Mark Sayers: Is Post-Christian America Too Far Gone?

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This is a podcast episode titled, Mark Sayers: Is Post-Christian America Too Far Gone?. The summary for this episode is: <p>Is America in the middle of renewal right now? Or is our post-Christian culture too far gone? Today's guest, Mark Sayers, joins <a href="https://twitter.com/patrickkmiller_" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Patrick</a> to discuss these very questions. Mark, an author and church leader in Melbourne, Australia, shares how secular myths have led to a culture that's replaced religion with politics. Hear as he also shares his thoughts on the Metaverse, Christianity within Gen-Z, and how he believes God is still setting the stage for renewal. Listen now!</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Ok, truth time... Did you like this episode?</strong> Tell us by leaving a rating or review! 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 If you did, you won't want to miss what's next (so subscribe now!). And help a friend by sharing this with them. Thank you! πŸ™</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Plus, the conversation is just beginning! </strong>Follow us on <a href="https://twitter.com/truthovertribe_" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ChooseTruthOverTribe" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Facebook</a>, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/accounts/login/?next=/truthovertribe_/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Instagram</a> to join in on the dialogue! <strong>Want to learn more about Truth Over Tribe?</strong> Visit our <a href="https://info.choosetruthovertribe.com/subscribe?utm_campaign=TOT%20Campaign%203B&amp;utm_source=Show%20Notes%20" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">website</a> and subscribe to our weekly <a href="https://choosetruthovertribe.com/?utm_campaign=TOT%20Campaign%203B&amp;utm_source=Show%20Notes%20-%20website" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">newsletter</a>.</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Resources:</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0143VU64Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience</a></p><p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07P17JH2P/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture</a></p><p><a href="http://info.choosetruthovertribe.com/blog_subscription" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Subscribe To Our Blog</a></p><p><a href="http://info.choosetruthovertribe.com/how-tribal-are-you" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">How Tribal Are You?</a></p>
"Metachurch in the metaverse" - Marks thoughts on the metaverse
03:18 MIN
What is the secular myth of progress in this era of fulfillment
02:19 MIN
"God is setting the stage for renewal" - Mark explains
02:11 MIN
Why do Christians find deconstruction appealing?
02:51 MIN
Gen-Z and The Church
05:56 MIN

Keith Simon: Are you tired of tribalism?

Speaker 2: I think a lot of what the left supports is Satanic.

Speaker 5: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.

Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?

Speaker 2: If they don't like it here, they can leave.

Hillary Clinton: You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the Basket of Deplorables.

Keith Simon: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?

Speaker 2: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican Party? And the answer is absolutely not.

Speaker 7: From certainly a Biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote Democratic.

Patrick Miller: We trust the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant.

Keith Simon: This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals.

Patrick Miller: I'm Patrick Miller.

Keith Simon: And I'm Keith Simon. And we choose truth over tribe.

Patrick Miller: Do you? I am by nature, a hopeful person, but the last few years have not given me much to hope about. We are in the midst of one of the greatest religious shifts in American history. And for the first time it's not towards Christianity, it's away from it. Churches are shuttering their doors, people are leaving their faith. And so maybe he's a hopeless idealist, maybe he doesn't know what he's talking about, but today's guest, Mark Sayers, believes that we might actually be in the midst of renewal. We're going to talk about our American context, but also a worldwide context. What is God doing to renew his church right now? And how can you be a part of that? Mark, thanks so much for being on the show today.

Mark Sayers: Oh, it's my absolute pleasure.

Patrick Miller: So I have to ask you, two weeks ago, at least as of this recording, it'll be a bit in the past by the time the episode comes out, but Facebook announced that it's changing its name or it's holding company's name to Meta. And they created a hour and a half long sales pitch explaining to everyone how awesome and glorious the metaverse is going to be. So here's my question. Are you excited to go to metachurch in the metaverse?

Mark Sayers: Yeah, it's a great question. It's a fascinating moment. And yeah, I'd been reading a little bit about the metaverse coming. So I think I wasn't taken as much by surprise as perhaps some other people because I've been sort of pre- thinking it. And I think, yeah, there's so much we could talk about the metaverse. I think in some ways, what I'm interested about too is what's the story behind the metaverse? That's one of my great questions. What's the story? And often stories are submerged in our culture, so something will present, you'll be like," Ah, it's a cool new shiny thing." But what's the story is hidden within it? And I think very much the story behind the metaverse is this place where I think two things intersect. One is the idea of fantasy, and I'm a big believer that fantasy is increasingly becoming part of our culture and our reality. That's already been happening. Metaverse is a way of fast forwarding that. And then I think, secondly, it's a place where fantasy is also about not being bound by anything. And so in a metaverse it promises people that you can be anything, define yourself in any way, have any experience. But also I think it's for companies, this is my cynical side, I think it's also particularly tech has been starting to question their power. And that's happened before in history. You think of the Railroad Barrons in the 19th century, in the US and then the government had to pull them back because their power over democracy. So I sort of feel like in some ways is the metaverse and escape to beyond governments, where you'll have this Blade Runner future of these giant companies running everything. So that's my quick take. I also think it all always ends up different than what anyone thinks. So I did read a tweet this morning where they said when the metaverse is fully... Something like the airport evacuation in Kabul, you won't just be watching the video, you'll be there literally experiencing it. You'll be able to go on the tarmac, running with the plane, which you think how that's going to change politics. If video and social media changed politics, the metaverse... And there'll be multiple metaverses, there's going to be already the Chinese government is writing policy papers on how they can counter the US metaverse, they'll be competitive. So yeah, it's going to be a wild ride.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. You're not the only cynical one as all these revelations came out about Facebook and how it's negatively impacting, especially teenage girls, but also just civil discourse in general. And then a month later," We're changing our name and how cool is this new thing that we're..." Are these two things going together for a reason? But I think you make another interesting point there, which is that secularism has really disenchanted us. We've lost our sense of enchantment and there is this possibility in the metaverse to reclaim it. Which makes me ask the question, I mean, why do you think we want enchantment so badly?

Mark Sayers: Yeah. I think there's a sense where we want a bigger story. I think the reenactment is already happening. It's happening in different places. But I think one thing I've really realized, particularly I think the pandemic has shown this, is the way that secularism looks different in different places, and I think how we've responded to the pandemic has shown that. So in the US, a lot of people talk about secularism, but I think really a lot of it is actually re- enchantment. So people talk about politics as the new religion and there's this sense of a religious fervor around everything, which you don't experience in the same way in Australia or parts of Europe. So I think that you look at anything from say Q Anon to the push back against science and rationality that you see. I think that we're all ready to sort of fall back into a re-enchantment is already happening. I think that's where fantasy is fantasy, secularized re- enchantment.

Patrick Miller: I hadn't thought about Q Anon that way, but it is kind of this apocalyptic end of the world scenario with the expectation that some savior is going to come along who can rescue us from our current situation. But it's interesting to me that you compare the politics of religion to enchantment. How do you associate those two?

Mark Sayers: Yeah. I think Eric Vogelin talked about that politics can step in for religion. There's a sense where you want a messianic leader. You want a tribe to be part of. You want to know who is the good guys, who are the bad guys. You want a greater sense of purpose. You want a story which tells you where history is going. And I think here in Australia, which is more secular around religion, but we're also more secular around politics. I think a lot of the tribalism that you've seen in the US, you don't see here, it has a little bit of an effect, but it's more through the incident, whereas we're just skeptical about all politicians. So you don't see rallies in Australia where you'll have the Republican Convention, all that. You just don't see that in Australia, because people are just a lot more cynical. We want our politicians to just make stuff run well. But I think you're seeing around the world this return to politics and it's happening in Europe and people are trying to do it in other places where they're looking for politics to take the place of religion. So it's a way of re- enchanting the world with a bigger purpose.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. That's interesting. I hadn't really realized that this religion of politics that we are experiencing so fervently here in the United States, that that's not happening in places like Australia or you mentioned Europe. And I'm really intrigued, I mean, I kind of want your take, this is a hard thing to guess about, but what do you think happens in 2024 when evangelicals are probably at loggerheads again, politically, and we have primaries and elections happening. Do you think it's going to look different? Do you think we're going to see an escalation of this political religion? Or do you think there's going to be something else that happens?

Mark Sayers: I think you're going to see it's going to continue, but it's going to morph. So I think polarization is a step on the way to fragmentation, and already you're seeing this. The Democrats are split. Increasingly people are talking about the moderates and the progressives. You've got the Republicans are split. You've got the derogatory term of RINOs, Republican and name only. And even on the sort of Trumpian side, you've got different people vying. But you can have a post Trumpism, which is like a more Christian nationalist. You've got libertarian, social conservatives. You've got all these- isms, I'm throwing out here, but I think you've moved to fragmentation. And I think you almost get more of like what happened in the Balkans or Yugoslavia after you had one sort of big story, which was when Yugoslavia was under communism, and then it sort of broke into these different ethnic and political enclaves. So, that's the worst case scenario. I don't want that to happen, but I keep seeing trends where it seems to be I think moving towards that.

Patrick Miller: I know that I feel, and that fracturing is not just happening politically. It's happening inside of the... I mean it's happening inside of evangelicalism in America, but it's happening in the church even more broadly. We're seeing people fracture into different groups. And the reasons why people are leaving churches today look very, very different than they did even five years ago. I mean, I'm a pastor. And so I've kind of watched this evolution and it's been a little bit disorienting. Five years ago, someone would say," Hey, we don't want to go to your church because you practice infant baptism." Or," We don't like your views about God's sovereignty," or something like predestinate. Those were the topics that people are going to get into arguments over. And now it is almost entirely" Well, what do you think about vaccines? What do you think about masks? What do you think about CRT? What do you think about..." That's going to be the defining feature of whether or not I go to your church. And there's no winning. Right? Because whatever you say is going to get a different group of people angry and elevated with you.

Mark Sayers: And I think this is where there's a struggling for consensus. I think we've gone through this period where there was almost this value of," let's all agree to disagree." Almost this very soft relativism where your truth and my truth," Hey, let's just all get along and have coffee." But at some point in the real world, these things break in. Lesslie Newbigin is someone who's influenced me, he talked about what he saw happening in Western culture is this breakdown between facts and values. So we made all these things values like," Oh, you have this value of this. I have a value of that." But there's a point where we're actually going back to what the world has always been, which is facts. It's not like you were a mask, I don't wear a mask. Or you get a vaccinate, I don't get a vaccine. These things are actually cut into real world consequences. So I think we have discovered that the way we've set up our churches finds it really hard to deal with that. Again too, this is because in the US these things were politicized in ways that they weren't in other countries. It's interesting is Canberra, our capital, is about to hit 99% vaccinated, we'll probably get 94 here. You think countries like Portugal are running out of people to vaccinate. So this hasn't happened everywhere. I think what happens is in the US, you've got full blown political warfare. I saw a joke on Twitter where someone said," If an asteroid was heading towards the world about to destroy it, it would be politicized."

Patrick Miller: It is so true.

Mark Sayers: It'd be the liberal or conservative asteroid. So I think that's partially what's happened in the US. I look at some of the cultural wars and I see people at church, what's going on with the church, I actually see that actually really a lot of people are pawns in a bigger political game.

Patrick Miller: Absolutely. And again, I had a feeling that I'm experiencing that every single day on the ground. It's funny, I'm a child of the'90s. And so I very much so grew up, at least in pop culture, with this world you were describing of a live, let live mentality. You do you, I'll do me. You have your opinion, I'll have my opinion. I was a kid, so I was little. And it feels like I'm living in the hangover. It's like we drank the Kool- Aid and we got kind of drunk on it and now the next day we've all got a headache and we're angry because whatever that was, it didn't work. It's not functioning, and we want truth, and we do want justice. But we lost our ability to know what those things are in the middle of that period where we were completely ethically unmoored. So you're hitting a nerve with me right now on this topic. I want to change topics somewhat, and it's related to this, but right now there've been studies that have been coming out that seems to be showing that in America at least, we are going through one of the biggest religious shifts in American history right now. People are leaving churches at record rates and the children of de- church people will end up being unchurched people in the long run. And there's a lot of people out there here saying," Well, we all knew this was going to happen because that's exactly what the secular prophets all prophesied." This day was coming for America one day. And so I kind of want to start there. What is the secular myth of progress that we seem to kind of be living in the era of fulfillment of right now?

Mark Sayers: Well, again, going back to what I spoke about before about stories, what are the big stories that are under all these things that we talk about? And the story of progress is one of them. So really this is this idea that history will move towards a better end. Now if you look at other cultures and you look at cultures in the east or different places, it's circular. History just keeps repeating. There's a book by Thomas Cahill, Gifts of the Jews, and what he talks about is that the biblical world view brought into the world this idea now history can actually go in a line. The future doesn't have to be like yesterday, and there can be a better future. And God has intervened history to take us to a better place. And really what you see is in many ways, what Western thought is, is a secularization of that biblical concept. And you see that in a left and right wing version. You can see a left wing version where people are perfectable and you can do the right things to society and people educate them and sin, if you like, or brokenness will disappear from the world and we're going to arrive at a much better future. There's a right wing version of that. Interestingly, the older right wing version was more like people are actually broken, you need a strong government to stop them doing that. And the king-

Patrick Miller: Like old, old conservatism.

Mark Sayers: Yeah. Or Commonwealth Conservatism, such as where I'm from. One argument could be made that the real conservatives went north to Canada and escaped to Australia or places like this. So you have this older idea of conservatism that you need a king, you need aristocracy to keep us restrained from our evil vices. But then you have another more contemporary conservative thing, which is, well, people need to just be free from these things stopping them. They need to be able to freely be in the market. They need to have personal freedom. And then once you do that, once you get rid of all these things, the government that are stopping us, then we'll get to this perfect future. That story I think is falling apart. That's partially the shock that you're experiencing is us seeing that that's not happening. Now you look at what happened after 9- 11, there was the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. And it was these pieces were going to become these wonderful Western style democracies in the middle east and lead others. And it was a disastrous war. The evacuation from Kabul, I think, was the sign of that. And we're seeing that around everything. The pandemic is a huge shock because it's the return of nature. It's the return of a world which we thought we'd gotten past where humans are actually more vulnerable than we realized. And I think environment's going to be even bigger. So mythology is starting to be deconstructed. Yeah. That's I think what's going on.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. It's interesting. The right leaning version of that, the kind of capitalist utopia, free market, free people to buy and live however they want to live. That seems to have really broken down. I mean, you just don't even hear Republicans talking like that anymore in the United States. And in its place, we have something different. We have this kind of proto nationalism populism. It hasn't even, I think, quite figured out what it is yet. Whereas on the left, it doesn't seem yet as though that half has broken down. I mean, there still seems a lot of hope and there seems like there's a lot of aspirations that yes, if we can just change how we educate people, if we can just change how the system works, we're on the path to utopia. So I'm curious, but this kind of proto nationalism thing that seems to be happening, how does that fit into the secular myth?

Mark Sayers: Yeah. Well, part of that, it's about what is the utopia? So for a while, particularly after 1989, when you had the fall of communism, the utopia was the globe, and it was internationalism or globalization. That borders will fall, we'll all move to this perfect world, we can fly in cheap jets around the world and everyone will get to know each other and eat different food and it's all going to be wonderful. All that's happened is the utopia shrunk down. We've gone," Hang on, the world's actually more chaotic. It's harder to control than we thought. So we'll make the utopia the nation. We'll just put a border around that, keep the world's problems out." And so it's essentially the same vision. It's just a shrunk version of it.

Patrick Miller: Yeah, it's fascinating you framed it that way because that is one area I see a profound union between the left and the right today, which is what you just described. We don't need to be concerned about international affairs. We need to deal with our affairs at home, and that's where we're focused. As a millennial, I've kind of lived through the 9- 11 era where we were very interested in the middle east. And again, I mean, it's off the map almost entirely. I mean, you have people on both the left and the right saying," Yeah, we should be getting out of Afghanistan. What happened in Kabul was tragic, but this was the right decision." One thing you've said in your books, and I've heard you say on podcast countless times, is that you think God is setting the stage for a renewal. And I feel a lot of dissonance sometimes, whatever you describe, I want it to be true, but I feel dissonance because it doesn't always add up with my experience right now. I'm curious. I mean, first of all, maybe define what renewal is and then explain why you've said that so widely.

Mark Sayers: Yeah. So I would describe a renewal, it's a bit of a catch all phrase. Some people may have used revival, awakening, and renewals can be big or small. But essentially you look at history, there's these particular moments when everyone is completely dismayed.

Patrick Miller: Sounds like today.

Mark Sayers: So just before John Wesley's renewal, in the 18th century it did not look good. You had secularism in the 18th century, you had people like Diderot and Voltaire who were declaring that God was gone. The educated seemed to be giving up on faith. England had gone through a wide ranging period of polarization between Republicans and the monarchy and so on. Morals seemed to be out the window. And I think there was one, just before Wesley's renewal, there was one Easter service at St. Paul's Cathedral where like six people turned up. So it was bad. I think we had this myth that history was always Christian and then it's just been slowly dropping off. It's more like a rollercoaster. The world was globalizing, there was issues of race across to the world, slavery, all this was happening, poverty, rich and poor, urbanization. And in the midst of this, God does this incredible thing through some really weird and wonderful people. And often it's from the margins. The Wesleyan Revival that happened wasn't the rich always, there was a couple of people who were in the upper class, but it was often slaves in the Caribbean. It was poor Irish people in Australia. It was the working class in the United Kingdom. So what I began to realize when I studied church history is it's always at the moments when everyone's freaking out and going,"This is a nightmare," that actually that's the moment God turns things around. Am I saying that's going to happen tomorrow? No, it may not. But I'm saying it tends to happen when a lot of idols are smashed and particularly the church needs to be whittled down away from cultural Christianity. A lot of the cultural Christianity that you saw, particularly in Europe, had disappeared. And then you get down to this sort of remnant and there's this new moment. And I think that's what's happening. So a lot of what's happened in the US around deconstructionism and people leaving and stuff like that, that happened here 20 years ago. The church got a lot smaller. I lost almost all my peers. That happened to me years ago. And there's life beyond it. And what you find is the people who you're traveling with are often the people who actually really believe it. It's a lot easier to be honest, when you got a room for the people who are there because they actually want to be there.

Patrick Miller: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, it does feel like everybody's freaking out and we are in a cultural moment where everything does seem to be fracturing and breaking apart. And maybe that fits your exact description of the moments where God chooses to renew us, to bring about a revival, a restoration. But what's striking to me is that it's hitting different generations differently. So, and again, my context is the US. I wish I was a more global thinker, but I'll only speak about what I know. And I'll start with Baby Boomers. We've actually been doing a series on Truth Over Tribe where we've talked about the kind of rise and fall of the religious right in the United States. And we start that story with what was really the high watermark in American history of church attendance, 69% of people in churches by the end of the'50s. And then we've traced that through Evangelicalism's cultural and political ascendancy in the'70s and the early'80s all the way up to today. And a lot of Christian baby boomers I know, they feel right now like a beleaguered, defeated minority. They saw the glory days, but they're no longer living in the glory days. And there's a deep sense of nostalgia for people in this camp. And so I want to start with a question, I don't want to be too pointed, but do you think that there's dangers to nostalgia?

Mark Sayers: Summers of the past always seemed more golden, and I think it's not accurate. And I can look back at periods in the past, and then I think," Oh, hang on. I know..." Actually was thinking about a period in the past recently, I was doing some cleaning, I found an old journal and I was reading like, oh my goodness, I was miserable at that time. There's two really intersecting things I see in the US experience. What were the 1950s? So there is a truth that, yes, there was a high point of the church. That was also true in the United Kingdom. There's that book, I forgot what it's called, The Death of Christian Britain, which makes a similar argument. And I've seen similar things around Australia and New Zealand, particularly after the shock of World War II, there was a period where there seemed to be this sort of nesting and people wanting to come back to church. However, I think also what's happening in the US, you don't feel that nostalgia the same way here and I don't see it in Britain in the same way. But I think also that was the high point of the American century. That was the actual point where the American century was at its height. And so what's happening in the US is two things. Yes, there is a thing where the church is going through this moment, but the US is going through a moment. You have a genuine competitor now in China and we're turning to a flatter world. So it's gone from a unipolar world where America's the number one superpower. So I think people are confusing that with also the church experience. And again, you look back to the 1950s, there are books, like I wrote a book on Jack Kerouac, he was an American writer, and things were pulling apart in the 1950s. There's a bit of a myth that it comes in the 1960s. There's a number of academics who have actually said, if you look at things that around sex, morality, what happened in the'60s, it was already set in the'50s. So I think there can be a nostalgia, and it wasn't nostalgia for everyone. You look at certain ethnic groups and racial groups, it was not nostalgia for everyone. So there were nice things about it. But I think also, yeah, the sentimentalism can lead us astray sometimes.

Patrick Miller: So what would you say to Christians who do feel defeated, beleaguered, minority?

Mark Sayers: Welcome to the starting point. The last trip I took overseas, just as literally the pandemic was starting, I was presenting as part of Barna's Connected Generation Report. And I presented in Malaysia. Basically the study looked at, I'm hugely summarizing, but who are cultural Christians, who are inaudible disciples? The worst thing is a lot of people in certain churches, they're sitting in your pew, but actually their worldview is not biblical. The inaudible disciples are those who are biblical in how they view the world. Now what's really interesting is again, it showed you the differences in the west. It also showed you the differences outside of the west. Often we have this sort of simplistic thing that, oh, everyone in the east is pushing in. Taiwan, not a huge church. Taiwan looking very similar to what's happening in some secular cultures. But I was in Malaysia. I was in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia, for people who don't know, is a country where you've got a Malayan majority who are Muslim, and you've got a Chinese and Indian minority. And many of the Chinese are Christian, not all. So you've got churches where the dominant culture is Islamic. Is it outright persecution? No, you can still have church. You can still do stuff, but there's a cultural pressure. You can't convert Malays. A Sikh can convert, a Buddhist, and a Christian can convert a Jew, but no one can convert a Muslim. But what's interesting is Malaysia had one of the highest ratings of inaudible disciples. And I found that fascinating. Right? Because it's not comfortable. And there is cultural pressure. And everyone there knows that they're a minority, that the church is a minority. Now it's not like a North Korea where they're absolutely being crushed. So actually the place where you're a minority, you have cultural pressure on you, you still have some freedoms, is actually one of the healthiest places for the church to then be renewed. So where the United States is going is actually to a really good renewal place. Is it comfortable? No. Is it going to suck? Probably. But that's actually the place you want to be. What is the worst place? When everyone's comfortable and you've got a room of consumer Christians who don't really believe it and you fall into this codependent cycle with them where you are just trying to provide their needs and you're not actually discipling.

Patrick Miller: That's really good. It seems like I said, it's hitting boomers one way. I'm a millennial, and it seems like it's hitting millennials in a totally different way. Most of my peers who aren't Christians, or are Christians, are incredibly, incredibly not just cynical about the past, but also cynical about all of the institutions around them. And I'm willing to admit, for some of these people that's rooted in real hurt and sometimes trauma and abuse that they've experienced. But for many others, it's just rooted in social media, a portrayal of the church. And then so as a result, I'm seeing a lot of people who are beginning to deconstruct their faith. But what strikes me is that this is radically different than what I saw happening even 10 years ago, when someone would read A New Atheist and they'd explain it to me." I've read Sam Harris, I don't believe in the sky fairy anymore. So see you later." The deconstruction crowd seemed less interested in destroying, more interested in doubting. It seems like they more so don't want to raise Christianity to the ground, they want to disassemble it, and then in some cases, try to build it back together in a different way. They're cynical on the one hand, and yet they're also these romantic, idealistic, utopians who want this progressive utopia. And so I just threw out a lot there. I'm curious whether you agree, whether you inaudible some of the ideas I have and maybe just explore why you think people, or if you think people, are leaving for significantly different reasons today than they did even 10, 15 years ago.

Mark Sayers: So I think going back, we saw some of this here in Australia, in the United Kingdom, there were these discussions sort of 15, 20 years ago. And you saw some of that. We don't want to burn it to the ground, but we want to create... There was the post evangelical movement and everything's like this, and there was the alt worship movement. You saw some of that where people tried to create this new space which wasn't liberal, it wasn't conservative. My reading of that is most of those people then either end up becoming pretty much mainline liberals or left. Many just left. So it was a longer process and very few managed to pull that off. Now, does that mean it's going to happen in the US in the same way? I'm not sure. I do think that the actual nuances also in the US is that the church in the US is far more wedded to a conservative political position. But then also if you look at the mainline church, in many ways both the wings of the church have influenced the culture in a powerful way. So, you guys have done a series on the religious right, but what's really fascinating, if you went to a mainline church in San Francisco or New York 15 years ago, they were ahead of the curve in a lot of the cultural language, particularly for want of a better term, the work left or whatever. So in many ways, the church has actually been ahead of the culture in some of this stuff in the US. So really you've got people I think switching from one side to the other. So I think these giant containers in the US have such... It's like the Death Star's tractor beam. They can pull people in to either side. So I think it's more you're seeing people flipping from one side to the other. Again, too, part of it is I'm an Australian evangelical. I never grew up feeling I had to vote for either side politically. My parents were swing voters. I grew up around evangelicals, who in Australia, of the British stream and from the American stream, so you had both sides. It was normal to vote for the Labor Party if you're an evangelical. Overwhelmingly evangelicals in Australia I know would be against guns. We have massive gun control. There's not the division over the pandemic in the same way. There's these things that I never grew up with, which I haven't had to deconstruct. And I don't feel forced into a inaudible politically. But I can see people if you're growing up a certain places in the US where you've had all these extra barnacles sort of stuck to the hull and you're pulling that off, that's going to be a difficult thing because what's the hull and whats the barnacles. I've been to places in the US, and pardon me inaudible, man, if I was here and this was Christianity... In Australia, I'd rarely ever see an Australian flag in a church sense. That would be seen as suspicious by evangelicals across the board. Now I'm not saying we're perfect, we've got our own faults and you could do a whole podcast in Australia's faults. But I think that part of this is also a political reality that the whole of the US is going through. One thing I found absolutely fascinating in the last two years is I follow a lot of American Jews on Twitter. I follow American Muslims. You see Mormons. Everything that's been happening to evangelical church has been happening in all the other faiths. Seeing cultural war stuff breaking in the American Muslim community, it was one of my fascinating things I'd experienced and it mirrored so much of what was happening to evangelical space. So yeah, that's a lot of answers there.

Patrick Miller: It's actually, it gives me some hope and it's refreshing to hear and be reminded. Because I think as Americans in general, we can be a little bit... Not a little bit, a lot of bit self focused. And we have this notion that what's happening in our country is happening absolutely everywhere else. And what's happening inside of our churches is the way that it's going to happen in other churches. So it's incredibly refreshing to be reminded that if you just walk outside our borders, you're going to find churches where the culture wars, the base level political assumptions that you brought up, aren't present. And I mean, that's what I'm frankly hoping for on the other side of whatever's going to be after the next few years, is that kind of reality inside of churches where we can't assume that someone's going to be on the left or the right. And there isn't giant conflict happening inside of the pews over those exact issues. We'll be back to our episode really quick. Look, if you're enjoying the content in here, you want to sign up for our newsletter. We like to write little articles every week that are kind of based on our podcast, but they really take one idea that we don't spend a lot of time talking about and expand them, not to a super long article, but to an article you could read in 10 minutes and get a good little nugget out of that's going to help think about what's happening in our world in a more Jesus centered way. So make sure to go to choosetruthovertribe.com and subscribe to our newsletter. One element of the deconstruction thing that I've seen be really appealing to a lot of millennials is the ability to kind of create a bespoke Jesus. You're able to pick a version of discipleship. It's like a pick your own adventure discipleship. You can take in what you like, you can toss out or reframe what you dislike. You can accommodate your faith to whatever cultural vision you find the most resonance with personally. So why do you think so many Christians find that aspect of deconstruction appealing?

Mark Sayers: So how I see it is a house being built in my street. And the first thing they did was put the foundation. They came in, they conquered the foundation, and then they started putting different elements. There was the garage and then different room. I see the left and right thing as two different rooms. What's the foundation? Individualism, and a particular view of American individualism. I've stopped using the west as much because the pandemic showed how utterly different the west is. Australia and New Zealand responded to the pandemic completely differently to the US and the UK. We responded more like Asia. And Australians currently... Americans freaking out about what's happening in Australia. And so I couldn't for a lot of the pandemic go more than three miles from my home. What people don't realize is that was overwhelming. People in Australia were asking to be shut down. There was this communal response. So in crisis we actually became much more communal, which is fascinating. Denmark and Sweden, two Scandinavian countries, very similar inaudible are the Scandinavians. They responded completely differently to the pandemic. Different parts of Germany have responded differently. I think one thing the pandemic has found, at least inaudible the west, I think it obscures more than it actually reveals. What we had Americans saying to Australia during the pandemics," Are you giving up all your freedoms?" And we're like,"But we actually see this differently. We will put up with two years of rubbish living because we want to get a high vaccination rate so we can go back to living well." And so our idea of freedom is completely different. So even guns, let me give this example, I've been to speak churches in the US and I started noticing," Hang on there's guns at the back." And I'm like saying to one of my inaudible, " They're not security are they?" They're like, " Yeah, this is security." I'm like, " Hang on. What?" And like, " Yeah, we have to have volunteers who maybe armed." To me that was shocking. I have the freedom in Australia not to have that. And so that gun thing, people say, " We have the freedom to have guns." I would say as an Australian, because of our laws, I have the freedom not to be in fear that when I send my kids to school, there's going to be a school shooting. So again, all this is different. So what I would say is the bespoke thing, whether you are reconstructing your faith in a more Christian nationalist way, whether you are reconstructing your faith in a more, inverted commas, woke way, whatever the underwhelming... No one is really looking at is the American worldview of radical individualism, where the individual is the ultimate authority who can make all this stuff up. I've listened to a Chinese history podcast and there was a young woman who just said something like this quote," My life means absolutely nothing. I am simply a cog in a giant machine. That is my purpose." And there are people in the world who do not think about individuals. And we struggle to get our heads around this because we've come from a culture which has that tradition. But I think underneath this, people need to go beyond the left and right thing and ask the question. What if individualism is actually being subverted at the moment and how do we biblically deal with that?

Patrick Miller: Yeah. I mean, Christians in America have become so deeply entangled with individualism that I think for many people, we don't even know what a Christianity that's not highly individualistic, we don't know what it looks like. I mean, this goes back to the'50s and how we frame salvation as personal salvation, you get to personally go to heaven. All the way up to today like we're talking about with bespoke religion. So if I'm a Christian, I say," Okay, I hear what you're saying." I get that the ground I'm standing on that's been laid beneath me is individualism. What are steps I can take to begin to actually resist that, to identify it, and to head in a different direction where I'm embracing both the fact that I am an individual made in God's image, and yet I am an individual deeply and thoroughly ingrained in a community, and that salvation isn't just for me alone? God saves the people.

Mark Sayers: I think the best thing we can do is to completely live in the world of the biblical story. And when we do that, what that will do is it will confront others because we'll go into the world and we're not going to fit into the culture because we're living a different story. But it also has blow back on us where it confronts the way that we've bought stories that are actually not part of the biblical story. And so for me, I'm continuing to ask the question, what are the submerged stories that I'm encountering here? What are the ones that I've bought into? And how do I live more fully the biblical story, which is the one true story? If you're a Christian, you believe that the biblical story of God's creating the world, inaudible a people, of moving history towards his ends, this breaking in in salvation history. That is the one true story. That is the lens through which to view all cultures and will subvert the cultures in it. I think that's what people do. What the left right thing is helping people do in an unhelpful way is it helps you see half the idols. If you're conservative, yeah, you can point out all the left wing, liberal idols. And are they idols? Yeah, probably most of them are. But you'll miss your right wing ones and vice versa, or other ones you may have. I can sit here and do podcasts and say," Oh, this is what's wrong in the US." But then I've also inaudible what's wrong in Australia? What's Melbourne got wrong? What's my life got wrong? I think the biblical story, in a sense, melds together skepticism and hope into this one thing. It's intensely skeptical of the sinful nature of human beings, of idols. And it's incredibly hopeful about God wanting to renew his people and move history toward his ends and the kingdom of God breaking out and Jesus' work on the cross. And I think what I see is happening, we're getting this the wrong way. We're becoming increasingly skeptical about the true things of faith that we need to be hopeful about. And we're putting too much hope in political, cultural things that we actually need to be really skeptical about.

Patrick Miller: That's powerful. And it actually reminds me that what people need in the church is actually others on the other side of the aisle, like what a gift it is if you're a conservative to have a progressive friend who can see your idols, name them, help you address them, repent of them, and then be renewed. And the other way around as well. I want to end our conversation by shifting, not to the last generation, but to gen Z. And it's funny, you were just saying a second ago that you don't like to talk about the West anymore because you're realizing there's different Wests. I feel the same way with generations. There feels to me as a millennial to be a massive generational divide between kind of the millennial to baby boomer group, and gen Z and double AA even, who are younger than them. Gen Z are, at least to my view, a part of a global monoculture that has its own vocabulary, its own value systems, and it's completely off the radar of most Christians. Again, even millennial Christians. And it seems increasingly difficult, at least from my view, for Christians to know how to break into that culture. And so while I know a lot of people want to start with the negatives of this globally, digitally connected generation, I'd actually rather start with the positives. Do you think that there's a possibility that there could be a global Christian network effect that actually reaches this generation worldwide?

Mark Sayers: I'm not sure.

Patrick Miller: Are we going to get skepticism and hope all at once?

Mark Sayers: I think the world is breaking into zones. I think we're moving out of this one world network. I think we're going to have a Chinese internet, we're going to have a Russian speaking internet, we're going to have an American internet, we're going to have an EU internet, we're going to have Pacific internet. So in a sense, I think that idea that they're all becoming the same. I live in a very Chinese area and you talk to young Chinese people, and I'm talking mainland Chinese people. We've got different... There's many different kinds of Chinese people. But particularly people who have come from mainland China, Chinese Gen Zed and Chinese young people are super optimistic about the world, they think the world's going in a fantastic direction, and they see that the future is theirs. It's fascinating. So partially what I see is that I think there's a tremendous diversity that's happening in the world. There are similar experiences. One, I think crucial experience is going to be the pandemic. My daughter is Gen Zed. I took my daughter to the supermarket when the pandemic was first hitting and the shelves... Was panic buying and people were grabbing stuff off the shelves. I never, ever in my formative years saw empty shelves in the supermarket. I just thought it would always be there if I wanted whatever, that cereal. They're growing up with disruption, they're growing up that school might not be on next week. I think what's really early to tell what's going to happen to Gen Zed. What I feel with generations is there's these dynamics that happen. So number one is the dynamics where we always wonder what they're going to be. They're like a fresh canvas. Then secondly, what happens is they begin to define themselves, and what we saw with the baby boomer thing is we're now seeing that Gen Zed is defining themselves against millennials. That's their big thing. They don't want to be millennials. And there's all these things now that you're seeing this, there's an article here in the paper about workplaces and too millennial designed and even their workspaces, and gen Z hate them and stuff like this. Also political, there are conservative gen Zed kids. There's one inaudible word woke. There's all kinds. There's Hindu nationalists gen Z kids. This is the hope. The hope is not in a cultural dynamic, as much as it is in a spiritual dynamic. That just as every kid raised in a Christian home has to make the choice to follow God, so it is with each generation. Will Gen Z turn to God completely? No, because millennials didn't, gen X didn't, boomers didn't, builders didn't, going right back. But in every generation, there is a possibility of a remnant. There is a brilliant remnant of millennial Christians in this world at this point in time. There's a brilliant remnant of gen X Christians, baby boomer Christians. There will be the opportunity of a remnant. And that's what my hope is. And it's interesting, the scriptures where they talk about generations, it's almost like everyone in the world at that particular time. So what I see at my church, I see people of different ages and with hearts after God, and I'm excited about how that all works together, from different backgrounds. So that's what my hope is in.

Patrick Miller: So just to repeat back to you, make sure I'm tracking, basically I had it completely upside down. Right? So you're saying," Look, don't think about a monoculture. Think about it as a multiculture." And it's going to be incredibly diverse, which is interesting. I mean, this is what we see happen with the internet. Things are decentralized. Things are more democratized and I suppose the more of your life that happens online, the more, again, decentralized and democratized things get. And that actually gives me a bit more hope, like you said, because there is a possibility of a remnant of gen Z that is going to be incredibly faithful and maybe be the birth of whatever the next renewal is going to be. Here's my last question about gen Z. Obviously this kind of goes into our meta thing we talked about a second ago. But I think one of the interesting questions that gen Z is going to face is, what's our perception of being human, going to look like? What's our perception of the church going to look like, is community going to look like? Gen Z is this, at least statistically, bizarre amalgamation of, on the one hand, being more introverted than any generation. And yet on the other hand, being more digitally extroverted. They love talking and being with people. And that seems like two things that are antithetical to one another. And yet they're being held together. So I'm just curious, how do you think gen Z is going to answer some of those questions about humanity, about community and the church?

Mark Sayers: I'm currently reading Damian Sandbrook, the British historian's book, Who Dares Wins: Britain 1979- 1982. It's sort of a social history. And there's a chapter in there about the Walkman. And what he does is he'll take newspaper and magazine articles from at the time, and it's so fascinating. You keep going. I thought this was a new thing but they were talking about it back then. And there's all these articles predicting from The Guardian back then, predicting the effect of the Walkman. And it's so this is going to be this introverted generation. It's atomized. They live in this media world. They're not going to talk to anyone anymore. People chatting on the train is over, people talking at the pub is over, human contact is gone. Now look, it's obvious that technology's having an effect on the way we interact. And I think I've been around long enough now to see predictions about generations go completely awry. And even generations change as well. Who the baby boomers are now is not who they were at 20, 30, 40, 50. I mean, one thing I have noticed during the pandemic, and it could be just the unique situation my city's been in, is I've seen teenagers out and about talking without phones and just sitting in circles, talking. Maybe that's because they've been in a pandemic and in lockdown, we've had a long lockdown here in Melbourne. I think it's going to be really interesting how that changes. I know people who are 60 year old boomers who literally are just living on Facebook. I know 17 year olds, gen Zed, who are talking to people more. I'm not exactly sure how it's going to play out. It's really interesting. There's more and more talk about the digital pandemic. The fact that the internet could become a more unwieldy place, that cyber attacks, and our infrastructure problems, and our energy issues could mean that the metaverse never happens because the amount of energy that's needed to actually get that sucker up is going to be gigantic. So the internet in the future could be a much more unpredictable place, a dangerous place. It could be like the bad part of town you don't want to go to. So for me, so much is up in the air, but I'm always fascinated to see how it plays out. And it always plays out differently than I think what we anticipate.

Patrick Miller: I love that. And it's a great reminder to realize that the Walkman was once going to destroy society.

Mark Sayers: Yes.

Patrick Miller: Civil discourse. And you do hear when these announcements like the meta or whatever come out, the alarms start going off, people start reacting on both sides, over optimistically or with complete pessimism. And it's great to remember that at the end of the day, at least for us who are following Jesus, we know who's sitting on the throne, and whatever is in the future is in his hands, and that gives us a profound sense of relief. It's not ours to control. It's his. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Mark. If you wouldn't mind, would you pray for our audience?

Mark Sayers: Yeah, yeah. Thank you God. We thank you for and we accept this moment that we're in. You chose to bring us into the world at this time. And our hearts may be dismayed at times when we look at what's happening in the world. But when we look to you, we know that we look to an unmovable God who is eternal and is not shaken by the world, who is moving history towards your ends. And so we just, at this point, acknowledge your Lordship. We repent of the ways in which we've bought into stories which are not your story. And we thank you father for the way in which you give us this true story that we are living in at this point in time where history ends in hope, where you offer us a kingdom way to walk and a cross on which Jesus, you paid the price so that we don't have to. So we thank you for your gospel. We thank you for your way. And I just pray this moment, if anyone is feeling confused, I pray actual clarity. I feel if anyone is feeling dismayed, I actually pray you a joyfulness that is not dependent on circumstances. We do pray for the United States at this time. We pray father that people will, as they weigh these things, as people walk away, we thank you that you're preparing a remnant, the holy, the hidden, the humble, and that good things will be in the future for those who follow you. We thank you in your name. Amen.

Patrick Miller: Amen.

Keith Simon: Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.

Patrick Miller: And make sure it's at least five stars.

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Keith Simon: And if you didn't like this episode, awesome, tell us why you disagree on Twitter @ truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.

DESCRIPTION

Is America in the middle of renewal right now? Or is our post-Christian culture too far gone? Today's guest, Mark Sayers, joins Patrick to discuss these very questions. Mark, an author and church leader in Melbourne, Australia, shares how secular myths have led to a culture that's replaced religion with politics. Hear as he also shares his thoughts on the Metaverse, Christianity within Gen-Z, and how he believes God is still setting the stage for renewal. Listen now!


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Today's Host

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Patrick Miller

|CO-HOST
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Keith Simon

|CO-HOST

Today's Guests

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Mark Sayers

|Author and Sr. Leaders of Red Church