The Witness

Why “Secular” Christianity Hinders Reconciliation in Suburban and Urban Contexts

Jarvis Williams

The phrase “secular” Christianity may seem like an oxymoron, because indeed it is. Yet, there are numerous so-called Christians and so-called churches whose expression of Christianity is secular, not biblical.

There are some who identify with the Christian faith, but reject belief in the saving efficacy of Jesus’ death for sinners, his resurrection, and his miracles. For them, Christianity is simply about occasional good deeds, minimal church attendance, and a place where they gather with those from their homogenous group. There are others who affirm the right doctrines (e.g. biblical inerrancy, justification by faith, substitution, the resurrection, etc.), but fail to pursue the unification of all things and with all kinds of people on Christ.

In suburban contexts, Christianity often seems to be about living a comfortable, middle class life and the pursuit of constant efforts to live in complete isolation from the brokenness that exists in both suburban and urban contexts. For folks with the above understanding of Christianity (whether they are liberal or conservative), Christianity is not supernatural and transformational, but it’s fleshly, secular, or carnal. However, “fleshly” or “secular” Christianity is not Christianity.

Defining “Secular” Christianity
By “secular” Christianity, I mean a view of Christianity that appears to have an external form of godliness, but that denies its power. This kind of so-called Christianity cares little about depraved sinners from different contexts finding their ultimate joy and satisfaction in the transformational power of God through Jesus Christ, and about the unification of all things and all kinds of people in Christ.

By “secular” Christianity, I’m also referring to a so-called version of Christianity whose ideas and whose members are conformed to the principalities and rulers and desires of the present evil age as they walk in accordance with the desires of the flesh and the devil, as opposed to producing the fruit of the Spirit.

In my observation of Christianity the past 20 years of walking with Jesus, I’ve noticed that church members who embrace “secular” Christianity have a small view of God (if not conceptually at least practically), a poor commitment to healthy church life, a weak view of the bible, and a spiritual apathy toward living out the totality of God’s vertical and horizontal reconciliation in Jesus Christ. Below I discuss a couple of examples to illustrate the way “secular” Christianity hurts and hinders gospel reconciliation efforts in both suburban and urban contexts.

“Secular” Christianity Worships a False god and Ignores the Bible
“Secular” Christianity worships a false god and ignores the bible. It worships a weak god (the god of self-gratification), places confidence in the flesh instead of confidence in a big God, and members within “secular” Christianity pay no or very little attention to God’s word, neither in the church nor in their homes or society. Instead, their god is their own fleshly appetites.

“Secular” Christians create a god with their own hands into their own images without any concern as to what the bible says about the one and true living God and how we should love and serve him. Consequently, when gospel Christians appeal to the scripture to support that God cares deeply about the unification of all things and all people (red, yellow, black, white, rich, poor, immigrant, citizen, physically disabled, healthy, pimp, prostitute, crackhead, crack dealer, educated, and uneducated, rural, suburban, and urban, etc.) in Christ, “secular” Christians scoff and pit their cultural, economic, and homogenous comforts and achievements against what the one and true living God has revealed in his word about the unification of all things and all kinds of people in Christ.

“Secular” Christianity Rejects Holistic Gospel Reconciliation
I’ve written about the gospel in detail elsewhere (see my numerous RAAN posts for arguments and bibliography), but I’ll simply say now that the gospel, reconciliation, and justice intersect in the preaching of Jesus and in the writings of the New Testament.

Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God (e.g. Mark 1:14-15), while calling people to love justice and mercy (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42). Jesus himself brought justice and mercy to those in need of it as he preached the gospel (Matt. 12:18, 20), and he promised that God would give justice to his elect (Luke 18:7-8). His entire ministry focused on the intersection of the gospel and the kingdom with reconciliation and justice as part of his redemptive plan via his death and resurrection (Read Luke 4-19). As Paul puts it, Jesus preached peace (=reconciliation) to those far and near (Eph. 2:17), and he died and resurrected to effect this vertical reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles to God (Rom. 5:8-10) and to accomplish horizontal reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles to one another (Eph. 2:11-22).

In suburban contexts, “secular” Christianity manifests itself in ethnic-centric, middle-class, highly educated and affluent churches that have a country club mentality (i.e. a mentality that only welcomes and associates with people within their own racial, economic, and social group), and a narrow view of the gospel. This mentality forces them to exclude poor, uneducated, and underprivileged whites and minorities from both their normal social interactions and from their churches since these marginalized groups don’t fit into their country club culture, or don’t represent the kind of people that their “Americanized” ( and often white) Jesus came to save.

Rather than their churches asking God how they can use their privilege, class, education, and finances to spread a passion for God’s glory in Jesus Christ throughout underprivileged communities (both suburban and urban) in their cities and how they can use their privilege to unify all things and all people in Christ, “secular” Christians use their resources to distance themselves from “those” people, even as they sing hymns like “Oh, how I love Jesus, because he first loved me”. In Southern Baptist contexts (my denomination), “secular” Christians give money to the cooperative program to support international missions or North American church plants in urban contexts, and champion biblical doctrines like justification by faith, substitutionary atonement, and biblical inerrancy while rejecting the gospel’s teaching of the unification of all things and all kinds of people in Christ in the church through the gospel.

“Secular” Christianity is a perfect expression of an Americanized, false, powerless and gospel-less Christianity. And this version of Christianity will result in the eschatological destruction of many, from both privileged and marginalized groups who believe it in suburban and urban contexts.

I’m embarrassed to admit that too often my own view of Christianity is “secular.” Too often, I narrowly view the world through my middle class, evangelical, and privileged (that’s right, certain minorities have privilege too!) lens. Because of my at times “secular” view of Christianity, I must often repent.

May God help those of us who find ourselves believing the lies of “secular” Christianity to turn our hearts and minds again and again to the biblical gospel. May we teach the biblical gospel in our churches, may we pray it for one another in our churches.

With God’s help, may we pray and work toward helping our churches understand the totality of both the vertical and horizontal reconciliation of all things and all people in Christ. May we intentionally look for and seek to do life with the very kinds of people Jesus, our poor, Jewish savior, came to save from every tribe, tongue, people, nation, and from every part of society in both urban and suburban contexts.

1 Comment

  1. Chris Lemmon

    Great article! Indeed we have in many churches accepted a Gospel far smaller and narrower than is Biblical!

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