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.

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Keep On

And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. – Luke 23:50-52

Joseph of Arimathea had been waiting. As a righteous mas, who was also a teacher of the Law, he understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. And he bet it all on Christ.

One can imagine his heartbrokenness. Jesus was the one who was going to change everything! Jesus was the one who was going to bring God’s justice and mercy into this world! Except, now…He was dead.

Christmas reminds us that much of our role in God’s plan is waiting. And for many that leads us in one of two directions:

1) I’ll wait on God to direct my every step. The world has gotten on this long with God at the helm, so I can manage too (this is sometimes called the “everything-happens-for-a-reason” plan).

or…

2) This waiting business if for the birds. God, if you have a plan, I’m sure it will adapt to the decisions I make (this is sometimes called the “God-doesn’t-have-one-set-path-for-you” plan).

The reality though is not so black and white, not so either-or. Much of Christianity is a both-and proposition, which people as a general rule don’t tend to like (think of Mark 9 for example). Joseph of Arimathea spent his whole life waiting on the kingdom of God, and when it looked like everything was coming down around him and all his hopes were shattered, he still kept on.

He didn’t pray and ask, “God do you want me to bury Your Son?” He didn’t say to himself, “God doesn’t care if Jesus gets buried.” No, he kept waiting on the kingdom, and did what he knew to be right while he waited.

Read Luke 2, and you’ll see even more people doing the same thing.

We wait. But while we wait, we serve; we act.

How are you waiting on God? Will you stop if your dreams perish? Or, when the chips are down, will you turn to God and continue waiting?

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?

What is the goal?

I’m taking this discipleship class through Liberty University, and so far greatly disliking it. That comes as a surprise to me because I desire to know more about being a disciple of Jesus and how to teach others to be His disciples as well. Every time I think about Jesus’ new command, that we “love one another,” I am moved more to know this Ruler of God’s Kingdom. Surely, in Him is life.

Part of my discontent is a disagreement of purpose. It can summarized in simple terms: there are those who think disciples are a select few of Jesus’ followers, and I am not one of them. I can’t really distinguish discipleship from knowing Jesus, which in mind means all Christians are called to discipleship. Not just the ones who have time. Not just the ones who are eager. Everyone. I think the Great Commission is clear about that (and there are other places that I think support this, but for brevity sake I’ll just say I write about this more here).

This disagreement leads into the next one: the ultimate goal of life. How do we define the goal of life? I think most Christians define it in one of two ways:

Method A (Conservative Theology)

1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time, and matter.
2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

If you read that and say, “that’s not how I think at all,” then you probably fall into the second one:

Method B (Liberal Theology)

1. The goal is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
2. This goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress.

Whether you actively think about these kinds of things, the chances are that one of the two methods of discerning the goal of human life influences how you live day in and day out. Examine how you interact with people, how you use your money, what you think when you see corruption and brokenness in real life. Somewhere in that, what you believe is betrayed in your response.

Both of these ideas have good points, but neither of them are complete. People smarter than I have written about this in great detail (and even provided the presented format above). What I am becoming more and more convinced of is that there is another method of how to live.

What if the goal of this life was to be something greater? Not something heroic, but rather something subservient? What if we could see in the Bible a description of what our role was always supposed to be? And what if that role was made possible again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? I think, if this other method were true, then how we live is vitally important. And our responsibility to other Christians is not to provide fire insurance or propose an easier path, but rather to teach Christ’s commands, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pick our crosses daily and follow Him.

This isn’t something new. And many churches around this world would say they partake in this very thing.

To this, I have two questions:

1. If this is how churches really act in this present age, what will Jesus say about the manner in which we sow the seeds of His Gospel? Will we be the good and faithful servants? Or will our weaknesses and self-seeking purposes be exposed?

And, 2. what would the world look like if every Christian was truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? Such a world would be a wondrous place indeed.

Lord, I am not of strong character. And yet, You have promised me a hope that does not disappoint, a character that is more like Yours. Mold me into the image of God that I was always intended to be. Season my words with grace, that those words may be holy and belong to You. Teach me your ways, that I may forgive as You have forgiven me, that I may sacrifice as You sacrificed for me, and that I may love as You have loved me. Your mind is far above, and Your heart knows no limits. Bring Your justice to this world, Lord, be it through us, or be it not. And in all things, may we give You glory. Amen.