By Caleb Kaltenbach
In the first century, a majority of Christians lived in the Roman Empire, which was led by a succession of dictators, some of whom were so narcissistic that they believed they were divine. Meanwhile, the superstition of other religions inside the empire was unbelievable.
The ethics and values that Christians held contrasted starkly to those of the Greco-Roman world. This frequently led to misunderstanding, slander, persecution, exile, and death for Christians.
Now, what was it you posted on social media that you thought was an outrage?
There’s no comparison between society for first-century Christians, societies in the Old Testament era, and our American society. The closest similarity in today’s world might be the society of some countries in the Middle East and the cultural norms Christians have to struggle through.
Yet when Jesus, Peter, and Paul interacted with people far from God, they didn’t get mad at them. They had strong biblical beliefs and strong friendships with various people, even those far from God. All I’m suggesting is that we can and should do the same.
Even though the concerns in our society may not be as new or extreme as we have been assuming, they are present. God put us here in this generation and expects us to represent him faithfully wherever we are.
So, what should we do with our anxieties regarding the future? How should we approach a society that frequently changes in ways we don’t appreciate?
Option A: Aggressively Fight a Broken Society
Just so you know, I completely understand that we all have different views when it comes to the intersection of Christianity and the trends of society. For instance, some of us feel as though we are in a battle with society because of our faith and, as such, need to stand up for what’s right. We reason that if we don’t speak up, who will?
If that describes your attitude, let me say that I can relate. As a matter of fact, within the pages of my book, God of Tomorrow, you’ll find a lot of support for the concept of boldness. I would even go so far as to say that if we are Christians, we have no choice but to speak up boldly against the wrongs we see.
If you think about it, that’s probably why Jesus called us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16). The Bible is filled with examples of God sending his people to not only speak firmly but also stand in opposition to the wrong and injustice in the world.
Yet while many Christians have taken brave stands against the marginalization of people, harmful social programs, and the like, there are also examples of Christians who, in their efforts to stand up for truth, have actually hurt society. They’ve at least been perceived as being too aggressive (some are) and lacking empathy for those with opposing views (many do).
Anytime we find ourselves despising or putting down a community, it really means that we have a problem with people, because communities are made up of people.
Whether you disagree with and disdain the NRA Second Amendment rights crowd, the scholarly academic crowd, Muslims in your city, Hollywood, the GOP or the DNC, the corporation your spouse works for, illegal immigrants, conservative Christians, citizens of a certain country, the millennial generation, or any other community, any hateful feelings you may have toward these people are opposite of the feelings God has for them. Combativeness without compassion is always going to be counterproductive.
Option B: Surrender and Fully Hop On Board with Society
In contrast to the combative Christians, some of us are jaded from adverse attitudes of other people, so we decide that it’s better never to bring up controversial social issues.
It might be that you’ve seen your fair share of people turned off by the church because of how Christians have treated them, so you’ve committed to acting differently. You identify with verses that talk about God’s love and you emphasize those verses without mentioning any of the ones that conflict with society’s values.
It’s not that you don’t love God and the Bible, but more than likely you’ve concluded that you’ll make a greater impression by staying silent on lightning-rod issues. Along those same lines, someone you love might have adopted a belief that was more aligned with a popular trend in society than with God’s words.
For you, it’s been easier to support society’s “latest and greatest” than to do anything else. If so, I definitely get where you’re coming from (I find myself there sometimes), but that just isn’t a beneficial approach. Silence about people’s mistakes in the face of their pain doesn’t help them—it hurts them.
Basing our values on our favorite celebrity, political leader, author, good friend, or simply the opinion of the majority in the moment assures disappointment. What do we do when society changes again or the person we admire shifts his or her opinion and differs with us on an important issue?
Aligning our views with society’s latest slant results in the constant shifting of our views. Because society is always in flux and its values are always changing, it’s impossible to have a consistent worldview when we’re eager to go along with society. We should never change our orthodox beliefs to line up with a culture that is constantly changing.
Those who measure their convictions against an ever-shifting society will always be adjusting their beliefs. Very rarely does society remain in one place. As you can see, this approach holds many problems. We need another way.
Option C: Invest in Society with Empathy and Conviction
As opposed to words such as fight and surrender, the word invest paints a picture of people giving of themselves to improve the world around them. It means that you and I don’t just write blogs or talk boldly about cultural problems; we sacrifice and invest in the lives of others in society.
For me, invest is another way of saying the word engage. Engagement encompasses learning about a certain context or group of people to better understand them. I believe we should invest in and engage people around us; we should be the first ones to initiate a relationship and not wait on others.
Developing relationships with people not like us or people who might intimidate us is so necessary. Our differences with people should drive us to them, not from them. I believe it’s the option that makes the most sense.
Our differences with people should drive us to them, not from them. When we’re afraid of what tomorrow holds for society and respond by fighting against people, surrendering to misguided ideas, or simply showing indifference to growing causes around the world, we’re choosing to mistreat and devalue others.
Not only is dismissing people never a valid option, but it isn’t pleasing to God. Don’t go in that direction. Make the better choice.
CALEB KALTENBACH (@calebwilds) is a pastor and the author of God of Tomorrow and Messy Grace. He and his wife, Amy, and their two children reside in Southern California. Visit him at calebkaltenbach.com.
Excerpted from GOD OF TOMORROW: how to overcome the fears of today and renew your hope for the future. Copyright © 2018 by Caleb Kaltenbach. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.