Culture Friday: Questions from WJI students

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 31st of May, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. We’re on the campus of Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, as several of us have been for the past two weeks. Today we wrap up the 2019 World Journalism Institute.

Later in the program today, we’ll hear from several of the students. They’ll share some of their experiences studying biblically objective journalism, and putting that into practice.

First up today, though, Culture Friday. And we have student participation in that, too. They will ask the questions.

John Stonestreet will answer them. He’s president of Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick!

EICHER: We have a lot of questions, so let’s get right to them.

LEWIS: I’m Kathryn Lewis and I’m from Hillsdale College and my question for you, John, is I’ve heard so many stories about people in Western Europe and also here in the States leaving their families to join ISIS and now we’re kind of on the other side of ISIS being mostly defeated—at least in a visible way—and so now I’m hearing stories about people coming back or families who want to access their loved ones that are stuck in these little enclaves. And I’m just wondering what kind of like powerful ideology would propel someone to abandon everything that they’ve known in a country and a culture and a family to go join this group that seems so remote and distant from what’s known and talked about and experienced in our culture here in America? And how can we as people in the church respond effectively and with love and truth to people who have taken this route? 

STONESTREET: Well, Kathryn, that’s a great question. I think it’s one of the things that’s taken many Americans off-guard is to kind of see—not only the Islamic State is kind of one form of extremism that we’ve seen people enter, but there’s others, right? I mean, we’ve seen a broader trend of young people who don’t have a why.

Fredrick Nietzche said that he who has a why can live with any what and any how. In other words, there’s something inherently meaningless about the way Westerners live their lives. We live for stuff. We live for money. We live for security. But nothing bigger than ourselves. We’re told that we’re the highest thing to care about on the planet and then we just kind of realize that that’s not true. And I think when there’s not a strong vision of what life is all about, we see people attracted to causes that gives them something higher to live for.

But I think we see other examples as well and it goes back to that same root cause, which is an inherent lack of purpose that we see in Western culture.

MITCHELL: Hi, my name is Belle Mitchell. I’m a graduate of Patrick Henry College and my question is regarding the same-sex marriage issue and its status being legalized. At what point should Christians and specifically Christian business owners, should their response simply be, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s?” Kind of acknowledging the law of the land and living in that context.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Belle. That’s a great question. I think that your question kind of answered your question, if that makes sense because you mentioned Jesus’ admonition to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but, you know, you’ve got two things there. First of all, we should as Christians give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But not everything that Caesar grasps belongs to Caesar and marriage is one of those things. Marriage is not something that belongs to Caesar. By the way, marriage isn’t something that belongs to the church, either. Marriage predates both Caesar—or government—and the church. And so that’s the problem is that in the last 10 years—in your lifetime, basically—Caesar has grabbed marriage. Therefore, this is one of those times where we’re going to find ourselves afoul of Caesar.

By the way, this is a common place that Christians throughout history have found themselves, which is kind of in conflict with Caesar. And this is one of those issues. And, you know what, it’s going to get harder. It’s going to be harder and harder and harder to stand against Caesar in this area and in related areas of gender and sexuality and marriage. But we don’t do it because we’re mean. We don’t do it because we “want to be right.” We do it because we want to honor God and, also, if marriage is part of the created order, then marriage is part of the world like gravity is. And to run afoul of it is to essentially deny reality and so if we love our neighbor, we want them to kind of be in correspondence with reality. Otherwise, like gravity, to deny it might feel good at first, but when you hit the ground it doesn’t feel good. And that’s where we’re going to find ourselves in history is — we can pretend marriage doesn’t exist, but we’re going to pay the consequence for pretending it doesn’t because it actually does.

NEIDHARDT: Good morning, John. My name is Jimmy Neidhardt and I just finished my junior year at Fairleigh Dickenson University and two thirds of young people—at least most statistics seem to indicate—are leaving the church, including conservative churches. In my area, I’ve known many young people who have grown up in church and have left. And most people that I know who are my age are probably antagonistic to the church at this point. So, my question is how do churches reach young people—millennials and Gen Z—with the gospel message? And how can they do that effectively?

STONESTREET: Well, thanks, Jimmy. That’s a good question. I do want to say that the statistics are all over the place when it comes to the number of young people leaving the faith. And I will say that the most reliable statistics we have aren’t the alarmist ones that talk about 80 percent of kids leaving the faith.

In fact, evangelical families that attend church regularly, they actually do better than any other than any other faith group in terms of their kids holding onto their faith. Except maybe Mormons.

That said, you know people that have left the faith. I know people who I grew up with who have left the faith. So none of this —and I know people who went to the evangelical college that I taught at who left the faith. So this is a real issue.

But, anyway, your question had more to do with methods. And I think that the fundamental challenge is that church right now is treated like everything else is treated in America. It’s treated on a marketing basis and so we think that there’s going to be a marketing solution to selling our goods to a group of people that we fundamentally see as consumers—as if the most important thing about us is what we choose. As opposed to ground-level reality that we’re made in the image of God, we’re made to know God, and we do that through Jesus Christ. And I don’t think the answer is going to be found in another marketing gimmick or the newest way of passing out the message. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try new things. Of course we should. But I think the answer is going to be found in treating faith like it actually is, which is a vision of all of life in the world that deals with life’s most important questions and we’ve got to take it as seriously as that. I don’t think that the challenge in most churches is that they do a bad job selling. I think there’s a much deeper problem across the church and that is that we treat faith as if it’s a personal, private choice as opposed to the truth about all of reality. And until we start teaching the scriptures that way, that this is the vision of life in the world that God has given us to understand the world that he’s made as opposed to here’s a story and here’s a moral like an Aesop fable that you can take and apply to your life. That’s what I mean when I say we’ve got to take the story and the scriptures and theology and religion and our faith as seriously as that. It’s almost like we’re talking about the most important thing you can talk about as opposed to something that’s going to make you life better. I don’t think we’re going to hold on to young people until we get back to talking about faith that way.

BRITTANY: Hey, John, I’m Brittany. I’m a student at Grace College, going into my senior year. So, this is going to be my first election coming in the 2020 election, so I was just wondering if you have any advice for someone who is new to voting on how I’m able to make the best informed decision, things I should look for in candidates that align with a Christian worldview?

STONESTREET: Yeah, Brittany, it’s funny. I think the 2020 election is going to be very interesting. The 2016 election will go down in history as obviously one that was historic in all kinds of different ways. But here’s what I know I can tell you about what it means to look for candidates that align with a Christian worldview. And that is when you look at a candidate you get three things. First of all, you get the person’s character. Unfortunately, I think there are too many Christians that take character seriously when it comes to someone on the other side of the political aisle and don’t take character seriously when it’s someone on our side of the political aisle. But character is destiny and as much as a candidate or a politician might bring us what we want, eventually character catches up with you. That’s just a rule of life.

But that’s not the only thing and I think that’s where we often forget is that we look for a candidate that we like or we think is a good person, as if there’s nothing else involved. There is something else involved. Two other things, in fact.

The second thing is policy. Even candidates with lousy character can have better character than those with good character. And I think policy matters because ideas matter. And policies matter for an awful lot of people.

And then the third thing that you look for in a candidate is their company. And what I mean by that is especially when it comes to the president, you’re not just voting for one person. You’re voting for an entire group of people. Several thousand people come alongside the president and that’s what we’ve seen with a growing kind of bureaucratic state in America over the last several generations is that you get folks entrenched in certain departments and those people can cause an awful lot of damage if their character and policy is not in line with reality.

So I think what you do is you look at all three of those things.

ROSGAARD: My name is Sophia Rosgaard and I’m a student at John Witherspoon College. John, here’s my question for you: Social justice is often seen as a left-leaning topic, but the Bible clearly gives examples of compassion and justice. How can Christians today have a presence in social justice?

STONESTREET: Well, Sophia, this is a longer question than I’ll have time to answer. But I’ll just tell you two things that come to mind. The first thing is you have to figure out what social justice is. The Bible doesn’t talk about social justice. As you said, the Bible talks about compassion and justice. Social justice is a word that comes along with an entire agenda and by and large has been defined by those on the political left. So we need to be very careful about what we mean by social justice. The question isn’t whether we should help the poor. The question is what does helping the poor look like? What is helping the poor? And that also brings up the second question.

So, the first question is what do we mean by social justice. The second question is who’s responsible for what? One of the great theologians in history, a guy named Abraham Kuyper, who came up with this idea of sphere sovereignty. Basically that God has created authority within different realms of society and that authority is sacred. So when the church oversteps its authority and steps into the family, you’ve got a problem.

And so that’s the other question. A lot of times  when people say social justice what they mean is the state should provide all these social programs. Well, the state’s not very good at doing a lot of things like, you know, for example, airport security. So we should be able to distinguish and create space in our society for the right people to do the right acts of compassion and the right acts of justice.

Great question, thanks.

EICHER: Alright, John, well, we have more questions today than we have time, but thanks for moving through them so fast.

John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. Great questions from our students, I think John, thanks!

STONESTREET: You bet. Thanks, Nick!

(Photo/J.C. Derrick)

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