By Steven Norris

     I was a moody kid growing up — not unlike many of my late Generation-X peers. On any given day, I might be found in a darkened room with the requisite flannel shirt, ripped jeans, and disheveled hair. Michael Stipe’s voice could be heard pleading from speakers that my mom said were turned up way too loud: “That’s me in the corner / That’s me in the spot-light / Losing my religion.” R.E.M. gave voice to the unofficial anthem of an angst-ridden generation pushing against societal norms and conformity.

     Fast forward thirty years. Imagine my delight when I heard that familiar voice filling the interior of my Honda, transporting me to another time and another place. When the song ended, I was horrified to learn that it was playing on an “oldies” station right alongside such forgettable pablum as “Tubthumping” and “Mambo No. 5.”

     It made me wonder: what happens when rebels go mainstream? What is one to do when the map shifts in such a dramatic direction that the kinds of thought that once made up the rebellious fringe are now the norm?

     Followers of Jesus have had to contend with just this kind of shift, too. In 325, they saw a turning point in the life of the church. For 17 centuries, followers of Jesus have wrestled with the implications of a moving from fringe sect to the official religion of the Roman Empire. Likewise, the earliest colonists to the United States were religious outsiders, fleeing persecution, only to find themselves grappling with what to do now that they were the new mainstream.

     Over the past month, I’ve seen Russell Moore’s name come across my social media feed over and over. Moore is the former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Discussing the inspiration behind his most recent book, Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, he observed:

     “Multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching — ‘turn the other cheek’ — [and] to have someone come up after to say, ‘Where did you get those liberal talking points?And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, ‘I’m literally quoting Jesus Christ,’ the response would not be, ‘I apologize.’ The response would be, ‘Yes, but that doesn’t work anymore. That’s weak.’” Moore added: When we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we’re in a crisis.”

     In a strange way, I find hope in Moore’s observation. In the short-term, this will no doubt mean more and more battles for churches and pastors seeking to be true to the values, teaching, and example of Jesus. Maybe Stipe and Moore are right — in many ways, we are “losing our religion.” On the other hand, maybe there is an opportunity here to reclaim the distinctiveness of the church’s prophetic witness to the world — to prevent that witness from being relegated to the oldies station” alongside the endless stream of one hit wonders.”