event, each offering some nebulous greeting card statement from the Sky Fairy while wearing a robe or fancy hat, because the best way to keep up a farce is to really play along and pay attention to the details.
Barack Obama then took his place as the leader of a nation whose money says "In God We Trust" without even the courtesy of a punch line to let us know it's a joke. At the very least, the photos of the dead presidents on our currency should show them smirking to clue us in on the ruse.
One notable omission on the inauguration stage was Pastor Louie Giglio. He was dumped like a prom date with tuberculosis, although the official report was that he withdrew. He had been invited to offer an opening prayer as the token evangelical. Louie is by all accounts a great, noncontroversial guy—unlike some of us—which is pretty much what you'd expect from a guy named Louie who wears scarves. He's known for leading the Passion Movement, which hosts conferences for upward of sixty thousand college students who flock to Atlanta every year to hear from God's Word and sing God's praises. He has given years of his life and raised millions of dollars to free people from human trafficking and the sex trade. He started a popular church in Atlanta, where he loves and serves people. It's no wonder the Obama administration took notice and invited Giglio to give the benediction at the second inaugural festivities.
The hose found the bees' nest when a website published excerpts from a sermon Louie had delivered almost two decades prior. In that message this pastor had the audacity to point out that, according to the Bible, the homosexual lifestyle is unacceptable in God's eyes. The disclosure had its intended effect. Like-minded critics jumped on the story, and a guy who could have won "most huggable" in Bible college became Public Enemy Number One overnight—all because he was God's messenger instead of God's editor. Forty-eight hours after receiving the invitation to join President Obama onstage, Louie Giglio was scratched from the schedule. Clearly embarrassed by their original choice, the Presidential Inaugural Committee went into damage-control mode and issued a statement assuring the nation that "we were not aware of Pastor Giglio's past comments at the time of his selection and they don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country.... As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration's vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans."
Like most hypocrisy, the irony was unintentional, I'm sure, as those who are most vocal about tolerance are often the most intolerant. While the nation celebrated tolerance, liberation, and homosexuality, the evangelical Christian was forced to get into the closet. When George W. Bush was in office, he personally addressed the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention by either satellite or video at least four times in two terms and got a standing ovation from conservative evangelicals who were respected and influential at the highest levels of government. In President Obama's first term, the White House had invited Rick Warren to pray. This time around, however, one of the faith's most likable, well-meaning, accessible representatives was barred from participation. When evangelicals can't even land a token appearance at an event orchestrated to reflect the various facets of American society, it's clear that Christian clout has reached its expiration date and been pulled off the shelf.
The Inaugural Committee replaced Louie Giglio with a very nice, unquestionably pro-gay Episcopalian pastor in a bathrobe, brought in from central casting to lend an air of formal spirituality to the whole affair. The prayer he offered was forgettable and diplomatic; he's about as likely to preach repentance as I am to get pregnant. The Associated Press reported on the significance of the whole ordeal: "There may be no clearer reflection of this moment in American religious life than the tensions surrounding prayers at President Barack Obama's inauguration."
January 21, 2013, was more than Inauguration Day. It was also a funeral. The highest office in the land made it clear: "inclusion and acceptance for all Americans" no longer includes Bible-believing, evangelical Christians.
As far as Western civilization is concerned, Christendom is officially dead.
AN OBITUARY FOR CHRISTENDOM
Like many deaths, the final demise of Christendom occurred after a long, painful struggle that started in the 1960s and 1970s. Christendom took a serious beating during those years from the fatal five: gender confusion, sex, abortions, drugs, and Spiritless spirituality. Strength and vigor waned as Christendom grew old and tired in the 1980s and 1990s. By the turn of the millennium, it could no longer fight back. Finally, after more than a decade of labored breathing and a weakening heart, Christendom has gone the way of all flesh.
But before we move forward into a future without Christendom, it's important to look back to see where we've come from. What exactly is Christendom, how is it different from Christianity itself, and how does it relate to the church today?
The life of modern Christendom began about the time of the Reformation and lasted roughly five hundred years, depending on which historian you read. The United States of America was among the most adventurous experiments of Christendom. It was a nation established in large part by professing Christians motivated by Christian values to accomplish Christian purposes.
For many years Christendom shaped the development of Western culture in general and American culture specifically. Judeo-Christian ethics provided a shared moral infrastructure, the church and its leaders were welcome participants in the fabric of society, a common vocabulary facilitated discussion regarding the public good, and religious organizations benefited from certain legal and financial advantages (for example, nonprofit designations for ministries and tax deductions for giving to the church).
Practically, this did not mean that everyone was born again, loved Jesus, hated sin, and believed the Bible. Devotion to a particular deity was not as important as being a moral person and good citizen. Even so, a common heritage of faith resulted in a general consensus on many social issues. For example, in the days of Christendom, couples were discouraged from living together before marriage. Conventional wisdom said that the best context for raising children was heterosexual marriage. Pornography, prostitution, and drugs were considered wrong. And at least until the 1990s, Christendom in America wielded great political and cultural power in the form of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority, a term that almost no one would use to describe Christians today, unless while scoffing.
In many ways, the world benefited greatly from the collective conscience instilled by Christendom. But the era came with plenty of disadvantages as well. Those representing majority values were often guilty of cruelty toward those in the minority. The wealthy and powerful could justify horrible atrocities with token references to out-of-context Scripture. Christendom sometimes enabled rampant hypocrisy, undermining the credibility of Jesus, the gospel, and the Bible.
Christendom bears the fingerprints of our faith, but it is not Christianity. In fact, when a society favors Christians, people are incentivized to claim the faith whether they actually believe it or not. Publicly practicing some aspects of Christianity—baptizing a child, getting married in a church, giving money to a church, attending services on occasion—included enough perks to encourage people simply to go with the flow. Christendom may have created a favorable environment for Christians, but it often did so at the expense of true Christianity.
THE RISE OF CIVIL RELIGION
Now that Christendom is dead, don't be surprised if you see its corpse lurching around like a zombie, inhabited by an impostor wearing what's left of the body. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observes, "America's problem isn't too much religion, or too little of it. It's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place." One of the most common "pseudo-Christianities" is a construct known since a landmark 1967 essay by sociologist Robert Bellah as "American civil religion." In this rival religion, who God is and how God is to be worshiped are secondary matters we can agree to disagree on so long as all theologies and houses of worship conform to a basic moral framework that serves the primary matter of making a great nation.
American civil religion is not a recent phenomenon. In his farewell address President George Washington said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. ... Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Likewise, 150 years later, President-elect Dwight Eisenhower said, "Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply-felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is."
What has changed since the days of Washington and Eisenhower is that Christendom is no longer the legitimizing center of American civil religion. Instead, our nation has created its own religion that appropriates many of the symbols and narratives of Christendom but without the substance of Christianity. Think of American civil religion in biblical terms: America is Israel. The Revolution is our Exodus. The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution compose our canon of sacred scripture. Abraham Lincoln is our Moses. Independence Day is our Easter. Our national enemies are our Satan. Benedict Arnold is our Judas. The Founding Fathers are our apostles. Taxes are our tithes. Patriotic songs are our hymnal. The Pledge of Allegiance is our sinner's prayer. And the president is our preacher, which is why throughout the history of the office our leaders have referred to "God" without any definition or clarification, allowing people to privately import their own understanding of a higher power.
Due to the ongoing existence of American civil religion, many evangelicals are oblivious to the fact that Christendom is dead and real Christianity is in serious decline. Those in the United States may have a general sense that Christianity is struggling in Europe, but many remain fairly optimistic about our "one nation under God." As long as we see Christmas trees on government property, as long as The Bible miniseries gets good ratings, and as long as we hear public figures talk about "faith," many believers naively assume that real Christianity is alive and well and respected by the majority of our people.
Brace yourself. It's an illusion.
If you're reading this book, most likely you're an evangelical Christian (or one of my critics looking for rocks to throw, which I have piled for your convenience). While many definitions of evangelicalism exist, this diverse and delightfully dysfunctional family of God is perhaps best identified by four distinguishing characteristics:
Bible. The Bible is God's true Word.
Cross. Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
Conversion. Individuals need to be personally converted.
Activism. Belief in the gospel needs to be expressed outwardly.
Based on these criteria, what percentage of Americans could be classified as evangelical Christian? Take a guess.
The answer is around 8 percent. Yes, there are more left-handed people, more Texans, and more pet cats than evangelicals in America.
Excerpted from A CALL TO RESURGENCE by MARK DRISCOLL. Copyright © 2013 On Mission, LLC, and Mark Driscoll. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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