In an earlier post, I raised the question: “have you been privatized?” In that post, I focused primarily on the issue raised in Law and Revolution regarding the privatization of faith by restricting it to one’s personal life only and not permitting arguments from faith or religion into the public square. Today, I turn to another type of privatization raised by Os Guinness in his excellent book The Call.
In an insightful chapter that is worth the price of the book alone, Guinness notes that we have enormous freedom today to pursue nearly any type of faith, belief, or religious practice that we please. However, he rightly notes that this “freedom” can be deceptive. It is actually, in his words, “limited and limiting (p. 165).”
How so? Because it is limited to your private life only. The is an outgrowth, of course, of the privatization that I discussed in the earlier post. You may believe whatever you like as long it does not come into your “public” life. Guinness writes:
But woe betide the person who expects similar freedom in the public world of work–the world of Wall Street, Capitol Hill, IBM, and NASA. That is a different world with different ways. We may have a prayer breakfast before work maybe. Or a Bible study group in the lunch hour perhaps. But in much of the normal working world, personal convictions, along with hats and coats, are to be left at the door. (p. 166)
The inevitable result of this form of privatization, much like the other, is to reduce Christianity to a place of pietistic irrelevance. Guinness quotes an American historian from the 1970s as saying that “the Christian faith in the United States [is] ‘[s]ocially irrelevant, even if privately engaging (p. 166).'”
And that is where we find ourselves. Many, perhaps most, people in the American church have been privatized. Their faith is irrelevant to the vast majority of their lives. It is a “privately engaging” thing that they do on Sunday morning, but it does not affect how they parent, work, love their spouses, choose colleges, etc., etc. They have meaningful quiet times, but the Lord Christ and His Sovereign Word are more about warm fuzzy feelings in the morning than a guide to all of life.
Chuck Colson put it well in How Now Shall We Live?:
The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every areas of existence. The failure has been crippling in many ways. For one thing, we cannot answer the questions our children bring home from school, so we are incapable of answering the challenges they face. For ourselves, we cannot explain to our friends or neighbors why we believe, and we often cannot defend our faith. And we do not know how to organize our lives correctly, allowing our choices to be shaped by the world around us. What’s more, by failing to see Christian truth is every aspect of life, we miss great depths of beauty and meaning: the thrill of seeing God’s splendor in the intricacies of nature or hearing his voice in the performance of a great symphony or detecting his character in the harmony of a well-ordered community.
Most of all, our failure to see Christianity as a comprehensive framework of truth has crippled our efforts to have a redemptive effect on the surrounding culture. At its most fundamental level, the so-called culture war is a clash of belief systems. It is, as Kuyper put it, a clash of principle against principle, of worldview against worldview. Only when we see this can we effectively evangelize a post-Christian culture, bringing God’s righteousness to bear in the world around us.
Evangelism and cultural renewal are both divinely ordained duties. (p. xii)
And there is the deadly result of both forms of privatization. The privatization that says we don’t bring unashamedly Christian arguments into the public square and the privatization that says that “what I believe does not impact my life” share this — they are both false gospels.
So, we see that privatization in both of its forms is so insidious because it is actually a gospel issue. The Western church has swallowed hook, line, and sinker the pietistic lie that religion is a personal, private matter, and it should not go beyond that. A privatized gospel like that is no “good news” at all, and it is destined to perish and take many individuals and the culture with it. Western Civilization is a case in point. Thanks to this impotent anti-gospel, we are now living in the ruins of a once great civilization that was built on the real gospel.
Maybe this post is therefore also an answer to the question “what’s the church to do in these momentous times?” Return to preaching and teaching the full-orbed life and world transforming message that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, which would simply be a return to preaching and teaching the true gospel.
So, we end where we began, with the question “have you church been privatized?” What about your church? If the answer to either is yes, what are you going to do about it?