I found a new blog today called Toward Hope that has a great post wherein Rodney Clapp asks Eugene Peterson the question:
Do [North] American Christians too easily assume their surrounding culture is Christian? Peterson answers "yes."
We do. It is useful to listen to people who come into our culture from other cultures, to pay attention to what they hear and what they see. In my experience, they don't see a Christian land. If you listen to a Solzhenitsyn or Bishop Tutu, or university students from Africa or South America, they don't see a Christian land. They see something almost the reverse of a Christian land.
They see a lot of greed and arrogance. And they see a Christian community that has almost none of the virtues of the biblical Christian community, which have to do with a sacrificial life and conspicuous love. Rather, they see indulgence in feelings and emotions, and an avaricious quest for gratification.
Importantly, they see past the facade of our language, the Christian language we throw up in front of all this stuff. The attractive thing about [North] America to outsiders is the materialism, not the spirituality. It's interesting to listen to refugees who have just gotten into the country: what they want are cars and televisions. They are not coming after our gospel, unless they're translating the gospel into a promise of riches and comfort.
This brings several thoughts to mind.
1. It reminds me of a class I took a couple of years ago on Islam. It was pointed out Muslims believe those Americans who insist that ours is a Christian culture. They also believe that America has a very immoral culture from what they see in pop culture and what they have experienced when they have been in America. In fact, the greatest stumbling block to evangelizing Muslims, at least some contend, is in overcoming their prejudice that if you are American you must therefore be immoral. American Christians may contend that we fight against immorality, but when we insist that our heritage is Christian, the Muslims think this is what our heritage has produced.
The article concludes this way:
In other words, we are at the fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There's the quicker-growing, economically vibrant, but also more fractious and more difficult to manage, morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation (Bill Clinton's America, if you will). And there's the small-town, nuclear-family, religiously oriented, white-centric other America, which makes up for its diminishing cultural and economic force with its predictability and stability (the GWB-ies).
Sam Metcalf suggests several implications of this. I'll offer the first two and you can read his post to see the rest.
1) The new won’t be influenced by imposing cultural norms from the old.
2) The old, like nearby cultures the world over, will only be marginally effective, if at all, in influencing the new.
Alan Hirsch estimates that in America the split is about 65% in Wolff's first category and 35% in the more conservative, religiously oriented category, with the religiously oriented continuing to lose ground.
3. While American Christians may take umbrage at Peterson's comments, this may be a case where an old adage is helpful - "if you want to know about water, don't ask a fish." In other words, because fish live in water they may not be able to accurately describe the water. Outsiders can often see us better than we see ourselves.
The upshot of all this is that if we can more fully understand the non-Christian nature of American culture, we'll be better able to fulfill our missional calling within American culture.
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