A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Majority and Minority Religions #4 (Final Post)

We finish our discussion of Majority and Minority Religions based on Dean Merrill's book, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church.

Merrill has convincingly argued that orthodox Christianity is a minority religion in the United States and has been from the beginning. With that in mind, he now turns to the question, "How does a minority religion behave in a society?" Merrill says that Christians can respond to their minority status in four different ways, with each response currently being exhibited by Christians in American society.

1) Anxiousness: More than a few Christians feel as if the religious and moral foundation of the country is crumbling under their feet. They feel this way as a result of recent judicial decisions concerning religious matters, and what appear to be concerted efforts by some groups to remove all religious expression from public life. This concern leads to anxiety.

2) Apathy: Those who respond in this way feel as well that the religious and moral fiber of the country is deteriorating, but their pessimism that things will turn around evokes in them a "there's nothing we can do" attitude. Those who become apathetic place emphasis on the future world to come, since this present existence is only temporary. Merrill states, "They would like to improve America's moral climate, but realistically they don't see a ghost of a chance, so they elect to save their energy" (p. 49).

3) Anger: In contrast to anxiousness and apathy, those Christians who respond in anger vow to fight the forces of secularism in our midst. Employing concern for the children, these Christians, believing that America was founded on Christian principles, insist that is is the duty of Christians to return the society to what it once was. It is anger on both sides of the issue that is fueling the current culture war in America.

4) Apologetics: The fourth and correct response, according to Merrill, is the approach that explains and models one's beliefs before a culture that does not know God. In the classical sense to "apologize" for one's faith is not to say that one is sorry for what one believes. The Greek word apologia means "to defend." It is based on the classic apologetical text of 1 Peter 3:15-16: "But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."

Notice the two aspects Peter mentions when it comes to offering our apologetic. First, we give an account, that is, we explain why we believe what we believe, both in regard to theology and ethics; and we do it with gentleness and reverence, not with anger nor arrogance. After all, who has ever been persuaded by an angry, arrogant argument?

Second, we are to keep our consciences clear; we are to live according to the high standards our faith requires. Many of us know the saying, "Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you say." No amount of rational argument will be convincing if our actions as Christians do not match our words. A Christ-like way of life is the most sigificant apologetic of all.

I believe that Merrill is correct. Whether Christianity is a minority or majority religion, we are to bear witness to the hope that is within us by gentle and respectful discussion and an exemplary way of life. There is no substitute for these things. We must never forget that Jesus reserved his harshest words for those inside the faith (the Pharisees), and he showed the most compassion and understanding to those on the outside (the tax collectors and sinners).

If Christians today would take the approach Jesus took and offered an apologetic for Christianity in word and in deed, we would find, perhaps to our surprise, that people would be more than willing to listen to us and consider the Jesus that we follow.


Brennan said...

Quite so.

A good friend of mine commented recently on a similar issue regarding Islam. He said, "You know, there are a lot of people who want to dialogue with Islamic people after 9/11 and not blame them, but in a lot of ways, the Islamic people just aren't helping us out." I think there is a similar vein in Christianity, where Christian aren't willing to help out their partners in dialogue, and thus, create the first three responses, as opposed to the fourth, which I agree, is certainly the most intelligent response of the four.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I think your friend's comment is right on target; and yes, we Christians are not helping one another in the mission we have been given. We dare not forget that we are in this together.