Culture Wars Do Not Equal Culture Making

I have at least one more post in the works about The Dark Knight Rises, but I’m going to take a break from Batman for a minute to address something that’s currently pressing on my mind.

The whole concept of “culture wars” is something that bothers me. In Strachan’s article (who I admire greatly), he rightly points out that Christians are called to stand for the Kingdom. But I struggle to identify how arguing with Americans who are not Christians equals standing up for God’s righteousness? It’s not that I don’t empathize with those who are concerned that America will go the way of Rome, which fell apart largely due to a cultural collapse, but I don’t think that’s synonymous with building God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

the-arming-and-departure-of-the-knights

The Kingdom starts with the Church, of that I am more and more convinced. The folks with the Barna Group or Willow Creek all suggest that the Church (ecumenically speaking) is not what it is supposed to be. How can Christians honestly rebuke a culture that doesn’t follow God’s standards when we don’t follow those same standards?*

I cannot stress enough how important I think it is for the Church to look to its own house first. James K.A. Smith refers to culture-making, and I think this is more appropriate to the overall discussion:

Culture-making –– unfolding the latent possibilities that have been unfolded into creation –– is a vocation given to us as image bearers of God. Just as the Fall means not that we stop desiring but rather that our desire becomes disordered, so too sin does not mean that we stop being culture makers; rather, it means that we do this poorly, sinfully, unjustly, (p. 178; Desiring the Kingdom, 2009)

I think what Smith is ultimately getting at is simple: we don’t change our culture by boycotting, or supporting, financial institutions. We change our culture by coming together to be made unified in Christ, to be filled with the Spirit, to confess our failures before God and repent. Once we do those things, then we go out and live as Christians (i.e. those who look like Christ). It revolutionized the Roman Empire. And it can work again.

This may sound idealistic, or maybe even heretical to some (that accusation seems quite popular these days), but I absolutely think the Church will remain culturally inept until the Bride of Christ returns to her Groom. After all, the seven letters weren’t addressed to seven nations; they were addressed to the Church. The only way to effect real change is to start with the House of God. We will go much farther with a full cup.

Advertisements

The American Patriot’s Bible, KJV

_240_360_Book_588_coverThe American Patriot’s Bible (King James Version) by Thomas Nelson Publishers is an interesting and informative approach of blending modern cultural studies with a reading of God’s Word. Using America’s original Christian foundation as the guiding theme, indexes, maps and biographies can be found throughout. While the merging of American patriotism and studying God’s Word can be problematic, Dr. Richard G. Lee does an excellent job of putting the importance of Scripture first, and the reliance of America’s founders upon these Scriptures as a secondary concept.

This King James Version is setup in a traditional format, with succinct introductions to each book of the Bible. What has been added to this study Bible is the oft overlooked history of American Christianity, and the incredible role it has played in developing our culture. Lee does an excellent job of focusing on great leaders, regardless of race, gender or occupation, who have impacted America in the name of Jesus.

One of the most important aspects of this Bible, and perhaps the sole reason I would most recommend it, is the explanation of several Christian Principles that serve as lamp posts for the reader. As an educator who works at a Principle Approach school, the use of universal principles to explain the strength’s of America’s government, and the weaknesses of the direction it is heading in, is something that more Christians should connect with. Lee sums these ideas up beautifully in his “Call To Action,”

As believers in Jesus we have His call to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ to the world (Matt. 5:13-16). We must take seriously our responsibility to put God first, not only in our homes but also in our national affairs.

This sentiment rings true for so many Christians in America today. But for some, the divide between the sacred and the secular still proves to wide. The American Patriot’s Bible serves as an excellent stepping stone towards eliminating that divide, and gaining a greater understanding of America’s Christian Heritage.

The Founders’ Key by Larry P. Arnn

_233_380_Book_579_coverDr. Larry Arnn’s book, The Founders’ Key, has one of the longest subtitles I have ever read. But don’t let “The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It,” scare you away. This lengthy and intimidating title for such a small book (less than 130 pages) does a disservice to Dr. Arnn’s hardback thesis.

Dr. Arnn’s concept is simple: the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are inextricably linked, and such a bond should never be severed. Much of the first portion of the book is sent identifying the handiwork from America’s political past by those who have sought to alienate one or the other in an effort to advance their own agendas. Some of Arnn’s targets include John Dewey and Franklin Roosevelt, but he makes sure to include modern politicians as well, specifically pointing out what he sees as some of Nancy Pelosi’s many shortcomings.

Arnn’s point doesn’t end with negative assessments. In essence, Arnn is calling on the American people to recognize that the current political trends have taken us away from what the Founders originally intended. This is not new rhetoric, but it is not false rhetoric either. If America is to sustain itself, some semblance of its original principles must be maintained, and Arnn believes this can only be done through a return to a constitutional government:

Although it will take time to recover a constitutional government, a start can be made now, and significant results can be achieved soon. We have to recover the meaning of certain principles, and we have to recover the methods of constitutional rule as they are exemplified by the best practices form our past, (p. 119).

Arnn is rejecting the notion that the Constitution is archaic, and he does so eloquently.

While the book is a fine piece of academic thesis work, if does not pass for the average bookstore read. Arnn’s work is solid, but his use of footnotes may be overbearing for some. The page count lacks in many respects as well. While a long book does not make a good book, a book of 217 pages should have more than 120 pages of original work. The resources in the back are solid, but they don’t support the suggested retail price of $19.99.

This technical complaints aside, the book is a solid read. It’s simple message speaks to a culture that is currently dissatisfied with a government full of politicians who appear to care very little about their constituents. However, his message sometimes borders of the idolatrous. The subtitle alone suggests there is something Divine about the Declaration and the Constitution, but such a view borders of the worship of America rather than the God whom she claims to trust.

Dr. Arnn’s book serves as needed reminder that separating God and politics is nonsense. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t pack the necessary punch needed to refresh the American people of the God who makes America either great, or not.

Can we bridle Greed?

How is that Christians believe that we can work Capitalism to our own ends? I realize that many within the Christian community believe that Capitalism is a good thing. The idea breaks down into something like this:

1) The best kind of society is one where freedom, in particular religious freedom, is the norm.
2) Politics and economics follow the same outline in that freedom is what is best.

2) Capitalism promotes freedom through competition, therefore it is the best economic system available.

Of course, the Industrial Revolution taught us a thing or two about the abuses of freedom (as if we had not been taught this lesson throughout history already), and so began regulations. Two World Wars, and three substantial economic crises later (‘20s, ‘80s, 2000s), the regulation continues. In fact we could add to the above outline:

4) Complete freedom, particularly in Capitalism, is dangerous so we must learn to control and direct the path of our economy.

While not a detailed economic blueprint, the above sketch is how many people (not least American Christians) think about the current economic system. This video serves as a prime example:

While it would be most prudent to go into a complete explanation of how our global economy currently functions, we cannot. My own knowledge is too limited for such an endeavor (without merely resorting to parroting someone else). But, I would like to challenge Dr. Deimer’s thought all the same.

There is no way in which Capitalism can ever truly be “bridled.” The recent economic crises around the world, not to mention in Greece and Ireland specifically, should have taught us that (this video was made in 2009 so apparently not all have come to the same conclusions as I have). Competition, whether we like to admit it or not, is in contrast to the character of God. Look at Paul’s writings to the Colossians, the Galatians, or the Romans. When he describes Christian virtue, does he list competitiveness? Does he mention anything closely resembling it?

No, he does not.

Why? Because it is not in Christ’s nature to compete, and His nature is what should govern God’s children (one could argue that God the Father is jealous, but that would be remiss…after all, God does not compete for our affections).

It brings me back to Matthew, and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teachings on money are not vague.We either love money, or we love God. There is no in-between.

Of course, I’m stating the obvious, and no Christian, Capitalist or otherwise, would argue. In fact, they would say in my understanding of Matthew 6, I’m right.

The issue, then, comes from something else. After studying Scripture (in particular Exodus, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and the Gospels), I cannot fathom how any self-professing Christian can think that the economic system we have in the United States is anything other than a love of mammon. I understand that money is a useful tool, but that is not the limit of Capitalistic greed. Think of the housing collapse. Money, in the form of credit, was not being used as a tool. It was more a child’s plaything. We didn’t use it to end poverty, or better our communities. We used to get what we wanted. We manipulated numbers until the lifestyle we desired was achieved. There are, of course, exceptions to this (particularly people who suffered even though they did all the right things), but they are by far the tiny minority.

I don’t blame the people who took out home loans they could not afford. I don’t blame the banks who lent to people they should not have. Both of those  goats have been faulted enough.

I blame our habits, our hearts, our process of thinking. We believe that money can be tamed; that greed can be bridled. Regulation, deregulation, taxation, financial reform, and on, and on, and on. The truth is, no matter how you try to, you cannot accommodate greed. And what is Capitalism but greed put into practice?

Forgive the humor...We can do the math in way we want to, but the answer will never change. What is needed is not more of what we have, nor less of it for that matter. What we need is transformation.

 

 

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:1-3, NASB)

It is only by this that things will change. And it is my continual prayer that things will indeed change. That’s what Jesus told us to do.

Freedom isn’t free (but it is cliche)

Norman RockwellI’ve heard that phrase many times before. It’s plastered all over small hamlets in the South East portion of the United States. The idea, of course, is that freedom is not easily come by. It cost someone something (usually referring to soldiers who give their lives in service to the American people).

Many Christians will immediately see a parallel, because Jesus gave His life to set His people free from sin. Jesus talked about it in economic terms, even. Way back when, long before the apparent greed of Wall Street and the impatience of the credit-seeking American people, Jesus knew that in our hearts, we are people of economy.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?

We’ve heard the question before. It’s rang throughout the ages for two thousand years. And still, the challenge goes largely answered. Certainly there are some who hear Jesus’ words and respond in kind. But that is not the norm.

Even in my own life, my small addictions (thank you, my dear Xbox) and my not-so-small addictions (curse you Amazon and you your cheap books!) add up. I’m not a minimalist at heart. There are areas I reduce (credit card debt), and there are ways in which my wife and I try to do something more than the status quo (gDiapers). Yet, it never really feels like enough though. Why?

Because God’s economy is totally different than mine. Throw in the various social stereotypes and traditions that cloud our minds, and we have the perfect recipe for a watered down Gospel. We hear radical ideas, and reject them immediately, simply on the basis that they are not what we are used to. This was the mistake of the Disciples. They never anticipated God’s Kingdom coming in the way Jesus inaugurated it. It frustrated them when Jesus spoke of sacrificing Himself. It scared them when He died. But more importantly, it thoroughly changed them when He rose from the grave. And that’s where we must get to.

American Christians suffer from this as well. Home school? That produces socially awkward, academically behind kids (despite much research to the contrary). Give sacrificially? No, I must be able to maintain a certain level of comfort (regardless of Jesus’ admonitions in Mark 8 and Matthew 6). Abandon the things that distract me from God like video games, television, cell phones, and the internet? Now let’s not be extreme; those are good things as well (perhaps, but what about Paul’s warning in II Corinthians 10:5?).

The list could go on, and in the process it would make many people uncomfortable, including myself. It touches all of us. Jeremiah wrote of how we deceive ourselves to get what we want, and Jesus knew that this was in the heart of humanity (Matthew 9, Matthew 12, Mark 12 are just a couple of examples). But He is calling us to His Kingdom, to His heart, to His work. No tradition of man should stand in the way. We must remain free from our selfish desires and cultural biases, so that we may freely serve Him in all that He desires to do.

In what ways are we rejecting God’s kingdom? What is God calling us to that is beyond our comfort? Are we deceiving ourselves? In what way is He asking us to step into trusting Him?

Are we willing to go there? It’s not the American Dream. It’s not the Kenyan Dream, for that matter. It’s something else entirely. But still the question remains.

Will we gain the Cross, and through it life? Or will we gain our Christmas list, and forfeit what really matters? For Christians, it’s a simple choice. Because Jesus paid it all, right?

More than confused

With all the hullabaloo about the cancelled Mississippi prom, I’ve been thinking about homosexuality in America.

Today I found myself really confused about the whole thing. Schools in the “Bible belt” forbid same-sex dance partners. State governments argue back and forth about who can and can’t be wed. Christians argue with secular people about the depravity they see. Liberals try very hard to make it seem as though homosexuality should be viewed as a norm. It seems like everyone is trying their best to make everyone else see things their way. Which of course, will never truly work.

The thing about America is, well, minorities will always have the advantage. At least in a legal sense. America is founded on the idea that the majority will try to take away the perceived rights of the minority. The masses will subjugate everyone else, basically. The people who put together the documents that bind America together saw this inherent danger, and put things in place to prevent it. And many politicians since then have helped put more measures in place to make sure that minorities are protected.

Now, with that being said, I don’t think there’s any disputing that the gay community is a minority in America. And as such, the government will do everything it can to give that community the same rights as everyone else. Christians can be upset by this, or they can simply move on.

Part of the issue, in my very insignificant opinion, is patriotism. So many Christians are upset by gay rights because it flies in the face of their religious beliefs (although I don’t think that’s entirely true; murderers receive rights, and the Bible has much harsher judgments for people who teach people things that are untrue about God than it does for homosexuals). As I was walking home from work today, I started wondering if Paul was a patriot. I doubt it. Jesus certainly wasn’t. He had more negative things to say about the “politicians” in the Hebrew community than He did anyone else. Jesus told His disciples to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus didn’t seem to care much about any one political institution. I think that’s because He knew just how transitory all governments are. Nothing lasts, really. And patriotism demands a loyalty to one’s nationality that I do not think is very Christ-like. Rather than acknowledge this, most American Christians try to make their patriotism fit by making America into a “Christian nation.”

So as I’ve thought about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I believe Christians are wrong to try to force a Biblical worldview on a secular nation. I wouldn’t see anything wrong with holding people to God’s standards were this a Christian based government. But that’s not the case. There are people in America who do not believe in God. And for some reason I doubt Christians accurately represent God to those people when they do what they can to deny people of the rights they feel they deserve. Are all rights universal? I don’t necessarily think so, but that doesn’t matter because the American government does. Fighting it is a waste of resources, quite frankly.

Understanding that I am not a patriot in a conventional sense of the word (I do in fact say the pledge of allegiance, and would serve my country if asked to; but that’s about as far as it goes. Truth be told, I rarely vote), I am finding it difficult to understand the mainstream Christian perspective concerning gay rights. I am certainly convinced that the gay rights battle is not anything like the Civil Rights movement in the 20th century, and it annoys me greatly when the two are compared. Yet even though I do not agree with the belief that people should be allowed to live however they want simply because they want to, I do not see any reason for Christians to struggle so hard to keep certain rights away from the gay community (I apologize if I sound repetitive; I’m trying to somewhat PC).

Exactly how do we display the love of Christ when we argue with someone about who they can and cannot marry? Especially in America, where the divorce rate clearly demonstrates a lack of respect for the “sanctity” of marriage? I just fail to see the point. It seems hypocritical to me. Christians say marriage is sacred, but they don’t treat it that way. And if marriage is no longer sacred, then what is the Christian argument against gay marriage? It’s just all so… self-righteous. And there’s nothing of Christ in that.