It’s not every day The Gospel Coalition writes something so blatantly antithetical to how Christians should conduct themselves with a headline so bluntly worded to that effect. Alas, the article titled, All Christians Are ‘Losers’ exemplifies the wrong mentality that The Gospel Coalition wants to promote onto the church. Chris Colquitt is the author.
The good news is that Christianity has always been a religion for (short-term) losers. A resurrection faith need not be shaken by slogs through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet we are ever prone to losing heart in the face of our losses—at real cost to Christ’s gospel and the mission of his church. Recent headlines trumpet the bad public fruit of losing power poorly, but we must all be aware of the more subtle ways in which we too can be poor losers, whether of power or respectability.
This sounds well and good, but this simply is not true. A quick read in the Book of Acts shows that the early church experienced an intense “return on investment” that debunks Colquitt’s first statement that Christianity has always been a religion of short-term losers. This is the wrong mentality. In one day, the church went from 120 people in the upper room to thousands. And if we have a generous definition of short term, say three to five years, then the church as a whole saw incredible wins in the short term.
The apostle Peter’s reaction to the “losing moment” of Christ’s arrest is a living parable of two ways we can respond poorly to such losses. Despite Christ’s reminder earlier that evening, of the trouble his followers will have in this world (John 16:33), Peter is unprepared for what occurs.
So, Colquitt’s first example to prove his thesis of Christians losing in the short term, is Peter’s three denials of Christ. This example is invalid, for Peter’s losing moment did not stem from faithfulness. It stemmed from doubt and cowardice. Therefore, this short-term loss could not be considered endemic of following Christ faithfully. Moreover, the arrest and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus is a huge win for us because of substitutionary atonement. And keep in mind that Colquitt is trying to apply Peter’s short-term loss as a modern day parallel to America entering a post-Christian era. This is hermeneutical gymnastics.
We need not agree on all the particulars of Christianity’s lost power—or the merits of earlier “more Christian” eras—to recognize the basic reality: the influence of Christian beliefs on our culture and politics is declining and has been for some time. As children we saw this in the worries of our parents (even as we rolled our eyes), and as parents we see it in our anxieties for our children (which seem entirely justified). Christianity appears to be losing cultural traction, and at an accelerating pace.
Colquitt is diagnosing the problem but not the cause of the problem. Why is this decline happening? Is it because of the faithful actions of the church? On the contrary, compromises were made. But Colquitt will have the opposite conclusion.
Win, lose, or compromise, Christian influence on American culture and politics is not the measure of Christ’s kingdom. Missing this reality imperils our faith and witness. Indeed, the political fear that can so powerfully move us—on both left and right—is often a matter of being preemptive poor losers. The prospect of loss is too great to bear.
This statement is not necessarily true. Christ’s Kingdom is not over this world and ever expanding, but the faithfulness of various churches in various earthly kingdoms can quite easily be measured by the lagging indicator of politics. Just like how unemployment (pre-Obama era) is a measurement of how an economy is doing, the political landscape is a measurement of how the church is doing. In fact, in an era where spontaneous baptisms are common practice and institutions have bloated budgets, it may be one of the best remaining metrics we have at our disposal. If politics is downstream from culture, then culture is downstream from the church; therefore, politics is downstream from the church. Colquitt does not recognize this lagging indicator. The pietism in American politics led to abortion being codified into law. The emergence of the evangelical voting bloc was undermined by the celebrity culture of evangelicalism.
The cultural rotgut we see today is reflective of the American church years prior. The unwillingness to address controversial topics created a void in our culture that the principalities and powers exploited. The priority of butts in seats came at a cost of instruction. The church in America became a mile wide and an inch deep, all while the public became increasingly atheistic. People attend church for motivational speeches and to hear pop psychology, which paved the way for Critical Theory to infiltrate otherwise politically conservative churches. And when COVID came, we saw churches unwilling to suffer an ounce of persecution to continue worshipping God faithfully. They were fearful just like the pagans because their hearts were just like theirs too.
What we are seeing is not the result of an obedient church in America. It is the opposite. I am currently reading through Judges where the political landscape is consistently a lagging indicator for the faith of Israel. This principle remains true to this day. We saw it in Germany when modernism was a pervasive threat to the church, and Germany was the cultural hub of Europe at the time. Now we are seeing it in America.
If the church is thriving, then it will have an increasing influence on culture and politics. But if it’s a whitewashed tomb, like it is in America, then we will see the decay all around us. This is the pattern we see in history as well as Scripture.
Colquitt has very little worth addressing in his article because he misunderstands the situation from the beginning. In running interference to dissuade Christians from seeking cultural influence, The Gospel Coalition is promoting pietism and its loser mentality.