Faithfully Different, Regaining Biblical Clarity in a Secular Culture

In Faithfully Different, Natasha Crain is addressing and attempting to equip a specific audience, those who view the Bible as the inspired, sufficient, and authoritative Word of God (pp. 13-14). She believes that the secular worldview now dominates America; that those with a biblical worldview are in the minority (as low as 6 percent, and only 2% of 18-29 year olds—pp. 26-27); and that minority needs to be made aware precisely what is happening in American culture in order to faithfully respond (p. 21). “Ultimately,” she writes, “this is a book designed to help us as Christians see our current cultural context as a God-honoring opportunity to be faithfully different” (p. 22). This is a big task given that Barna claims only 17 percent of Christians who consider their faith important and attend church regularly have a biblical worldview (p. 26).

Recently, the American religious landscape has rapidly changed in a number of ways (pp. 27-30):

  • American’s biblical worldview has declined by half in the past 25 years.
  • Those self-identifying as Christians has decreased by 12% in the last 12 years.
  • Americans no longer identifying as Christians are now overwhelmingly identifying as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.”
  • Christian values are also being abandoned.

These declines can be attributed, at least somewhat, to the rise of the internet and social media that spread hostility against Christianity (p. 30). Crain believes the question is no longer “How do we create a culture where it’s normal to be a Christian?” but rather “How can we best be faithful to our calling in a world where it will never be normal to be a Christian—and in a culture where it’s becoming less and less so?” (p. 31).

The author defines secular negatively as irreligious, with religion defined as a worldview based on the existence of God or gods, which has been standard throughout most of history. “It wasn’t until the founding of the United States that an explicitly secular country was established” (p. 36). Since societies must function from some idea of what is good and bad, which is dependent upon one’s worldviews (and America possesses many worldviews), lack of consensus on societal values should be anticipated. Over time, as America became more secular, Christian values have been pushed out of public life (p. 40), and Christianity has become increasingly offensive. Secularism is now the dominant worldview and secularism’s basis of authority is self rather than God or gods. This does not mean that most Americans reject a higher power, but the god of secularism is a generic deity who requires nothing from us (p. 42). As for humanity, secularism views mankind as a product of evolution, which is blind and purposeless (p. 43). Logically, morality boils down to doing what we want to do. Yet, in a secular society, morality is based on the “shifting sands of popular consensus” (p. 44) which is often at odds with biblical values (see summary p. 46). Sadly, Christians are increasingly mixing secular ideas with biblical teaching (p. 47).

Crain believes secularism is highly influential because secularists understand two key factors: relevance (or how a message meets a person’s felt needs) and prominence (or how ubiquitous a message is) (p. 51). “A major reason secularism is so influential is that it appeals directly to the desires of our fallen nature—it reinforces the desired authority of the self” (p. 52). Broadly speaking, this draw can be summarized in four statements:

  • Feelings are the ultimate guide to what you should do in life (pp. 52-53).
  • Happiness is the ultimate goal. Life boils down to the pursuit and obtainment of happiness as defined by one’s feelings (pp. 54-55).
  • Judging is the ultimate sin. Any questioning of the path that someone has chosen to find happiness, no matter how ridiculous, is considered judging and is equated with hate (pp. 55-56).
  • God is the ultimate guess. God’s existence cannot be known with confidence, His will is unknowable, and He has no authority over our lives. This works itself out in two conflicting ideas. First, that all roads lead to God, and secondly, ironically, all religions are equally false. Thus, we are free to be in charge of our own lives (pp. 56-58).

Regarding prominence, the message of secularism is everywhere, and it is coupled with relevance that creates “pressure to believe, think, and live like the majority” (p. 58). Two primary instruments for prominence are social and mainstream media, both often dominated by those who have secular worldviews (pp. 58-61). With this backdrop into the influence of secularism, Crain is ready to look at nine specific types of pressures we are encountering. A chapter is devoted to each:

1.   Secular naturalism

2.   Secular individualism

3.   Secular deconversionism

4.   Secular worldview buffet

5.   Secular virtue signaling

6.   Secular indifference

7.   Secular social justice

8.   Secular cancel culture

9.   Secular relativism

Crain first develops the pressures related to the rise of naturalism (the belief that this world is all that exists) and the worldview based on this theory. Before the 1600s, the world functioned on the basis of the transcendent, that something existed beyond the natural universe. With the Scientific Revolution (mid-1500s and the late 1600s) and the Enlightenment (1700s) came a new emphasis on science and human reason. God was no longer deemed necessary for social order, and Christianity became just one option among many considered plausible (pp. 70-71). Today, Christianity and theism are being replaced by a naturalistic worldview, and many who believe in God function as if naturalism is true. Naturalism tries to frame religion generally, and Christianity specifically, inferior because it is the following (pp. 72-75):

  • Anti-reason, anti-science and anti-evidence
  • An emotional crutch, which is needed for these who cannot handle the truth
  • Childish
  • A result of brainwashing
  • Harmful because it makes people victims of foolishness (pp. 72-75)

Crain, rejecting these accusations, builds a case for the existence of God by presenting objective evidence with Psalm 19:1-2 and Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-15 as supports (pp. 75-80). Recognizing that evidence can be interpreted a variety of ways (pp. 77-78), the author suggests three major arguments for the existence of God: cosmological (everything that exits must have a cause), design (the universe has a design and so must have a designer), and moral (the best explanation for the existence of moral law is that a moral lawgiver exists). While not the final word, these evidences provide a strong case for the existence of God and demonstrate that a theistic worldview is not anti-science (pp. 81-83). In addition, it is virtually impossible to live with the fundamental implications that flow from naturalism (pp. 83-84).

In chapter five, Crain turns to the Bible to establish what we should actually believe as Christians in a culture that is allergic to the word “should.” Most in the secular world have an inconsistent patch-work worldview, but those who believe in the authoritative Word of God have a coherent biblical worldview, which is hard to maintain given the pressures from our secular culture as well as from inconsistent Christians (p. 92). These inconsistent Christians are termed progressive Christians by Crain, and they are defined by their belief that the Bible “reflects man’s understanding of God in the time it was written, and therefore it is not God’s final say for all time” (p. 92). What progressive Christians believe is hard to nail down due to individualism, but on the chopping block are things such as hell, the atonement, sexuality, and gender roles/identity, while love and social justice are championed (p. 93). Yet, progressives often define love and justice differently from the way Scripture does (p. 94). Love, for example, is defined as “affirming whatever journey a person wants to be on, such that they don’t feel judged” (p. 95). Justice, on the other hand aims “at liberating people from perceived or real earthly oppression so they can be free to be whomever they want” (p. 95). This redefines the very gospel itself.

Some of the essential beliefs that all Christians should hold include: Jesus’ deity, Jesus’ redemptive work, and life as prescribed in Scripture (pp. 97-100).

The author next provides five principles that are pertinent for guarding a biblical worldview (pp. 100-103):

1.   The nicest sounding beliefs are not necessarily the right beliefs.

2.   Truth is narrow and that is okay.

3.   Godly humility does not require indecision about our beliefs.

4.   Experience does not supersede the Bible as a source of knowledge.

5.   The cure for cultural disagreement will never be to compromise biblical beliefs.

Chapter six examines the recent deconstruction trend in which those who formerly claimed to be Christians have left the faith and deconverted. Many who have deconstructed also desire to persuade others to do the same. Using the popular #exvangelical hashtag, many share their crisis of faith, their avalanche of questions, and their reported happy ending (p. 115). Three catalysts that get the ball rolling are intellectual, emotional, and moral indignation (pp. 115-117). Crain next examines doubt from a biblical perspective, telling her readers that doubt is normal (pp. 120-122). The author then suggests ten principles that are key to dealing with doubt (pp. 123-127).

Drawing from the writings of Nancy Pearcey, Crain demonstrates that all false worldviews reduce people to products controlled by outside forces or literally nothingness, (p. 136). Only the biblical worldview is consistent with reality. For instance, a secular worldview has no objective basis for morality, yet it attempts to maintain strong ideas of right and wrong (p. 138). Secularists often misunderstand the Christian basis for morality even as they do not recognize their own basis for moral actions (pp. 139-144). Nor does a secular worldview have an objective basis for claiming the existence of human rights or even defining what they are (pp. 144-148). What secularists do not realize is that they “gravitate to the authority of the self, yet intuitively continue to cherish values that depend on the existence and authority of God” (p. 149).

Chapter eight addresses “virtue signaling,” or the public affirmation or opinions about things we actually know nothing about. Virtue signaling has three stages, the first being awareness or projecting a positive image often by redefining the image. This can be observed by reflecting on changing the public’s view of LGBTQ’s causes through redefining equality, diversity, and tolerance (pp. 155-158). The second stage is the interest stage in which people are persuaded to believe an immoral action is morally acceptable because of its relevance to society. Abortion, for example, is morally acceptable because some loudly “shout” that their abortion made them happy and is therefore normal. Such is possible only when the common premise that “feelings are the ultimate guide, happiness is the ultimate goal, judging is the ultimate sin” is accepted (pp. 158-160). The final stage is desire in which the real victory is societal celebration, that is, when people celebrate your cause. At that point, you’ve reached true moral buy-in. Drag queen story hour is offered as an example (pp. 160-163). Virtue signaling, therefore, “is a complex phenomenon that plays a variety of roles at different stages of shifting the secular moral consensus” (pp. 162-163). Christians, in contrast, need to challenge virtue signaling by recalibrating their view of God as their moral authority and grounding themselves in what constitutes harm from a biblical perspective (pp. 163-164).

The need for biblical discernment, especially as we relate to Jesus, is the topic of the next chapter. The author discusses the six most common false “Jesuses” that Christians encounter today:

  • Everyman Jesus – when Jesus is portrayed as just like us. It is undeniable that Jesus sets a good example but everyman Jesus is an overemphasis on His humanity (pp. 173-174).
  • Theology–lite Jesus – Jesus does not care much (if at all) about what people believe (pp. 175-176).
  • Non-evangelizing Jesus – who does not really care if we tell others about Him. We just need to tend to people’s needs (pp. 176-178).
  • Anti-organized religious Jesus – Jesus was supposedly opposed to organized religion (pp. 178-179).
  • Socialist Jesus – some claim Jesus was a socialist because of His concern for the less fortunate. But when socialism is defined as a very specific central planned economy that places power and “resources in the hands of government leaders in order to forcibly redistribute wealth to a society” (p. 180), it becomes clear that Jesus was not a socialist (pp. 179-181).
  • Universal-Christ Jesus – this is a pantheistic view of Jesus that sees Him existing in everything (pp. 181-182).
  • Other popular Jesuses include Judge-not Jesus, Prosperity Jesus, Santa Claus Jesus, Therapist Jesus, Activist Jesus, and Red-letter Jesus (pp. 183-184).

Crain suggests that biblical discernment is loving, truth-based not fear-based, and unifying (pp. 184-187).

Chapter ten addresses the subject of justice and how secular understandings of justice and biblical justice are often at odds. While there is general agreement that “human lives matter, humans are equal, oppression is wrong, and the world isn’t the way it should be” (pp. 195-196), secular and biblical advocates disagree on the answers in three important ways:

  1. Why are things the way they are?
  2. How should things ultimately be?
  3. What is the best way to change the way things are to the way they ought to be?

Concerning the first question, the biblical perspective sees a world broken by sin, while the current secular view is based on critical theory, which grew out of nineteenth century Marxism. “From this perspective, all relationships between people are ultimately understood to be functions of group power dynamics” (p. 197). People are therefore oppressed because society has enabled oppressors, and they must be liberated. Yet secular and biblical justice advocates differ on what constitutes oppression, and on the moral responsibility of individuals versus identity groups. As for the second question, the biblical perspective is to right true injustices whenever possible, recognizing that things will not be made perfect until the end of time. The secular perspective is to achieve perfect equality of outcome, status, power, and wealth here and now (p. 203). To accomplish the secularist’s aim would require a complete overturning of everything considered to be normal in society. Four strategies underlie secular social justice advocacy:

  • Dictate who has authority to speak.
  • Control language.                                         
  • Reframe how everyone everywhere thinks about the nature of justice and oppression.
  • Vilify those who do not align with critical theory views, especially if they are part of an oppressor group, specifically Christians (pp. 203-206).                                                                                         

Biblical justice, on the other hand, is defined by the objective standard of God’s character; deserved by all humans given our inherent equality; and lived out by God’s people as a proactive, self-sacrificial, and generous care for the marginalized (pp. 206-207).

Chapter eleven approaches the subject of how we can speak God’s truth in a cancel culture society. Cancel culture is “the mass withdrawal of support from public figures who have said or done something that isn’t considered socially acceptable” (p. 218). Turning to Paul’s encounter with the Athenians in Acts 17:16-34, Crain draws out the Apostle’s methodology of speaking truth in an environment that was hostile to the truth. The author then suggests four questions we should ask ourselves before we attempt to speak truth into the lives of others: is this subject worth speaking up about? What is our motivation? Should we speak publicly or privately? And what is the best way to say what we are going to say (pp. 228-233)?

In the final chapter, Crain reveals that nearly half of millennials believe evangelism is wrong due to their significant and consistent exposure to secular views on the subject (p. 239). Four pressures push against evangelism in our secular culture:

1.   When feelings are the ultimate guide, evangelism is seen as arrogant.

2.   When happiness is the ultimate goal, evangelism is seen as an imposition.

3.   When judging is the ultimate sin, evangelism is seen as condemning.

4.   When God is the ultimate guess, evangelism is seen as silly, weird, annoying, and/or a waste of time.

With these pressures in mind, the author suggests three points that might help us in our evangelism: 1) These pressures will help shape our message more effectively; 2) We need confidence in the core gospel message; 3) Know the answer to tough questions including:

  • The problem – our sin predicament
  • Our inability to save ourselves
  • God’s provisions for forgiveness
  • Our response

Faithfully Different is a most helpful book designed to identify the biblical worldview and distinguish it from the secular culture. It gives us tools and encouragement to live and speak the gospel to a world that desperately needs it.

by Natasha Crain (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2022), 268 pp., paper $12.29

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel

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