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How Then Shall We Live?
American Christians need to figure out how to respond to the emergence of the Negative World
In 2014, the Benham Brothers, Jason and David, were sitting on top of the world. The sons of a prominent pro-life activist and graduates of Liberty University, they had built a very successful real estate business after a stint in pro baseball. And they had just gotten a dream opportunity to host a new show on HGTV called “Flip It Forward.”
But their dream turned into a nightmare for the Behnams, when activists came after them for their strong Christian beliefs. The firestorm of controversy turned into a media free-for-all, with ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, the New Yorker, TMZ, the Hollywood Reporter, and others covering the story. Huge pressure was put on HGTV and their advertisers to drop the Benhams’ show, which was cancelled mid-production.
I interviewed the Benham Brothers about this and a new book of theirs last year.
But it isn’t just the Benhams who find themselves experiencing loss in today’s world. The Crossing church in Columbia, Missouri, home to the state flagship college the University of Missouri, had been founded with a cultural engagement model explicitly designed to build bridges to their surrounding community. Its very name speaks to that desire.
They were very successful at this, creating a fruitful partnership with the secular True/False film festival that saw them featured in a very positive profile in the New York Times. They also created partnerships with a local art gallery as well.
But after a sermon one Sunday morning in which the pastor said there were only two genders, a massive controversy erupted over the church. The film festival and gallery found themselves under intense pressure to disavow the church, and they ended up publicly cancelling their partnerships with The Crossing.
Even the most winsome of evangelicals are now finding themselves coming under the same fire that only the culture warriors used to get.
What is going on?
It’s about the transition in 2014 to what I call the “negative world,” where for the first time in the 400-year history of America, elite, official culture is now hostile to Christianity and its traditional moral system.
I wrote an essay for First Things magazine called “The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism” that traced changes in our culture over the past 60 years in which America went from positive to Christianity, to neutral towards it, to finally negative. I also describe the three main evangelical strategies that developed during this era – the culture war, seeker sensitivity, and cultural engagement strategies – and how they evolved and came into conflict as we entered the negative world.
My article went viral, and I’m told it is the most cited piece in the history of First Things.
As many of you know, I am also turning it into a book with Zondervan Reflective that comes out in January called Life in the Negative World: Confronting Challenges in an Anti-Christian Culture.
If you are a Christian, haven’t you sensed that something has changed in America? If you are an evangelical, haven’t you seen the vicious infighting?
Every time I share the three worlds model, people tell me it really helped the make sense of this new world around them. For example, after I appeared on the Dr. Steve Turley show to talk about it, somebody emailed me to say, “I have not heard anybody else break down what’s happening as accurate and truthfully and as encouraging as you.” And I was blown away to find out that Pastor Andrew Brunson, who survived real suffering after spending two years unjustly held in a Turkish prison, was a reader of my work.
With my book, I hope to go one layer deeper on the three worlds model. And after getting so much feedback about my First Things essay, I also made some updates that I hope will make the model even stronger.
Understanding the world is critical. But it’s not enough. We also need to know how to live in it. Over three quarters of my book is about that topic, which may be the most critical facing Christians and the church.
On Wednesday, I’ll talk about that in more detail, and share an example of someone who is pioneering the type of ownership mentality that is part of living in the negative world successfully.
Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What questions are you wrestling with in the negative world? What topics would you like to see me address? What things are you already doing? How do you think we should live?
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