Where to Now? Living in an Anti-Christian West

19 June 2024

6.8 MINS

Things have radically changed in a few short decades.

If you are an older person raised in the West – as I am – you will have lived through three different periods: Christian, post-Christian, and anti-Christian. You would have been born in a largely Christian period, in which most folks – even if they were not actually Christian themselves – shared and believed in biblical truths and values. Even the institutions such as education, the media, politics, and business more or less reflected the Christian worldview.

Then you moved to the next phase, where Christianity began to have less and less influence and clout in society. Sure, most folks still paid lip service to Christianity, but it increasingly played less of an important role in the lives of more and more people.

And then we have life in the West today, where Christians have become the new counterculture. Much of society and its institutions have declared war on the church and the people of God. Hostility to Christians is now found everywhere and is simply getting worse.


But here is a major problem for believers today – at least older ones. Many of us still might think that we are back in the first, or at least, the second period. So we think the sorts of things we did back then will work just fine today. But not necessarily. We can no longer find a Christian consensus. We can no longer count on institutions to back us up.

If we go to a large shop or grocery store, it will more than likely be filled with pro-homosexual material or celebrate Islamic holy days – but not Christian ones. Governments will increasingly be enacting legislation and laws that are hostile to Christianity, be it forcing Christian schools to hire non-Christian staff, forcing workers to affirm all sorts of immoral lifestyles, or making workers attend various DEI and woke training (propaganda) sessions – and that just for starters.

The mainstream media, of course, is now almost entirely at odds with biblical Christianity, never missing an opportunity to attack the faith while promoting every other worldview and lifestyle. Popular culture largely sneers at and mocks Christian concerns while promoting diabolical agendas. The list goes on…

Of course, the secularisation and de-Christianisation of the West started much earlier than when you and I were born. It has been happening for a number of centuries now. But ideas take a while to filter down into everyday culture, and now we are feeling the impact of modernism, the Enlightenment, and related intellectual movements.

A new book by American evangelical writer Aaron Renn looks at similar themes: Life in the Negative World (Zondervan, 2024). He uses differing terminology as he also looks at these three periods:Life in the Negative World

  • the positive world (1964-1994)
  • the neutral world (1994-2014)
  • the negative world (2014-present) (pp. 6-7)

One can quibble about the dating, but the three periods correspond to what I mentioned above: a generally pro-Christian world; a world somewhat indifferent to the faith; and a period which is mainly hostile to it. He says of the present period:

“For the first time in the history of our country, orthodox Christianity is viewed negatively by secular society, especially by its elite domains.” (xv)

The whole point then is to ask ourselves: how do we do mission and represent God in such a changed – and changing – situation? How do we be salt and light in this new arrangement? How can we stay true to our Lord in this increasingly hostile environment?

As any biblical believer would insist, Renn does not think we can or should change the message. But we may need to change the method and the means of presenting this unchanging message to a changing culture.

Of course many Christians have thought about such matters of late. And Renn admits to having no easy and clear answers here. But he does call us to think and pray much more carefully about how we are to proceed in the days ahead. He looks briefly at some of the causes for the changes in the West, but then – and more importantly – suggests ways to respond.


He has three sections of the book looking at three areas that we need to respond in: the personal, the institutional, and the missional. In the second, he reminds us of how we must cope with the new situation we find ourselves in. We are no longer the dominant group in society that we once were. We must readjust our thinking and act accordingly:

In today’s world, evangelicals aren’t a majority, either by themselves or as part of a larger Christian group. We don’t run society’s major institutions, and sometimes we barely have a seat at the table in them. Our core values are now in disfavor. In a negative world, where the institutions of culture see Christian identity and beliefs as negative status markers, the old model of thinking and acting like a majority needs to be jettisoned. Evangelicals need to learn to act like a minority and spend more time and effort focused on sustaining their own communities and beliefs.

This is why I’ve said evangelicals need to have a shift in emphasis toward becoming more of a counterculture. Minorities must operate at some level as strong countercultures or subcultures in order to sustain themselves. This is the shift evangelicals need to make.

This doesn’t mean evangelicals should abandon mission and evangelism or become hostile or hateful toward other groups. They should not resign themselves to doing nothing or no longer caring about the country or the general welfare of society. But it does them no good to focus on these things if they don’t also tend to the strength and well-being of their own evangelical communities, much the same way other minority groups have had to tend to theirs. We can’t give somebody something we don’t have ourselves. Strengthening our communities will enable evangelicals to have a genuinely Christian place they can invite others into, and this can serve as a base from which to pursue outward mission… (pp. 114-115)

Of course, folks like Rod Dreher have written similar things, as in his 2017 book, The Benedict Option. But I emphasise this because it is too easy for us older evangelicals to think we are still living in a world we lived in 50 or 60 years ago.

Well, times have changed, and we need to rethink how we are to be salt and light in a much different world. Yes, the early church was in a similar position of living in a negative world. But unlike them, we have centuries of Western (Christian) civilisation behind us. They did not.

To see it all crumbling right before our very eyes is quite painful for many of us. But God is always at work, and we always can count on our unchanging God continuing to act in our changing world. Renn speaks more to our changing culture:

One of the problems evangelicals face in America today is that they exist almost entirely inside space owned by others — legally owned in many cases, but more importantly, socially and culturally owned. This may include the places they work, shop, and dine.

Evangelicals who live in urban centers are typically surrounded by people who overwhelmingly embrace secular progressive beliefs and perspectives, and they “own” the culture of that area. Many businesses and residences in these places feature signs or flags that show their support of various causes embraced by secular progressives: pride flags, Black Lives Matter signs, or “In this house…” signs… (pp. 132-133)

Speaking of THAT sign, I wrote about it when my wife and I were visiting family in Madison, Wisconsin some years ago. We saw it everywhere. It said:


Madison is a college town and has long been known as a hotbed of lefties and progressives. So I discussed that sign. I said in part: “Hmm, that in itself is worth an entire article! Plenty of rather vacuous leftist rhetoric and clichés there, along with all the usual identity politics and hot-button causes of the left.”

But it does clearly show that we are indeed becoming strangers in a strange land (Exodus 2:22). The once Christian West is no more. Just as ancient Israel had to cope with the reality of being a bad fit in the surrounding culture, so do we.

So books like Renn’s help us to think about this shifting situation that we find ourselves in. He offers some proposals, as have other authors recently. But two things at least will be required of us in the days ahead. First, we must recognise that we are “not in Kansas anymore”.

It is not just Dorothy who had to grapple with that reality in The Wizard of Oz, nor Cypher who referred to it in The Matrix. Christians today in the West need to see how radically the landscape has changed in such a short period of time. The Christian West that I grew up in during the 1950s is now long gone.

But we also need God’s heart on all this. We need to take this seriously, and with tears. It was Francis Schaeffer who got this right decades ago. Back in 1969, in his important book Death in the City, he put it this way:

Do not take this lightly. It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime. It is a horrible thing that forty years ago you could move across this country and almost everyone, even non-Christians, would have known what the gospel was. A horrible thing that thirty to forty years ago our culture was built on the Christian consensus and now we are in an absolute minority.

Schaeffer was fully aware of this shift taking place way back then. And he had the right attitude toward it all. We need to have our hearts broken over the things that break God’s heart. Then we need to pray and think and seek God like mad as we consider how to adjust to this new situation.

Yes, the Gospel of Jesus Christ – as always – is the power of God to save, and to save mightily. But how we might go about the Christian mission in this radically changing West is something to think carefully about and seek God’s face over. Renn’s book is one of many that can help us out in this regard.


Republished with thanks to CultureWatch. Image courtesy of Adobe.

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