This writer would add that in the current conflict over liberty of conscience in accommodating the sexual revolution, privatization of religion means that legal and social requirements to accommodate sin must be complied with. Effectively what is being proposed is “Sunday Christianity,” which is not Biblical at all. Additionally, conscience is the sense of right and wrong, and it cannot possibly be right to act against it. This approach involves such a radical change in Christian faith that it cannot reasonably be called a Christian approach to the world, but rather largely eliminates Christian faith and morals from life and the public square.
Activism and withdrawal have characterized Christians in their approach to the wider world in recent decades, with neither really succeeding in recovering American society for Christ, nor successfully insulating a Christian subculture from the wider world. Yet the fact that believers must live in a wider non-Christian world, and are commanded to be salt and light in it, continues to present the question of the proper approach of Christianity to the public square. Greg Grooms, co-director of the Christian study center Hill House in Austin, Texas discussed different approaches for Christianity in the public square at the annual conference at the L’Abri Fellowship in Rochester Minnesota on Feb. 3-4. In particular, he discussed the goals people believe Jesus has set for them, their relationship to other players in the square, different strategies of approach, and different themes in the Christian life to which the world is called.
The first approach, separatism, Grooms called the “us/them approach.” Grooms said it is informed by the question of the apostle Paul, “what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness,” (II. Cor. 6:14) and that of St. Augustine “what does the city of God have to do with the city of man?” To these questions, Grooms said, some believers have said “Not much, we are different than they are.” Non-believers are not considered to be enemies, but at times are considered to be “antagonists.” Contact with others, both for individuals Christians and corporately, is limited to evangelism, and the Christian life to which people are called is a life of personal holiness. Another term for this approach, Grooms said, is “fortress evangelism.” It recognizes the saving of souls for Christ and from eternal punishment as the chief duty of Christians, and assumes that the fall has corrupted people so much that we must evangelize unbelievers before we address other problems. An advantage to this approach is that it avoids bad influences on Christian life. It was, however, more characteristic of the Evangelical world in the twentieth century than today. It was observed that it may continue to characterize some campus ministries. Grooms believes, however, that it makes evangelism much harder in the public square.
The second approach to relating Christianity to the world is Constantianism, an effort to achieve a Christian political order, or short of that, to implement Christian ethics in some particular part of the political and social order. In this approach, the “game we’re playing is a competition, and our calling is to win.” Such Biblical admonitions as “running races and fighting fights” are key references for this approach in the public square. Christians should be trying to make “the kingdom of this world the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” Christians relate to non-Christians in this approach through politics, and the goal of Christian political activity is attaining and exercising power. Grooms said that in contrast to the bottom up approach of fortress evangelism, the Constantinian approach is a top down approach, “taking over the centers and institutions of power.” The political efforts of the pro-life movement and Christian political involvement in the past generation were identified as typical implementations of a Constantinian approach. Grooms saw these first two approaches as problematic not for what they embrace, personal holiness and a righteous social order, but for what they tend to overlook, our duty to love non-Christians as neighbors.
The third approach Grooms called “the selling of the faith.” Whereas the first two approaches are different ways to convert a non-Christian world to Christianity, this approach identifies something valued by the secular world and promotes Christianity as best supplying it. The relationship of Christians to non-Christians is that of “fellow consumers.” Some things identified as selling points are “wealth, intelligence, standing, power.” While, “in the end,” what Christians want to do is to promote the gospel, acceptance of the gospel is tied to whatever it is that is identified as valued. The initial approach to the wider world is through marketing, and the Christian life to be enjoyed will involve the thing identified as valued in the wider society. Grooms gave two examples of the selling of the faith in the public square. In late Middle Ages, scholars tied Christianity to the renewed interest Greek and Roman philosophy and culture. In our own day, the “health and wealth gospel” offers the Christian faith and community as suppliers of the desired good life. Grooms believes that Evangelicalism has lost some of its distinctiveness by taking the gospel and tying it to what is already popular in American culture and the public square. “If you lose sight of the responsibility to be in the world but not of it, you’re going to fall off the wagon,” Grooms said.