Other roots of the current climate lie in trends in popular culture and technology, as detailed by Jonathan Haidt and some others. Perhaps the most obvious and pervasive influence is the internet. Today’s undergraduate students are the first to have spent their entire adolescence on social media, and there has been much analysis about its effects on them. Studies have shown that social media make relationships controllable but also (and therefore) much “thinner” and more superficial.
Also, by comparison, social media make face-to-face encounters feel much more threatening. For example—how do you just “block” a critic who is physically standing in front of you? You can’t. That’s why aggrieved parties have their interchanges online, where they can simply hit the “off” button to end it. Before hitting the “off” button, however, internet communication makes possible the kind of cutting insults and dehumanizing declarations that few feel able to make to someone’s face.
“You are my beloved son, and with you I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Approval patch no longer necessary. Ceaseless striving for approval no longer required. No more fear of mediocrity or of your legacy being forgotten. Because now, Jacob, I am giving you a new name. From now on, you will be named Israel, which means “He wrestles with God.”
When you’ve wrestled with God and prevailed with a blessing, it has a way of breaking the spell of insecurity and fear. It has a way of making you less needy for approval and applause, and therefore more poised to love and to serve.
Which is precisely what the people of Jesus were made to do.
On the surface, “Jesus shows us what God is really like” language appears pious and even Jesus-exalting. In reality, it betrays a tragically truncated view of the Jesus of the Bible. We see God “as he is” by gazing with the eyes of faith on the pages of his Word—all of them.
It is instructive, then, to see that Paul takes the gospel literally into the public square. It means that he did not see the Christian faith as only able to change individual hearts. He believed that the gospel had what it took to engage the thinking public, the cultural elites, and to challenge the dominant cultural ideas of the day. He was after converts of course—he was first and foremost a church planter, not a theologian or Christian philosopher. But he wouldn’t have been able to engage the hearts of cultural leaders unless he also engaged the ideas of the culture itself. He did not shrink from that challenge. He did not merely try to find individual philosophers to evangelize in a corner. He addressed them as a culture, a public community.