The End of Christian America

Mark 6:14–20 NRSV

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your ­brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

Consider This

There are only two stories. There is the story of the kingdom of God and the story of the world. In the story of the kingdom of God, Jesus is everything and the only thing. In the story of the world, Jesus is many things and he is nothing.

So far, Mark has pretty much given us the story of the kingdom of God. You remember how Mark began with John the Baptist and by verse 9, he’s introducing Jesus. Speaking of the kingdom story, remember Jesus’ first message and manifesto: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

From there Mark has taken us on a deep dive into the kingdom with Jesus, the King.

At the midpoint of chapter 6, Mark changes gears taking us out of the realm of the kingdom and into the story of the world. When it comes to Jesus, the people are all over the place. Despite his growing following, there seems to be a whole lot of people who are only marginally paying attention. To them, Jesus is a phenomenon. He’s a news story, a guru, a political leader, a trouble-maker. This group says one thing and that group says another. King Herod, haunted by his own heinous murder of the great prophet John, hears about Jesus and fears he is John raised from the dead.

The thing we need to keep at the forefront of our mind is until Jesus becomes the center of our devotion, he’s just another distraction. When Jesus becomes central in our life, the story of the world recedes into the background. When we seek his kingdom and righteousness, we happily discover how the world was always supposed to work. Until then, faith is something we salute, church is a place we go on Sunday (maybe), and life consists of doing everything in our power to make our own agendas work; building our own little kingdoms and generally justifying whatever seems right in our own eyes.

Over the past one hundred years or so, we’ve lived through a period of what I would call, “Christian America.” In Christian America, everyone was sort of a Christian. It was hard to tell where the world left off and the church began, so seamless was their relationship. Our money didn’t say “Caesar.” It claimed we trusted in God. We pledged allegiance to a flag while declaring our nation was “under God.” The story of the kingdom of the world as we knew it seemed right down the middle of the fairway of the story of the kingdom of God.

In case you missed the memo, “Christian America” is over. Actually, it’s been over for some time now. It’s just getting more and more painfully obvious. We now move into an era where we can go in one of three directions: (1) We can do everything in our power to rise up and take back “Christian America”; to try and find our way back to that mythical age when so many saw the kingdom vision and the American dream as two sides of the same coin (i.e., Ten Commandments on the courthouse walls, prayer in schools, and more than just Chick-fil-A closed on Sunday). (2) We can humble ourselves, pledge our allegiance solely to King Jesus, and do everything we possibly can to be the real church in America. We can recognize it’s our calling to declare and demonstrate the beautifully distinctive kingdom of God rather than delegating it to the government, whose calling is to regulate the story of the world according to the will of the world’s people. (3) We can go with the flow, celebrating a freedom with no fences, confusing the lines between liberty and love, and otherwise baptizing the will of the world in the name of God.

Blaise Pascal may have said it best in his unpublished Penses when he wrote, “We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us from seeing it.”

Well-meaning, good-hearted Christians will go down each of these paths. So which way will you go?

There are three paths here, but only two stories: the story of the kingdom and the story of the world.

The Prayer

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

The Questions

  • How do you assess the three options? Is there a fourth?