Cultural AssumptionsBecoming more like Christ is a central part of being a disciple of Jesus.
I’ll always remember the first time I went whitewater rafting. It was both exhilarating and scary at the same time! As we were getting ready to brave the rapids, the guide told our raft, “It’s what’s under the surface that you really need to watch out for. It’s the things you can’t see that can hurt you the most.”
That’s good advice for navigating cultural rapids as well.
According to the latest research by the Barna Group in partnership with Impact 360 Institute, current teenagers “a.k.a” (Generation Z) are the least Christian generation to date (with only 4 percent having a biblical worldview).
As you move towards graduating from high school and navigating through your college years, you need to recognize that our culture and your campus do not share vital Christian assumptions about things like truth, God or morality—just to name a few.
There are some harmful ideas hiding just beneath the surface that you need to be on the lookout for during this season of life. As you follow Jesus on campus in a post-Christian culture, you need to steer clear of three dangerous assumptions: scientism, relativism and tribalism. Why?
Scientism will steal your confidence as a Christ-follower. Relativism will erode your pursuit of becoming more like Jesus and the mission He has called us all to. Tribalism will just make you angry and bitter. Let me explain.
1. Scientism and Why It’s a Dangerous Assumption
Scientism is the idea that science is the only (or at least best) way of knowing the truth about reality. Basically, if you can’t prove something scientifically, then you can’t know it. If accepted, this assumption will undermine confidence in our knowledge of God because it removes Christianity from reason and banishes it to the domain of opinions and preferences.
To clarify, Christians think science is wonderful because it explores the physical universe God created. But it can’t explain everything, nor was it ever designed to.
Not only is scientism self-refuting (this view is not something you could prove in a laboratory and therefore would not be able to be known either), but it also eliminates our ability to know moral or spiritual truth because they can’t be studied in a laboratory or empirically verified with the five senses. That’s a serious liability! The solution for scientism is to recognize that while we can have knowledge about science, we can also have knowledge about historical, spiritual and moral reality too (Luke 1:1-4, 1 John 5:11-13, 2 Peter 1:5-8, Micah 6:8). Knowing why we believe, what we believe and how to live it out will help us navigate our culture’s current moral and spiritual confusion with clarity and confidence.
2. Relativism and Why It’s a Dangerous Assumption
Scientism lays the groundwork for our second dangerous assumption—relativism. Relativism is best captured by some of the popular slogans we hear every day:
“Follow your heart.”
“You do you.”
“That’s just true for you, but not for me.”
Pop culture disciples you to believe that how you “feel” determines what’s real. This inevitably leads to moral and spiritual confusion because the individual or the culture determines if something is good or evil. Relativism also has the fatal flaw of being unlivable. Stop and think about it. Is racism or human trafficking wrong only if you happen to personally believe it’s wrong? Of course not!
But this view can also have serious consequences for your life as a Christian. If relativism is true, it trivializes sin and removes peoples’ need for the gospel.
Jesus is no longer seen as the one true way to God, but only one of many ways (if you happen to be looking for a way to God at all). According to the book “Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation,” 58 percent of teens today agree with the statement, “Many religions can lead to eternal life; there is no ‘one true religion.’”
Relativism undermines evangelism and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Another recent Barna Group study revealed that almost half of practicing Christian millennials say evangelism is wrong.
Yep, you read that right. An astonishing 47 percent think that it is “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith” (Barna Group, 2019).
Let that sink in.
Are people going to risk a relationship to have uncomfortable conversations with friends and family about the gospel if it ultimately doesn’t matter or all roads lead to God in the end? After all, who are we to judge? This common misconception is everywhere.
Relativism also undermines our pursuit of holiness. Becoming more like Christ in our words, actions and character is a central part of being a disciple of Jesus. That means repentance and obedience to what God has revealed in the Bible are essential to our spiritual growth and maturity.
The solution for relativism is recognizing that moral and spiritual truth exist, and you can know it. Our culture may be confused but Jesus is clear—“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6) and “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Don’t fall for the lie that just because you believe something, that makes it true. Physical reality doesn’t adjust to us, we adjust to it. In the same way, moral and spiritual reality exist independently of what we happen to personally believe. Sincerity isn’t enough because all of us know we can be sincerely wrong. The assumption of relativism leads to disastrous consequences for individuals and cultures and we are seeing that play out in front of us every day.
3. Tribalism and Why It’s a Dangerous Assumption
At its core, tribalism is an “us vs. them” mindset. Fill in the blank for whatever group is the “us” and which is the “them.” Our culture doesn’t care as much right now about what is true, just who has power.
Tribalism first asks if you agree with “us.” If yes, great! If not, you either need to get out of the way or we’ll run you over. Say something too unpopular and we will try to discredit and destroy you publicly.
Unleash the Twitter mobs! Conformity and agreement must be achieved. Behold the tyranny of tolerance in action.
Our culture of outrage is not good. This mindset is the natural consequence of our 24/7 social media and entertainment-based news cycle designed to get ratings. Echo chambers increase where we only hear ideas friendly to “us” and more enemies are made of “them.”
Tribalism is at odds with a biblical view of reality. The solution to tribalism is to recognize that everyone is made in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect (Genesis 1:27).
Bad ideas need to be undermined and argued against. And also, people need to be treated with respect (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, 1 Peter 3:15). Both of these can be true. Jesus called us toward unity in Christ and for us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Reconciliation, not retaliation, must be our goal. And we desperately need God’s empowering grace and the Holy Spirit to live this out. Yes, the challenges on campus are significant but so are the opportunities. Lean confidently into spiritual and moral knowledge as you navigate life, resist the impulse to relativism so rampant today, and don’t fall victim to the “us vs. them” thinking tearing so many people apart. In doing so you will stand out as a light in the darkness.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
“Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey” by Jonathan Morrow
“The Apologetics Study Bible for Students” edited by Sean McDowell
“Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism is Wrong” by Barna Group, 2019
“Gen Z: The Culture. Beliefs and Motivations Shaping The Next Generation” by Barna Group
“Your Worldview Minute with Jonathan Morrow” by Jonathan Morrow
Jonathan is the author of “Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey” and is a national speaker on biblical world view, apologetics and culture. He is passionate about helping the next generation build a lasting faith. Connect online at jonathanmorrow.org.