Common grace commands us to participate.

The other day I came across an intriguing article. In it, a young evangelical demanded an end to Christian support for the present campaign to make homosexuality respectable. Arguing his stance, he said Christians had no business to subscribe to the value system of the society they were living in, and so be part of its decay. Rather, Christianity was a counterculture. It is this idea that made me think.

To be certain, the idea is very much in the minds of young evangelicals. They are right in their effort to call Christians back from assimilation into worldly values and concerns. We should be glad for their determination to take the New Testament ethos seriously and for their refusal to adapt themselves to the manners of Mammon and its corollaries. There can hardly have been a situation in history when Paul’s exhortation “Do not be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2) was more appropriate than today.

But does this make Christianity a “counterculture”? Are Christians to be dropouts of culture, or else guilty of compromise and appeasement? Is there no alternative between “Christian counterculture” and what has been critically termed “culture Christianity”?

The problem is the theological basis from which to address the breakdown of social morality. There is reason to think that the “counterculture” attitude of today could be an immediate continuation of what has been called a “lifeboat ethic,” that is to say, the traditional attitude of withdrawal and exclusivity, but garbed in modern language.

A “lifeboat” approach has played a role in recent debates over ecology and the world food crisis: if there are too few resources for a growing humanity and not everybody can survive anyway, then let’s ...

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