by Sam Kim
Dumb. Brainwashed. Prudish. Anti-science. Archaic.
These words describe what many urbanites feel about the church. Of course, those living in secular global cities never actually say these words out loud, but they do reflect the views of most millennials living in our Post-Christian world.
I have experienced this attitude firsthand, as secular friends who visit our community are often surprised to meet so many thinking Christians: medical residents in multiple specialties; people working with smash hit TV series like Netflix’s Stranger and Things; or those who are studying at Columbia or NYU.
In conversations with secular friends over recent years, one recurring statement that reveals what they think about Christians goes something like this, “I always thought Christians were generally dumb.” In my experience, the primary reason why most millennials who live in global cities dismiss Christianity altogether is because of this single generalized perception.
Developing a framework for the secular mind
If we want to reach the prevailing culture with the gospel today, we must work at developing a better framework for the secular mind. The world has changed drastically in the last 50 years, and perhaps it is not surprising that along with the recent passing of Rev. Billy Graham, the era of biblical authority in America has also passed. In Graham’s era, not only did about 75 percent of the U.S. population attend church, but the majority also believed the Bible to be the authoritative word of God.
Today, church attendance is precipitously in decline and the Bible has become for many just a collection of archaic fables from a time long passed. Consequently, the task of evangelism has never been more difficult or felt more vulnerable than today. What then can we do?
First, the most effective gospel application for those living in a post-Christian world today is to get a bit tougher and learn to expect greater resistance and prejudice as believers.
Honestly, rather than pouting and venting about how our country lost its Christian values, we can start praying for God’s power to move in our culture in spite of our weaknesses! Postmodernity is here to stay and crying about it won’t do any good. Fatalism won’t help anyone.
Let’s also look at the bright side. The good news is that most people living in a post-Christian world have not really rejected Jesus outright, but have merely dismissed the idea that Christianity might be relevant to them. Rejection and dismissal are two different phenomena. The former means that there was an actual investigation, but the latter means the question was simply overlooked. Understanding the difference is important.
Jane’s Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is perhaps the greatest love story ever written, because Lizzy and Mr. Darcy’s smugness lead to a contriteness that ultimately paves the way for some of the most intoxicating and romantic dialogue written in the history of English literature. How else do you explain lines like, “You have bewitched my heart and soul” or “One word shall silence me forever.”
I know this type of romantic irony firsthand because this is exactly what happened to my wife and me. My wife once told me I wasn’t her type. I agreed with her that she was definitely not into the “hot type,” but to her surprise she eventually gave in and married me.
Second, let’s learn from Jane Austen’s playbook and leverage the dominating culture’s pride and prejudice for the gospel.
Sometimes, life’s greatest joys and surprises come into our lives when we realize we were dead wrong. Saul became Paul and went from jailing and beheading other Christians, to being jailed and beheaded for Jesus and the gospel. C.S. Lewis went from being a militant atheist who ridiculed the idea of God in the halls of Oxford to becoming the greatest Christian apologist in the twentieth century.
A few years ago, one NYU student felt prompted by the spirit of God to invite his friend to our church, but both he and his friends felt he must have discerned wrongly. Multiple friends all said the same thing when the friend actually agreed to come: “I don’t know about this.” They all assumed this womanizing, always high, crass jerk would not be interested in church.
They were all wrong. He not only came to church that Sunday, but surrendered his life to Christ very shortly afterwards and is now is one of our emerging leaders, shining the light of Christ in highsnobiety, an urban high fashion company that is taking the world by storm.
I exhort you not to grow fatalistic or discouraged by the dismissive attitude exhibited by many in our prevailing culture, but instead persistently shine your light, for the Spirit of God is always at work.
There is strong biblical precedent for the Spirit of God moving the most powerfully when we reach out to those people who seem furthest from God. I think the old maxim is true when sharing our faith in the post-Christian world today: the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Sam Kim (@drsammykim) is founder of 180 Church NYC, a community joining God to restore the beauty in all things. He teaches and writes about culture, preaching, and evangelism in various contexts. He is husband to Lydia, dad to Nathan and Josh, and best-friends with his dog, Brownie. Learn more at samdkim.com