Christians Shouldn’t Run from a ‘Negative World.’ But They Can Depend on It Less.

Aaron Renn outlines individual, institutional, and missional strategies for adapting to a hostile culture.

Rarely does an essay cause such a stir as Aaron Renn’s “The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism.” Published in First Things in 2022, Renn’s framework for describing Christianity’s fall into cultural disfavor since the 1960s elicited a wide range of responses, from wholehearted agreement to sympathetic skepticism to vociferous disagreement, and seemingly everything in between.

Renn’s essay categorizes the recent history of evangelicalism in the United States into three periods, or worlds. In the positive world, Christianity was in a position of cultural dominance; most Americans, even those who were not particularly religious, recognized the importance of Christianity to the country’s collective moral fabric. In the neutral world, the broader culture came to see Christianity not as uniquely good, but still as a belief system and worldview doing more good than harm.

Since the early 2010s—the dates themselves, Renn admits, are not binding—evangelicalism has been in the negative world. Here, culture and its elites are inherently suspicious of evangelical Christianity, especially when it challenges or conflicts with emerging, more attractive ideologies. Christians in the negative world, according to Renn, will encounter resistance to previously acceptable beliefs and behaviors. This resistance could take many forms, from simple yet pronounced disagreement all the way to the dreaded C-word: cancellation.

Less than two years after his essay, Renn’s book, Life in the Negative World: Confronting Challenges in an Anti-Christian Culture, updates and elaborates on his framework and provides tangible resources for Christians concerned about this cultural transformation. Renn’s …

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