Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

The New Immoral Morality

The opening line of a recent Barna Group research report was direct and to the point:

“Christian morality is being ushered out of American social structures and off the cultural main stage, leaving a vacuum in its place – and the broader culture is attempting to fill the void.”

The essence of this cultural shift is simple, but profound. You either consider truth to be something discovered or something created; something determined or something received. 

If we have been spoken into existence by God, then we know two things: that we have purpose and meaning, and that we have an outside authority.

If we have come about by chance, then there is little purpose and meaning to life except what we self-create, and that includes authority. We are our own gods. 

The cultural verdict is in, whether we say we believe in God or not:  truth is something we create – we determine – for ourselves.

This is why we can speak of things as foundational as our sexual identity as something that we identify for ourselves. Notice the language of recent “bathroom” bill conflicts: it’s about choosing the bathroom reflecting the gender you identify with. I couldn’t help but laugh at an opinion piece that said something to the effect of, “So if I am sixty and white, and decide I’m now forty and black, I am?” It’s absurd, but he was spot-on in terms of the logic.

This new moral code, as spelled out by Barna’s David Kinnaman, will sound familiar:

  • The best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself.
  • People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.
  • To be fulfilled in life, you should pursue the things you desire most.
  • The highest goal of life is to enjoy it as much as possible.
  • People can believe whatever they want, as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.
  • Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is acceptable.

The irony is that the very same research finds that the vast majority of Americans are concerned about the moral condition of the nation (8 in 10 overall). This despite the fact that the vast majority also believe that what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience (e.g., an idea embraced by 74% of all Millennials), with a whopping 65% believing that “every culture must determine what is acceptable morality for its people.”   

A contradiction?

Of course. It reveals that our new morality is not very moral at all. That the new moral code does not produce a moral society. We have chosen to be independent in terms of truth – to be our own gods – but are quickly finding out that we do not have much in the way of goddish virtue.

In other words, if I am god and you are god,

…then God help us.

James Emery White



“The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code,” Barna, May 25, 2016, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.


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