The Culture Wars’ lies about winning:
“Winning the culture war is the best way forward for our country and our community.”
“There is a real possibility that the other side will win the culture war, and this should be feared and mobilized against.”
“Our country/community would be better off without ‘those people.'”
We Can be Jonah
There is a provocative story in the Bible about a bad prophet (i.e., a person who has connection with God and hears from God regularly) who becomes angry with God for daring to love his (the prophet’s) enemies. His name was Jonah. In some ways, the story is a real-life satire. The man of God is rebellious and hateful. The pagan sailors are humble and fear God. The evil king repents and leads his evil people to do likewise. None of these characters behave the way we expect them to behave.
God calls Jonah to go and preach to the capital city of the evil Assyrian empire. Jonah refuses and flees and tries to get some sailors to just kill him so he doesn’t have to preach to his enemies. God prevails upon him and gets him to the city. There, he preaches one of the shortest sermons ever: “Forty more days, and this city will be overturned.” That was the total sermon. There was no mention of their sin. Nor was there any mention of what they can do to prevent this judgment. There was no mention even of God. Jonah was just not interested in changing anyone’s hearts in that city.
As we have defined the culture wars (here) culture warriors are likewise not all that interested in actually changing the hearts of their “enemies”. Rather, they want to render them powerless, to humiliate them, even to destroy them altogether, but they are not looking to change their hearts. Indeed, they are certain that a heart change is not even possible. Simply put, their mindset is that “those people” will never change.
Whose Side is God On?
The God of the Bible, however, is totally and completely interested in changing hearts. In fact, the entire gospel message (indeed, the entire story of the Bible) is about changing hearts. God is a God of heart change. It is Who He is. It is what He does. God’s story of redemption for this world is all about forgiveness and mercy and changing the desires of people’s hearts.
This presents an interesting question that can serve as a true tests of my own heart in these matters of cultural conflict. How do I really feel about a God Who loves my enemies and wants to see them thrive both in this world and the next? And, depending on how I answer that question, here is the next one. In light of that, what should I be doing about it?
The Power of Love
The culture wars’ lies about winning are particularly problematic for Christ followers. It is problematic when Christ followers choose to use the world’s powers to achieve “Godly” ends. When we rely on political power or social power or economic power to “advance God’s kingdom”, we are in dangerous territory. That is not really God’s calling on us, is it? God’s calling on us has more to do with the power of love. Here is N.T. Wright on this notion:
The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion
“A new sort of power will be let loose upon the world, and it will be the power of self-giving love. This is the heart of the revolution that was launched on Good Friday. You cannot defeat the usual sort of power by the usual sort of means. If one force overcomes another, it is still ‘force’ that wins. Rather, at the heart of the victory of God over all the powers of the world there lies self-giving love, which, in obedience to the ancient prophetic vocation, will give its life ‘as a ransom for many.’ Exactly.”
A Whole Different Kind of Warfare
The culture wars’ lies about winning push us toward a kind of warfare that does not seem to square with the kind of warfare to which God calls us. The Bible, of course, has lots of stories about God calling His people into warfare. But more times than I can even recount here, God’s actual instructions for how the people were to fight that war were unorthodox…to say the least. At the end of the day, God doesn’t call His people to win wars…He calls them to point the world to Him. That tells us something important about what “spiritual warfare” looks like.
Spiritual warfare, it seems, does not look like the world’s versions of war at all. Rather, spiritual warfare happens on our knees. It is about prayer, it is about uncommon love and forgiveness, and it is about relying on God to change people’s hearts as a result.
The Corresponding Truths
Corresponding to each of the lies at the top of this post, here are the truths:
Learning to solve the culture challenge and to thrive as a pluralistic society is the best way forward.
As it is currently postured, there is no real danger of either side ever “winning” the culture war.
That we differ in how we see the world around us is a strength; not only can we learn from each other, but we NEED each other. It is in the messy middle where problems get solved.