I have in the last couple of years become increasingly concerned with how we are treating each other within the Evangelical Christian sub-culture. The relativist context of the nineties and early noughties created a reluctance amongst many Christians leaders to push their opinions too strongly. At first there was some debates over church shape and what constitutes effective mission in a post-Christian culture. However this debate seems to have subsided as a new battle has begun to rage, this time around what constitutes ‘evangelical’ theology.
Most of this battle seems to be waged on the internet. The rather unhelfpul comment/response format of blogs and youtube creates a kind of anonymous cyber duel in which very few seem to be able to exercise humility and winning the argument at all costs is the order of the day. This kind of battle is particularly tempting for young men, who seem to make up most of ranks of these new theological skirmishes.
Now I am all for people expressing their opinions, I supports critique, I am also all for protecting orthodoxy, and have no problem with robust debate. But it is worthwhile raising a warning flag from history at this stage. And I will do so by asking a seemingly unrelated question. How did the secularism which has marginalised the church in the West begin? Some of you will point to an anti-Christian bias of some European intellectuals during the Enlightenment, others will think of the rise of reason and science, others will point the finger at Darwin. All of these factors are part of the story which began the process that we know as secularism.
However the ignition spark which creates the blaze began as a result of the inter christian theological disputes which begun with the reformation, which at first pitted Catholic against Protestant, then Protestant against Protestant, in a struggle to establish what was orthodox Christian thought and practice. It did not take long for this struggle to spill into actual violence, violence which took the form of anything from Church sanctioned torture to full blown war.
It was no wonder that after seeing their continent torn apart by inter-Christian wars that thinkers like Hume, Locke, Voltaire, and Gibbon begun to question the legitimacy of Christianity. The deep suspicion towards religion and strong beliefs that we find in the religions West has its roots in this reaction. This is why we use the term Post-Christian to describe the West.
Many experts in secular theory point to the Dutch legal expert Hugo Grotius’ attempts to create a system of government separate of religious influence in Holland as the beginning of secularism. Grotius was a committed Christian, he was an apologist for Christianity. However Grotius realised that in order to stop the bloodshed that a secular state must be created so that Calvinists, Catholics, Anabaptists, and Jews could live in peace.
This history looms large over us today, as tempting as it is to ‘own’ some on on the internet who thinks differently, we must remember that such debates are waged in the public realm, those outside the faith observe these arguments. To the outsiders such debates seem like wars over unintelligible esoterica, and only confirm preconceived ideas about Christians and the Christian faith. So for the sake of the gospel we must learn to debate each other with respect, humility and civility. We must see the Image of God in others who we disagree with. To do so is probably going to one of our most important witnesses in the post-Christian culture of the West.