Christian Naivety is Harming the Church’s Engagement with Today’s Culture

I had no idea my last article, “5 Ways Christians are Getting Swept into a Secular Worldview in This Culture Moment,” would resonate with so many—it’s been liked and shared over 250,000 times to date (!). Although I no longer leave comments open on my site (I just don’t have the time to moderate and respond), I had the opportunity to observe a flurry of conversation threads on social media related to what I had written. Those conversation threads generated all kinds of ideas for future articles, but the one that pressed on me most over the last few weeks was this one.

As I considered the types of pushback I received from some fellow believers (not skeptics!), I started to realize that their comments had little to do with the facts, logic, or manner in which I wrote that particular article. Rather, they were the same kinds of reactions I’ve see to any post I or other Christians write involving a call to better discernment in the church. Articles of this nature are often met with the same types of broad pushback about 1) the need for love, 2) the need for action, 3) the need to not be fearful, and 4) the need for unity (the implication being that these things are all somehow in tension with discernment).

I want to show today why there’s a certain biblical naivety in such comments—one that actually harms the church’s ability and opportunity to effectively engage with culture.

1. There’s a naivety about the relationship between discernment and love.

This, perhaps, is one of the greatest naiveties in the church today. If you have anything to say that is perceived to be negative, there will be plenty of Christians ready to tell you you’re not being loving. Others won’t directly make that accusation but will instead point out that they’re “just going to keep on loving people,” as if it’s impossible to offer truth while loving people.

Now, there are certainly times when Christians deliver truth in unloving ways. That’s a whole other conversation. But what I’m addressing here is the aversion some Christians have to any sort of statement that suggests a person, group, or action is wrong from a biblical perspective. In a lot of cases, those Christians even agree that the person/group/action is wrong, but they think there’s a negative tradeoff between drawing attention to our disagreement and being loving.

Please hear me out: It is not more loving, biblically speaking, for Christians to be a group of Pollyannas in a hostile culture. It’s naïve.

Jesus didn’t create the church to be an endless source of warm fuzzies to the world around us. That approach may draw some people to some version of Christianity, but it won’t be a Christianity based on the teachings of Jesus himself. As Christians, we’re called to be salt and light in the world. But how can we “preserve” God’s message when we refuse to share what He’s said in the name of our own definition of love—one rooted in either comfortable silence or superficial niceties? Surely, this is not a biblical love for others, as I explained in my last post. A biblical love is one that loves others in the context of what it first means to love God.

Furthermore, it’s extremely naïve to think that the more we look like the world—cheerfully glossing over the worldview differences that should drive our thinking and living—the more people will seek Jesus. Why seek Jesus when who He is and what He taught apparently makes no tangible difference in the lives of Christians, other than that they (sometimes) go to church on Sundays and pray in the quiet of their homes? How does this challenge people to consider the radical claims that Jesus was God himself, has authority over our lives, made reconciliation with our Creator possible through his sacrifice on the cross, was supernaturally raised from the dead, and is our only hope for eternal life?

It doesn’t.

We can keep on smiling and nodding along with culture, but let’s not be deluded that we’re doing Jesus any favors with complacency in the name of “love.”

2. There’s a naivety about the relationship between discernment and action.

I received several well-meaning comments and messages in response to my article suggesting that what Christians need to be focusing on right now is how to help those who are suffering due to inequality and discrimination…not on being critical of how people are doing that. In other words, don’t worry about the underlying (neo-Marxist) worldview of an organization like Black Lives Matter, just jump in and serve alongside of them—why can’t we all just work together, even if we have some disagreements?

To be clear, I didn’t say or imply that Christians should never work side-by-side with nonbelievers. That would be ridiculous. Once again, however, nuance is called for. There are many non-Christian organizations in the world working toward causes that Christians should care about as much as non-Christians, and in ways that don’t conflict with a Christian worldview. If we want to help save an endangered species side-by-side with an organization that assumes a naturalistic worldview (in which that species developed through blind, purposeless chance), there’s probably not an issue. Our approaches and end goals in that case can align despite divergent underlying worldviews.

But what if a non-Christian organization seeks to achieve a common goal using approaches in conflict with a Christian worldview?  

And what if it turns out that what we think is a common goal is only superficially in common? That when we dig deeper, we find out that we may be using similar words but have a wildly different ending vision in mind? 

This is exactly the issue in the case of Christians and the BLM organization. BLM’s specific vision and desired policy approaches for getting there are decidedly hostile to a Christian worldview. Al Mohler does a good job of explaining why in this article, so I’ll encourage you to click here for further explanation if you’re unfamiliar with the issues.

As Mohler says, “Black Lives Matter did not emerge merely as a sentence. Those three words function as a message and a platform making a significant political statement—one guided by Marxist ideology that seeks to revolutionize our culture and society.”

And to be sure, the label of “Marxist ideology” is not something being unfairly thrust upon BLM. You can see a video here of BLM founder Patrisse Cullors assuring her interviewer that the group has an underlying ideology: “We’re trained Marxists.”

I have no doubt that Christians are well meaning when they say they just want to get involved and do something to show their concern and support for the black community. But the choice isn’t BLM or nothing, and pointing out major issues with BLM doesn’t imply an encouragement to do nothing! (As just one alternative, you can bring training to your church on how to better support biblical justice through the latest efforts of the Center for Biblical Unity.)

Discernment must go hand-in-hand with action. If we’re unaware of how our actions are working toward a society opposed to our fundamental beliefs, we’re just naïve lambs being led to the slaughter. Well-meaning Christians may not realize it along the way, but make no mistake…those leading the lambs most certainly do.

3. There’s a naivety about the relationship between discernment and fear.

Another common response I see to articles written about the distinction between biblical and nonbiblical thinking is that the activity of discernment is inherently fear-based.

“Do we really have to fear anything that isn’t explicitly Christian?”

“Why are you scared of people who believe differently?”

It’s unfortunate and sad when Christians think that the motivation behind discernment is somehow rooted in fear, as common statements like these assume. When someone attempts to clarify the line between biblical and nonbiblical thinking, they’re not “scared” of what others believe or suggesting that there can be no common ground at all; they’re illuminating important differences because Christians should be able to see clearly enough to guard God’s truth from error (1 Tim. 4:16).

As Christians, we should be concerned when the lines between biblical and secular thinking are becoming so muddled in the minds of many believers that we’re losing our ability to impact culture. But concern isn’t some kind of unhinged emotional response that’s anxiously scrambling to get people to see your way because you’re afraid you’re losing a battle (the idea I think people have in mind when they make statements like the examples here). We know how the battle ends, but we’re called to preserve and fight for truth in the meantime. To not do so because we assume discernment is rooted in fear is a naivety about the need to think and live differently than the secular world. It’s a failure to understand just how different a biblical worldview and all of its implications for our lives really are.

4. There’s a naivety about the relationship between discernment and unity.

Finally, another common refrain from Christians when discernment-related questions are raised is that those questions cause “division” in the body of Christ. The basic idea is that we need to prioritize unity over differences.

But take that thinking to the extreme: Should we align ourselves with Christians who think blowing up buildings is “biblical”? Of course not. I can’t imagine that the same people who comment about our need for unity would say we should. We all recognize that a line must be drawn at some point. The problem is that many Christians are subjectively drawing that line based on cultural comfort rather than biblical direction.  

In Ephesians 4:11–15, Paul tells Christians to speak the truth in love rather than being like infants “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” The result, he says, is that we will “grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Discernment is part of spiritual maturity.

Paul speaks to the importance of sound doctrine in his instructions to Timothy as well: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:2–4)

The Bible in no way suggests that we are to accept all ideas put forth in the name of Christ as equally valid or to remain silent. Championing a superficial unity to avoid working through disagreement naively allows many harmful ideas to infiltrate the church. [For help talking about this with your kids, see Part 2 in Talking with Your Kids about Jesus.]

In sending out his twelve disciples, Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Just as today, the world the disciples would be preaching to was hostile to their message. Jesus’s command to them was to navigate what they would encounter by being shrewd—having “sharp powers of judgment,” as the dictionary defines it. We, too, should be both shrewd and innocent, but we’ve lost a lot of that balance to the naïve confusions I described here.

How do we fix it? That will be the subject of my next article.