John B. MacDonald
/Monday, June 7, 2021
The question is asked, “How do we move forward as a moral and ethical minority in a secular and pluralistic society?”
This is a good question for any generation.
Before I propose an answer, let’s examine some of this question’s unspoken presumptions.
Who is “we” in this question?
This question was recently asked in the context of modern Western Christians situated in North America in the throes of a pandemic. Fine-tuning might identify the questioner more as an Evangelical Christian within Canada—but it need not be.
One presumption is that North America is a secular and pluralistic society. Although a generalization, this is largely true.
Another presumption is more difficult to accept—that the modern Western Christian (even the Evangelical) is “a moral and ethical minority.” My issue is not with “minority,” it is the belief that we are moral and ethical within our society.
What does it mean to be “moral and ethical,” and by what standard is it judged? Do we have the right to that claim? These are larger questions for another time. For now, it is enough to challenge the claim of being “a moral and ethical minority” to raise the question, “Are we?”
As I read and listen to some of the more vocal modern Western Christians, the issues appear more about rights than righteousness, politics than piety, leadership than servanthood, security than sacrifice.
More space could be taken analyzing the dismal state of modern Western Christianity, but my proposed answer will expose that as well. Before moving on, I recognize there are followers of Jesus seeking to live as He desires—but not near enough.
A foundational cause for this malaise has been well-attested but little heeded. I speak of modern Western Christians’ biblical illiteracy. A search of “biblical illiteracy” produces a host of results. Writing in Christianity Today in 2014, Ed Stetzer contributed several insightful articles on this subject.
God invites us to live in His ‘Story.’ That ‘Story’ is laid out for us in the 66 books of the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—and continues to unfold in your life and mine. Are we living in His ‘Story?’
If we do not know God’s ‘Story,’ we cannot live God’s ‘Story'. And there lies the problem!
I propose that we get to know God’s ‘Story’ better. We can only do that by reading or listening to large sections of that ‘Story.’ Instead of an isolated verse with a bit of illustration—what Philip Yancey calls “moral McNuggets”—we should be regularly reading whole books of the Bible in one, or a few, sittings.
I recommend that you begin by reading the “Historical Backbone of the Bible,” 370 chapters (about 30% of the Bible). Starting with Genesis, this leads you through the history, which is the backbone of the ‘Story.’ There are other great resources available online, including the Bible Project.
Once you become familiar with the historical backbone, you then add the circulatory system of the Psalms, the central nervous system of the Prophets, the sinews of the Corinthian letters, and so forth.
As you immerse yourself in God’s ‘Story,’ you encounter people just like yourself in situations much like yours, involving faithfulness and failure, prosperity and adversity, distress and victory. Before long, you have climbed into the ‘Story’ and are living life in ways that honor God and bless others.
Are there other issues? Yes, but we can all start—here and now—to know God’s ‘Story’ better so that we can live God’s ‘Story’ better.
Dr. John B. MacDonald is an associate of Outreach Canada Ministries. He regularly contributes to living theology at johnbmacdonald.com.