Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia will remove Chick-fil-A from its campus food court. The intense campaign waged by gay and lesbian students is being credited for the decision. Ironically, Emory was founded by the Methodist Church and named for a Methodist bishop.
Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts of America are polling their constituents as they consider changing their policy against allowing openly gay members. The survey asks, for example, whether a gay and straight scout should share a tent on an overnight camping trip.
As the culture continues its moral collapse, what can Christians do? More than 60 years ago, Richard Niebuhr wrote his now-classic Christ and Culture, describing ways the church has engaged society. One is the “Christ against Culture” model. The church where I became a Christian at the age of 15 embraced this approach. We were urged to avoid movies, dances, and even games of chance such as cards and dominoes. The reason: they could lead us into immorality.
This approach hearkens back to the Jewish “hedge around the law.” Rabbis in ancient Israel, in their zeal to obey the Law, constructed rules that would keep people from violating Scripture. For instance, they developed 39 categories of regulations regarding the Sabbath—everything from how far you could walk to when you could extinguish a fire. We can do our best to avoid the culture, but doesn’t this keep our salt in the saltshaker, our light under a basket (Matthew 5:13-16)?
A second option, according to Niebuhr, is “Christ of Culture.” Here we adopt the biases and beliefs of society, wherever they lead us. The Episcopal Church’s recent decision to bless same-sex marriages is an example of this posture.
Niebuhr argues for the “Christ transforming Culture” model, where Christians seek to transform society with biblical truth. This seems to me to be both the best and the hardest option. Best, because it obeys Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Hardest, because we must be “in the world but not of it.”
In rejecting legalism, we must not embrace the “cheap grace” that claims we can sin as we wish since we can always confess our sins and be forgiven. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and martyr, was right: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. . . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
A ship should be in the water, but water must not be in the ship.