The Humanitas Forum


Christianity and Culture



MySpace. The brain-computer interface. Eminem. Postmodernism. Prozac. American Idol. I-40. iPod. Cloning. Instant messaging. Oprah. Wal-Mart. Blue states, red states. Viagra. “Whatever!”


How does America hear the Gospel in light of contemporary culture? What does it mean that the God of the universe became human and lived on the earth some two thousand years ago? That he was crucified and buried and rose bodily from the grave to provide salvation from sin and suffering? How is this message heard in a culture that envisions salvation in terms of a beautiful body, longer life, perfect health, and pleasant moods?


How does America hear the Gospel?


As American society has become indisputably secular, the historic influence of Christianity has ceased to be a significant factor in any segment of contemporary culture. None of the major public sectors of our society—the arts, the media, medicine, law, education, popular culture, government, business, science, industry, or agriculture—are shaped in any meaningful way by the worldview of historic Christianity.


We have arrived at this post-Christian moment as the result of a long and complex process. The diminished cultural impact of Christianity cannot be adequately explained by simply blaming aggressive secularists or competing religions and philosophies. Much, perhaps most, of the marginalization of Christianity has resulted from the church’s abandonment of its foundational beliefs and its cultural tasks.


When cultural observers speak of a “naked public square,” they obviously do not mean that religion has disappeared from American society. Rather, its ideas and practices have been relegated to the private lives of believers. For most Christians this means that, beyond their private lives and personal conduct, they operate by a frame of reference that reflects a secular perspective. Faith has become privatized; it no longer guides the public lives of its adherents. As one theologian pointed out many years ago, “There is no longer a Christian mind”—a mind that makes sense of all of life from the vantage point of historic Christianity.


There is no longer a Christian mind.

Harry Blamires


The need for Christians to “make sense” of the world from within the framework of a Christian mind has never been more critical. The optimism and self-assurance of the modern age has given way to the uncertainty of a postmodern era that is skeptical about the possibility of truth and meaning. Throughout the culture, this skepticism translates into unease about the prospects of meaningful individual or societal accomplishment, despite the enormous scientific and technological resources at our disposal.


What does it mean to follow Jesus in contemporary, post-Christian culture?


This question was posed, somewhat differently, many years ago by the retired missionary and scholar Lesslie Newbigin: “Can the West be converted?” Of course, this question relates to the salvation of human souls, an integral part of Newbigin’s work as a missionary in India. And it includes a concern for how to prepare Christians for living in a culture that is indifferent, skeptical, or even hostile to the commitments of historic Christianity.


But more profoundly, Newbigin’s question addresses our confidence, as Christians, in the power of the Gospel to provide answers and alternatives to the skepticism, relativism, and uncertainty of our postmodern moment. How do the teachings of historic Christianity, such as the Creation, the Image of God in Man, the Incarnation, the Trinity, Revelation, and Redemption, speak to the burning issues of our day? How do these doctrines help us address deeper cultural currents—individualism, the loss of community, the loss of historical memory, the possibility of truth, the promotion of self-fulfillment as the highest human value, the changing definition of what it means to be human—that undermine the possibility of Christian faith, practice, and witness?


Can the West be converted?

Lesslie Newbigin


The purpose of The Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture is to provide a venue for wrestling with many of the profound issues at the intersection of faith and culture. The mission of The Humanitas Forum is deliberately broader than that of The Humanitas Project, which focuses on bioethics education as an increasingly critical area within Christian discipleship. While the fall 2007 lectures, with Dr. Peter Lawler, will range across several issues in bioethics and biotechnology, the foundational themes will be human dignity, human enhancement, and individualism, all of which have much broader implications in the lives of Christians. Future Forums will address a wide range of topics such as education, entertainment, vocation and calling, Christian discipleship in a secular culture, science and religion, and human suffering.


In sum, the mission of The Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture is to address both the need for an accurate understanding of contemporary culture and the requirements for engaging the culture on the basis of historic Christian convictions. Again, what does it mean to follow Jesus in a post-Christian culture?


Michael Poore

Executive Director

The Humanitas Project