rebelling against low expectations

Winning the Culture War (Or Not)


The Importance of Competence

You’ve probably noticed that most Christians have a reputation for doing things at a less-than-great level of quality. Their intentions are good, but the execution is lacking. It could be a film with a good message, but a lousy script (and worse acting), or a website with good content, but poor layout and graphic design. Whatever it is, the quality is often embarrassing at best, disastrous at worst.

This is not at all to condemn Christians who are actually striving to live out their faith on a daily basis, and especially not those who are learning from their failures, trying again, and growing in both character and competence. They’re to be commended. But as we’ve been discussing in this series, as rebelutionaries we need to recognize the importance of beginning now to build the competence necessary to carry out the vision God gives us and to do so with excellence.

Winning the Culture Wars

There’s a battle going on for our culture that every generation must fight. It’s nice to think that the good guys always win, but they don’t. The myth of adolescence proves that. If you’re not convinced, just walk through a mall. Try to find modest clothing or a decent movie in theaters. Christians aren’t winning. Why?

This is a generalization, but there’s truth to it: We’re in a battle between competent sinners and incompetent saints. And the sinners are winning. Why are they winning? Again, this is a generalization, but they’re winning because they are competent and we are not. In the areas of science and entertainment, they dominate the field.

It Wasn’t Always This Way

It wasn’t always this way. America grew out of Christian competence. Modern science was birthed in a Christian culture by incredibly competent Christian men and women, like Galileo, Copernicus, and Francis Bacon, all the way up to Isaac Newton and countless others. The Christian church used to be the chief patron of the arts. Much of the remaining greatness of America is because of Christians in the past who had the competence to match their good intentions.

Why do we share this with you? Because the Rebelution is a call to action. It isn’t enough to be talented. It isn’t enough to be homeschooled or to attend a good public or private school. It isn’t enough that you go to a good church.

While we’re at it: It also isn’t enough to read this blog, come to a conference, or read our book and get excited. If those things don’t make you more effective for Christ and His Kingdom they haven’t accomplished anything.

The Efficacy of Christ

Christ’s life and death accomplished something. Our salvation doesn’t grant us eternal life so we can kick back and relax. Instead it obliges us to do things of eternal consequence in a testimony to the great and merciful God we serve. To act. And not in order to be saved, but because we are saved.

We love this quote by Martin Luther: “O, this faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing! It is impossible that it should not be ceaselessly doing that which is good. It does not even ask whether good works should be done; but before the question can be asked, it has done them, and it is constantly engaged in doing them.”

We are called to live active lives. In the next post, we’re going to take a closer look at the purpose for our action. That’s important, because just like good intentions, competence, by itself, is not enough. Soli deo gloria!

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Thank you for this powerful reminder to take action in all areas! I really struggle with having glorious dreams and doing nothing to make them happen. I also loved how you call Christians to start becoming “doers, not merely hearers” in a world that is so dominated by the pagan culture.

  • Thanks for the great post. I don’t know if this is relevant, but our whole family memorizes chapters and whole books from the bible. Lately we have been memorizing James. So your post reminds me of James 2:17-18 “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
    Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”
    This is to say, though our works don’t save us, they are a result of our being saved. Christians need works. And they need to do a good job of them too.
    As I said, I don’t know if that was relevant, but it was a thought.

  • Thanks for this post. It is such a good reminder!

    “We’re in a battle between competent sinners and incompetent saints. And the sinners are winning.”

    This is so true. We are seeking to have pure and right work, but we shouldn’t stop there. Let’s all work on increasing our competence—and have work of excellence, truth and purity!

  • “We’re in a battle between competent sinners and incompetent saints. And the sinners are winning. Why are they winning? Again, this is a generalization, but they’re winning because they are competent and we are not.”

    Please consider rewriting this statement. It sounds like we are calling ourselves saints and not sinners. I’m not saying you’re trying to say this, but it kind of sounded that way. Anyway, it just didn’t sound Biblical to me.

    “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23

  • Michelle, the biblical word for Christian is ‘Saint’. Saint is not some holy position prescribed by men, but a title given to us by God, for being repentant sinners in Christ Jesus. If you are under the blood of Christ, you are a Saint. Therefore, the statement made was correct.

    So rejoice in your newfound sainthood!

    Great post, guys. Excellent material, as always!

    ~ In Christ, John.

  • Michelle: We all ARE sinners, and have fallen short of the glory of God, but those who are saved by Jesus’ blood have a mediator between them and God. God works through us, but when we are incompetent or we procrastinate, then God’s work is hindered. Though we are sinners, we are saints through Jesus Christ.

    This is a convicting post for me. Thanks so much. “He that knoweth to do good but does not do it, to him it is sin.” Christians (ME!!) need to shape up and be fearless and bold in this evil saturated culture.

    “…It also isn’t enough to read this blog, come to a conference, or read our book and get excited. If those things don’t make you more effective for Christ and His Kingdom they haven’t accomplished anything.”

    This is so true, what is the point of life if we are not ‘about our Father’s business’.

    Your Sister in Christ, Jordan Elizabeth

    PS- and what is the point of being about our Father’s business if we aren’t doing it to the best of our abilities, always relying on Jesus to strengthen us?

  • You make some very good points. I have, at times, almost been embarrassed by the sincere efforts of Christians that get an A+ in a desire to glorify and proclaim Christ, but a C(or worse) in the actual quality.

    While it’s ultimately the Holy Spirit’s efforts that cause anyone to accept Christ, and He can work with anything we put forth, I think there it is more likely that more fruit will be produced if the efforts are far more competent.

    I think this may be one of the reasons non-believers are turned off to Christianity-they can go to a Hollywood produced movie and see good acting and a good(referring, of course, to good in the secular sense, not morally!) script and storyline-and the movie is promoting an ungodly message. Then they look at Christian efforts at promoting Christ, and if they see a far lower level of quality, even that(however foolish) can affect what they think of the message.

  • John Moore, you said that “saint” is the biblical word for Christian, which I agree with, but I believe “Christian” to be biblical as well, consider acts 11:26b “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

    Thanks Brett and Alex, your post was encouraging, indeed, this series has shown me the importance of competence. Maybe I should learn to swim before diving in head first, Eh?

    Saved by Christ,

  • “Michelle, the biblical word for Christian is ‘Saint’. Saint is not some holy position prescribed by men, but a title given to us by God, for being repentant sinners in Christ Jesus.”

    Ahhh, thank you John for the clarification. I guess my point was over mere semantics. I’m just so used to hearing the term “saint” used in the Catholic Church’s sense, as in “Mother Teresa was a saint”. Forgive my ignorance.

    Alex and Brett, brilliant post. This is brave of you to address this issue.

  • Thank you so much for this post! As an encouragement, I just went to the Creation Museum ( this last week and was amazed and overjoyed to find that it was done not on the “cheap” level of most Christian productions, but went above and beyond the secular quality standards to provide an excellent picture of the creation story and its evidence. Their motto is “Prepare to believe” and one atheist who toured the museum as it was being built stated that the quality of this museum makes it hard not to believe. So, it can be done – we just have to set a standard of excellence and strive for it. Do hard things! 🙂

  • Oh, thanks for this post! It’s something I’ve been thinking about more and more lately and I think it is EXTREMELY important in this day and age. Even if our theology and morals and ideas are good, secularists (well, all of us, but especially non-Christians) tend to take everything at face value and discard if they don’t like it. Christians shouldn’t be long-faced old fogies like so many people seem to think we are. We should be radiantly alive and gloriously creative–like God is. 🙂

  • this is a great post. My family and I just finished watching The Passion of the Christ I think that movie is a fantastic example of competent Christian media. I do agree that Christians don’t always strive for excellence and that can be kind of anoying but what is even worse is when Christians don’t strive for excellence AND just do things for other Christians, yes it’s good to help your fellow Christians out but we don’t realy try hard enough to bring this lost and hurting world to Jesus. In this day and age I see more and more selfish Christians who don’t seem to care and just turn more people away from Jesus.

  • I was thinking a lot about this post. When you say Christians are incompetent, you are referring to those who produce material that is “branded” Christianity: Christian rock, Christian movies, Christian clothing etc. There are a lot of extremely competent Christians producing first-rate material. It’s just that the material they produce isn’t branded “Christian”. As a well known example, J.R.R. Tolkien was a Christian, yet “The Lord of the Rings” is not a branded Christian book. You can bet that many developments in technology were made by Christians. They just don’t brand their products Christian. Take any brilliant film you’ve ever seen. You can bet there were plenty of Christians that made it happen. Our dads are all Christian. I bet they are plenty competent at what they do; it’s just their product isn’t branded “Christian”.

    I think Christians have gotten a bad reputation in quality because of products produced that are branded Christian. I’m trying to think of a good analogy: Judging Christians by Christian-branded material would be like visiting a foreign country and judging the country’s work force by the cheap trinkets they try to sell tourists.

  • I’d also like to suggest that Christians are being surpassed by competent “sinners” in the area of social justice as well. Once upon a time, it was Christians who fed the poor, clothed the hungry, and gave voice to the oppressed. For far too long have we neglected justice and only now are we beginning to see some action in that – Zach Hunter being one example of such work.

    The other thing I would say is to all who would read this with the hopes of becoming competent in whatever vision God has given them: if a non-Christian is doing it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t right. All truth is God’s truth. All goodness is God’s goodness. All men are God’s creatures and they do nothing that violates His plan for creation, that is, to redeem it. So, redeem what’s good and competent around us and don’t insist that it have a “Made in the Church” sticker on it for it to be of any edifying good.

  • Thank you for this post! It is a convicting reminder. It’s sad to realize how often we seem to skip over this attribute. Y’all’s posts have been eye opening in showing that our faith in Christ isn’t the end of the road. Instead we need to start proclaiming our faith through whatever means possible!
    Thank you for letting the Holy Spirit use you both to bring Him glory through these posts!

  • Another good post which, unfortunately, is too accurate. I’ve seen far too many Christian children’s t.v. series recently that seem a waste of time and money. Some are so bad that my family asks my younger brother to turn it off. 😉 I have been recently thinking about good intentions versus final outcome, and I found your articles in this series helped me gather them all and put it into words. Thanks. 🙂

  • AMEN!

    I agree completely! I love watching wholesome films, and there are so few out there! But it seems like Christians are beginning to fight back, more high-quality movies that at least have Christian values are coming out (Bella, Amazing Grace, Facing the Giants, etc…).
    I wish I could do more to contribute instead of just standing on the sidelines quietly cheering them on.

    Striving for excellence has become a major thing in my life in the past year, and although sometimes it gets really hard (I’ve turned into quite the perfectionist, which can lead to a lot of trouble sometimes!) I’ve succeeded at so much more!

    Thanks guys for all the encouragement and all the challenges you put on here for young people!

    – Kyleigh

  • Great Post.

    I think one more reason why Christian work tends to be lower quality, is that there is no real standard to try and attain. Secular film makers must create top-notch films (quality wise) if they want to stay in the business. Christians film makers tend to be satisfied with less quality if the message is up to par. There are exceptions or course.

    We need to strive for excellence in whatever we do.

  • Absolutely true. The majority of Christians do have reputations as making mediocre movies, or are bad at putting magazine deadlines out, and things like that. And yes the Non-Christian community is winning (So true about the movies and the mall. There was living proof of the former for me yesterday!) We believers have an obligation to rise up and grow in competence so that we can “undermine” and counterattack the world’s agenda with our own.

  • I keep using that verse: “The Spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” as an excuse…I don’t think I’m the only one who uses that verse to justify not fighting this war “between competent sinners and incompetent saints.” Time to stop making excuses and start striving. Thanks for the post, guys!

  • Wonderful post. 🙂 It reminded me of an excellent example of someone who has united competence with the message of Christianity named Ron Richmond. He’s not young, but he’s an artist out of Utah who uses a great deal of Christian symbolism in his art work and is extremely good at what he does. His use of colors, perspective, and lighting is incredible. Some of his paintings can be viewed here:

  • This reminds me of Ray Vander Laan lesson in one of his videos on the importance of Christians taking back the culture. We must strive for excellence if we are going to win this cultural war.

  • We look around and see how this world is in a sad sorry state but what are we doing about it? Sitting back and watching sin take over. We are called to fight. Even if we have all the head knowledge, until it is applied is is nothing, vanity. Just as good intentions without competence, faith without works, and faith or hope without love is nothing. Each one needs to work together with the other in order to function properly. Without the Spirit of God in all we do, all our efforts are nothing.

  • Thanks for the extremely challenging post! I think one of the reasons America is in its current culture crisis is that Christians began making little shortcuts to make things easier for themselves in daily life, which led to greater and greater shortcuts, until Christians eventually earned the reputation they have to today: producing a lot (not all) of second-rate work, and not being a huge influence anymore on the culture. Maybe if Christians decided to do their best on even tiny, insignificant things, they would have built the habit of doing their very best on big things, too.

  • Since when were Christians supposed to save their culture? We are not called to save our culture, just like Jesus was not called to bring glorious victory to the nation of Israel over the Roman empire.
    “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
    And what good is it to Christianize our culture, since all cultures are going to be destroyed?
    “Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.””(John 18:36)
    Amen. We’re in Jesus’ kingdom. We are here to transform hearts, not cultures.
    “For this world in its present form is passing away.”(1 Corinthians 7:31)
    But the kingdom of God will last forever.
    “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.”(2 Corinthians 10:3)
    Just because the culture manages to influence people in certain ways, (such as movies and music,) doesn’t mean Christ’s disciples should use the same ways, in the same way.
    (Before anyone gets the impression that I know my Bible back to front, let me confess to doing a search for the word “world”.)

    The fact that Christians sometimes change their society should be considered as a positive side-effect, not a goal in itself, I think. History is too full of “Christian societies” displaying actions shockingly different to the principles of Jesus’ kingdom, take the crusades. We don’t have to cling to and fight for a “christian society”, all we have to do is cling to and fight for the kingdom of God.

    I still do agree on the importance of competence.

    I won’t comment on the quality of Christian films, since I have yet to be -and don’t plan to be- involved in making one. Where can I be competent? For me, that’s definitely, at least for now, my studies at school. And that’s just for starters! Let me think this through and come back with other things I need to be competent in. Later!

  • excellent post, gentlemen. the more i read this blog, the more i’m stirred to do what God has called me to in excellence. whether that be washing the dishes, sharing the gospel, babysitting, studying, or writing!

    thank you!

  • “Our salvation doesn’t grant us eternal life so we can kick back and relax. Instead it obliges us to do things of eternal consequence in a testimony to the great and merciful God we serve.”

    ABSOLUTELY TRUE and VITAL to realize. Ah, how persistently blind or bleary-eyed we remain about how greatly, and in what minute ways, our lives are supposed to draw minds and hearts to the glory of God. This section reminded me of a quote from C.J. Mahaney’s book “Humility”: “What a powerful death! The cross ransoms, the cross liberates, the cross transforms! So make it your lifelong aim and lifelong habit, when you see someone who’s serving, to be reminded of the sacrifice of the Savior…” And similarly, as Mahaney indicates, we should make it our aim to demonstrate Christ’s glorious nature when we ourselves act.

    David Ketter, I agree heartily with your point regarding social justice. I suspect social justice campaigns have been viewed with indifference or negativity by conservative Christians because they are often undertaken through less-than-desirable means (like political or governmental action). Of course, we Christians were the ones who let the government take over in the first place, decades ago. The more I study the historical role of the church and Christian communities, the more ashamed I feel of our collective ignorance, and the more I pray for hope and compassion to infuse American believers. I think believers need to be shown how much really CAN be done, and done effectively, when we put our hand to the job. These social issues are by no means “lost” causes, and never will be as long as we are obeying Him.

    Thanks for the excellent post!

  • Dont worry Jeff,I ma little cunfuzzled too. Your Sister In Christ, Hannah

    Oh yeah, what is the website thing on comments. I just put my second favorite.This one being my first favorite.

  • David Daniel: Great thoughts – I really appreciated reading them. I believe you are correct in saying we are not called to “save” our culture. As far as I can see, never does Scripture set this as a goal for us to meet, nor does it promise that cultural reformation will always follow our obedience to Christ in the sense that we will have a national or widespread Biblical society. Societal change is, as you stated, more of a side-effect of our living lives thoroughly conformed to Christ, but it’s not a necessary consequence. 🙂

    Yet still, being His disciples inseparably requires our involvement in other people’s lives as we disciple them in the ways of Christ. “Christianizing” the culture is a terrible focus if it is geared toward outward conformity. But growing in Christ most definitely SHOULD lead us to being dynamic, thoroughly-Christian individuals, siblings, moms and dads, teachers, pastors, business men, statesmen, speakers, writers, musicians, artists, chefs, babysitters, students, gardeners, charity workers, missionaries (etc., etc., etc.) who seek to persuade others by our example and word to genuinely believe the powerful Gospel and turn from sin to pursue holiness.

    That’s where I think art, music, and aesthetics come into play. Never should we trust these mediums alone to sway minds, but rather utilize them as *a few tools among many* to do some of that persuading…to reach both Christians and non-Christians with truths each audience needs to hear.

    After all, God is the author of beauty, art, and communication (the Bible is full of examples of people using music, art, and visual images in God-glorifying ways – as well as evil ways). Using, enjoying, or learning from them is by no means wrong or irrelevant – as I’m sure you already agree 🙂 – but I’d say that is the very reason WHY we need to evaluate how to approach and use them as Christians. We do not identify with the deceit, vain philosophies, disobedience, violence, scorn, manipulation, and man-centered and self-serving weapons the world uses to persuade us (i.e., “of the flesh”, 2 Cor. 10:1-6), or the messages of falsehood it perpetuates through those means. Instead, we are commanded to destroy ungodly speculations and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, in every place. I think this certainly can include film, sound, and art.

    The important thing to realize is that cultures are made up of people. The state of their hearts and minds determines the state of the culture – whether that be a moral society, an apathetic society, or an evil society in which the church is pure enough to be persecuted. Regardless of the state of society, our job is always to live holy lives of evangelistic, God-glorifying service – and that means endeavoring to influence others to do the same, with every resource God provides. That is what advancing the kingdom of God really is.

    All that to say, David….you’re absolutely right about what our primary focus should be. 🙂

  • Hey! This was brilliant..The main question for me then is-how do we grow in competence?I love the big ideas, but I also like to know what they look like practically in a mundane 9-5 daily way..Maybe you have been answering this question all along, but in my incompetence i haven’t noticed:-)Please do a post or a series of posts on this…

    BTW you guys have been a tool in His hand. It was after reading and praying through the ‘do hard things’ post that i decided to run for union officer at my university-a big hard thing that comes with many tiny hard things!!

  • Thanks again for a great post!

    It is all too true. God help us to be more competent as Christians.

  • Competence is so important, because Christians bear the name of Christ, and represent Him. Our actions and accomplishments shouldn’t drag His name down or cast a poor reflection upon Him. At the same time, we shouldn’t refrain from acting because we’re afraid that we can’t do it perfectly.

    I think the answer is striving to “do all things to the glory of God”. Competence is important in that it glorifies God (the focus is not on our ability)… At the same time, when you strive for God’s glory, your accomplishments are always pleasing to Him, and that is a big deal!

    So act, but act “glorifyingly” (I completely just coined that word, haha)

  • Michelle,

    I would like to commend you for two things (assuming the three comments on this page are from the same person).

    1. For stating a concern of yours humbly even though it had the possibility of not going over well.

    2. For receiving the correction from John Moore with such great humility as he was correct in his response.

    3. For your last comment. That is a brilliant response and I think the Christian subculture we have created (and you alluded to) is a huge part of this problem that we’re seeing.

    The scientists named in this article did not brand their science as “Christian science.” Instead they lived out their faith as they worked in their field with vigor and excellency. I actually agree with something John Piper said on a related issue, which is, if we’re trying to get in a war with the culture as to who can create the best and most appealing stuff, we’ll lose.

    We can’t compete on as large a scale as the rest of the world. They give their lives to idols and spend all their time investing into things that won’t last. Our time and devotion should be to God. Therefore, I think, the solution is not to engage in a “culture war” but to work hard at what God has called us to do (in the big and small picture) and make our priority His glory. As people take notice of quality work we direct them to the One that gives us strength, to the one that inspires us and sustains us by His grace. To try and outwit them is missing the point because the point is the upwards call of God, not the sideways war against the culture.

    After all, God takes the small and foolish things of the world to shame the wise and strong. Is that because “we” are more “competent”? No! It’s because Christ is our competence even though His message is foolishness to the world!

    I have been thinking a lot about this since the last post and I will continue to ponder the subject. Thanks Michelle for your thoughts and humble example.

  • I really enjoyed your examples of the competent and ambitious Christian men and women of the past…

    “…incredibly competent Christian men and women, like Galileo, Copernicus, and Francis Bacon, all the way up to Isaac Newton and countless others. The Christian church used to be the chief patron of the arts.”

    Galileo who did some amazing work but was forced to recant his theory of heliocentrism and spent the last of his years under house arrest on the orders of the Inquisition. He was correct, he was brilliant and yet he was forced to endure this why? Because the Catholic church didn’t like anything that opposed the literal translation of the Scripture.

    And yes the church was indeed a the chief patron of the arts throughout periods of history. Why? Because they had so much money obtained from the poor masses in the name of saving their souls. And why not be a chief patron of the arts? If you control the pieces of art genius men will create you will not only spread your own message but control any dissent/varying ideas. Much like a fascist government.

    Please use better examples regarding “competent Christian men and women”. Especially concerning Galileo. Im sure he wouldn’t have appreciated being placed in that category.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →