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.

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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.

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Why You Should Stop Dating Your Church

whychurchmatters

Originally, this book was called Stop Dating the Church, and in this reviewers humble opinion, that was the perfect title. I get the change: lead with a question, negative commands produce negative reactions, yada, yada, yada. But seriously, Joshua Harris, author of Why Church Matters and numerous other publications really nails this message on the head. Ever been a church-hopper, just seeing what all God might have in store for you? Ever said to yourself, “I didn’t get much out of that service”? Or perhaps you have wondered what to say to people who say they’re “in between” churches right now. Then this is the book for you.

Harris, known for promoting a modern day courtship system, opens his case smoothly and gently. He doesn’t come out swinging, calling everyone names and pointing fingers. Rather, he shares personal stories that have universal application, which all boil down to one thing: Christ demonstrates Himself through the Church, which means you should be active in a local church. Simple, but a powerful point. Harris accurately identifies the directionless movement of so many Christians, migrating from one church to another without cause or from a selfish motivation. He highlights the consumer mentality that has infected Christianity. But this book isn’t anchored in present day, American statistics; Harris relies on Scripture throughout, providing a beautiful exposition of Ephesians which enhances the book’s overall theme of Christ –> Church –> local church –> you.

On a personal note, it’s interesting to see the interchange of ideas present in the book. Harris, who is friends with Donald Miller, makes references to Miller’s own writings, pointing out both positive and negative aspects of his perspective. This is, quite honestly, the book lived out. Two Christians who do not agree one everything still staying in community with each other and reminding one another that we are one a mission. It’s our job to keep each other on that mission, and Harris’ short book is intended to do just that.

While the book brings to mind Gene Edward’s previous work, A Tale of Three Kings, Harris’ contribution to the current dialogue about where the Church is heading, and what can be done about it, is a welcome offering. The simple language and robust stories offered in the book provide a solid basis for any Christian. If you’re plugged in to a local church, and serving faithfully there, then you probably don’t need to read this. For everyone else, I’d move it to the top of the priority list.

Scattered Shots

There’s been a lot of things rolling around in the ol’ noggin here lately. Stuff about Genesis, like this discussion here. Or the huge blindspots I feel exist in the potiical climate this year, like these things for example. But ultimately, what really got me thinking was a discussion my wife and I had.

I’m working through this book, so that I can have an intelligent discussion about it with a recent high school graduate. And it made a point that my wife and I thought worth contemplating: is the Cross the foundation for our faith?

It’s a trick question mind you, because the Cross is only one part of the foundation of our faith. After all, the Cross without the Empty Tomb is still death. But we discussed it for some time and I pondered whether or not I would seem odd for such a thought amongst my friends and co-workers.

And all of this reminded me of a video I saw recently. It’s worth two minutes of your time:

I totally get what Chan is saying, or at least I think I do. Gathering together matters, not only because it keeps us on mission, but quite frankly it keeps us from heresy too. Christ is clear, “For when two or three gather together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” However, just because something is good, doesn’t mean it is the point.

There are so many days as of late where I wish I could throw everything to the wind and love mercy, doing justice in the process, all while walking humbly before my God. And I am convinced that along the way I would encounter, just like Elijah of old, all the others who have heard the Lord’s calling to the hard things and stepped up.

I want to be on the front lines of IJM or Living Water. I want to get my hands dirty, and rub shoulders with the people God loves, and who love Him, through the process.

But right now, the hard things boil down to being a light where I’m at; to being a good husband, and a gracious dad. Sometimes, I need to be reminded of that. Still, I look for those souls who enkindle the same spark in me that I hope I spark in others: seek God, and obey Him.

CPR

My life group had an interesting discussion this past Sunday. We’ve been going through John, and we were looking at the Bread of Life discourse during this particular meeting. We observed how simple the message of Christ is: “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” In the course of talking about the different ways we add to this Gospel, we began discussing the whole “works versus faith” issue that often arises in Christian circles. Theologians have been dealing with this for  a long time (St. James, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Francis Schaeffer, James W. Sire, N.T. Wright, to name a few) and there are still a variety of opinions.

In my life group, there seemed to be two main thoughts (well, two were voiced anyways): 1) When you’re saved, you desire to have the character of Christ, and this desire produces the works James wrote about. 2) Works that are forced are bad, because works should come naturally from our salvation.

This sums up the perspective of many Christians that I have met over the years. They often cite amazing transformations (like those of Paul, or the brother of Jesus, or even Constantine) as examples of how the power of the Holy Spirit comes down and just changes a person overnight. While there is some truth to these examples, this kind of thought offers an incomplete picture for a few reasons.

1) Powerful transformation does not happen overnight. The few (and I stress the word, few) examples of this kind of thing that we find in Scripture should serve as a stark warning. For most people in the New Testament, change is difficult and slow. The Disciples are perhaps one of the most prime examples of this, and Christians should keep in mind that while the Spirit does indeed give us a new nature, that does not mean we will be sinless from that point on.

2) The Christ-like character of people like Paul came with effort. Immediately, people will want to point out errors in this thought. So perhaps an example will help. As a Christian, it is our business to help point people to God, in effect saving their life. A person trained in CPR is very similar. Both desire the best for those in need, and have a sincere desire in their heart to help people. However, if I am choking, I would rather have the CPR-trained individual nearby than the Christian with well-meaning intentions. In order to be of any use in the business of saving lives, we must practice the habits that will be used in this process. This leads into the next point.

3) Being kind by nature is not the same as being transformed. The person who was gentle before they were saved will continue being gentle. So when this individual reads that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, they think to themselves, “look at how easy this comes!” This is a deception though. Some people will have gentle natures, while others have the nature of a thief. And yet, no one is exempt from needing God. We have to understand that in some aspect, we will fall short of God’s standards. If kindness comes natural, perhaps honesty does not. Of maybe we fail in our sexual ethics, but stand strong in our generosity. Regardless, in order to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, we will have to practice some of them.

C.S. Lewis often spoke of the importance of doing something in order to really feel a certain way (he touches on this in Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, and The Weight of Glory, which are all books I recommend). The idea is this: if we treat someone like we love them, because we desire to love them as Christ does, our hearts will be transformed. Eventually we will find ourselves loving this person without effort. It becomes natural because we made it a habit.

In the end, the Christian who does not live the Christ-like life is not fulfilling their purpose. And that, sadly, seems to be the case in much of the American Church. Perhaps, we are just out of practice.

Lord, as we seek to really be Your body here on this earth, soften our hearts to the wounds around us. Open our minds to the truth found in Your Word. And give us the hands to carry out Your will, just as You would have it done. May Grace and Peace characterize Your people. Amen.

Other Alternatives

In my last post, I wrote about the contradictions inherent in Christian Capitalism. The post served as a critique of a system that, I believe, is a hindrance to God’s Kingdom being ushered in during this present age. I don’t mean this in any kind of apocalyptic sense, but rather in the sense that Jesus has begun ushering in His Kingdom with his life, death, and resurrection; resulting in our invitation to be participants in His reign in our present circumstances.

With that being said, it was brought to my attention that in my criticism of Capitalism, I offered no solution in return. This is partly due to that fact, as I have mentioned elsewhere, that my knowledge of economics (particularly global markets) is limited. I don’t think this disqualifies me from general criticism (after all, the Pilgrims certainly did not have a suitable alternative worked out prior to boarding the Mayflower), but it does limit my ability to offer corrective responses. As someone who studies theology and literature, I know where my constructive limits are.

However, there are a few things I would like to suggest.

1) All things should be shared, equally distributing what we have to make sure that everyone that we can take care is taken care of (Acts 4:31-33). I’m not opposed to Marxism (even if he didn’t understand God like one would wish). Unfortunately, I have yet to see someone correctly implement Marx’s philosophy. Thus far, all attempts turn into a wretched disfigured form of what Marx wrote (like the USSR, the DPRK, and the PRC). Still, I don’t think the principle is what is wrong, but rather humanity’s distortion of it.

2) Debts should be forgiven regularly, and without penalty in order to avoid abuses (Leviticus 25). This isn’t to say people shouldn’t pay what they owe, but rather this is to remove the oppression that debt maintains over so much of the world. While I hold that the current credit crises is a result of greedy materialism, a practice like the one in Leviticus would stem the tide to some degree.

3) The Kingdom of God must be understood as something that effects everyone in this life, here and now (Matthew 5, Matthew 13). We behave as though we must operate under the guise of “take what we can get,” but such a mindset is never promoted by Jesus, nor His disciples. Acting in this present life to bring God’s Kingdom to fruition today is a critical part to all of this. Reforming the system will never truly work, because we don’t need reformation. We need transformation.

Perhaps these tidbits are not a cohesive structure (yet) but they still offer what I view as a better system than the one we have at present.

How do we implement such things? On a global scale, I have no idea. But operations like Spilling Hope and Advent Conspiracy I think are on the right track. On a local scale, it is up to the local Church and the members who comprise it to bring these things to reality. On an individual scale, it’s simpler. Obey Jesus’ commands to love God, our neighbors, and other Christians. Pray the Lord’s prayer, and mean it when we ask God to complete His will on earth as it is in heaven.

How does that change Capitalism? It doesn’t. At least not at first. But by transforming the individual, we can transform the local community, and then, well, the world.

It’s not going to be easy. And it may not ever be completely fulfilled. But I would rather live for Jesus, sharing Him with those who are oppressed, poor, down-trodden, and marginalized, than worry about my mortgage, or buying that HD TV I really want.

It starts with Jesus. But He invites us into His reign. So let’s get started.