Christianity in the 21st century: Christ and Crisis

In a little book entitled Christ and Crisis written in 1962, Dr. Charles Malik, the former president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, wrote:[1]

There are three unpardonable sins today: to be flippant or superficial in the analysis of the world situation; to live and act as though halfhearted measures would avail; and to lack the moral courage to rise to the historic occasion. To err intellectually, to be sloppy and slothful in one’s mode of living, and, for any reason, to play the coward—these can easily doom Western civilization, either through some sudden world cataclysm, or through the slow decay and death that comes from the paralysis of fear.

Malik believed that there was a crisis of his age that must be addressed so that there would be a viable Christian voice (to speak into culture) and Christian conscience (to give shape to culture). What was the crisis of the age, according to Malik (writing in 1962):[2]

The situation resolves itself into four interacting dimensions: (1) there is the challenge of international Communism; (2) there is the challenge of the rising nations and peoples; (3) there are serious internal challenges and problems in the West itself; and (4) there is the formidable challenge of the technological revolution.

As it turns out, Malik’s identification of these four challenges to culture at the end of the 20th century were remarkably prophetic—of course, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the USSR, we no longer view communism as one of the great challenges of our day (although it still has a stronghold on nearly a billion people in China).

This raises a question in my mind. What are the challenges of the age as we enter the 21st century? What are the crises of the age that, if not addressed, will mute the Christian voice and stifle the Christian conscience?

Without much commentary, I offer the following as some of the unique challenges facing Christianity in the 21st century:

1. The Juvenilization of our culture (and the church)—for the first time in history, culture is full of 30, 40, 50+ year old adolescence. As a culture, there is “an aversion to growing up.” The result is that our Christianity threatens to become self-centered instead of God-centered. See the discussion by the Sociologist Christian Smith and his finding that the pattern of religious belief of our youth is best described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

2. Moral confusion and “Men without Chests”—we no longer know how to think well about things that matter most, including moral issues. As a culture (and often, a church), we are guided more by feelings that right thinking. In such a milieu, we don’t love the right things or detest that which is detestable.

3. The Rise of Apatheism about God—in the 21st century, it seems that apathy is the new cardinal virtue (perhaps doubt was the cardinal virtue of the secular 20th century?). And our apathy extends to ultimate concerns regarding God. In teaching philosophy, I have found students are convinced by arguments that God does in fact exists, but this realization is coupled with a shrug of the shoulders.

4. The sexual saturation of culture—pornography is the new omnipresent reality of the 21st century—(my kids recently stumble on it doing a class report on the mating habits of frogs), sexual orientation as well as traditional views on the family are constantly being challenged, 5th graders at school talk about “hooking up” (even if they don’t really know what this means), and we are a culture “fixed on the stream of experience” (as the Senior Devil encouraged the junior Devil to do to his “patients” in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters).

5. Worldwide Islamic Growth—Islam is the 2nd largest religion on the planet, claiming approximately 1.6 billion adherents. Future trends show that Islam will be a major force in the 21st century—and Islam is at a crossroads: will it take the highway of violence and world-wide dominance or a more moderate course of peace and coexistence?

What do you think? What will be the major challenges of the 21st century? What will be the major challenges to Christianity in the 21st century?

What does Christ have to say to these challenges of the 21st century? Answer: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)









[1] Charles Malik, Christ and Crisis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), 1.

[2] Ibid., 2.

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