We live in a world that is not scandalised by the claim that Christ is Saviour or Lord. We don’t even get that far. Rather, the world is scandalised by the claim that Christ is the Creator. And this means that our conversations (or attempts at them) increasingly stop far short of discussions about the Gospel.
Christians expect to be hated. But what do we expect to be hated for?
When I was in secondary school, (2004-2011—simpler times, dear reader), I think there were generally three things which would rile people up when it came to my faith.
The first was the exclusivity of the Gospel Telling people that we were all sinners in need of saving, whose good works counted for nothing, and who could only be saved by faith in Christ, offended even the sensibilities of my fellow teenage boys.
The second was personal piety. I was doubtless not as good a witness on this score but, in God’s goodness, my relatively pious lifestyle was evident enough to generate a good deal of mockery.
The third (closely related to the second) was personal love for Jesus. The most mockery I ever received was after introducing some friends to dc Talk’s “Jesus Freak” whilst on a school residential. Perhaps not the best idea in hindsight, admittedly—they found it eye-wateringly hilarious. The idea of expressing specific and personal devotion to Jesus of Nazareth, of saying “I love Jesus” or “I’m a Jesus Freak”, was just too much (and, let’s be honest, reading those phrases probably still makes most of us cringe). It was quite meta, really—sitting there as a Christian, being mocked for listening to a song about being mocked for being a Christian.
I am grateful that I was well prepared for all this as a teenager. The teaching I received in evangelical youth work was very clear that I would be persecuted—hated, even—for being a Christian. And, in general, it was assumed that such persecution would be due to the above reasons.
We could group all of these causes into the realm of “grace”. They all arise from the unexpected and undeserved interruption of God into history. The fallen human heart recoils at the suggestion of its sin, the rejection of its good works, the offer of unconditional forgiveness, and the possibility of a transformed life.
Being hated on account of grace is a thoroughly biblical expectation—the Gospel is after all, in the Apostle’s words, a scandal: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block [skandalon] to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:22-23). All forms of human pride are dashed to pieces on the rocks of the cross.
Accordingly, there is a clear New Testament imperative for Christians to ensure that they do not put unnecessary stumbling blocks in the way of the divinely appointed stumbling block that is Christ. Christians are to live a quiet life (1 Thess. 4:11), to pray that rulers would let us live quiet lives (1 Tim. 2:2), and to become all things to all men that we may save some (1 Cor. 9:22). If people are going to reject Christ, we want it to be because they rejected Christ, not Christians.
Christians, then, have long been reconciled to people hating us on account of grace.
But the world is changed.
We no longer live in a world which simply hates grace; we live in a world which hates nature—and understanding this fact is one of the most urgent priorities in Christian discipleship today.
These days, the reality is that people trip over the ground under their feet long before they’re in sight of the stumbling block. As I noted when I first launched The New Albion, we are in what Aaron Renn has dubbed “the Negative World”—a time (post-2014) when Christian faith acts as a net negative to one’s social standing. 2014 was when I graduated from university, and so my aforementioned time at school was all carried out in the Neutral World (1994-2014). We should note that, in the Neutral World, aspects of the Christian faith did serve as social negatives for people (see my “Jesus Freak” episode), but these were more or less balanced out by lingering social positives. These negatives were largely the things I’ve mentioned: exclusivity, piety, devotion.
However, the primary cause of Christians’ negative social capital is no longer exclusivity, piety, or devotion. It is nature.
The Christian faith requires confession of the Gospel, but it also requires confession of creation. “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen”—so begins the Nicene Creed. We are witnesses not simply to the fact that God has acted to redeem the world, but that he created it in the first place. Insisting that there is such a thing as Reality, and that this is evident to all human beings, has been baked into Christianity from day one.
The reality of Reality, however, is no longer a settled fact. In a technocratic age, in which the digital world divorces us from the limiting factors which have defined human identity throughout all of history up to this point, all things can be remade. There is no such as a “human nature” which should determine our behaviour and rein us in—or if there is, our technological innovations are as much a part of that nature as anything else, and so should be seamlessly welcomed into our very selves as we slide imperceptibly into the posthuman.