When the church fails to disciple the nation, the nation will disciple the church.
As we have argued elsewhere, culture is simply a reflection of worship. Western civilization was created by the worship of the God who created the universe and is our Father. The worship of man, i.e. in Darwinian thought, created the “modern world.” The worship of nature is creating the postmodern, neo-pagan world. We become like the God or gods we worship.
If the church is not consciously Trinitarian and intentionally biblical in her thought and practice she will not be in a position to disciple the nation. Rather, the nation will disciple the church.
In two recent posts we discussed the impact of postmodern culture in the return of ancient pagan sexual practices. We are now seeing the impact of postmodern sexuality coming into the church in thought, attitude and behavior. We have discussed this here.
So what has been the postmodern culture’s impact on the church, particularly on young evangelicals?
Dr. Abigail Rine, Assistant Professor of English at George Fox University, has written a very thoughtful piece, “What is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?” in First Things (self described as “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life”). She relates her experience of reflecting with the young evangelicals she teaches. Dr. Rine was facilitating an open discussion on another article titled, “What is Marriage?”
I realized, as I listened to the discussion, that the idea of “redefining” marriage was nonsensical to them, because they had never encountered the philosophy behind the conjugal view of marriage. To them, the Christian argument against same-sex marriage is an appeal to the authority of a few disparate Bible verses, and therefore compelling only to those with a literalist hermeneutic. What the article names as a “revisionist” idea of marriage—marriage as an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people—does not seem “new” to my students at all, because this is the view of marriage they were raised with, albeit with a scriptural, heterosexual gloss.
Wow! Let’s unpack and comment on Dr. Rine’s observations.
These young evangelicals grew up in Christian homes and evangelical churches but had no grasp of the purpose of marriage and human sexuality, i.e. for forming families. They apparently had not been taught a theology of marriage, sex, and family, the beautiful, positive case for what some call “traditional” or “conjugal” marriage, i.e. as purposed by God at creation.
The traditional concept of marriage has several critical elements. It is between a man and a woman, in a covenantal relationship (faithful “until death do us part”). It is a comprehensive relationship including friendship, companionship, intimacy, eros, mutual respect, working and worshiping together, and stewarding creation together. And it is first and foremost about forming families, conceiving, nourishing and raising children for the health of the community and the future of the nation.
What these young evangelicals may have heard was some negative preaching against fornication, adultery and homosexuality, using a few pointed scriptural references.
What these young people were exposed to in society, and perhaps in the home and the church, was what might be called the “revisionist view” of marriage (the equivalent of the revisionist view of sexuality), i.e. sex and marriage is for the personal fulfillment and pleasure of the couple.
This view of marriage follows the cultural view that the priority of marriage is romantic love and sexual pleasure. Having children is optional. Christian singles are waiting later to marry and begin their families. Many are embracing the postmodern practice of not having children at all, or perhaps having one “token” child to enable them to say, “Yes, we’re parents. This is our child.”
“[T]he idea of ‘redefining’ marriage was nonsensical to them” because they already have a revisionist view of sexuality and marriage as promoted by modern and postmodern culture. Any discussion about the sanctity of marriage, whether in society in general or the church in particular, is not worth having. The only valuable discussion is “How do we want to define marriage and human sexuality from the many choices?” To fight for the traditional view of marriage as the only view is narrow, bigoted, and intolerant.
(Go to Discussing Marriage to read more about distinguishing between the revisionist and the traditional views of marriage.)
Dr. Rine continues:
While I listened to my students lambast the article, it struck me that, on one level, they were right: marriage isn’t in danger of being redefined; the redefinition began decades ago, in the wake of the sexual revolution. Once the link between sexuality and procreation was severed in our cultural imagination, marriage morphed into an exclusive romantic bond that has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction. It is this redefinition, arguably, that has given rise to the same-sex marriage movement, rather than the other way around, and as the broader culture has shifted on this issue, so have many young evangelicals.
What we are witnessing today is not an attempt to redefine marriage. What we are witnessing is the logical outcome of a set of ideas that have been accepted by the elites of society and propagated into common culture through the arts, media, and academic institutions. Rine links this back to the sexual revolution.
But the sexual revolution came about through a shift in worldview. In the last two hundred years we have abandoned the Judeo-Christian worldview that gave us Western Civilization. This worldview gave way to the atheistic-materialist worldview of Darwin and ushered in the modern world. At the beginning of the 21st century we are witnessing the slow death of the Darwinian framework and modern culture, and the return of the animistic, neo-pagan worldview which is producing the postmodern world.
This worldview shift has given rise to a shift in understanding of human sexuality and marriage.
Dr. Rine is correct: the sexual revolution of the 60’s had a part to play in this process. In fact, the sexual revolution was itself a product of a culture shift which ultimately reflected a shift in worldview.
It was the revisionist view of marriage and sexuality that eliminated the connection between sex, marriage, and procreation. In the new view, sex stands outside of marriage. Its relationship to procreation is incidental, not substantial.
Sex has little or nothing to do with marriage and procreation. It’s all about pleasure and personal happiness. It becomes a form of recreation, like jogging or hiking, or of entertainment, like a good meal out or a good movie – good sex.
With the postmodern concept of “reality” being socially constructed and having nothing to do with objective reality, both marriage and sexuality can be redefined at will.
Because the church has failed in its task to disciple the nation, the nation is discipling the church. This spirit of the postmodern age is permeating the church and is having a profound impact on the attitudes and behavior of evangelical millennials.
Dr. Rine continues:
To my students, the authors of “What is Marriage?” are making a troubling move, reducing the purpose of marital sex to its reproductive function. What they seemed less able to recognize is that they have inherited the inverse: a view of sex with little meaningful connection to procreation. And once such a view of sexuality is embraced, there is not much foothold, aside from appeals to biblical authority, to support the conjugal understanding of marriage.
Millennial evangelicals are concerned that for their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, the only purpose for marital sex is procreation. In some cases this may be true. But, as we have said above, the traditional view of the family and sexual relations is robust and comprehensive. The view of intimacy and sexuality promoted in the Song of Solomon is an indication of the full-orbed nature of sexuality as God designed it.
The millennial evangelicals are often too close to postmodern culture to see its influence on their lives. (The same is true for anyone until they seek to be consciously Christian and bring every thought captive to Christ, a captivity that includes our understanding of the beauty and robustness of the biblical concept of marriage, sex, and family.)
Many millennial evangelicals have succumbed to postmodern culture. In their attitudes and behavior they have separated sex and marriage from procreation. This becomes a watershed for young evangelicals and for the churches they will lead. The moral and metaphysical testimony of scripture have no sway. There is little to hold back the tide of so-called “marriage equality,” little to resist the view of human sexuality and concepts of family as a social construction.
May the church, her young and old, awake to see the impact culture has made on our own lives and the lives of our institutions. May we, with heartfelt motivation, seek to bring every thought regarding sexuality and marriage captive to Christ.