Headlines that declare, “Poll: Three Quarters think US in recession,” ought to pull you up short. They reflect a culture obsessed with personal opinion. Just think; long before statistical data or evaluations come out, the opinion of the masses about an objective reality they cannot possibly know for sure is considered newsworthy!
This is akin to the captain of a cruise handing out polls to passengers entering his ship. “We all know this cruise is going to Hawaii. How do YOU think we should get there?” it might read. The silliness of the metaphor is perhaps overly reductionist, but I believe it accurately portrays a problem in the cultural mindset. After all, we think singing and dancing talent can be determined by votes- even if later successes and failures do not bear that out!
We as people seem to think our personal beliefs are general, “guideposts,” for truth, even on objective realities about which we have no certain knowledge or expertise. In other words, we do not necessarily say, “I believe it, so it must be true.” Instead, our mantra might be, “If I follow my personal opinions, my life will be valuable.” The implication here is not that people always assume the world is whatever they believe it to be. Instead, they believe following their own preferences, though sometimes imperfect, will ultimately be good.
Many mega-churches try to latch on to this trend. Willow Creek and its disciples issue polls, find out what people want, and try to fulfill those preferences in the church. They seek to be the best from among several life choices, so that they are merely the logical outcome for individuals whose goal in life (though often unarticulated) is to pursue their desires. George Barna’s book REVOLUTION is, once again, the logical extension of this mindset in a changing culture.
The obvious problem is that people and their desires change. Is church doctrine and purpose really so flexible that it can submit to the desires of the masses? What happens when the masses desire a church without denouncement of immorality? Without understanding of sin? Without proclamation of the gospel?
How should this understanding of culture impact our lives as believers living in a opinion-obsessed culture? Here are a few ideas.
1. In our personal lives, we as Christians should progressively submit ourselves to truth.
We should NOT pick and choose the Christian doctrines or emphases we most prefer and enjoy. Yes, the Catholic church is far more developed than evangelicals in areas of art, aesthetics, philosophy, and culture. And yes, mega-churches have much more exciting Easter programs. But that does not make their theology acceptable! We should live in submission to the wholeness of God’s Word, constantly reforming ourselves to better reflect His desires, which ARE objective truth.
2. In our church life, we as Christians should craft church culture to conform to the guidance of Scripture, and to communicate the truth of Scripture to congregants in a proportional way.
By this I mean that while doing what the Bible says is of central importance, it also important for a church not to emphasize something more or less than Scripture does- liberation theology and Hyles-Anderson fundamentalism are two quick examples that come to mind. Instead, church culture should both submit to God’s Word corporately and assist Christians in reforming themselves to submit to God individually.
3. In our evangelism, we must present the gospel as an alternate worldview, and not merely highlight its benefits and rewards.
True submission is an entirely different paradigm from pursuit of personal desire, and we must make clear the separation when we share the gospel. It’s great that Christianity gives you hope and purpose, but if that’s all it is then there are many alternatives. Real Christianity is acceptance of a larger truth, not merely choosing a personal pathway to fulfillment.
Glorification of individual preference is an old concept, but our current culture raises it to heights not experienced since the glory days of Rome. As Christians, we must constantly recognize its powerful influence on the decision-making processes of the individual, and carefully and clearly call them to an entirely different and, ultimately, entirely better life.