When I first saw this headline, I was horrified. My visit to Pearl Harbor was one of the most poignant experiences of my life. Standing over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, the final resting place of 1,102 sailors and Marines, was something I would never forget.
The headline caused me to think that government authorities would be raising the ship, an act that seemed to desecrate the memories of those who died there. Then I read further: the nearly 400 servicemen to be exhumed died on the USS Oklahoma, not the Arizona. They could not be identified, so they were buried in caskets marked as “unknown” at a national cemetery in Hawaii. Now forensic and DNA testing may help authorities discover their identities and allow families to give them a personal burial. And so what seemed to be bad news turned out to be good news.
The news often works that way. For instance, an Islamic State (IS) video made news recently with its warning, “We Will Burn America.” An IS spokesman claimed that no American anywhere in the world is safe, and called on supporters to stage attacks inside the U.S. However, the video is actually evidence of IS’s weakness outside its core areas of operation. As one analyst noted, “groups that are capable of conducting terrorist attacks do not ask others to do so for them.” And so IS’s frightening video turns out to be good news for its intended victims.
It’s easy to become discouraged by today’s culture. On many fronts, it seems our society is “slouching toward Gomorrah,” as Robert Bork famously described us. But a defensive, negative attitude toward the “culture wars” is not the spirit of Jesus. (Tweet this) In a day arguably as decadent as ours, he consistently offered the gospel (literally “good news”) of God’s transforming grace. He spoke the truth, but always in love.
Paul did the same. When he came to Athens, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Did he condemn their profligate idolatry? Quite the opposite: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (v. 22). What Jews and Christians saw as idolatry, Greeks saw as religion. Paul then used their idolatry to preach Jesus: “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (v. 23).
We need Paul’s approach to our culture.
In a 2007 study, only three percent of non-Christian young adults expressed favorable views toward evangelicals. Their number would be even lower today. A Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 70 percent of millennials believe “religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.”
Between rejecting our culture and revising our faith to accommodate its declining values, there’s a third way. It’s possible to start with common ground—shared commitments and challenges. Then show how Jesus’ transforming love is the answer to our greatest problems, the hope for our deepest pain.
I spoke at an event in Washington, D.C. earlier this week. Our driver was from Ghana by way of Los Angeles. Raised in a Christian home, he had not been to church in many years. He told me that he did not see the relevance of religion.
The bad news is that people everywhere are worshiping unknown gods. The good news is that the one true God loves them. (Tweet this) Who will hear the good news from you today?