If a time traveler from the early church secretly followed you from Monday till Saturday evening, would they be able to tell you're a Christian?
The answer for many of us just isn't very clear ... and that's no accident. Many Christians live lives indistinguishable from secularists. The reason? Well, quite simply, secularism is the default state of our culture. It's the water we swim in — the air we all breathe.
Or, as author Craig Gay put it in his book, "The Way of the Modern World," the problem isn't atheism. In fact, a red-blooded atheist is hard to find. The problem, he said, is "practical atheism." It's not that people do not believe in God; it's that they live as if God is largely irrelevant. That's what secularism does to us. It doesn't disprove our faith; it dismisses it. It makes faith an issue of personal, private belief, disconnected from the outside world.
Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor has written the monumental work on the subject called "A Secular Age." The marginalization of religious belief in our world, Taylor argues, has led to "disenchantment." While God's revelation in creation was obvious to prior generations, we completely miss the sacred things revealed in the way the world is made and ordered.
Scripture's metaphors make no sense in a disenchanted culture. As practical atheists, we are deaf to the heavens' loud proclamation of the glory of God. Stars and rainbows remind us more of human achievement and self-determination than they do of God's promises. Even breathtaking events like weddings, the birth of a child or even death itself fail to remind us of God's eternal attributes.
In other words, we live in a world where the assumptions that govern how we think and what we do are almost always secular ones. Whatever people may say on surveys about their religious beliefs, the fact is that modern, Western life is overwhelmingly lived without even considering God.
Living as a six-day secularist, shaped by secular assumptions and rituals, has very serious and practical consequences. Good things result from our hard work and planning, we think, not from the gracious hands of our loving Father.
Also, because God is not easily replaced as an organizing principle for life itself, many of us today find ourselves living lives of fragmentation — our thoughts, emotions and desires constantly pulling us in opposite directions; the changing values all around us giving us worldview whiplash.
Still, worst of all, practical atheists are always subject to idolatry. As John Calvin said, humans are incurably religious creatures, and our secular age offers all kinds of God replacements: sex, self, stuff, state, science. Ironically, a secular age is still filled with faith — just in all the wrong gods. These gods mark us in their images in profoundly dehumanizing ways.
The only way to be distinctly Christian in today's culture is to consciously and intentionally swim against the secular currents. First, we need to recognize them, as well as how they sweep us away.
Thank God this is not only possible; it's been done before. Christians throughout history have had to swim against cultural currents opposed to their beliefs. Many not only succeeded in keeping their faith but in transforming the surrounding culture.
From BreakPoint, Sept. 25, 2019; reprinted by permission of the Colson Center, www.breakpoint.org.