By Nathan Finn, Elder
On September 3rd, Steven Smith, a preaching professor and vice president at Southwestern Seminary, preached a fine sermon in our chapel at Southeastern Seminary. His text was the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13. I would encourage you to watch the sermon online.
In his sermon, Dr. Smith mentioned two types of cynics that we often find in evangelical circles, including among Southern Baptists. He referred to the “Fox News cynics,” most of whom are middle aged and older. These cynics are very worried that American culture is going to hell in a hand-basket and they spend a lot of time complaining about the future of our nation and how that might negatively affect the church. These complaints sometimes dominate Christian conversation in local churches and other contexts.
Dr. Smith also mentioned “hipster cynics,” most of whom are in their 20s and 30s. These cynics believe that their parents (the Fox News crowd) are hopelessly clichéd and blasé and spend a lot of time complaining about the silliness of evangelical culture. These complaints sometimes dominate Christian conversation in local churches and other contexts.
I don’t think the point was that American culture is all peachy or that evangelicalism is totally devoid of kitschiness. Obviously, there is a place for a healthy concern about some of the trends in our nation and a healthy critique of some of evangelicalism’s shortcomings. The problem is when concern gives way to cynicism and we begin to lose sight of the promises of God and the hope of the gospel.
As I was listening to the sermon, I kept thinking that many Christians are at least sometimes tempted toward cynicism. The type of cynicism depends upon a variety of factors, including age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, denominational tradition, etc. As a historical theologian, I can assure you that church historians—like historians in general—are often tempted toward cynicism. One friend of mine (an ethicist) jokes that it must be part of the church historian job description!
Yet, despite widespread temptation, cynicism is never the appropriate response for a follower of Jesus Christ. The reason is simple: there is no such thing as gospel cynicism. The good news gives rise to faith, hope, and love. Cynicism gives rise to doubts, complaints, and divisions. Preaching the gospel to yourself everyday isn’t just about avoiding legalism or license—it’s also about avoiding cynicism. The gospel is too good a news for us to give cynicism any breathing room.