Carey Nieuwhof is a Canadian pastor with a perceptive, and (possibly an objective) view of American society today. "Regardless of where your politics lean, many would sense that American culture is quickly becoming both post-truth and post-fact.
It’s happening right before our eyes.
Don’t like the outcome of what’s happening? Claim it never happened. Bothered by what the data says? Offer your own data, even if you have to make it up.
The rise (and influences of) fake news and the rapid polarization of opinion across every platform is staggering.
If you’re alarmed by the shift, you’re not alone.
For a whole host of reasons (I list several below), the stakes are high. Probably higher than most of us think, both personally and for the church.
The depth of the change is hard to see, but I think it’s deep and dangerous.
Whenever you’re in the middle of a passage from one phase of history to the next, you never see it clearly. It’s too easy to drink whatever color of Kool-Aid you prefer, only to later learn that you’re dying. (The people who followed Jim Jones might agree with that.)
Fortunately, the church has a unique role to play in it. Play it well, and everyone (including the culture) wins. Play it poorly, and it could end poorly for everyone—us, our kids, the church, our countries, the world.
So how did we get here? What’s changing? And most importantly, how should you respond?
I don’t claim to see it perfectly at all. I offer these words in the hope they help.
So, some thoughts that I hope might help those of us who are Christians regardless of our political leanings.
Truth Is Not Personal
Since the 1960s, you’ve seen many challenge and reject the objective nature of the Gospel (one God revealed in Jesus Christ who extends an invitation to all) to embrace a far more subjective spirituality:
What’s true for you isn’t true for me.
God is whoever you define him/her/it.
My spirituality can be customized to suit me, just like my meal at a restaurant.
Maybe the subjectivism of spirituality caught on because it’s harder to prove that something we can’t see or touch is anchored in objective truth (even if it is). Spirituality was one of the first widespread casualties of post-modern thought’s attempt to de-couple ideas from objective truth.
But that same logic has now infected so much more.
In the emerging culture, truth is no longer just subjective or objective, it’s personal.
Don’t like something?
Great. Tell everyone it never happened. Explain that it doesn’t exist. Just spin your version of the story long enough until you’ve constructed your own personal universe of what’s real and what’s not.
Why face reality when you can deny it instead?
This explains the rise of fake news and the shift in reporting that’s happening as we speak. What’s true on Fox News no longer appears to be true on CNN or NBC.
Don’t like what any of them are saying? Just make your own version of the story. Start your own site or take to social media, use the ALL CAPS key and spin it any way you want.
It seems the combination of a deeply divided culture, the proliferation of new media, and social media available to billions means everyone is attempting to twist truth until it confirms their own bias.
Worse, so much of it is done simply to get more eyeballs on a platform.
All of this should make us shudder.
After all, the most dangerous form of deception is self-deception. A short study of history will show you that self-deception easily becomes mass deception.
The Demise Of Civility Matters
There should be a deep mourning and concern over the death of objective truth, because with it comes the erosion of civility.
Objectivity pulls us beyond ourselves. The things that are beyond us are the things that save us from ourselves.
When a culture, for example, decides that murder will not be tolerated, that assault is punishable or that theft is a crime, it puts the brakes on our selfish and impulsive emotions.
Human nature, after all, has a dark side. You and I have probably both felt like punching someone or taking things that didn’t belong to us. Occasionally, we might even wish that someone we don’t like had a shortened life span.
What keeps us from acting on our impulses other than self-control (which is often so weak…. pass me the potato chips please)?
Objective truth. The idea that somehow murder, theft and violence are wrong.
Also saving us from ourselves is the knowledge that if we do something offensive to a widely embraced standard, we will suffer for it. A fine. Jail time. Social shunning.
This is good, not just for us, but for our country.
But the logical extension of a post-fact, post-truth world, is this: who says I’m right and you’re wrong? Who even said it happened? I didn’t. That’s just you saying I did. And you’re wrong.
For thousands of years, we humans have tried to keep ourselves from ourselves. Surprisingly, the Gospel has fueled much of that. Because when you die to yourself, something greater rises.
The rise of self as the ultimate arbiter of truth is antithetical not only to the Gospel but to the very basis of civilization.
Civilized people think beyond themselves. They care and they give. They put themselves second, or third.
It sounds hyperbolic to say civilization is being threatened. But maybe it’s not hyperbole.
Why love your neighbor when you can attack him? Maybe the attack never happened anyway.
Confession Is One Of Our Most Important Disciplines
Who knows what people pray about these days? You and I aren’t privy to what God hears.
But my guess is that he’s hearing fewer confessional prayers than he used to. In a culture where truth has died, we don’t have to be sorry for much.
After all, if you create your own truth, there’s no need to confess anything. The most extreme iteration of this is that you’re not wrong, God is. If you think that’s far-fetched, just scan the headlines.
It’s truth that helps us see falsehood. It’s the right that helps us see the wrong. And when what’s right is whatever we define it to be, well, we’re always right.
Even when things don’t go great for us, it was never our fault anyway. We were victims. We’re just misunderstood, and one day everyone will see how right we are.
At the heart of confession is this idea that you and I are not the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong. Confession acknowledges that we are flawed, that we make mistakes, and that we’re accountable.
We are not the author of what is right. Rather, we are subject to it.
Jesus never asked us to confess the sins of our enemies. He told us to confess ours.
Listen to the public dialogue. Watch social media. The death of confession has led to the rise of the opposite of confession: blame and accusation.
We’re All Accountable To Someone Other Than Ourselves
Also entering the endangered species list is accountability.
If you listen to the current public dialogue, few people seem willing to be accountable to anyone other than themselves.
I’m right. Everyone else is wrong.
If I become the arbiter of truth, then I’m not accountable to anyone. Not to you, not to others. Not even to God.
If something doesn’t go my way, I don’t need to take responsibility… I can just blame someone else or hold others accountable.
I just don’t need to be accountable.
Do you see where this takes us?
Think about what that does to those of us in leadership. Leadership is a trust… it’s a stewardship. We hold our positions on behalf of those who don’t. We’re accountable to others. Even more than that, we are accountable to God.
It’s easy enough these days to create your own tribe. To surround yourself with people who say what you want them to say. Who give you only what you want to hear.
But think about this.
The leaders who take accountability seriously rarely have anything to account for. Those who don’t, do.
What Christians Can Do
The Gospel is perhaps the very best antidote we have to the current cultural turbulence.
In many ways, as American culture slips further and further away from its Christian underpinnings, the Gospel is poised to play its rather familiar role in culture as a prophet.
The role of a prophet is to help the culture clearly see what truth, God, and life are really all about. The Gospel is also the home to all real hope.
Historically, the role of the prophet has been a bit of a miserable role. The prophet is rarely understood, seldom embraced and often rejected by his or her own generation. Jeremiah was exiled. John the Baptist was beheaded. Deitrich Bonnhoefer was executed just two weeks before the second world war ended.
is anchored in the idea that truth (and even love) is objective and available to all.
calls us to die to ourselves so that others may live.
values all people.
calls us to confess, to repent, and to put something bigger than ourselves above ourselves.
If the church starts to mimic culture in this seismic shift we’re seeing, we will tear ourselves away from the very thing that will save us.
So what can you do as a Christian or a Christian leader? Here are a few closing thoughts and suggestions.
1. Anchor Yourself To What’s True
There is an objectivitiy to truth, and love doesn’t just reside in us, it’s greater than us.
Resist the temptation to define your own reality.
2. Stop The Spin
Don’t get caught up in the vortex of your personal opinions or anyone else’s.
Be dead honest… tell the truth.
3. Confess Your Role In It
Reality is not what you want it to be. You aren’t what you want to be. Confess it. Address it.
You may not be the whole problem, but you definitely are part of it. So am I.
You’ll never address what you won’t confess. So confess your sin.
4. Embrace Love
Remember that on the other side of confession is forgiveness.
Christians believe that truth and love are fused together. And in that, is hope.
If your truth doesn’t look like love, it’s not truth.
If your love isn’t anchored to truth, it’s not love.
When Christ is truly present and working in your life, truth and love are never separated.
The Gospel is the antidote to a post-truth, post-fact culture.
The objectivity of the Gospel functions less like a sledge-hammer (I’m right… everyone else wrong) and more like an anchor (in this storm of uncertainty, let’s tether ourselves to what’s true).
5. Keep Some Distance From Your Political Positions
God is not a Republican, a Democrat, a conservative, a liberal or a socialist. He transcends all our political categories, however important they might be to us.
Politics matters, but it will never change the world the way the Gospel can (or has).
So how much distance should there be between you and your politics?
Just know this: if God has all the same opinions your political party does, you’re probably not worshipping God.
6. Love People Who Oppose You
The tribalism that’s emerging (I only hang out with people who look like me, sound like me and agree with me) directly threatens our ability to value people different than ourselves.
Jesus said our faith would not be characterized by how deeply we love our friends. It would be characterized by how deeply we love our enemies.
Hung out with any enemies lately? Not to argue, but to listen? To love?
If your version of the Gospel doesn’t include loving your opponents, it’s not the Gospel.
Of all people, Christians should be the most hopeful.
Our hope comes from outside any system or person because it comes from Christ.
Cling to him, and share the hope he brings.
Hope is the ultimate antidote to cynicism. In a world that’s growing more cynical by the minute, hope is one of the most radical things you can do.
A Great Opportunity
This is an incredible opportunity for the church to be the church.
As the culture distances itself daily from its Christian moorings, Christianity is becoming a serious alternative and a harbour of hope.
Keep confessing. Stay accountable. Take responsibility. Stop blaming. Keep hoping. Listen, and above all, keep loving.
You (and everyone around you) will benefit.
Those are some thoughts about how the Gospel provides a response to a culture that’s increasingly post-truth and post-fact.
www.careynieuwhof.com. Used by permission.