Living on the losing side of the culture wars…

Ed Stetzer

The challenge of living in a post-Christian culture is becoming more and more obvious to more and more evangelicals.  The trends show movement away from positions critical to evangelical faith and practice. Evangelicals “must face the reality that we may be on the losing side of the culture war,” according to researcher Ed Stetzer.


So, what to do?


First, Stetzer points out that the political activism of the past forty years has not worked.  This conclusion is obvious to anyone paying attention, and it is backed up by the research numbers. 


Stetzer goes on to sketch, in briefest terms, three avenues of responding to the challenges of living faithfully in a post-Christian culture.


Cultural Engagers


First, I think there will be some who will be culture engagers. This is where I fit in, but I am aware enough to know I’m not the only one who thinks about engaging culture and that my way is not the only way to do so. …


[T]hose who are culture engagers are those who believe we must understand the people around us in order to meaningfully engage them for the cause of Christ. We think about planting churches that are culturally appropriate for the setting, equipping our people with the tools they need for wise and appropriate cultural engagement, and how we can be biblically faithful and culturally engaged at the same time.


[A]s the culture is shifting, most churches (yes, most) are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them. …


Christians need to engage culture for the cause of Christ, not run from it because people are worldly. Paul explained that he did not call us to “leave the world” (1 Corinthians 5:10) but rather to “become all things to all men” so as to engage them with the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22). …


Christians need to recognize that holiness is separation from sin, not separation from sinners. Put another way, holiness does not mean separation from people in the culture around us, but separation for the sin in culture around us.


For Christians to identify with and be identified with Christ, we need to do more of what He did. We need to be accused of the things he was accused of. We need to spend more time, not less, with the people he did.


Our churches need to better understand when we need reflect and when we need to reject the culture in which God has placed us.


Cultural Defenders


I do not think, however, that we only need the particular emphasis about which I am enthusiastic.


Other approaches to culture will be essential. For this too-simple article, the second approach would be that of culture defenders. These people are the ones who will take a stand in both the political and social arenas on issues that have to do with human flourishing.


They will, hopefully in a winsome and gracious manner, stand in the public square to speak on issues of life, family, and morality. They will be the evangelical voice on important issues where Christians are concerned.


They will defend certain positions, arguing that it is better for human flourishing to value certain things in any culture. These people will participate in important work and start organizations that carry it out, as well as supporting those who are already involved.


Though the work or organizations may not be inherently “Christian,” culture defenders will engage with them for the sake of the gospel. I imagine this may be the most difficult work, but people’s religious liberty will have to be defended, the greater good will need to be advanced, and truth will need to be said.


I imagine that some culture engagers and culture creators will roll their eyes, thinking that the culture defenders are not helpful or as discerning as they are. And, some, indeed, won’t be helpful—fighting in ways that are unhelpful and counterproductive. However, culture defenders will be an important part of our future engagement with culture as we move to the new cultural reality of our time.


Cultural Creators


A third way Christians will approach culture is as creators. Now, I need to distinguish here between culture creation and evangelical culture creation.


Two-thousand-and-fourteen was the year of the Christian film. Evangelicals released all kinds of different films last year. The unimaginable success of God’s Not Dead caught people completely off-guard, both Christian and not. …


Many of these films were made by Christians for either Christian consumption or evangelistic purposes. Their messages are overt and clear, and they are meant to challenge those who do not share the evangelical worldview.


There is nothing wrong with these types of films. There are probably some in this vein I could do without (and some my family enjoyed together), but they help and encourage many.


However, other films written and developed by Christians do not have an overt Christian message. This type of movie seeks to shape culture in a completely different way than the others—they are creating culture that engages the broader culture.


They are not evangelistic, but they are creating and presenting a picture of a different—and better—reality to a culture that needs a picture of the vision they present. The purpose is to create art that crosses religious boundaries, yet communicates particular constructs that reflect those of the Christian artist.


These types of projects are being produced in several genres of art, including music, theater, and film. The idea is that Christians, having been changed by the power of the gospel, espouse a worldview that creates culture. As believers, they engage in activities that shape the culture around them.


Andy Crouch has written about this in his book Culture Making. I would encourage you to read what he has written about the creation of culture. We need a lot more culture creators. For two examples, and there are many others, see the music of Lecrae and the movie The Blind Side. Neither sees Christian as a genre, but rather holds up Christian values and a better way.


Ed Stetzer concludes with a brief argument that there is a “need for all three types of respondents: culture engagers, defenders, and creators.”  Culture matters!


Christians will [address cultural challenges] in different ways—and [these] won’t fit in three nice little categories. Regardless, it does matter that we think well about culture: how we engage it, defend things within it, and create it. And, we need to do so “christianly.”


The challenge will be developing ways that honor Christ, while loving and living with those who think differently. And that’s our new and great challenge.


These three different types of people interacting with culture—engagers, defenders, and creators—need to stop shouting at each other and start acknowledging the value that each brings to this new culture moment. All three types of cultural interaction are important.


In this new and shifting context, we need all hands on deck, and even though we’re working in different ways, we need to work together.


If we are not a moral majority, how do we show and share Jesus in the cultural moment where we find ourselves?


Somehow, as God’s people, that’s how we should engage culture—that because of our good works they might glorify God (1 Peter 2:12) and, ultimately, might consider the truth claims and gospel and the Christian worldview that undergirds it.



3 Ways Christians Will Address Cultural Issues in the Coming Years” was published on The Exchange, Ed Stetzer’s blog at Christianity Today.  Dr. Stetzer is the Executive Director of LifeWay Research, a prolific author, and well-known conference and seminar leader.




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2 Responses to “Living on the losing side of the culture wars…”

  1. I believe our lack of moral majority may be a good thing for the American church. Western society has been dominated by Christian values for so long that we’ve forgotten actual Christianity. By being a minority, it will provide greater contrast between Christ and the world.

    • Yes, David, I’m with you. But I’d insert the word “faithful” into your last sentence. By being a faithful minority, it will provide greater contrast between Christ and the world.