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How to Talk About Christian Morality in a Post-Christian World

How to Talk About Christian Morality in a Post-Christian World

My last post on why Christians should let non-Christians off the moral hook seems to have sparked a lot of interest.

It also raises a lot of questions.

If we let non-Christians off the hook morally, (as I suggest), do we then let ourselves off the hook?

How do we have the lifestyle conversation with non-Christians if they decide to follow Jesus?

How do we even talk about Christian morality in a post-Christian world?

This is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. I live in Canada, a country in which less than 10% of the population regularly attends church. And a country in which moral relativism is pretty much a part of the water supply. Just talk to anyone under 30, or their parents. You’ll see.

So do Christians just cave and become part of the dominant culture? I don’t think so.

The ethic that characterizes authentic Christ-followers is distinctive.

There is something inherently attractive about really pursuing obedience without judging non-Christians who don’t.

Even non-Christians find something inherently attractive about:

pursuing good over evil

loving rather than hating

staying faithful to one person for life

taking care of your body

living out radical generosity

demonstrating self-control

putting others ahead of yourself


Strangely, the culture still admires Christian values, even if it doesn’t like the Christian part.

So how do you talk about Christian morality without sounding like a…jerk?

Here are three ideas for how to talk about Christian morality:

1. Talk about what you do, without telling them what they should do. I have a friend who’s not a Christian who doesn’t drink. He never talks about it from a perspective of “nobody should drink”, but says that he’s never seen good come out of drunkenness and he doesn’t trust himself to not get drunk. It’s a strangely compelling conversation. Helpful, authentic, and never judgmental.

What if you starting talking about your morality in these tones:

I find that being married to the same person for the rest of my life, while not easy, has been really rewarding in the end.

I’m not telling you shouldn’t get drunk I’m just saying that it’s not something I do.

Yeah, I guess I just don’t swear…

Smoking weed just isn’t something I do. I guess you could say my happiness comes from other places.

Conversations like this (you might be better at this than I am) can lead to the next question, such as “Well, where does your happiness come from?” Or “So how have you guys made it through 15 years of marriage?”  At that point, you can legitimately start to talk about the difference your faith has made.

2. Start with salvation, not discipleship. When Jesus called Matthew as a diciple, he didn’t attach conditions. He just called him, as awkwardly and embarrassingly imperfect as he was. When Jesus comes to town, you don’t get loved because you change, you change because you’re loved. Just ask Matthew.

3. Embrace sanctification. Sanctification is a big word, and an old word, but a good word. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it refers to the process of ‘being made Holy’.  As David Kinnaman says, disciples are hand made.  God does his work in people over time…identifying issues and prompting them to change.

If you teach what’s clearly right, God has a way of prompting the conscience of believers to change. Sure, sometimes direct intervention and tough conversations are necessary, but I am amazed how often after a message about marriage or a small group experience, couples who are living together come to their own conclusion that they need to move out, get married and make things right with God. The Spirit is at work, and he’s actually quite good at life-change.

Those are some thoughts on how to talk about Christian morality in a post-Christian world.

What are you learning? What’s making the dialogue better (or tougher) where you are?

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  • cnieuwhof

    Roy, I think you’re right in zeroing in on hypocrisy. I sometimes wonder if at the heart of it Christians feel God loves us because ‘we deserve it’ and others don’t. If we could remember we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works (so that none of us might boast), we’d be in a better place for sure.

  • The biggest issue that most non-Christians have is the lack of continuity within the people of Christianity. Unfortunately if you put 10 devout Christians in a room I pretty much guarantee that out of the 10 people, most of them have a different opinion about what the Bible says in regards to Gay marriage. When a person reads a book, that person takes those words that are printed and interprets them based on the experiences they’ve had in their lives. Everyone can take any printed media and manipulate it for their own gain and unfortunately that’s what most people see when they look at Christianity. Here’s a bunch of people that can’t even agree on what their most Holy and Sacred text says and if you don’t believe in or agree with what their leaders teach you’ll be excluded from things or treated poorly. This is the main reason we have so many different denominations within Christianity. As you said, most non-Christians are very predictable in the way they act or respond to a specific environment. If I’m driving down the road and cut someone off I expect them to be angry, maybe flip me the proverbial bird and or drive carelessly to exact revenge. But hasn’t the church historically done the same thing? Non-Christians see Christians a hypocrites. They see us like that because many of us are and it’s easier to just paint everyone with the same brush rather than say that there are some Christians out there who do try to follow Gods teachings. When I talk to non-Christians about my belief I use this analogy. The Garden of Eden is like McDonalds Play Land and we are the little 4 year old children and God is our Father. He says, “Here, go, play. When you are hungry there’s food over here for you and you can have whatever you like and be carefree. But, don’t break the rules. If you do we will be leaving and you won’t be allowed to come back.” So what happens? The children break the rules and our Father says “Everyone out! You broke the rules.” But then he feels bad and when he calms down he says, “Well, you broke the rules but here’s a chance for you to make it better and come back and play with me.” Then he gives us a rule book of 147 rules to follow and gives us the opportunity to follow them. So what happens you may ask? Well we follow the rules for a while but it becomes hard and we stop. So because our Father loves us he says, “Ok. 147 rules may be allot to expect from little children so here’s a teacher and he’s made things easier. His name is Moses and he’s got a new book with 10 rules in it. Please follow the rules because I want you to come and play with me again.” So what happens? Because we are little children and have a short attention span, many of us break all the rules again. Like any loving Father he gives us another chance. “Because you keep messing up I’m going to give you all another chance. Here’s my Son and his name is Jesus and he’s come to your room to teach you how to follow the rules. All you have to do is listen to him, believe in him and study his teachings and you can come play with me again.” The only person that can bring you back to God is yourself. To many people care what others are doing but I’m the only one that can make the decision to follow Gods word and go back to play in McDonalds play land. The Opportunity is there but Christians make it very difficult for others to learn the teachings because of their behavior. Many of us have become the people in the Temple in Capernaum in John 2:12-17. Sorry for the long post. 🙂

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      Roy, I think you’re right in zeroing in on hypocrisy. I sometimes wonder if at the heart of it Christians feel God loves us because ‘we deserve it’ and others don’t. If we could remember we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works (so that none of us might boast), we’d be in a better place for sure.