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How to Live in an Anti-Christian Culture (With Aaron Renn)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
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May 20, 2024 7:13 am

How to Live in an Anti-Christian Culture (With Aaron Renn)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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May 20, 2024 7:13 am

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Aaron Renn, Senior Fellow at American Reformer and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, to discuss how Christianity has declined in the United States and how we can live in the new anti-Christian culture. 


Welcome to Family Policy Matters, a weekly podcast and radio show produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, I'm John Rustin, president of NC Family. And each week on Family Policy Matters, we welcome experts and policy leaders to discuss topics that impact faith and family here in North Carolina. Our prayer is that this program will help encourage and equip you to be a voice of persuasion for your family. Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. We have seen a dramatic shift in the relationship between culture and Christianity over the past 60 years. But how did this shift happen and how should Christians respond to it? Well, let's take a look at today's research. He joins us today to discuss these and other important questions explored in his newest book, Life in the Negative World, Confronting Challenges in an Anti-Christian Culture. Aaron Wren, welcome to Family Policy Matters. Thanks for having me.

All right, we'll start off. Why do you call today's world negative and anti-Christian? Yes, well, it used to be to be known as a good churchgoing man, made you seem like an upstanding member of society. People used to go to church, maybe because they weren't especially devout, but because that was the thing to do. Well, today being known as a Bible-believing Christian does not help you get a job on Wall Street or Silicon Valley.

It may not stop you from getting a job, but it's certainly not going to be viewed as a positive. We also open the papers every day, click online, and see some article about Christian nationalism. And you just see in many ways Christians and Christianity sort of treated as sort of a threat to the new public moral order, if you will.

Now, I would say, though, that it's probably more accurate to say skeptical than necessarily negative. Merely identifying as a Christian doesn't necessarily get you in trouble. After all, we have a Democratic senator from Georgia who's extremely liberal and is a pastor of a church, and nobody attacks him, as you might have noticed. But the key is the contents of your Christianity cannot conflict with the ideologies of the new secular elite culture.

And if they do, you're going to find yourself in trouble. It can be a bit difficult to determine if the real motivation of some of these people is religious or political. You know, I think maybe a lot of evangelicals are more disliked because they're supporters of Donald Trump, for example, than necessarily because of their theology. You know, so it's hard to disentangle the two right now. But I certainly don't see the culture going back to anything like the way that it was.

So, what's the result for entangling ourselves in situations like support of a president or some other policy that might be overtly political? Well, what I would say is, you know, we can always repent. I think evangelicalism definitely has a lot of things that it has gotten wrong and needs to correct. You know, I think the same is true of Catholicism, etc. that's promoted by some, that the reason society doesn't like Christians is because Christians were bad and they did the wrong things and all of that.

It puts the blame there. In fact, if you look at this with a bigger lens, what we see is, in fact, kind of de-Christianization and the decline of Christianity in America has been going on for a long time. And it started well before there was sort of any overt politics and religion of the type that we have today. So I think there's certainly a debate to be had about politics and religion. But I simply do not view that as the cause of any of these things.

All right. You talk about the three worlds of evangelicalism. What do you mean by that?

So this is really where the word negative comes from in my title. If you think back, we never had a state church like Europe, but for most of our history, we had a sort of softly institutionalized generic Protestantism as our default national religion. As recently as the 1950s, half of all adults went to church. That was actually the high watermark of church attendance in America. We had prayer and Bible reading in our public schools in the 1950s.

We were adding in God we trust to our money under God to the Pledge of Allegiance. But starting in the 1960s, the status of Christianity began to go into decline in America. And that's a decline that continues to the present day. We're talking about declines in attendance, decline in adherence, etc. And I divide the period between 1964 and the present, this period of decline into three phases or worlds that I call the positive world, the neutral world and the negative world.

So the positive world lasts from 64 to 94. And I want to be clear, things aren't all positive for Christianity. Christianity is in decline in America.

Church attendance is going down at the same time. You know, Christianity is still basically viewed positively. Christian morality is still the basic morality of society. And if you violate Christian moral norms, you could get in trouble. Around 1994, we had a tipping point. And under what I call the neutral world, which lasted from 1994 to 2014, in which Christianity is not seen positively anymore, but it's not really seen negatively yet either.

It's just one more lifestyle choice among many in a sort of pluralistic public square. And then, you know, the Christian moral system sort of has residual impact in society, residual hold. But around 2014, we enter what I call the negative world, where for the first time in the 400 year history of America, official elite culture views Christianity negatively.

Again, certainly at least skeptically. Again, being known as a Bible believing Christian is not a social positive in the elite domains of society. Christian morality is expressly repudiated today and in fact is now viewed as the leading threat to the new public moral order. And so this has been very dislocating to evangelicals, especially who've been prone to see themselves as the moral majority, which was a positive world institution, note. But in fact, now that it's clear that evangelicals are a minority, it's been difficult to figure out how to react to that. In your book, you talk about personal, institutional and missional.

Explain that to us. I originally wrote this three worlds model in my newsletter in 2017, actually, but it was published in First Things magazine in February 22. It was a hugely popular article. So I turned it into the book and the article mostly talked about the framework and like the recent history of evangelicalism. So what I wanted to do with the book was not just talk about what's going on in the culture, but try to give people some ideas about how to start responding to it.

And again, I look at it in terms of three dimensions. Again, personal, institutional, missional. How should we live as individuals and as families? How should our churches, ministries, schools, maybe even businesses respond? And then how do we do mission? How do we continue to carry out the Great Commission and evangelism? And how do we think about social, cultural, political engagement?

And I don't pretend to have all the answers. I say we don't. We're kind of an unknown territory. We have to, in a sense, be explorers. But I wanted to give people some starts at thinking, OK, if we're now in this new negative world, what are the implications for how we live our lives, how we do church, how we do mission? OK, great. So we see how you're organized here.

Start then with personal. What can we do on a personal level to address this different culture? One of the things I just say is the era of sort of being average in your faith is a little bit over. Maybe like the Bible talks about being lukewarm is bad. When Christianity was high status in America, it was a good thing to be known as someone who went to church every Sunday. So it was it was easy to kind of be like a generic pew warmer Christian. But now that being known as a Christian might cost you something, you probably won't get thrown in jail.

I reject the idea that Christians are being persecuted in America and we probably won't be. But even just, you know, some dirty looks, you know, or some angry tweets, you have to make sure you're committed. You have to make sure, hey, do I really believe this?

Am I all in? I think really resolving that's the most important thing. The other thing is, I say we have to become a little more resilient.

And many of the things that we took for granted in the past, I think we need to think more intentionally about today. And that doesn't mean we make any particular choice, but think about them. For example, what career should we go into? You know, there are some careers today where it is becoming very difficult to live as a faithful Christian. I got an example, you know, Canada legalized assisted suicide.

And basically, if you're a physician in Canada, it is illegal for you to refuse to refer someone to a physician assisted suicide option if they request it. And so your rights of conscience in that profession are being essentially stripped away. So you have to think, am I someone who has the characteristics that would enable me to thrive in that profession?

I'm not saying don't become a doctor, but in many of these kind of domains, wow, there's going to be more pressure for certain things now. So we have to think intentionally about that. We have to think intentionally about where do we live? Do we have a strong Christian community around us? Are we in a place that's more friendly to Christianity, less friendly to Christianity? Again, it doesn't mean we live in any particular place, but we have to be more intentional. Where do we live?

What do we do? How much debt should our church have in an era when, oh, we might lose our tax exemptions? Just thinking about maybe we should adopt a more conservative financial profile because we don't know when the shock might hit us.

We don't know if we might lose our job because the hate mob comes after us. So those are just some of the considerations on the personal side. OK, how about institutional then?

What are some things we need to consider there? I think the key thing that I'll highlight is that we need to focus more on becoming a counterculture and stewarding the strengths of our own community. Back when Protestant Americans were a majority of the culture and there was prayer and Bible reading in school, you know, we could at least understand that the culture was friendly to us.

Probably at least it wasn't totally teaching things, contrary to many of the basics of the faith. Well, when you're a minority in a country, you have to think like a minority, which means as a minority, the institutions of society writ large, they're not designed with you in mind, they're designed with other things in mind. And so you don't have to hate other people. But the idea being, if you want to live faithfully as a minority in a culture, you have to self-consciously steward the health of your own community. So the example I give here is early 20th century Catholicism. Pre-war America was an anti-Catholic country, basically.

And so all these Catholic immigrants who were here, like my ancestors, you know, they had to say, if we want to live as faithful Catholics in America, how do we do that? We need parish schools. We need Catholic universities.

We need Catholic fraternal societies. They built the whole infrastructure to sustain Catholic life in America. We historically didn't have to do that because the mainstream institutions of society were our institutions. They were our infrastructure.

That's no longer the case. So we have to be very intentional about creating our own infrastructure and our own practices to demarcate and sustain community life. And this is somewhat happening organically. A great example would be homeschooling, the classical Christian schooling movements, other forms of Christian schooling, creating, like the Catholics did, our alternative educational infrastructure. That's an example of what I'm talking about because we can't just rely on mainstream society to do that for us. So are you suggesting then that Christian parents send their kids only to Christian schools and Christian colleges?

Are we there now? No, I'm not saying that. I'm not one of those people that says you can't go to public schools by any means because, you know, some people are going to make those choices. Again, the key is not that I'm telling you you must do X, Y, Z. The key is in the book, I'm trying to give you ideas and thought processes. I will say you simply cannot outsource moral and religious formation of your child to institutions that aren't aligned with your beliefs. It may even be promoting things and other beliefs. So you have to have an intentionality towards how you form your children.

Maybe in a way that you didn't have to have in the past, but how you do that is going to depend by person. The key is we have to think about it intentionally, maybe in a way more than we didn't. And this isn't even true just in society. You know, when I was a kid, this idea of picking where you went to school just didn't exist. Like now it's like, well, we want to enroll in this charter school, that special program.

This is just the world we live in now where like much, much higher degrees of intentionality are required. OK, well, the final point is on being missional. So how do we do that?

How do we go about fulfilling the Great Commission? Sometimes we hear quite often we're supposed to be sharing the hope that is within us. But has that changed the way that we need to do that in society?

Has that changed because of all of this cultural change? Well, one thing that certainly changed with the collapse of the old cultural Christianity, if you will, was we can't assume that people know anything about Christianity. It used to be like a guy like Billy Graham and his crusades. He could probably take advantage of the fact that people knew some basics about Christianity. They probably had a vague sense that there's a God and that if you're not a good person, maybe you go to hell.

There's a whole lot of things there. You know, now today, young people literally know nothing about Christianity. They've probably heard of Jesus Christ, but they can't tell you anything about Jesus Christ. How often do we read an article in like the New York Times even that shows a reporter just doesn't even know the basic facts of Christianity. So there's an article, I think it was in the New York Times a couple years ago, there's this article about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher over in Israel. It's like, this is where Christians believe Jesus is buried. I'm like, that's not what we believe about that, you know, they don't know anything. And so we have to do more work. You know, that's an example of all the categories that used to sort of pre evangelize people and don't exist anymore.

OK, well, we're about out of time and I know we've just barely scratched the surface. And if people want to dig deeper and learn more about this issue and also get your book, Life in the Negative World, Confronting Challenges in an Anti-Christian Culture, how would they go about following you and finding that book? Well, definitely buy the book.

You can buy it anywhere books are sold. But also go to my website, Aaron, sign up for my newsletter and you'll get all my stuff there. I'm constantly engaging with issues like this.

OK, and that's A-A-R-O-N and Wren is R-E-N-N. Aaron Wren, thank you so much for being with us today. On Family Policy Matters. Thank you for listening to Family Policy Matters.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show and leave us a review. To learn more about NC Family and the work we do to promote and preserve faith and family in North Carolina, visit our website at That's And check us out on social media at NC Family Policy. Thanks and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-20 08:13:36 / 2024-05-20 08:20:44 / 7

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