The Western world is rapidly changing. And this brings with it many challenges, particularly for Christians. So to get a better handle on these changes, I’ve started interviewing a number of Christian leaders.
Akos Balogh: What are the particular challenges you see Western Christians facing in the next little while? And how should Christians respond to some of these challenges?
Andrew Cameron: I think our first challenge is in the area of evangelism.
We need to become much more adept at saying why one should be a Christian in a culture that’s convinced itself there’s only matter and energy, and to whom spirituality is merely a lifestyle choice (of which there are many).
To add to the challenge, our culture now believes Christianity doesn’t add to the social good.
And so we need to work out new ways to repackage not the gospel, but our own thinking, in how we’re going to commend ourselves to our nation.
Now I don’t see this happening very much: I see Christians across the theological spectrum absolutely committed to the ways of evangelising that are luxuries of the past, that might have worked 40 years ago, but aren’t anything like what is needed in the present.
Akos: Could you give me an example of how Christians are speaking like it’s 1976?
AC: The problem of giving an example is that I’m going to sound like I’m betraying the family jewels. It’s the style of evangelism that I hear on university campuses. It seems to have a tin ear to the fact that the kids of today are unmoved by it.
And why are they unmoved by it? Because they’ve got all of these other belief systems, such as naturalism, and freedom of choice, that are real roadblocks to their thinking. This means saying what we were saying 40 years ago just doesn’t make sense to them.
Akos: Is this the idea of ‘defeater beliefs’?
AC: I think so. I hear the evangelical community in a sense preaching to each other. I feel that a lot of preaching is more about proving to other preachers how orthodox we are, rather than persuading people who are quite different from an earlier era.
Akos: So we need to better understand the worldviews of the people we’re trying to reach, and try to shift or engage these worldviews in better ways?
AC: I think we have to retool and repackage evangelism. I don’t know how to do it yet: I’m part of the problem. There’s a challenge: how to generate leaders who have a better traction in a culture like ours.
Akos: What other challenges do you see Christians having to face?
Another challenge I would name is in the realm of religious freedom. I’m with those who feel the need to protect religious freedom.
This should be protected at the legal level, but I think Christian leaders (in particular) also need to have a well formed apologetic around why religious freedom was invented in the first place. And why it’s still a good thing to have in our culture.
In other words, every Christian leader needs to have a very persuasive argument about this, that can commend back to our culture it’s best instincts about a liberal democracy, such as freedom of thought, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.
These things used to be obvious to our wider culture, but aren’t anymore.
Akos: Indeed. I know many non-Christians who are asking ‘why should we bother with religious freedom’.
AC: It’s another case of cultural amnesia. It’s hard to get people back to where they were. I don’t know if it’s possible, but if we go silent, then nature will take its course, and we’ll lose these freedoms. And if we’re angry and aggressive about this, then nature will take its course, and we’ll also be marginalised. So we’ve got to work out effective ways of commending these freedoms to our society.
Akos: So you’re saying that Christians need to push back against the erosion of our liberties, albeit in winsome and persuasive ways?
AC: Yes. And I would say to people, with a smile on my face: you wouldn’t want Australia to be less liberal than the United States, would you?
In the USA, these issues have been on the radar because of their Constitution, and although people are divided about it, they’re able to have an intelligent conversation about the limits of religious freedom. We’re not able to do that in Australia because people are illiterate about this issue. And so I think we need to inject some literacy back into this whole area.
Akos: So religious freedom hasn’t been front and centre of Australian culture the way it has been in the USA.
AC: Yes, possibly because we didn’t need to worry about it here in Australia. But the fact that people don’t know how to talk about it here in Australia is translating into all sorts of assumptions that need to be challenged.
Akos: Andrew Cameron, thanks for your time. It sounds like Christians have work to do!