It comes as no surprise that our culture is post-Christian. Some would argue that it was never “Christian” to begin with. Ask the American Indian about our Christian culture. Ask black Americans how Christian our culture was to them. Maybe we never were all that Christian as a culture, but we leaned that direction in some ways. There are still vestiges of something of a Christian culture lingering here and there—like describing an athletic mismatch as “David vs. Goliath” or hearing someone talk of a hardship as their "cross to bear." But for the most part, any Christian culture we once had has been swallowed up by secularity. Some say it started with Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s victorious lawsuit to get state-sponsored prayer out of the public schools. Others will point to the repeal of the so called “blue laws” that required all but essential businesses (drugstores, for example) to close their doors on Sunday, in a sort of tip of the hat to the Sabbath and to free up employees to attend church if they so chose. All of this is old news.
But I was reminded of still more leakage of Christian culture in the last few days when New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was caught with his tweets pulled down. Apparently, he tweeted some pictures of himself in his undies to some ladies (who were not his wife). As is always the case there was the typical denial and “we don’t have enough information to comment at this time.” But that didn’t last for long. Soon the word and the pictures were out, and, like Amazon piranhas, the media-types were chewing him alive. It reminded me a good bit of the Tiger Woods mess a couple of years ago and of the John Edwards and Arnold Schwarzenegger soap operas that have been in the news more recently.
I’m not reflecting on this to throw another stone at Anthony Weiner. He’s a big boy, and like all big boys he’s going to have to man-up and face the consequences of his actions both personally and professionally. The reason this caught my attention was the way this is talked about in the media. His behavior is viewed as some kind of “sickness” for which he needs some kind of “treatment.” And would anyone be all that surprised in the months to come if we don’t find out that poor Mr. Weiner had some kind of trauma or disappointment in his childhood that led to this behavior? In other words, Mr. Weiner may not be a culprit here after all; he may be a sad victim of a parent’s neglect or a broken home or some event bringing on these latent tendencies in his life.
That’s the way our culture talks about these kinds of things. Do you notice that the Christian language of sin and guilt and personal responsibility is rarely mentioned in our post-Christian culture? We don’t speak Christian anymore. And that’s too bad. It’s precisely Christian language that gets at the heart of such behavior. Sin speaks of our behavior on a level that words like mistake and miscalculation and screw-up and bad judgment and moral failure just can’t reach. Those terms have a self-orientation. The word sin gives our behavior a God-orientation and points us to the only One who can truly repair what’s broken in our lives.
A good dose of Psalm 51 would do us a lot of good. You remember that psalm? That’s a psalm of King David. That’s his prayer and reflection after the prophet Nathan exposed what David thought was a pretty clever cover-up of his adultery with Bathsheba and his sort of murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah (by intentionally ordering him to the frontline of battle). But when David was confronted with this behavior, he didn’t dodge it, he didn’t deny it, he didn’t justify it. He didn’t talk about the pressures of office or the pressures of being a celebrity. He didn’t blame it on being the baby of his family or on the inattention of his father. He didn’t blame Bathsheba either. David called his behavior exactly what it was: sin—sin against Bathsheba and Uriah and God. David took full responsibility for his behavior. He confessed. He repented. He accepted the consequences, and he asked God to clean up his life and help him do better. Then, as God is so quick to do, He forgave David and restored him to full fellowship once again. I really think David recovered from this fiasco because he was dealing with reality: his deceitful heart and his sin. David reminds us that we can’t decisively or effectively deal with our sin without dealing with God.
In the early 70s psychiatrist Karl Menninger noticed this move from Christian language to therapeutic language and wrote a book about it: Whatever Became of Sin? Though sin is just as stylish as it has always been, the term sin is not. Consequently, fallen, broken people don’t take their brokenness to God; they take it to therapists and pharmacists. And while therapists and pharmacists can do a lot of good, therapists and therapy, pharmacists and pharmacy, are not enough for broken, fallen lives. Only God can fix our deeper problem: this deceitful heart with its compunction to sin and cover it up and justify it when its found out. Only God gives us the framework to understand that and make that well. And a simple word like sin gets us oriented toward God and His remedies rather than the remedies of folks who are fallen and broken too. The best therapists can offer is a little reformation. God offers transformation—from the inside out: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new person; old things have passed away, all things become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). That’s why the fact that we are sinners is good news, not bad—it means, as Tim Keller once said, that we’re not the helpless victims of psychological drives or social systems; we’re responsible persons who can take our sins to God and find healing for our souls.
There are things I miss about the Christian culture we once embraced in our country. And there are things our country misses too—not the least of which is a little word called sin because we don’t speak Christian anymore.