Magazines 2020 Nov - Dec Serious Christianity

Serious Christianity

14 December 2020 By John G. Stackhouse

Radical living communicates across barriers

My last two columns looked at what I call the New Moralism, the ethical self-assurance showing up everywhere from university campuses to social media. In this postmodern age of universal doubt (How can I know anything for certain? Who can I trust to tell me the truth?), we have fallen back on ourselves. What seems patently right to me is just … right.

We do not, of course, make up our minds all by ourselves. As the experts remind us, we are deeply influenced epistemologically by our social location – that is, we tend to think like the people around us.

How then can Christians engage in evangelism with any hope of being heard by a Canadian society moving ever farther away from our Christian heritage? When only half the population claims to be Christian and most of the population evidently doesn’t understand even the basics of Christianity (Quick! Ask the next five people you meet to define correctly incarnation and atonement), and yet almost everybody thinks he or she understands Christianity quite well enough, thank you very much. How can we hope to get our message across?

Mostly, we can’t. I say "evangelical" and my Canadian neighbour thinks of some scandalous American preacher. You say "Christian" and your Canadian neighbour thinks of abuses in residential schools. She says "faith" and her Canadian neighbour thinks she’s against science. He says "prayer" and – you get the picture.

We literally can’t talk our way out of this one … or that one, or any of a dozen pretty good reasons why our neighbours don’t want to discuss the gospel with us.

Sure, if you happen upon someone who does want to talk, and not merely argue, there are good reasons to be a Christian that have been marshalled by Christian apologists over the centuries. But what about most of the rest of the people we know? How can we possibly bear fruitful witness in this unprecedented situation?

Happily, the Supreme Being anticipated our needs and here are a couple of pertinent scriptures.

First, consider Acts 2:42–47: "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

These effective early Christians were seriously faithful Christians. In a hostile situation – their leader had been executed and the religious experts were warning people against their message – these Christians lived like Christians. They worshipped seriously, they cared for each other seriously and they served other people seriously.

We can do that, can’t we? Sure, we might have to step up the "wonders and signs" a bit. But frankly just having contemporary Canadians financially sacrifice for people who aren’t their relatives would be "wonder"-full in this culture. It truly would "sign"-al that a deeply alternative lifestyle is at work.

And then 1 John 1:1–3: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes … this we proclaim concerning the Word of life."

So when people ask us, as some will, why we are living the way we are, we tell them about what we have been experiencing of the new life in Christ. The gospel is not just what God did back then over there, but what God is doing right now, right here.

If we have nothing to report, of course, then we have nothing to offer. But if God is moving among us and we are enjoying that, then we have everything to offer.

Almost two millennia before the sociologists and philosophers of knowledge told us people will change their minds only in social contexts that give plausibility to that message, God’s Word tells us how to deal with the serious problem we face in Canada today.

Serious Christianity. So let’s get serious.

john stackhouse

John Stackhouse is professor of religious studies at Crandall University. Find more of these columns at