Engaging the Culture

On BreakPoint's web page, we recently ran a poll asking people how they thought Christians ought to engage the culture. The answers were revealing -- and, for me, a little disheartening. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said we ought to change the culture by winning people to Christ. Twenty-two percent thought we ought to pray for the culture. Fourteen percent said we should set up an alternative, parallel culture as an example. But just 17 percent said we ought to work within the political system to change the culture. Well, that's bad news, because while prayer and conversion efforts are obviously at the heart of our call as Christians, so is attempting to influence the culture we live in, to bring Christian truth to bear on politics and every area of life. A new book by Christian author Tim Stafford shows us why. Stafford's book is called The Stamp of Glory. It's a novel set in the years leading up to the Civil War. The plot involves a small band of abolitionists who conclude that slavery is a sin -- an offense against God Himself. But instead of trying to pass laws banning slavery, these men and women attempt to change the hearts of slaveholders. After all, they reasoned, laws were fundamentally coercive. Many slaveholders were Christians. Would it not be better, they asked, to expose the sinfulness of slavery, and appeal to slaveowners to repent of their sin? The novel echoes real life events. In 1833, abolitionists formed the American Anti-Slavery Society. Efforts at coercion were strictly prohibited. As the society's Declaration of Sentiments put it, they intended to destroy "error by the potency of truth... overthrow... prejudice by the power of love... and [abolish] slavery by the spirit of repentance." But the anti-slavery group soon discovered an unpalatable fact: Very few slaveholders were ready to repent. In fact, they were outraged that these abolitionists were criticizing them! Meanwhile, three million slaves continued to suffer in bondage. Abolitionist leaders gradually realized that they could not avoid the political realm. They began questioning candidates about their views on slavery. They published what would today be called voter guides. They started their own political party, called the Liberty Party, and ran their own candidates. When these efforts failed, they attempted coalition politics. Ultimately, abolitionists joined forces with the newly formed Republican Party. In the end, most of them supported Abraham Lincoln, though at that time he was not a true abolitionist but someone willing to compromise with slavery in order to save the Union. Today, many Christians are taking a hard look at the degraded state of American culture and asking if they ought to limit their activities to prayer, conversion, and gentle persuasion. Should we get involved in politics? Or should we stick to purely spiritual weapons? The lesson from the anti-slavery movement is that we must do both. We need to pray for and witness to our neighbors. But we must also commit ourselves to political and cultural transformation. If you have doubts about this, I recommend you read Tim Stafford's new novel, The Stamp of Glory. After you've read it -- and it's a great read -- prayerfully consider how you might become more involved. Social evils are just as great today as they were a century ago. To fight them, America needs all the foot soldiers she can muster.


Chuck Colson


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