Joe Hollins and his wife were camped near the home of Phoenix mother Claudia Jimenez when she woke up to find flames devouring her apartment. The homeless man heard her screams and ran to help. He stood under her window and encouraged her to drop her two children to him. After he caught them, he caught her two dogs and finally Claudia herself.
She said later, “Because of him we’re here, we’re alive and my daughters are safe.”
Let’s reflect on this remarkable story as a cultural parable.
Pete Buttigieg on the culture wars
I have long considered Pete Buttigieg, the current Secretary of Transportation in President Biden’s cabinet, a political figure to watch. A Rhodes Scholar who served in the military in Afghanistan and as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, he married his partner in 2018 and is raising a family with him. He is a committed Episcopalian who often discusses the importance of his faith to his public service. In recent years, he has become one of the most articulate and popular faces of the progressive ideology embraced by so many in his party.
For example, Buttigieg gave an extensive interview recently to Wired magazine in which he was asked to comment on the right’s engagement in the culture wars. He observed, “Well, yes, there’s something delicious about the way [they] have positioned themselves on one side of the fence. And Netflix, Coca-Cola, Disney, and Bud Light are on the other side. Along with most of America” (my emphasis).
He explained: “There may in fact be a center of gravity in this country that includes both a Democratic majority of the American people, and even something of a consensus, at least among mainstream business leaders. We have certain commitments around democracy and inclusion that are really elemental to the whole system.”
In his view, there is an inevitability about his progressive positions on abortion, LGBTQ agendas, and other cultural issues in American society. And there’s truth to his assertion: the younger you are, the more liberal you tend to be on such issues. As the percentage of Americans with no religious commitment continues to climb, it is plausible to forecast a future in which evangelical biblical orthodoxy is less popular and persuasive than ever.
Tim Keller’s “long-term legacy in mainstream culture”
Here’s a perceptive example.
In response to Tim Keller’s death last Friday, the Atlantic carried a fascinating analysis of his “critique of liberal secularism.” In it, Molly Worthen notes that Keller was steadfast in his commitment to orthodox biblical morality, including its opposition to same-sex sexual relationships.
As a result, she notes: “American Christians—not to mention US courts—are . . . in a long-running battle over whether the religious objection to same-sex relationships is akin to anti-Black racism, and is therefore an intolerable and anachronistic doctrine, or whether it is acceptable within the bounds of religious freedom. Keller’s long-term legacy in mainstream culture depends on how these legal and cultural debates evolve.”
So does the larger place of evangelicals in our post-Christian culture. If, as current trends indicate, we are increasingly identified with KKK members and other racists as bigoted and dangerous to society, our future in American society is unclear at best.
The “Christianity and” heresy
Unlike the apartment fire that threatened Claudia Jimenez and her family, cultural fires can be less obvious and seem less threatening, but they are no less real and can be deadly. My friend John Stonestreet is right: Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims.
Here’s the good news: however long and hard the struggle might be, truth wins. And biblical morality is right because it is true.
C. S. Lewis was adamant that we should embrace Christianity not because it happens to work in practice but because it is truth. Otherwise we are in danger of what he identified in The Screwtape Letters as the “Christianity and” heresy: “Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing,” and so on.
If we make our faith a means to another end, God is no longer our king and Lord but rather an object we use for our purposes. But if we make ourselves a means to his ends, submitting to his word and living for his glory, he uses us in transformative ways we may not be able to measure fully on this side of eternity (cf. Romans 8:18).
The old saying goes, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” A better version is, “God said it and that settles it whether I believe it or not.” When your house is on fire, you can deny the danger or you can jump to safety, but you are unlikely to do both.
When Billy Graham doubted the Bible
My call today is for us to renew our commitment to thinking and living biblically whatever the consequences in our broken, post-Christian culture. To this end, let’s close with a reflection from Billy Graham: “Early in my life I had some doubts about whether or not the Bible was really God’s word. But one night in 1949 I knelt before a stump in the woods of Forest Home, California, opened my Bible and said, ‘O God, there are many things in this book I do not understand. But by faith I accept it—from Genesis to Revelation—as your word.’
“By God’s grace that settled the issue for me once and for all. From that moment on I have never had a single doubt that the Bible is God’s word. When I quote Scripture, I know I am quoting the very word of God.
“This confidence in God’s word not only gives authority to one’s ministry; it provides a solid foundation for one’s life. We who trust in God’s word aren’t living according to what someone says about the Bible, or on some human philosophy. We are basing our faith, our ministry, even our life itself on God’s unchanging truth as it is presented in his unchanging word.”
Then Dr. Graham asks the question I want to ask you today: “Is God’s word the foundation of your life?”