In seeking to be a “different kind of Christian,” we’re tempted to think we can accomplish more for Jesus if we could just be less offensive, more innovative, more missional/gospel-centered/seeker-friendly. Yes, our ministry can and must grow with every generation. But we must not succumb to the Satanic idea that we can build the church through strictly human means. The church is a Spirit-powered endeavor so often built by those respectable society overlooks (1 Corinthians 1:26).
I don’t think any temptation more sweetly seduces young evangelicals. It seems every new wave of church leaders seeks to rebrand Christianity over and against its previous generations or misguided contemporaries. As the Religious Right has lost influence, traditional evangelicals have become a big target. As Timothy Dalrymple wrote last year “if you are selling scorn of conservative evangelical Christians, the market is hot.”
But I’m not necessarily sure the problem is so one-sided. I find in my own heart the constant temptation to brand myself as “not one of those Christians,” and the targets can be anywhere on the liberal/conservative spectrum.
Every generation tends to think of itself as the one that will finally “get it right.” So we’re not going to be like those legalistic fundamentalists. We’re not going to be like our fathers who were too closely aligned with conservative politics. We’re going to have better answers on the homosexual question. We’ll “do church” a lot clearer and cleaner than those stodgy models of the past few decades. We tell ourselves that our generation represents a new kind of Christianity.
Some adjustment is necessary. We should, as a movement, self-correct. We should adapt to changing cultures. And we should reject unbiblical expressions of Christian faith.
But there is a subtle danger in seeing ourselves as the last best hope for the church. Like Peter on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion, what we give up to warm our hands by the fire of acceptance will leave us burned. Seeking to evade the scorn that comes from standing with Christ, we can deny Jesus altogether.
As I survey my own heart, I see three motivations that drive this tendency to constantly reframe and rebrand our faith.
1. We make an idol of cultural acceptance.
As missionaries to an increasingly hostile West, it’s wise to adapt our strategies to communicate the gospel to those who most desperately need to hear. Yet there is a tendency to make cultural acceptance the core value of ministry.
Christians should speak with grace (Colossians 4:6). We should seek the favor of our community (1 Peter 3:15-18). And yet even the most Spirit-filled, silver-tongued representatives of Christ will, at some level, clash with the world (James 4:4).
This is the part of the gospel call that makes us young evangelicals a bit queasy. Jesus told us true disciples would suffer persecution (John 15:18). We shouldn’t strive to be hated, and we shouldn’t intentionally be incendiary. But when being liked is prized, we’re not far from denying Christ. True disciples embrace Jesus’ costly call to come and die.