Watch the Better Story Lecture delivered at the 2016 Keswick Convention HERE
Order your copy here
Why 'A Better Story'?
because the sexual revolution demands one
"Mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others … ‘'
With this radio announcement 60 years ago, the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, called off her plans to marry a divorcee - Group Captain Peter Townsend. She was heartbroken.
I was 6 years old and have only the vaguest recollection of that event. But the Townsend affair illustrates something of the cultural scaffolding of shame and disapproval that was erected around immorality and divorce at that time. The wider culture of the 1950’s - when divorce was spoken about in hushed tones, ‘fallen women’ were shamed for their ‘illegitimate’ children, and homosexuals were sent to prison - remains deeply embedded in my psyche. It shaped my early childhood as profoundly as the sexual revolution impacted my teens a few years later.
Today that cultural landscape has changed beyond recognition. From the 1960’s the annual number of divorces rocketed six-fold. The number of people getting married started to fall dramatically too, and the institution of marriage itself entered a deep and prolonged recession, especially among the poor. Today cohabitation is the norm. Nearly half of children are born out of wedlock and, by the age of 16, only 50% of children will be found living with both biological parents in the home. Couples of the same sex can get married and anyway we are no longer sure what being a particular ‘sex’ –male or female – means anymore.
In the space of just a few decades, centuries old convictions rooted in the old biblical moral codes effectively collapsed. Most people today would think good-riddance. And those who do remain ‘mindful of the Church’s teaching’ are held to be slightly odd at best and knuckle-dragging bigots at worst.
Church- going people are shifting in their convictions too, including those who call themselves evangelicals. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course, because many Christian leaders appear like rabbits caught in the headlights over this issue. They seem to be hoping that if they keep their heads down the whole wretched business will somehow go away. But it doesn’t. We sit here like King Canute, but the water keeps on rising.
So here’s the question I try to address in my book ‘A Better Story’. Given the success of this great social and cultural revolution, what is the secret of its cultural power? What gives it such traction? Why have ancient beliefs and convictions been so rapidly overwhelmed and effectively abandoned?
This question is important because efforts to mount an effective apologetic
by Christians who still hold to biblical teaching will continue to fail unless we
understand the secret of the revolution's success.
So what is it?
The political theorist Joseph Nye talks about hard power and soft power. Hard
power is getting what you want by coercion. Soft power, on the other hand, is
the ability to get what you want through attraction. And the secret of the sexual
revolution, I believe, is its soft power.
Of course the sexual revolutionaries know how to use hard power. Dare to offer an alterative view to theirs – for example on same-sex marriage– and you will soon experience the wrath of the Twitter mob shouting ‘hate filled!’ The hard power deployed by the revolution's activists is a chilling reality.
But the secret weapon of the revolution I believe ( I know, you shouldn’t really attribute agency to a cultural phenomenon) isn’t found in its hard power, but its soft power. The revolutionaries cast a vision and an ideology that the human spirit finds deeply attractive. People see what is on offer and they want it to be true. And until we understand that and think it through, our apologetics will remain enfeebled and our public posture confined to the defensive.
Of course the cultural forces that drove the sexual revolution can be understood at many different levels of analysis – the economic and social changes that led to the emancipation of women from traditional roles in the home played a crucial part, as did the introduction of the contraceptive Pill.
But these shifts in society developed hand in hand with radical new ideas about morality and human identity. New thinking about equality and freedom. The revolutionaries cast an inspiring vision drawn from an underlying narrative of authenticity, freedom and fairness. In sitcoms and romcoms the story was told over and over: compelling narratives about the little people - oppressed and marginalised - who found their voice and claimed their freedom. The freedom to be truly, authentically, themselves.
You can’t respond to a great story like this simply with facts – you have to tell a better story. A different story that connects with the issues the revolution places at the centre of our cultural narrative – its vision of authenticity, freedom and fairness. Our culture isn’t interested right now in what Christians are against. People want to know what we are for – especially in relation to today's big questions of what it means to be an authentic person, to be free to express yourself and to be treated fairly.
That is why I have written this book. In 'Better Story' I explore the soft power of the revolution. And then ask how those of us who remain wedded to the truth we find revealed in the Bible can begin to discover a better story of our own. A story lived out in real lives that not only talk about human flourishing, but put it on display.