This may seem like a stretch at first, but I think it bears consideration:
Do you remember when you were a kid and you stood up every day to say the Pledge of Allegiance in class?
I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Those words are indelibly imprinted in my mind. It is like an old TV or computer screen that was stuck on one thing for an extended period, and had that image burned into it for all time. When I was younger, I felt like I couldn’t pass a flag without getting teary-eyed and patriotic. Really! I know it sounds hokey, and if you aren’t an American, you are probably rolling your eyes. Maybe even if you are an American, you might be too. There is nothing wrong with having a deep love for your country.
All of those feelings were concurrent with the whole “my daddy can beat up your daddy” phase. That is natural. Back in childhood we all had a natural sense that there were certain things in life that were unquestionable. Your mom was a better cook than every other mom. Your dad was the strongest man in the world, and everything they said about the world was written in stone as by the very hand of God. Even when they said you had done something wrong, and you were angry, still you knew inside that they were right.
At some point in childhood this all goes away, slowly at first. Then you wake up one day when you are about 13, and suddenly you realize that the opposite is true. It sort of comes on you like a flood in the night, and you wake up in the morning, and you know everything about everything. Anything else is to be questioned with the most stringent of examinations. It isn’t until later when you realize that the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Now, as I read my Bible I am daily confronted with a nagging question. What should I do about those things that I am reading that challenge the way I’ve decided the way things are and should be? What do I do about the words and commands in the Bible that say something I don’t want to be true? Do I tear them out, pretend they are not there, or in the fashion of the day, explain them away as saying something else entirely?
I don’t have to enumerate these issues. Anyone who has truly read the Bible has found them. Issues of sexuality, the proper roles of men and women, giving money to the Church, speaking only words of kindness and blessing, all of these and more assault me daily. In a post-Christian world this is increasingly going to be a battle line. We have lost an innocence that repeats, “God says it, so I must believe it.”
One of the many questions to ask is how accurate is this paradigm of adolescence to the spiritual landscape? In many ways I think we are in our spiritual teens as a society. I think that we have in large part decided what we want to be true. We want issues of sexual morality to be however we’ve determined them. The Bible has to be wrong, in our eyes, if it says something other than what we’ve already determined is right.
The answer to this that many Christians in a post-Christian world are going to have to learn is not to simply return with “God says it, so you must believe it.” That won’t affect people any more than convincing a teenager that you are right simply because you are their parent. Notice the use of the word “you” in that quotation. We must continue and hold fast to the fact that we MUST believe it simply because God says it. That is where our allegiance lies. Our reality must not be conditional or subjective. But our dialogue must point to Christ, not to behavior.
Christ will continue to affect lives, no matter what title we give to an era. But we Christians have failed in many ways to point our lives and rhetoric to Christ. Instead we have pointed both towards our code of behavior. This is not my idea of how things are. It is fact. Most un-Christians statistically view Christianity mostly as a code of behavior, and their criticisms of our faith almost unanimously stem from that. Our behavior is important, as it points others toward Christ (as is the main point of Ephesians 5), not as an ends to itself.
What the post-Christian era knows that we don’t is that it makes no sense to say “God says, so I must believe it, and therefore do it,” if they have no allegiance to God. We would do well to stop saying “you should live this way,” and start saying living lives that make people ask us “How can I have a life like yours?”