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Resisting the descent into secularism

Chase Davis | Christians should look to Europe but be careful not to draw wrong conclusions

An organ and chairs stand outside a flood-damaged church in Trooz, Belgium. Associated Press/Photo by Virginia Mayo

Resisting the descent into secularism
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Christians in Europe and America share a rich sociocultural and theological heritage. Our shared traditions span back centuries and are rooted in a common western civilization. Americans have truly inherited the best of European history. For many American Christians, Europe is a wonderful setting to revisit the roots of the Reformation, even as exploring the nooks and crannies of English towns or traveling around the French countryside are favorite pastimes for visiting Americans.

Europeans have seen much, to be sure. They have endured wars on their own soil from which ordinance is to this day discovered buried in the earth. They have (sometimes) resisted potent ideologies and endured revolutions. The ghosts of history appear everywhere on this continent, A rich and tragic history shapes their social consciousness and the European outlook on life.

Our church supports an evangelical church planter in Paris. This church start is in the heart of Paris, and the pastor is seeking to bring the gospel to bear in that very secular (and expensive) city. This church planter speaks French, lives amongst the people, and knows how best to reach Parisians. It would be inappropriate for Americans to presume that we know the best missiological methods to reach Parisians. It is clear to American pastors that we should defer to local ministry partners regarding their strategies and approaches for mission in other countries.

However, this highlights a curiosity about thinking missiologically within America. It is an oddity that many American pastors are instructed to learn how to operate in a post-Christian culture from our European brothers. It is suggested that we must learn from the rest of the world to do what they do, particularly concerning their ministries in Europe. America has not yet reached the nearly comprehensive secularism of France or Europe as a whole. In some ways, we are in worse shape in terms of abortion and transgenderism. However, in terms of secularism, it has been suggested that America will inevitably become like Europe.

This deterministic approach to sociocultural trends often shapes our approach to discipleship and evangelism. As a type of framing, we adopt certain assumptions regarding what the future holds and respond as if it is inevitable. Politicians, particularly the Democrats, have been using this for years to justify policies related to immigration. Even church planting movements adopt similar tactics with their eagerness to reach cities, as it is presumed that highly secularized cities are the inevitable geographical destiny of modern society.

We should look at those churches that have been obliterated by secularization to avoid the same outcome in our own churches.

But this highlights an important consideration: Should we want America to become Europe? Should we work towards and for the Europeanization of America? To ask another way, should we want a more secular society? It is presupposed that because America will become like Europe, we should learn how to operate and behave like our European counterparts. However, this is a fallacy.

This is the same improper diagnostic that plagued the Center for Naval Analyses during World War II with what is called “survivorship bias.” Researchers focused on surviving planes returning from missions and reinforced their armor based on where these planes were damaged. However, what they missed is that these planes made it back precisely because they had taken damage in those spots and survived. But that was precisely the wrong lesson. The areas of the planes that needed reinforcement didn’t get it. “Survivorship bias” led to strategic miscalculations that were costly in both lost planes and lost lives.

Similarly, we should look at those churches that have been obliterated by secularization to avoid the same outcome in our own churches. We should consider—very carefully—what truly caused them to collapse. Furthermore, we should ponder the presumptions that led to the ascendency of secularization in Europe in order to resist complete secularization here.

American Christians must avoid survivorship bias and sociological determinism to resist the complete secularization of our society. Instead of adopting the tactics of the survivors, we should learn from those who have not and fortify our churches accordingly. We must shore up the walls as Nehemiah and establish ourselves upon the Rock. We must fortify our churches against postmodern nihilism through active resistance. We need to reacquaint ourselves with the primary weapon at our disposal for our offensive campaign.

As they say, the best defense is a good offense. We can no longer use cozy-up contextualization to meet this beast. It must be slain with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Nothing less than the double-edged Word of God is sufficient to resist the secular deluge. The battle against secularism will not be won by technique. Instead, Christians must go forth with the truth of God’s Word.

Chase Davis

Chase Davis is lead pastor at The Well Church in Boulder, Colo., and a Ph.D. candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands.


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