Poverty. Racism. Sex Slavery. Gay marriage. Immigration. Abortion. Porn.
The subtitle’s even longer. Needless to say, David Platt is tackling a lot in his new book, Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans, and Pornography (Tyndale). To call these issues “relevant” is a pretty laughable understatement. American Christians are living and working and ministering amid a massive moral revolution. And while some matters on God’s revealed heart happen to resonate with current cultural sensibilities, others most certainly do not. So what are we to do? How should we respond? What does it look like to live and work and minister today with conviction and kindness, wisdom and valor, truth and love?
I corresponded with Platt, newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, about what makes this is a unique moment in America, why the main issue in any culture is never abortion or homosexuality, and more.
Your new book is a challenge for Christians to live “counterculturally.” Is this message more urgent today than it’s ever been in America? Why?
The message of the gospel has always been countercultural, and the need for the gospel has always been urgent in every culture. At the same time, when you consider the pace at which the moral landscape around us is shifting in America right now, and the accompanying increase in opposition to the gospel, I do believe we’re living in a unique time. Consequently, it’s imperative for Christians today to know what we believe about various cultural issues (according to the gospel and the authority of God’s Word) and to have the courage to live according to those beliefs. Culture is always changing and will continue to change. But the beauty and resiliency of the gospel is seen in the way believers have consistently responded to changing tides in the culture for thousands of years. We must do the same in our day.
If, as you claim, the main issue in any culture is not poverty or sex trafficking or racism or abortion or homosexuality, then what in the world is it—and why?
Everything changes in a world of sex slavery and sexual immorality, the abandonment of children and murder of children, racism and persecution, the needs of the poor and neglect of the widow, when we fix our gaze on the holiness, love, goodness, truth, justice, authority, and mercy of God revealed in the gospel. When we focus on God as the main issue, what we often think of as separate social issues become intimately connected to our understanding of who he is and what he has done, and is doing, and is calling us to do in the world.
Scripture is clear: the gospel of Christ is offensive and the way of Christ is opposed. At the same time, church leaders are to “have a good reputation with outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:7), and all of us are to aim to “make the teaching of God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10). How should we think about and live within this biblical tension?
The message of the gospel is always going to be offensive. That should not (must not) stop us from believing it with conviction and professing it with courage. But such conviction and courage must be intertwined with a depth of character and a breadth of compassion that adorns the gospel in the culture around us. We must flee all forms of selective moral outrage, pointing out specks in others’ eyes while ignoring the planks in our own (Matt. 7). Further, Matthew 9 tells us that “when [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). One of my hopes in Counter Culture is that God would give us grace to see our culture as he sees it, and then to love the people in our culture as he loves them. In a world with massive social needs, ranging from desperate poverty to orphan crises to millions of girls being trafficked for sex to the degradation of marriage to the abortion of babies, we need to speak with biblical clarity about all these issues while simultaneously acting with selfless love each step of the way.
You write, “While I’m encouraged by the expressed zeal of so many Christians for certain social issues, I’m concerned by the lack of zeal among these same Christians (especially, though not exclusively, younger evangelicals) for others. It’s as if we’ve decided to pick and choose which social issues we’ll contest and which we’ll concede.” What’s the solution?
I close each chapter in Counter Culture with a call to pray, to proclaim, and to participate. First and foremost, I believe all of these social issues need to inform our praying and pleading before God. Further, I’m convinced we all need to be equipped to proclaim how the gospel relates to each of these issues. As followers of Christ in our culture, we will all find ourselves in conversations about homosexuality, abortion, orphans, poverty, racism, or religious liberty, and I hope that Counter Culture will help equip Christians to speak the gospel clearly and compassionately in those conversations. Beyond this, I believe God will lead many people to act on these issues in many different ways. To be sure, no one is going to act on all of them in equal measure. No one can fight sex trafficking while fostering and adopting children in the middle of starting a ministry to widows and counseling unwed mothers while traveling around the world to support the persecuted church—and so on. Nor should any one of us do all of these things, for God sovereignly puts us in unique positions and places with unique privileges and opportunities to influence the culture around us. The question I ask repeatedly in Counter Culture is, “What is God leading you to do?” We must not merely contemplate the Word of God in the world around us; we must do what it says (James 1:22–25).
You contend that “the same heart of God that moves us to war against sex trafficking also moves us to war against sexual immorality, [and] the same gospel that compels us to combat poverty also compels us to defend marriage.” This sounds great, but how can a single message be the common denominator across such a broad range of issues?
All of these issues come back to the core problem of sin and evil in the world. Such evil is not limited to certain types of sin or select groups of sinners. Evil is unfortunately inherent in all of us and therefore unavoidably a part of any culture we create. And the only remedy for sin and evil in the world is the cross of Christ. Consequently, the gospel provides the foundation for addressing every sin issue in our personal lives, as well as every sin issue in the culture around us. The gospel is the lifeblood of Christianity, and it alone has the power to ultimately address the most pressing social issues of our day.
Editors’ note: We will be addressing many of these issues at our 2015 National Conference, April 13 to 15, in Orlando. Our 80 workshops include Mark Dever on “How to Survive a Cultural Crisis,” Russell Moore on “From Moral Majority to Prophetic Minority: The Gospel and Cultural Engagement,” and Collin Hansen on “Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church.” Register now.