Strange Voices

During my sermon this Sunday, I will return to the theme of the Lord as shepherd, probably most familiar to us in Psalm 23. The sermon will be available on Holston View United Methodist Church’s website.

Today’s preparatory text: Acts 17:16-31

By Chuck Griffin

When Paul began to preach in Athens, his was a strange voice amidst a babble of competing ideas. Americans, welcome to New Athens.

Christian Americans at one time were accustomed to the idea that we were the dominant voice in our culture. Any debate, it seemed, was largely limited to what type of Christianity people espoused; Paul’s core message about the crucified and resurrected Christ was commonly understood. Even the people who declined to accept the message likely had been dragged to church at least a few times.

I find it difficult to mark the turning point where secular thinking became truly dominant. In 1980, the British satirist and Christian convert Malcolm Muggeridge published a book entitled “The End of Christendom,” and I know that by the 1990s it was common to talk about Christianity no longer being the baseline of our society.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a Saturday morning rerun of a 1959 “Wagon Train” episode. It was built entirely around the story of a preacher who lost his faith because of pride, abandoning his flock but ultimately rediscovering grace. I looked at my wife and said, “No one would write a prime-time show that way today.”

For crying out loud, the show had a sermon embedded in it! The slide from 1959 to now seems to have been gradual enough that people weren’t quite seeing it, but fast enough that it’s astonishing in hindsight.

To employ a tired but useful clichĂ©, we are where we are. I think that’s supposed to be accompanied with a sigh, but I would encourage optimism. Let’s try to remember that working in a similar environment, early Christians were quite successful.

Of course, the early Christians we remember were also quite serious, willing to cut against the social grain, surrendering themselves to kingdom work and often paying for their countercultural attitudes with their lives.

Conservative, traditional Christians, having enjoyed Christendom for so long, need to relearn how to be countercultural. So-called progressive Christians are simultaneously dangerous to those around them and amusing—they go to bed thinking they’re countercultural, when mostly they’re just comfortably shifting with the secular sand beneath them.

At this point, I cannot do much to help the progressives. Conservative, traditional Christians: Well, I return to the message I delivered Wednesday. If we are to succeed, we have to deepen our discipleship. We likely need to give up certain aspects of our lives so we can better clothe ourselves in Christ.

A hurting world awaits word of the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Loving Jesus, call us clearly through discipleship so we may always have your voice leading us. Amen.

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