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Disagreement Fatigue and 2020: How the Events of the Year Will Shape Christian Interactions in 2021 and Beyond

There’s no disagreement on one thing in 2020: that it was a year filled with disagreements.

Of course, “disagreement” is a kinder, gentler word for much of the chaotic, nasty, and sometimes violent conflict we saw as our culture responded to a worldwide pandemic, racial injustice, and the presidential election. Through the transparency of social media, people drew battle lines and fought, with the wars leaving wounds on friendships, family relationships, church relationships, and more. Christians certainly weren’t immune to this—in many cases, these wars were most heated within the body of Christ.

By all accounts, it’s been a devastating year of conflict. And we’re all tired from it.

But I’ve noticed a concerning pattern of response to perceived conflict in recent weeks, particularly on social media: Fatigue has led many Christians to avoid any kind of disagreement.

After a year like 2020, that perhaps sounds like a good idea to some. But disagreement is not inherently a bad thing. From a Christian perspective, we can certainly disagree in bad ways (with wrong motivation, hurtful words, etc.), but disagreement is often both good and important. We can’t be salt and light to a decaying and dark world when we’re continually afraid we’ll offend someone by merely expressing something that is at odds with their view. I’m concerned that the disagreement fatigue of 2020 will shape how Christians interact with each other and with secular culture for a long time to come.

Here are 5 things I expect to see in coming months (if not years).

1. More Christians will be hesitant to speak publicly about their faith.

There were already too few Christians willing to speak publicly about their faith before 2020. Over the last few years, our culture has increasingly viewed Christianity in a negative light, and many Christians have preferred to keep their faith private rather than have to engage on difficult subjects. To date, biblical teachings on sexuality and gender identity were the key drivers of negative perceptions in mainstream culture. But with the popular rise of Critical Race Theory in 2020, people began viewing all of Christianity as part of an oppressive Western system that must be dismantled. With woke America firmly placing Christianity in the “oppressor” column, Christians must now not only grapple with a couple of big sexuality topics, but also with believing something seen as oppressive in its entirety. If Christians were hesitant to share their views publicly before 2020, many more will certainly go into hiding now. Disagreement fatigue will likely discourage them from even wanting to get more educated on the new hot topics, because they aren’t willing to enter the fray anyway. It’s far easier to retreat to private Bible study and virtual church.

2. Many Christians will be misled by the appeal of a seemingly harmonious progressive Christianity.

In progressive Christianity, there is typically a lowered view of the Bible, essential Christian doctrines are open for reinterpretation, historic terms are redefined, and the heart of the gospel shifts from sin and redemption to social justice. This is the form of Christianity found in many of the mainline denominational churches today. For those who are tired of conflict, progressive Christianity is particularly appealing because it removes pretty much everything that’s potentially offensive from the Christian faith. Passages that don’t fit cultural moral consensus? Just redefine the nature of the Bible. A bloody sacrifice for sin? Just redefine what the cross was really about. Exclusivity of truth claims? Just redefine Jesus’s words so everything boils down to some ethereal concept of love.

For those who are especially fatigued by the biblical, social, and political disagreements within the church, progressive Christianity will look like a gentle mother hen waiting to comfort tired hearts under wings of peaceful harmony. In reality, it’s a great deception. This is the time when churches preaching biblical truth need to rise up and equip congregations with an understanding of what the historic Christian faith is, how it differs from the teachings of progressive Christianity, and why there’s good reason to believe that the historic Christian faith is true.  

(If you want to read more about progressive Christianity, I highly recommend Alisa Childers’ book, Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity.)

3. Christians will increasingly see apologetics as a contributor to (unhealthy) disagreement.

Apologetics—how we make a case for and defend the truth of Christianity—is already something viewed with suspicion in a lot of Christian churches. While many Christians unfortunately still don’t know what apologetics is, those who do often think of it as some kind of aggressive debate with nonbelievers. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Apologetics is simply a reasoned defense of the faith, which we are called to do with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Not only is it biblical, it’s crucial in a culture that’s becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. Our society thinks that Christianity is not only false in many of its claims, but also morally wrong. It’s the task of apologetics to show—out of love for our neighbor—that Christianity is both true and beautiful.

But for those who are fatigued of any kind of disagreement, apologetics couldn’t possibly be seen as less appealing. Unfortunately, many people are looking for easy harmony rather than knowledge to help them better engage when there’s an opportunity to do so. More than ever, the task of apologists (including myself) will be about convincing Christians that apologetics matters and is worth engaging in. For those who are ready to learn, the resources are already available—but 90 percent of the battle is helping Christians see that these are (sometimes uncomfortable) conversations worth having because they are of eternal importance. Jesus didn’t tell us to stop finding effective ways to make disciples of all nations just because we’re tired of cultural disagreements.

4. Belief in a generic God will continue to be acceptable in culture, but belief in Jesus as God will become increasingly gauche.

None of what I’ve said so far should be taken to imply that Christians will be hesitant to show any display of faith. In general, secular culture isn’t inherently opposed to a person having some kind of privately held belief in the supernatural. A personal belief in a generic god (who hasn’t revealed himself in any kind of specific way) is perfectly at home under the secular umbrella because it requires little from a person in how they view matters of public interest. In fact, it requires nothing other than what a person decides it requires, given that they’re not submitting to any kind of binding revelation. This is why a celebrity can thank God for something in passing without much notice, but if they were to talk about their love for Jesus and/or declare their view that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, they would be mercilessly attacked. Secular culture can readily accommodate a generic god who requires nothing, but not a specific one who requires everything.

This is why I don’t think disagreement fatigue will lead to Christians going silent about all things faith related. General God sentiments (“Prayers for you!” “God loves you!” “Thanking God for my blessings today!”) will continue to be safe and used because they aren’t specific enough to offend anyone but the most ardent atheist.

People often ask me which of my three apologetics books for parents is “most” important. I, of course, think they’re all important or I wouldn’t have written them. But if I had to pick one, I would say my newest one, Talking with Your Kids about Jesus: 30 Conversations Every Christian Parent Must Have. I say that because this is the book that explains the evidence for the truth of Christianity specifically. In  a culture so offended by the exclusive truth claims of our faith, kids must understand why it’s not a generic God who’s palatable to culture that we worship—it’s this God, Jesus. If you’re considering New Year’s resolutions, make one to start working through these conversations with your kids.

5. Tired Christian parents will underestimate culture’s pull on their children.

This has been a particularly tiring year for parents who have had to navigate enormous changes with their kids’ schooling on top of everything else. Many parents are struggling on a day-to-day basis and neither the parents nor the kids have the energy in the evening for deep conversations about the intersection of faith and culture. (Perhaps you read my last point and wondered when you’d fit conversations like those into your day? Totally understandable.) But while the average family is struggling to stay afloat, culture is going adrift at breakneck speed whether parents feel they have the energy and desire to address it with their kids or not. After the events of this year, public education in particular will be even more bathed in woke ideology (here is just one example), historical revisionism (the 1619 project is now taught in thousands of schools), and sexual agendas. Given that the vast majority of Christian families have their kids in public schools, there will be a secular pull on Christian families like never before. Parents may be tired right now, but we can’t let that fatigue make us weary of fighting for our kids. They need our guidance on how to disagree well with the world around them from a biblical perspective.

Friends, 2021 is not the year to succumb to 2020-induced disagreement fatigue. It’s a time to speak boldly when opportunities arise. Yes, we’re all tired, but it’s the joy of the Lord that’s our strength.  May we rest in that more than we rest in our desire to avoid godly disagreement.