If we think that the United Nations is (or might be) part of an international conspiracy to form a one-world government under the Antichrist, we will very likely oppose U.S. support for that flawed but indispensable organization. That's pop eschatology, and it never goes out of fashion.

The Christian faith is not just thought but lived. The battle for the Christian's mind is also the battle for the Christian's money, the Christian's vote, the Christian's prayers, the Christian's priorities, and the use of all of our Christian hands and feet. What we think matters. Here's why:

The struggle with non-Christian perspectives Many have noted that outside of the comfortable Christian subculture there's a struggle going on for the mind and soul of our nation. Secularism, postmodernism and various non-Christian religious perspectives compete with the Christian faith for influence in American society.

Most of these alternatives have sophisticated advocates. They are deeply rooted in the public universities and the media. Christians nourished on intellectual cotton candy will have no ability to engage such people successfully. Not everyone is called to be a scholar on the ideological front lines, but we all need to be well prepared "to give an answer for the hope that we have." Pop Christian materials generally address these worldview challenges with shrill attacks on caricatured positions. That's not enough. Substance must be met with substance.

Moreover, what we believe deeply shapes the public policies of our nation. Those policies mean life and death for all of us, but especially for the least fortunate among us, those who are most affected by the ebbs and flows of policies directed to "the least of these."

In the most powerful nation on earth, what is at stake in the shaping of the Christian mind is nothing less than the stance of the U.S. in the world. How much money do we give to what kinds of economic relief and development efforts? How do we relate to international conflict? What vision do we carry into international economic relations? What is our level of involvement in situations of genocide or human-rights violations. To what extent do values, rather than the dollar, shape our involvement in the world?

Christians can and do play a key role in shaping the answers to such questions by what we say and do, and at least as much by what we fail to say and do.

What can we do differently?

If you run a Christian bookstore, consider broadening and deepening your collection
Any business has to make a profit. But I wonder if many Christian bookstore owners have explored the possibility of breaking the current mold. You might find a reading public hungry for more than cotton candy. (Click here for a list of some suggestions.)

If you don't buy books, try it
To the Christian who doesn't read much, let me challenge you to change that habit. Reading and thinking deeply about the Christian faith is a matter of obedience. It's about taking our faith seriously enough to study and reflect upon it. Turn off the television and start reading. If you do, you'll never go back.

If you do buy books, look for quality
A book doesn't have to be impenetrable or dense with footnotes to be rich and profound. Start with tools to improve your Bible study. Read some solid theology. Go right to Luther and Calvin and Wesley and even Augustine. You don't have to read their interpreters, you can read them yourself! Get exposed to Catholic thought. Read some of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals or the Catholic catechism. See what is happening in Christianity in the Two-Thirds World, which is where much of the action is anyway.

Read about prayer with the great mystics of the Christian tradition. Dip your toe into Eastern Orthodox thought and see what that neglected tradition has to offer. Read about important new issues in bioethics or important trends affecting the family. The list is endless.

The heart of the Christian mind, or any high-functioning mind, is insatiable intellectual curiosity. There's always another book to read, a new current of Christian thought to explore, a new issue to consider. If you can't find adequate sustenance at the local Christian store, drive to the university library or bookstore or the local chain store. Look up key authors online. Do not assume that the current pop version of Christian faith exhausts its meaning. That would be a grievous mistake. Instead, join the intellectual pilgrimage of thoughtful Christians through the ages.

Join me at the feast. After a good meal, we'll go get some cotton candy for dessert.

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