John Stonestreet: Personal But Not Private

How to reclaim a God-centered faith in a human-centric world

John Stonestreet: Personal But Not Private

How to reclaim a God-centered faith in a human-centric world

One of the most insidious and deeply rooted ideas in our culture is absurd if you think about it for more than a minute or two. We tend to think of and treat the world as a place that we construct, rather than as a place designed and given to us by the hand of a loving Creator. Along the way, sinful human nature rejects that there are givens in the world—absolutes and fixed realities to which we must adjust.

The consequence of seeing the world as a place we construct has been significant. The greatest example has to do with redefining gender, marriage, parenting and the family, as if these things are creations of our will rather than givens to which we must adjust our lives. At almost every stage of the sexual revolution, we’ve rationalized that kids are flexible, that “they will be fine,” as an excuse for doing whatever we think is best for us. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we’ve bought into the idea that realities will adjust so we can pursue “our authentic selves” or “live our truth,” asserting that divorce could actually be good for kids, gender is fluid and children don’t really need their moms and dads.

But ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. A culture untethered from truth and its Divine Source is a culture full of bad ideas. 

Without any fixed reference point, all that’s left is to look within. Imagine trying to find your way out of a wilderness using a compass with a needle that, no matter where you turn, points only at you. When we make ourselves the center of reality, we are always lost.

Secularism’s Scourge on Society

That’s been the ultimate outcome of secularism in our culture: the loss of a fixed reference point by which to orient our understandings of self, right and wrong, progress, meaning or purpose. The most important way that secularism shaped the West has not been by disproving God as an objective reality, but by dismissing Him as a matter of subjective preference. God has been turned into a personal and private belief. Rather than concern ourselves, even in the church, with who God is, we instead concern ourselves with who God is to me. Secularism has radically privatized faith, and in doing so, untethered our understanding of reality from our Creator. This leaves us without a fixed reference point by which to orient our lives. 

The radical turn toward this privatized understanding of God and truth has infected the church as well, and it keeps us Christians from loving God and our neighbors. In particular, the untethering of public life from truth has handicapped faith, neutralizing its power to change not only people but entire societies, and preventing Christians from understanding what it truly means to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Love of God Defines Love of Neighbors

It’s not uncommon for Christians to exhort other Christians to love their neighbors, and then to assert that this requires us to affirm things that are neither true nor good. But love for our neighbor, if untethered from a love for God, ceases to be love at all. Rather, it becomes reduced to the sort of affirming sentimentality and positivity that is so often mistaken for love in our culture. When Jesus summarized the entire law in the command to love, He first tethered love to God. By doing that, as Augustine noted, He ordered love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, ESV). Only by loving God first can we love others
as we ought.

When love or truth, law or regulation, education or leisure are untethered from God, there are victims. In today’s world, the victims of our worst ideas are most often children. We rob them of the clarity, the protection, the learning, the mother and father, the truth and the meaning they need to survive and thrive, and we simply expect them to adjust. Instead, they suffer. To care about them is to care about the ideas that are poisoning their hearts, minds and culture. We risk being canceled, falsely accused of hate and violence and of losing social status. But merely being outraged by what we see is not enough. 

Fixing our Eyes on Jesus Brings True Fulfillment

Near the beginning of the “Silver Chair,” one of the books in the Chronicles of Narniaseries by C.S. Lewis, a girl named Jill Pole believes she has caused her friend Eustace to fall to his death. What she doesn’t know is that Aslan has called them to Narnia in this unusual way, that Eustace is safe and that Aslan is about to give her important instructions for their journey. So, she lies in the grass and has a long cry. In that context, Lewis wrote, “Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later and then you still have to decide what to do.”

Today, Christians tend to be somewhere between angry and panicky, or both. At some point, we need to stop and decide what to do next if we are to love God and our neighbor in this time and place. There’s no way around the cultural chaos, only into it, as generations of Christians have demonstrated before us. Chuck Colson taught us to take culture seriously, but also that “outrage is not a strategy.” 

We must be tethered fully to God and to His truth. Following Christ’s birth, the Wise Men found what they were looking for by looking beyond themselves, their religions and traditions and their culture, to the star God fixed in the sky for them. Likewise, we will only find what we truly seek by looking to the God who created that star. We won’t find it by looking within.

There is no substitute for the truth and clarity of reorienting our lives and worldview to God. There is no substitute for loving God and, only then, our neighbors, too. And there is no reason for despair. As Colson said, “Despair is a sin, because Christ is risen.” ©2022 John Stonestreet

John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and the daily voice of Breakpoint, a nationally syndicated culture commentary founded by the late Chuck Colson.

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