As the diameter of our cultural sinkhole continues to widen, a few words are necessary for those Christians who want to check out of the SQCW — scare-quoted culture wars. Why all this emphasis on the sins of those worshiping the great god Orgasm? Why are conservative Christians so obsessed with sex?
This charge stings . . . but only those who have prepared themselves emotionally to be stung by it. When stung, they can turn and say, “Yes, exactly. We want to have a real gospel emphasis. There is no need for us to be so ‘political.’ When we are political this way, it is utterly divisive, and it turns people away from Jesus.”
The words are spoken soothingly enough, but what it amounts to is full and complete surrender. And by surrender, I do not mean a surrender of the Republican party, or of the goals of our traditional values coalition. This is no “culture war” surrender, but rather a surrender of the gospel. Emphasizing the gospel alone in this way is a denial of the gospel.
This unctuous sort of reassurance is like asking why an oncologist is so obsessed with cancer. The reason he is “obsessed” with it is that he knows what he is there for. He knows his business. The good news of an effective cancer treatment is good news that requires a bad news backdrop.
Certain kinds of good news can just drop on you out of the blue — an unexpected inheritance, say. But there is another kind of good news that depends for its efficacy on a deep realization of bad news — a pardon from the governor for a prisoner on death row. News of a pardon makes no sense if you have no awareness of your execution in the morning.
The gospel is good news of this second sort. Jesus was named named Jesus because He was going to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). And this is why the gospel itself has the objective content of the Apostles’ Creed, and is defined as who Jesus is and what He did (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
But the gospel proclaimed does not begin with who Jesus is and what He did. It begins with who we are and what we did. The good news is to be preached, but always as the second step. The first step is preaching the bad news, we preach the law. We preach the character of God, which is holy. That means that all our unholiness stands condemned.
And when we preach the law, we are declaring two things. The first is the lost condition of the people who are under the condemnation of the law. They are in sin, and under wrath. The second follows from the first — the moral necessity of turning from this sin to God. God commands men to repent. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:” (Acts 17:30). It is not optional.
Our word conversion comes from the Latin word converto, which means ” I turn around.” Think of it this way. We are facing the damnation wall, and with our backs to the wall of salvation. When we are converted, there is one motion of turning. It is only one motion, and in the mind of the one turning, it is an integrated act. But that one motion could be described in different ways by observers. One person could say he turned away from the damnation wall. Another could say he turned toward the salvation wall. A third person could include both, saying he turned away from one and toward the other. This is how repentance and believing work. Repentance is turning away, and believing is turning toward. They can be distinguished, but they cannot be separated.
And this is why the objective gospel is routinely placed second when the Scriptures talk about God’s intervention on our behalf.
“And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).
“But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).
Now we live in a generation wholly given over to the lusts of the flesh, and underneath those sins, supporting them completely, is our dedication to the idol of individual choice. A dedication to these idols has been present with us for some time, but hidden away from public view. But now in the last decade, our monstrosities have all been brought out and erected in the public square, so that we may all join hands and dance around them.
And Christians are being commanded not to testify to the sinfulness of this public display. Some Christians are inclined to go along with this, but they want to cover up their cowardice with a fine-sounding phrase. “Just preach the gospel” is such a fine-sounding phrase, but the problem is that this is such a time when preaching the gospel isn’t preaching the gospel.
Evangelism, preaching Christ to those outside the church, can only be conducted among the people who are participating in this irrational frenzy. They have organized all their affairs in accordance with it. They catechize in accordance with it. They discipline in accordance with it. If you are not prepared to confront that rebellion, then you have abandoned evangelism in this generation.
Forget about (for the moment) the culture war. Forget about (for the moment) passing any laws. Pick a person at your corporate offices, say the lesbian who is organizing all the rainbow week activities. Start praying for her salvation, and ask God to use you as His instrument in the process. Now ask yourself if there is any way for her to come to faith without confronting the fact of her sin.
Name me an evangelist who represents all those Christians who have an aversion to “culture wars,” who nonetheless goes out into the unbelieving world to declare boldly that becoming a follower of Jesus means repenting of both sin and individual sins, and that such common sins in our era include fornication, adultery, porn, sodomy, and so on.
Those who are soft on the culture wars are soft on evangelism, in the same way, in same areas, and for the same reasons.