The Degradation of Secular and Church Culture

by Jonathan Hamilton

As a seminary student whose education is primarily provided through the generosity of my local church’s support (financial, time away, prayers, etc.), I believe it is incumbent upon me to share the riches of God’s truth that I am learning with the generous people of the church. One way that I do this is through my systematic theology series’ that I post here regularly. Another way I do it is by teaching the youth group at my church the same things in Sunday School and on Wednesday nights. A third way I can do this is by sharing thoughtful moments with you that I experience in class.

Being at seminary this week, there is opportunity for me to do this. I am currently taking Pastoral Theology from a retired pastor, Dr. Douglas McLachlan, who will turn 74 later this week. He has spent much of his life in pastoral ministry and his love for the word and the people of God is evident. This is the type of class I would not want to take from a 35-year old teaching theoretically from a textbook, so I am grateful for the vast experience that Dr. McLachlan possesses and is able to share with us in class.

Something he had us read is worth contemplating here. Below are two passages from an author by the name of David Wells, writing on contemporary secular and church culture, and one’s impact upon the other. I think Wells is accurate. May God purify and strengthen His church for His glory and our good.

What is striking about our culture today is that its corruption is not simply at the edges. It is not simply found among the cultured elite, the New Class that stands at the gates of our national institutions to bar entry to those whose views are judged to be intolerable. It is not simply found among postmodern academics who are bent upon overturning all meaning and moral principle, or among vicious street gangs, or among rappers who spew forth obscenities and violence, or among the venders of pornography, or in the bizarre and unashamed revelations of deeply private matters that are aired on television talk shows. What is striking is that this corruption is ubiquitous. It is not located in this or that pocket of depravity, but is spread like a dense fog throughout our society.  It is even spread by those who are safe, ordinary, dull, and dim-witted, and not merely by the incendiary and bellicose, the subversive and anti-social. “Wherever one looks,” writes Robert Bork, “the traditional virtues of this culture are being lost, its vices multiplied, its values degraded – in short, the culture itself is unraveling.” And the American public apparently agrees with this diagnosis. An overwhelming majority, 90 percent, believes that America is slipping ever deeper into a “moral decline.”  (“Our Dying Culture” in Here We Stand – edited by James Montgomery Boice and Benjamin E. Sasse, Baker Books, 1996, pp. 25-26)

In the Old and New Testaments, the moments of great impact in the world were never those in which the people of God became indistinguishable from those in their world. When this happened it was a moment of spiritual debauchery. In order to influence the world, the people of God have to be quite different from it cognitively and morally. The irony is that to be relevant, the church has to be otherworldly; and when this spiritual otherness is extinguished by the ache for this worldly acceptance, it loses the thing that it wants above all else – relevance. The church eventually discovers, to its great dismay, that it has lost its voice and no longer has anything left to say. That is the discovery that now seems to be looming ahead of the evangelical world. It is the iceberg that awaits the Titanic as those on-board persuade themselves of their invincibility and pass the days in partying. (“The Word in the World” in The Compromised Church – edited by John H. Armstrong, Crossway Books, 1998, pp. 32-33)