Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst

Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst

by Ed Stetzer


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Are you tired of reading another news story about Christians supposedly acting at their worst?
Today there are too many examples of those claiming to follow Christ being caustic, divisive, and irrational, contributing to dismissals of the Christian faith as hypocritical, self-interested, and politically co-opted. What has happened in our society? One short outrageous video, whether it is true or not, can trigger an avalanche of comments on social media.

Welcome to the new age of outrage.
In this groundbreaking book featuring new survey research of evangelicals and their relationship to the age of outrage, Ed Stetzer offers a constructive way forward. You won’t want to miss Ed’s insightful analysis of our chaotic age, his commonsensical understanding of the cultural currents, and his compelling challenge to Christians to live in a refreshingly different way.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496433626
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 257,664
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Outrage Cause #1: A Cultural Forking

• Of evangelicals with an opinion, 82 percent believe that since the 2016 presidential election, groups within the Christian church have become increasingly polarized on issues of politics.

• Of evangelicals with an opinion, 73 percent believe the 2016 presidential election revealed political divides within the Christian church that have existed for a long time.

When I came to Wheaton College, I began to serve as the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair. (The chair is distinguished, not the chair holder, I assure you.)

That role, and the role at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton, came with a key responsibility. Eventually, I was given a card that I was told I needed to carry on my person. On campus, traveling to conferences, and even on family vacation, I needed to make sure this card was always on me.

This was all part of something called "The Washington Project," a secret phrase we would use to refer to what we would do after Mr. Graham passed. (Hint: I'm not good at keeping secrets.)

But this was a serious responsibility, and I took it as such. It got to the point that I was thinking about having the card tattooed to the back of my hand.

Printed on the card were step-by-step directions to follow when Billy Graham died: the people I needed to call, the e-mails I needed to write, and the flights I needed to book. We knew that when this news finally broke, there would be a frenzy of activity. Arrangements would need to be made, interviews given, and articles published. This wasn't hype; we understood that the opportunity to celebrate the life of Billy Graham was going to be a major platform to continue the work to which he devoted his life: preaching the gospel to the world. As it turned out, his funeral was, in a sense, his last crusade, and millions tuned in.

But why? Why such an ordered procedure? Why such intensity to make sure the process happened immediately? Why such a big deal?

Because it was Billy Graham.

Non-Christians and even younger Christians today may have difficulty understanding the impact and importance of Billy Graham. After all, thousands of preachers today have their own followings, YouTube videos, and podcasts. Ask ten Christians who their favorite Christian preacher or leader is, and you will likely get ten different answers. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, the vast majority of Christians gave the same answer: Billy Graham.

When obituary after obituary called Graham "America's pastor," it wasn't an exaggeration. To many Americans, including presidents, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists, and award-winning actors, Graham was their only connection to Christianity. He was their pastor.

Graham seemingly walked effortlessly across the cultural divisions that proved insurmountable to so many other leaders. From Karl Barth to Carl Henry, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Richard Nixon, from Johnny Cash to Queen Elizabeth, Graham won friends among communities and traditions, and in doing so, he proved to be one of the most unifying forces in American life.

To grasp the scale, consider that in Gallup's yearly poll listing the ten most admired men, Graham appeared sixty-one times between 1948 and 2017. For comparison, among other men the one who came closest was Ronald Reagan, who appeared thirty-one times. Queen Elizabeth came closest overall; she has appeared forty-nine times in the list of the ten most admired women. Among people who are not national leaders, Oprah Winfrey has appeared thirty times and Bill Gates has been on the list eighteen times. Consider how staggering that is. As much as the world loves Oprah or Bill Gates today, Graham had more than double the appearances of Oprah and was on the list three times as often as Gates.

Consider also that in a recent research project we conducted at the Billy Graham Center, we asked evangelical pastors, "What two nationally known pastors have been most influential in the way you do ministry at your church?" Though Graham had been out of the spotlight for nearly two decades, he was still ninth among all pastors. He jumped to second when we asked the same pastors who the most influential pastor on their ministry in the 1990s was. More than just shaping the public perception of Christianity, Graham was (and continues to be) considered by many Christians as an example to follow, not only in their evangelistic projects but in their entire ministries.

For almost seventy years, Graham had been the living embodiment of the West's religious openness. Even those who did not believe recognized in Graham a model of Christian virtue and ethics. He won begrudging respect from those we might classify as his cultural or theological opponents — a situation that seems almost impossible today.

One of the major causes for the age of outrage is that this religious and cultural consensus has evaporated. Graham's death in February 2018 was not the beginning of this change but serves as an appropriate bookend to a past age. Out of the spotlight for many years, Graham's declining presence in American life parallels the decline of the consensus he forged throughout his life. Thus, the incessant need of many Christians to find "the next Billy Graham" speaks to a recognition that we have lost a unifying force within a culture that was already splintering.

When Nominals Become Nones

Baseball great Yogi Berra used to say, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

America did. So did Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The majority of people in these nations were once vaguely Christian, but for years, those with loosely held religious beliefs have been dropping them, and as a result, the entire English-speaking Western world is becoming more secular.

Focusing on the United States for a moment may help, though similar trends are taking place across the English-speaking Western world. Most Americans, who identify as loosely Christian, are becoming less so — they are more frequently choosing "none of the above" rather than "Christian" when surveyed about their beliefs. In fact, each year about an additional one percent of Americans no longer identify as Christian.

Put another way, the nominals are becoming the nones. And as they become nones, their mind-set is more aligned with secular-minded people and they have less affinity with the avowedly religious. At the same time, the percentage of the devout has remained relatively stable.

The effect of this trend is that American culture is incrementally polarizing along religious lines. People are either becoming more secular or staying devout, though the biggest group is becoming more secular. This is where we meet the fork in the road: How do we engage with our faith in a culture now polarized along faith lines rather than being at least nominally Christian?

It is useful to think about culture as a river, flowing in the direction of our collective beliefs and values. Within this river, there were once three primary streams, each of which included about a quarter of the population (the other quarter being self-identified non-Christians). These three groups are

Cultural Christians: People who self-identify as Christian because they are not something else and were born in a historically Christian country. They are Christians, in their minds, because that is part of their heritage.

Congregational Christians: People at church on Christmas Eve, and maybe for the occasional wedding or funeral. Although they may not have a vibrant faith, they retain some connection to a local congregation, probably going back on Easter, for example. As a result, over the last few decades, most churches have tried to reach these people.

Convictional Christians: People who identify as Christians and are decidedly more religious. They more likely go to church regularly, live values that align with Christianity, and choose their spouses based on their faith. (According to the General Social Survey and some analysis I have explained more thoroughly in USA Today, the percentage of people in this group has remained relatively steady for the last few decades.)

While historically there have been divergences and reunions in our cultural river, the overall consensus among Americans (like most of the West) was shaped by a common Judeo-Christian belief system. Even though there was significant disparity when it came to the importance they attached to religion, all three streams shared an underlying commitment to (sometimes vaguely held) Christian beliefs and values. In essence, each group moved in the same direction. While there was a fourth stream defined by other religious traditions and/or secularism, those beliefs were outside the mainstream.

Today we are witnessing a shift in this model. About 25 percent of Americans (higher in other English-speaking countries) identify as non-Christians, either because they are another religion (Jewish, Hindu, etc.) or because they are secular (atheist, agnostic, or just "none of the above" — we call that last category the "nones.") That stream continues to expand.

At the same time, the percentage of Convictional Christians in the US population has remained generally stable. What have changed are the number and beliefs of Cultural and Congregational Christians. As a result of the collapse of mainline Protestantism and the growth of secularism, Convictional Christianity has incrementally moved outside the American cultural mainstream. In fact, as I explained in the Washington Post, as the numbers of Cultural and Congregational Christians decrease, the worldview and values of these Americans have shifted toward the secular stream and away from that of Convictional Christians.

However, the percentage who say they regularly attend church has remained relatively steady, and regular church attendance is often a marker of Convictional Christians. The graph on the following page shows regular church attendance for Protestants, which include mainline Protestant, evangelical, and historically African American churches. As you can see, attendance actually went up in 2016. (I know, I know, that's not what the doomsday stat books say, but it still is true.) And yes, some people exaggerate their church attendance. But the numbers tell us that the percentage of religious people who call themselves Christians has remained relatively steady.

So Convictional Christianity and regular church participation by its members have not substantially declined. That fact was confirmed by the release of a recent Pew Research report, which led to the Religion News Service article "Pew Study: More Americans Reject Religion, but Believers Firm in Faith" and the Christianity Today article "Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America." That's not to say all is well, but clearly a substantial number of people still live out their self-identified Christian faith in the United States.

However — and this is key — Convictional Christianity has incrementally split from the mainstream of Western culture. This has provoked anger among some Christians. Since their values and practices shaped culture for so long, they had the impression that they owned the culture in some sense. These Christians want their country back, and by that they mean they want their cultural power back. This anger can lead to hostility against those they believe have taken it, fear that this trend will continue and lead to their marginalization, and confusion as to what to do about it.

President Trump's election is a reminder that cultural Christianity remains a potent force in American politics, as he rallied many self-identified Christians who felt marginalized in this new cultural moment. Even so, those now swimming in the stream of secular thought are tempted to flex their new cultural power, though they do not yet have a clear-cut leader. In other words, people are divided and motivated to pick fights, and they consistently talk past one another. This is what happens when a culture comes to a fork in the road.


Consider how this cultural forking has fueled the age of outrage. At its core, cultural division breeds anger by polarizing communities and teaching us to yell past one another rather than engage. There is always the temptation to view cultural power as a zero-sum game in which the only way to engage is to fight and the only outcome is a win-lose situation. In these cases, Christians have traditionally struggled with reducing their spiritual identity to merely one among many. Worse still, Christians can allow political and cultural identities, rather than Kingdom mission, to drive their engagement.

The Dark Side of Teams

A few decades ago, my wife, Donna, and I arrived in Buffalo, New York, to plant a church, our very first pastorate. Filled with the optimism and confidence of youth, we dug into the community and were greeted with open arms. There was one problem: I am not nor have I ever been a football fan. I'd be hard pressed to explain the difference between an offside and a touchdown. (I'm kidding. A touchdown is when you score from the foul line, right?) If you know anything about Buffalo, you understand that cheering for the Bills is a way of life. Once a member of the Bills mafia, always a member (just promise not to tell my new Chicago Bears neighbors about it).

One thing that sticks in my mind these many years later is how this common identity around a football team was so powerful for a young couple starting out in ministry. Football was part of how the community embraced us and how Donna and I bonded with them. We quickly learned the language (I can talk the "K-Gun" offense with the best of them) and became active members of this weird fan base that seems to transcend the political and cultural divisions raging throughout the country.

The experience reinforces just how powerful teams and group identity can be in creating community and fostering productivity and innovation. Through working on teams, individuals learn how their sacrifice and cooperation make great achievement possible.

There is something powerfully alluring about teamwork, particularly the sense of belonging and the confidence around a goal that stems from shared convictions. We all have an innate desire to belong to a team that will give us both identity and purpose. In many ways, this is positive, providing us with support and encouragement.

Yet lost in our idolization of teams and teamwork is the recognition that the drive to belong and to forge community has a dark side as well. There is an inherent danger that the bonds created by a shared belonging and identity can often compel individuals to behavior and attitudes that would otherwise be unthinkable.

Herein lies the danger: Teams have a tendency to cultivate devotion to both their collective objective and to one another at the expense of other teams. In other words, our sense of "sameness" or solidarity around a common identity and mission inevitably conflicts with other groups. In something trivial like sports, this is obvious: In order for your team to win, the other team needs to lose.

MIT professor Harold Isaacs was one of the first who explored this mentality of group identity in politics, arguing that underlying almost all political change was the engagement between competing group identities.

More than even demonizing other people, the creation of groups can lead us to excuse the behavior of those in our own camp. In one study out of the United Kingdom, researchers observed how university students responded to smelling sweaty T-shirts, some of which displayed their university's logo and others which carried the logo of a different university. In two studies that measured both self-reported disgust and observable metrics of disgust, the researchers noticed that the students were noticeably less put off by the smell of those T-shirts they thought had been worn by students from their own university. Students showed a willingness to put up with their sweaty classmates because they were on their team, yet those students showed reluctance to extend the same grace toward outsiders. In other words, whether we view people as being on our team has a direct bearing on how we perceive and interact with them, regardless of whether their behavior is the same as those in other groups.


Excerpted from "Christians in the Age of Outrage"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Ed Stetzer.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Welcome to the Age of Outrage xi

Part 1 Why the Age of Outrage? 1

Chapter 1 Outrage Cause #1: A Cultural Forking 5

Chapter 2 Outrage Cause #2: The Technology Discipleship Gap 31

Part 2 Outrageous ties and Enduring Truths 53

Chapter 3 Lie #1: "Christians Are the Worst!" 57

Chapter 4 Lie #2: "My Outrage Is Righteous Anger" 75

Chapter 5 Lie #3: "_____Will Save Me from the Outrage!" 89

Chapter 6 Lie #4: Mission Is Optional 109

Part 3 The Outrageous Alternatives to Outrage 127

Chapter 7 A Worldview Shaped by the Gospel 131

Chapter 8 Kingdom Ambassadors in a Foreign Land 165

Chapter 9 Winsome Love 195

Chapter 10 Online Activity Aligned with Gospel Mission 229

Chapter 11 Neighborly Engagement 255

Appendix: Key Findings from the Billy Graham Center Institute 283

Acknowledgments 293

Notes 295

About the Author 309

What People are Saying About This

Rick Warren

“Once again, Ed has analyzed a troublesome trend in our culture and given us solid advice on how to respond to it in a Christlike manner. If you’ve ever wondered how we can share the love of Jesus in the midst of all the shouting and division, you need to read this book immediately.”

Samuel Rodriguez

“It’s an angry world right now, and we need a grace-filled and gospel-driven response. My friend Ed Stetzer shows us how to walk through the minefields of disagreement in winsome and God-honoring ways.”

Bryan Loritts

“Sometimes it seems that everyone is angry today. Division and strife are everywhere. In Christians in the Age of Outrage, Ed Stetzer lays out the problems in the culture and in the church, but then gives us a God-honoring path to bring our best even when the world is at its worst.”

Karen Swallow Prior

“From political campaigns to nightly news, from clickbait headlines to social media, we exist in such a perpetual state of outrage that escape seems impossible. But with thorough research, compelling anecdotes, and clarity of both vision and communication, Ed Stetzer offers a way out that is not only possible but—for the Christian—imperative.”

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