American Christianity’s Vocabulary Problem

American Christianity is quickly losing its moral backbone. We are increasingly unwilling to speak in moral terms when it comes to our actions. We have become so unwilling to accept the discomfort that being honest about our own moral failure brings that we are losing the moral vocabulary to describe our failures.

This tendency was front and center this past week as Baylor’s Board of Regents addressed issues surrounding the firing of former football coach Art Briles. In commenting on the culture that surrounding the football program The Washington Post quoted board member, Cary Gray, who said,

There was a cultural issue there that was putting winning football games above everything else, including our values, . . . we did not have a caring community when it came to these women who reported that they were assaulted. And that is not OK.

Not OK? This is the language of moral evasion. It is “not ok”to take the last piece of pizza without asking if someone else would like it. It is “not ok” to cut someone off in traffic. But fostering a culture that protects perpetrators of heinous crimes is not “not ok”; it is wrong. This situation is morally indefensible and shameful. What happened at Baylor was sinful.

If there was ever a university that had failed spectacularly but was uniquely positioned to respond with the moral clarity and Gospel conviction, it was Baylor. This Baptist institution had the perfect opportunity to showcase to the world the kind of radical honesty that the Gospel demands of sinners. Baylor had the opportunity, before a watching world, to call the culture surrounding its football program sinful and simultaneously point a watching world to the One whose she blood makes forgiveness possible offers.

But Baylor missed the opportunity, and, sadly, we do too. Human nature continually seeks to excuse the actions that it knows to be wrong. Our own cultural vocabulary demonstrates this fact. Words like adultery and addiction have been replaced by phrases like “extra-marital affair” and “chemical dependency.” And this tendency has not remained wholly confined to the world outside the church, it has infiltrated the Christianity with great effectiveness. American Christians use the cultural vocabulary with as much ease as their non-Christian neighbors. Like Adam and Eve, we have become masters sewing together fig leaves to cover our shame.

If American Christianity is to have any continuing substantive witness to the radical call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must once again regain our moral vocabulary. Sin, the greatest of taboos in American parlance, must once again enter our vocabulary because sin is at the heart of the Gospel. The substitutionary death of Christ on the cross does not save us from some general notion of our shortcomings. The cross of Christ saves us from our sin. The future of our witness to an unbelieving world hinges upon our ability to acknowledge the sinfulness of our sin, the holiness of our God, and His gracious mercy in the person of Christ.

If all we can muster is “not ok” then we have already conceded defeat.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bonsai says:

    All cultures are man-made systems of value and they shift with the wind. God’s word does not change. As someone who put everything into a foreign culture for 21 years, I have a lot to say on this topic! “The Six-Foot Bonsai: A Soul Lost in the Land of the Rising Sun” details just what happens when someone places culture (foreign, fad or position) above God.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s