Final Reflections on Surfing Secularism

In the previous two posts, I analyzed two out of the three presuppositions put forth by Dave Schmelzer, which characterize churches and their ministers who surf secularism well.  The link to his article is here: http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/03/19/surfing-secularism-why-fighting-the-rest-of-the-world-is-a-losing-strategy-for-churches/31356.  It is a quick read with quite a few things going for it and against it.  Today, I will touch upon Schmelzer’s third presupposition, and then interject some final thoughts and observations.

Schmelzer’s third presupposition that defines churches and their ministers who surf secularism well is the following:  “Our culture doesn’t equal God’s culture.”  To be blunt, I found nearly zero to pick at with this one.  The underlying subtext of this presupposition is humility or maybe at a deeper level, meekness.  My heart posture drives how I speak, act, and think toward those inside and outside of the church.  I exist within a setting that is familiar to my tastes and sensibilities; however, the body of Christ is immensely diverse in taste and sensibility as is the surrounding culture.  Am I willing to venture outside of my familiar walls into expressions that differ from my current contexts and preferences?

From my perspective, Schmelzer seems to be raising that question along with the other minsters in his piece.  Along that same line of thinking, I would add that how I see people is a crucial point.  This seems to be bubbling underneath the surface of Schmelzer’s entire piece.  At the risk of upsetting the apple cart, I must point out that this third presupposition does not stand by itself.  It follows on the heels of the previous two, which weakens the force of it.  If I took a stab at summarizing my foundational criticism of Schmelzer’s piece, then it would be his lack of definition about the approach to take.

For Schmelzer, there’s a sizable portion of Evangelical churches and leaders who see the culture in the wrong way.  He is very clear on that point even down to speaking in clear terms.  When it comes to spelling out the better approach, he offers three presuppositions that lack clarity of basis and intent.  It could be argued that Schmelzer wants his readers to think for themselves about the better ways to surf secularism.  In fact, let us work together to determine the guidelines or boundaries necessary for living out the message of Jesus.  I am all for discipleship, and I see this as one of the greatest areas of need and weakness in the church today.

Call me old fashioned or on-the-nose, but I believe that the one doing the discipleship needs to present things in clear terms.  Those witnessing to the surrounding culture need to present the gospel of Jesus with simplicity and clarity.  This applies to the churches and ministers and seminaries.  It is essential to grasp the basics of the gospel in order to give a reason for the hope that is in us with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16, ESV).  I agree with Schmelzer that drawing lines between folks over petty issues is petty.  There are also core doctrines of the faith, which must be agreed upon by believers in order to experience true unity.

If getting the gospel right is not a priority for churches and their ministers, then their witness to the culture is in peril.  She may find herself imbibing the culture’s beliefs and values about Jesus, the bible, and the church.  In no way does Schmelzer advocate such a stance as he uses the term doubling down with respect to our position in relation to secularism.  He embraces the metaphor of surfing in order to connect his readers with the reality of the tide turning against the believer’s favor.  Surfing requires skill and coordination, which I gather Schmelzer believes is necessary for today’s church and minister.

The surfing metaphor poses some problems though: 1. The twelve men that Jesus called to be his apostles were the most unskilled and uncouth people that he could have chosen; and 2. The apostle Paul says that God chose the foolish, weak, and despised things of this world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, ESV).  All of this is to say that I get Schmelzer’s point about laying down our arms against culture.  It seems to me that surfing connotes remaining on the surface, which may lead to superficial witnessing by the church. Instead of using a metaphor that sends mixed signals, I think it is best to use these two that Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount: salt and light.  His bride is to be both salt and light, which penetrate the meat and darkness respectively for genuine gospel transformation.

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