Beliefs Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

And so begins our journey

Objectivity is an illusion. A fairy tale. Gold spun from straw.

No writer is completely unbiased, regardless of the level of attention they give to journalistic integrity or impartiality or deference to opposing views. Every one sees life through a particular lens whether they realize it or not.

As the late evangelical Christian thinker, Francis Schaeffer, once said:

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic worldview, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world.

As I begin this series with Religion News Service, it seems wise to reflect on Schaeffer’s words. All humans live with surgically attached spectacles that are molded by our geography, chronology, economy, ethnicity, and life experiences. And—if you are like me and roughly five billion other earthlings—your lens is also shaped by your faith.

As an evangelical, my lens is colored by the Christian story. It’s a story of people who often fail to live up to their potential and a God who gives us hope for a better future. This is a narrative that culminates in a crucified and resurrected Christ, an image that is not for the faint of heart but has powerful implications for life on earth.

We cannot deny that the world is a troublesome place. Natural disasters indiscriminately kill thousands, 22-year-olds live-tweet their own suicides, and crazed shooters mow down schoolchildren while they practice timetables. But when I view this world through my lens, I hope still. Because I believe there is a hidden power in this world that can triumph over such tragedy.

Yet hope does not make me a blind optimist. Though I believe that the Christian story equips Jesus followers to be a force for good in the world, I also recognize that American Christians often fail to live up to their potential, sometimes even compounding problems rather than becoming a part of the solution. This has created a formidable challenge for the Western Christian church in the 21st century.

According to recent statistics, most young non-Christians view Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, anti-intellectual, and too political, among other things. Additionally, young people within the church are coming to many of the same conclusions and are departing the church in record numbers after high school. Six in 10 young people will leave the church permanently or for an extended period of time beginning at age 15. Christians in America are failing to live up to the story we claim to believe, and as a result, those inside the church don’t want to stay and those outside the church don’t want to start.

And yet, when I see the Christian movement through my lens, I hope even still. I believe that Christians can be better and do better—not because we are good, but because God is. And it is with this combination of realism and hope that I write.

If you decide to make this trek with me, you can know that I will attempt to be as open-handed as possible, but I nurture no illusions of complete objectivity. I will provide commentary on current events, analysis of religious new stories, and exclusive interviews with leading Christian thinkers. But I cannot separate myself from this faith-story that so saturates my life. As Martin Luther once declared, “Here I stand; I can do no other.”

I also offer you an invitation in this forum to offer your perspective—whether it’s similar to mine or so different it can hardly be said that we see the same landscape. By combining our lenses, perhaps we will be able to create a fuller picture of the world as it truly is. And as we view that world, perhaps we can dream up a better version of it together.

And so begins our journey.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • I’m afraid I must agree with what you have said. Paradigm shifts are difficult especially when they have have become concretized. Many of the filters that are employed in our lives are the result of generational upbringing. As a result, it requires a great deal of effort to process issues when we are encountering them for the first time. Presuppositions then may become our defense mechanism against what we feel is an attack on our value system, our preferences, etc. But, give us some credit! Some, in the more traditional generation have wrestled with the new way of thinking and have made adjustments to our thinking regarding the issues facing us. I am anxious to hear what others are thinking as well.

  • Learned about this Web site from the Webcast of “Graduate Student Workshop: Out of the Tower, Into the Square” at Princeton University Center for the Study of Religion. Excellent panel discussion.