I don’t have to tell you that the American landscape is shifting. This is particularly true when it comes to religion, Christianity especially. More and more these days, North American Christians find themselves on the losing side of public opinion. From issues of human dignity to sexuality to religious liberty, traditional Christian belief and practice is perceived by much of popular culture as out of touch, at best, and dangerous, at worst.
Many debate the reasons for why this shift has happened. Was it the negligence of previous generations? Was it the moral laxity of the church? Was it when prayer was taken out of school? Was it Roe v. Wade? Was it the infiltration of postmodern philosophy in the academy? Was it the growing influence of liberal theology? Was it the encroachment and now ubiquity of technology? The list goes on and on.
Many others debate on what we should do in response to this shift. Over the last several decades, many have tried to stem the tide of secularism and return to some golden age of American Christianity. From church rallies to moral majorities, think tanks to social action groups, the most earnest attempts haven’t gained the kind of traction needed to shift the culture or turn back time.
Maybe you’re one of the millions of Christians wondering, “What do we do now?”
Russell Moore in his book Onward suggests that the increasing marginalization of Christianity in present day America is an opportunity, not an obstacle. We don’t have to clench our fists or wring our hands, for it’s possible that the eroding of American culture is God’s way of “…rescuing American Christianity from itself” (p.7).
God’s mercy to Israel often came in the form of exile. Whether slaves in Egypt, refugees in Babylon or first century Christians in Rome, it has been typical for Christians to live as “strangers and exiles on earth” (Hebrews 11:13). We are citizens of heaven after all (Philippians 3:20), so it shouldn’t be strange that we don’t always feel at home on earth. In fact, if you feel out of place because of your faith in Jesus Christ, that’s quite possibly a good sign. Truth is, we’ve been made for another world, and this otherworldly citizenship is the means through which the disciple-making mission of Jesus is to be carried out in the world (Matthew 28:16-20).
Believing that it’s mission-critical for Christians to be regularly discipled in how to be and make disciples, I started a sermon series in the spring of this year entitled, “Portraits of Discipleship.” In that series, we took a three-week look at the lively discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. We worked slowly through the passage, pausing long at key moments in the text in hopes to glean important principles and practices for discipleship.
At the end of those three weeks, I mentioned that I wanted to return to this series off and on over the next several years in order to keep our hearts set toward the priority of discipleship. Starting with Lee Leadbetter’s fine message on Acts 17 last week, we’re reentering that series for a few week, looking at the portrait of discipleship that Paul gives us on Mars Hill in Athens. My hope is that today’s message will make important cultural, spiritual, and communicative observations from Acts 17:16-34 in order that we might gain the necessary wisdom and skill to be faithful disciple-makers in our time.