They Just Don't Care

Around 10 years ago, a friend of mine asked his teenage children, "What is the one issue that my generation is talking about that your generation doesn't even think worth discussing?" 

Their answer? Sexual identity. That fits very well with what surveys show us about Gen X and GenZ. They take for granted the right and rightness of same-sex marriage, transgender identity, and in general LGBTQ inclusion. Indeed, more than 70% of all Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be allowed.

Traditionalists will argue that surveys don’t matter. They argue that the Church must stand firm on Biblical mandates in the face of cultural and social changes. 

But it does matter, and not only because the traditionalists are wrong on the teaching of the Bible.

The mission of the church is to preach the gospel. To do this evangelists, and an evangelistic church, must speak and act in ways that people understand. To do this the church must show, as Jesus showed, how the gospel addresses people’s immediate needs. 

The preaching of Jesus and the apostles did not begin by telling people their problems. The crowds that flocked to Jesus knew their problems. Those that called out to the disciples knew their problems. The ministry of Jesus and the witness of the apostles addressed the obvious human needs of the people around them. 

(Yes, I've read Matthew 5:17-20. As well as the verses that follow. These, like Jesus’ subsequent ministry, completely deconstruct any effort to use these verses to create a Torah based social order. And of course there is the teaching of the apostles regarding the application of Jewish law to Gentiles - whose obligations are strictly spelled out in Acts 15, based on Genesis 9.)

There are human needs that have not changed since the time of Jesus. People wrestle with demons, both real or metaphorical. People struggle with disease. People fall beneath the weight of poverty and hunger. People remain in prison and need to be set free. People are oppressed by harsh laws issued by those who claim to speak for God.  

People care about these things and will listen to those who demonstrate their care for these universal concerns.

But there are some things about which our neighbors do not particularly care. They do not care whether Jesus was resurrected from the dead. This is because, as Charles Taylor has aptly shown, most do not have a desire for a subjective eternal existence in the company of God. They are happy to live full lives, and then to die. They can find fullness of life in the "immanent frame." 

Nor can they be made to care by threats of hell. Most don’t believe there is a hell, and as noted above they find all of life‘s meaning that they want without reference to heaven or hell.

They do not care about the authority of scripture because they are two or three generations from reading it or having it play a role in their lives. They do not care about the nature of the church because they are two or three generations from being part of a church community. 

So asserting our fidelity to biblical authority, or to a particular vision  of the church, or to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or the threat of hell is a meaningless gesture on our part. Most people just don’t care. And when we make our public face a debate about these things then they lose interest in us and our message. That is if they care enough listen to us squabbling, which they don't. 

And yet there is one question that they do care about. Jesus addressed it continually, and it runs through the entirety of the Bible. It is the question of what it means to be a human person. What we have failed to understand as a church is that resurrection and eternal life mean something only to the extent that they invite us into being fully human. That is to say, our preaching about Jesus' birth, death and resurrection must come directly from our ability to explain God chose to be Emmanuel, God with us, in contemporary language. 

People care about the Bible to the extent to which it invites them into the story of what it means to be human within a transcendent frame . They care about the narrative because in contemporary culture authenticity arises from the integrity of one's story rather than fidelity to a fixed place in a fixed social order. So people care about the Bible when it becomes Word for them, not when we wrangle about the words. 

People care about the Church only to the extent that it becomes the Body of Christ for them by engaging and caring for their struggle to remain human in the midst of dehumanizing forces. When the story of the Body of Christ has integrity in continuity with the mission of Christ it is authentic. When it lacks integrity, and it has mostly lacked integrity in recent times, it doesn't.

What matters to people is being human, having the fullness of their own humanity, and living in dignity and peace. And they rightfully believe that this involves justice and equality within diverse societies. They rightly believe that it involves preserving creation as the only home for our humanity. They know that if you deny full humanity to any human, you deny it to every human. They know that if you watch indifferently while the earth is destroyed you have denied the value of every human who is sustained by it. That is why the church must actively work to overcome racism, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism, xenophobia, climate change and every other denial of full humanity. 

It matters to people whether Reality by whatever name is hostile, indifferent, or open to receive them and their lives. So it is good news if we preach that God so loved the world that God came among us to draw us into God's eternal life. 

Recent surveys show that Americans are now following Europeans down the road leaving behind any commitment to Christianity, and religion more generally. And with good reason. Christians have shown that we do not care about what they care about. So why should they care about us? 


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