My point is not to discuss the Sussexes—I have not seen any of their Netflix docuseries, nor will I watch these final episodes. Rather, it is to comment on the CNN commentary: Harry and Meghan’s goal was “to speak their truth and defend themselves against how they have been represented in the tabloid press.” By contrast, the royal family told CNN that they will not be commenting on the series but will continue with business as usual.
Here we have a remarkable case study on cultural engagement that applies far beyond its British context.
“A new moment in American history”
The so-called Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) was signed into law by President Biden this week. How have evangelicals responded to the congressional codification of same-sex marriage?
On one side we find legal scholar David French, who supports the bill because of its support for religious liberty for religious organizations. On the other we find Albert Mohler, who disagrees strenuously with French’s pragmatism and argues that Christians must not surrender the biblical definition of marriage, no matter what (limited) religious exemptions the bill might provide.
Cultural commentator Jake Meador takes a different approach, warning us that “a new moment in church history is beginning as is a new moment in American history.”
He reports that “the Baby Boomers, who have provided the lion’s share of our financial and volunteer resources for forty years, are retiring and dying. Their resources are going away. The rising generation won’t replace them, both because they lack the wealth and don’t give what wealth they do have to the same degree as their parents and because the past twenty-five years have seen forty million people, predominantly younger people, leave the American church” (his emphasis).
He concludes that “in the near future, the American church is going to get numerically smaller and dramatically less resourced in both its financial and volunteer capacities. Churches will close. Colleges and seminaries will collapse. Non-profits will disappear. Any serious political proposal must reckon with this fact” (his emphasis).
In Meador’s view, with regard to RFMA, “most of our current leaders aren’t reckoning with the problems staring us down but are instead relitigating tired old debates whose relevance has long since passed.” As a result, he writes, “our leaders will need to stop adjudicating old disputes and reckon with the emerging shape of the post-boomer church.”
What we must not do
Writers such as John Dickerson in The Great Evangelical Recession have offered similar demographic warnings. (You can find my review of Dickerson’s book here.) By contrast, Glenn Stanton argues in The Myth of the Dying Church that the future for evangelicals is far brighter than traditional analytics and demographics indicate. (See my review for my response). Baylor University scholars Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson agreed with this more optimistic viewpoint.
Whatever our demographic and cultural issues in the future, here’s what we must not do in the present: we must not “stop adjudicating old disputes” or follow the example of the royal family in recusing ourselves from the cultural debates of our day.
While I readily agree with Meador that we cannot ignore demographics that may impact our future, I believe we can “reckon with the emerging shape of the post-boomer church” and engage the crucial issues of our day by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). While I understand the royal family’s desire not to “give oxygen to the docuseries” in hopes of “ending this very public row in the short term,” as CNN reports, I agree with the reporter’s observation that “with the Sussexes’ version of events left unchallenged, it will become part of the national memory.”
The biblical fact is that you and I are called to “[be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). We are commanded to bring our light into the darkness (Matthew 5:14–16), following the example of our Lord by going to those who need biblical truth rather than waiting for them to come to us (Mark 1:39).
As Paul addressed the cultural and spiritual issues of his day (cf. Acts 17:16–31), so must we. His questions are still relevant: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
“God’s light is more real than all the darkness”
Retreating from our post-Christian society is not an option for those who would obey our Lord’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20). While cultural engagement can be uncomfortable and our cultural opponents can be rancorous, we owe everyone we meet the privilege of hearing the truth that changed our lives (cf. Romans 1:14).
In this sense we are cultural missionaries, not cultural warriors. Warriors fight an enemy they believe to be in the wrong and seek to defeat their opponents. Missionaries know they are no better than those they serve and seek to share the good news that has been shared with them.
As we choose the latter, we must never lose sight of the fact that the good news is indeed good news. Henri Nouwen observed: “Joy does not come from positive predictions about the state of the world. It does not depend on the ups and downs of the circumstances of our lives. Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world. Jesus says it loudly and clearly: ‘In the world you will have troubles, but rejoice, I have overcome the world.’
“The surprise is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected. No, the real surprise is that God’s light is more real than all the darkness, that God’s truth is more powerful than all human lies, that God’s love is stronger than death.”
Will the people you meet today see such light, hear such truth, and experience such love through you?
NOTE: To receive more biblical encouragement throughout your day, follow me on Twitter @JimDenison.