Here in America, we don’t face the same kind of pressure as our brethren worldwide or in history. Our culture’s brand of hostility is quite different but just as threatening. What does this mean for the church? Perhaps the first step in answering that question is taking stock of our culture. In the spirit of 1 Chronicles 12:32, consider the very short cultural observations below as the springboard for a few ministry recommendations. Our culture is:
While it is always true that everyone wants to do what is right in his own eyes, this culture has made that a cardinal, that is key, virtue. Each of us is to seek to be the authentic version of ourselves and no one knows what that means better than “me / I.” Therefore, making judgments and accountability, in general, is viewed as out of place because only “I can know how I must live.”
Perhaps this is no different than other times but this culture is zealous to cause us to make ourselves in ways that only the “I” thinks is appropriate, that is, in my own image. The culture pounds directly on the door of what it means to be image-bearers of God. No longer are the shaping institutions (i.e., church, tradition, nation, family or school) valued for shearing off rough edges on our ways to adulthood as we’ve historically known it. Now, their role is to simply assist the “I” on my journey to whatever suits me.
This is, of course, connected to being individualistic. Only here to determine who I am, I must be a law unto myself. If push comes to shove, no one gets to tell me what to do or who to be. I submit to others because, in my judgment, it is good for me to do so; it brings me advantage. Our culture wants each individual to believe he is special, able to make his own uninfluenced decisions while being above correction (e.g., no fat shaming).
Like never before, we have the pressure and the opportunity to “curate” our lives in almost any area: body art, social media, entertainment, college, jobs, food and drink and clothing. As long as it “fits” it stays and the “other” can have nothing to say in challenge. All of this is to say that I do not have to let anyone “in” who would endanger my efforts to be “me.” I censor those who have different opinions or I block them from any influence on me.
What does this look like? Politicians don’t need their constituents—they do what they want to stay in power; schools don’t need their students—they do what is necessary to stay employed; women don’t need men—reverse sexism is the norm; children don’t need parents—reverse ageism at work; employees don’t really need to work—it’s just a necessity to buy an Americano with oat milk and two pumps of hazelnut. Forget people seeing the need for a sovereign, self-glorifying God who turns the clay into whatever He wants!
In our nation individualism has been valued and usually rightly directed because its pursuit happened in the context of shaping institutions that were allowed to guide our lives. Now, “I” am my only shaping institution.
American culture has always been consumeristic. Now, with the focus on the individual so strong, accumulation and consumption are key parts of our cultural self-image.
Image maintenance requires materialism because we have to be keeping up with our “influencers.” Now, malls no longer drive consumerism; it is social media. With it, we have access to curated images of people and scripted “advice” from influencers about how to have our best lives. Monetized offerings of influencers draw us in and open our wallets.
Without social media, we were content to “compete” with neighbors (who were mostly like us), classmates or co-workers. We didn’t have access to the rich and famous on the coasts so we didn’t feel so much pressure to live their lives. As we were exposed to more social media and the cultural drift to brazen self-expression, that changed (Is it strange how these days there’s never been more consumer debt: $841B in the first quarter of 2022?). Now, isolated and anonymous “influencers” are available immediately and they have become the gurus of culture. With millions of “followers” how can we refuse to become like one of them?
This is now a gross obsession in our culture. No culture is immune to sexual immorality but our culture has now endorsed and celebrates the expression of whatever sexuality a person deems necessary no matter how deviant (see #’s 1-2). Public marches with naked men and women; Drag Queen shows in libraries and even “churches;” vulgar public signage about sexual body parts; sexually aggressive taunts by angry women—all of these are the currency of our age.
Sexuality has become the main way individuality is expressed. For those of age, promiscuity, immodesty, TikTok videos or public protesting are common. For the young, it is the more demure but more troubling pronoun choice. No longer is it grades, income, possessions or intellect: no one asks “What’s your degree in?” Instead it is, “What are your pronouns?” Given the pushback in our public schools over deviant “literature” (e.g., Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe) we are not far in our culture from mainstreaming some of the most obscene sexual deviancy: pederasty, bestiality, polyamory, etc. Children are being groomed in entertainment and in schools so that in the future what is deviant and destructive will be accepted or even cherished.
The disappearance of civil discourse and discussion is a symptom of waning self-control. Respect, especially across tribal lines, can hardly be earned in such a climate. (Indeed, it seems that the only thing that exerts discipline is power.)
Moderation is no longer necessary. Benders, getting high, changing jobs frequently, immodesty, slovenliness and aggressive language are all tools the culture has authorized so that the self can be expressed.
Women who are quiet, gentle or submissive are mocked; many are recklessly the opposite. Men no longer take to themselves the responsibilities of leadership, strength or accountability: they actively seek to be or are content to be, passive. Children act as if they have nothing to learn from their elders while they are also held up as paragons of courage or wisdom. Clothing styles, public language, a lack of discipline in public schools, violent public protests all point to an unchained culture that is no longer responsive to the need for self-discipline.
In a highly complicated magic act, expressive individualism is combined with terror. The dose of COVID-19 reality has terrified people. We have existed for far too long clinging to what we thought were immovable anchors: medical science and economics. COVID pried the scales of self-sufficiency off our eyes.
Now, for various reasons, few want to be courageous. Self-censorship, for example, in public spaces is the norm. While it would appear that the “speech police” courageously defend the marginalized against oppressive speech, they only protect the status quo of fear. “I’m afraid of viewpoints that challenge my decisions, so I’m happy to censor you or submit to those who are censoring you.” The utter primacy of living for self requires violence against opposing viewpoints (which is really acting in fear of them).
Now, many scan for justification to stay afraid: coronavirus variants, climate changes, elections, China / Russia, etc. Why? Ironically, it gives me excuse not to be courageous.
While it is not surprising the world would lack a sense of the eternal, the proliferation of the “nones” (those without any stated religious interest) is creating a not just a secular but also a suppressive culture. In public spaces, it is now hard to conceive of why anyone would hold to an afterlife, a judgment for how we’ve lived or the necessity of prayer.
The reality is that everyone does know; no one is innocent (e.g., Psalm 19, Romans 1:19-23). The apostle Paul tells us the worldly response to God’s creational witness is to suppress that truth (Romans 1:18). That suppression has now become the majority view. Our culture now demands no talk of the afterlife. Actively denying any sense of the hereafter, by necessity the culture is preoccupied only with the here and now. Like a child covering her ears so she won’t hear a train barreling down the tracks at her, all that matters in this culture is what can be made of the “now.”
In the 1930’s, J. Gresham Machen once said on broadcast radio, “We are living in an age when men have forgotten God. They have become engrossed in their own affairs. They have been puffed up in their pride. They have put God out of their thoughts. The result is that our boasted civilization is rushing rapidly to its fall.” That was close to century ago!
 “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…”
 I think the recent article where Facebook and Google warn their employees that they actually have to work is stunning. https://www.foxbusiness.com/lifestyle/google-facebook-ceos-warn-slackers-what-it-means).
 For example, the recent effort by the FDA to control the health of black and brown people by banning Newport menthol cigarettes: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-commits-evidence-based-actions-aimed-saving-lives-and-preventing-future-generations-smokers.
 Why suddenly do Greta Thunberg or David Hogg get to lecture the culture on the environment or gun control?
 For example, wearing masks in public. It is remarkable to watch people re-mask after the effectiveness of masks to “stop the spread” has been utterly debunked: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cdc-admits-cloth-masks-ineffective-armstrong-economics/.
 Aaron Renn calls this the “Third World” where the accepted norm is unbelief: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2022/02/the-three-worlds-of-evangelicalism. See also Carl Trueman, https://ps.edu/how-philip-rieffs-three-worlds-help-us-understand-cultural-change/ and in his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.