EDITOR Gideon Strauss ASSOCIATE EDITOR Alissa Wilkinson MANAGING EDITOR Dan Postma DESIGN Joy Harris, with files from Compass Creative Studio Inc. www.compasscreative.ca
COMMENT | MARCH 2009
All Scripture references in COMMENT are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated. COMMENT Magazine is a quarterly print journal, and weekly online e-zine, published by Cardus—a North American public policy think tank based in Hamilton, Ontario. Cardus’ thought, research and policy weave through the integrity of the biblical story. This story is not a private story reserved for the private delights of Sunday worshippers—it is a public story that touches the whole world. It is public truth—and it changes everything it touches. CARDUS 45 Frid Street, Suite 9 Hamilton, ON L8P 4M3 (888) 339-8866 Fax (905) 528-9433 Email: email@example.com Website: www.cardus.ca/comment
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Becoming a thinking Christian BY TIMOTHY P. WIENS “If someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” —1 Peter 3:15, NLT
SUBSCRIBE www.cardus.ca/comment 905.528.8866 ©2009 Cardus Cover image by Jason Bouwman, Compass Creative Studio
Reading the Bible . . . and articulating a worldview BY MICHAEL W. GOHEEN Understanding our story within the story
PRESIDENT Michael Van Pelt DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH Ray Pennings
Introduction BY GIDEON STRAUSS
Making friends for life BY GREG VELTMAN “I want to be tangled up . . . in the thorns of love”
Asking big questions BY GIDEON STRAUSS What do I love? What do I believe? What is to be done?
Cultural influence: an opportunity for the church BY GABE LYONS Christians serving the common good have unmatched influence
But now I see (part I) BY DON OPITZ A crash course on worldview, and why itâ€™s important
But now I see (part II) BY DON OPITZ With a Christian worldview, our daily work can transcend the grind and connect to a great purpose
Sex is easier than love BY STEVEN GARBER Why sexuality is at the very heart of life and learning
BY GIDEON STRAUSS Every Christian is confronted by the question, What does God ask of me at this time?
Discovering what God loves BY STEVEN GARBER A journey from duty to desire
What is to be done . . . in the public square? BY RAY PENNINGS Christian efforts in the public square are analogous to a pickup hockey game
MINE! BY RICHARD MOUW Kuyper for a new century
The flash of a fish knife BY CALVIN SEERVELD There is a spirit in the store, hallowing lowly work into rich service
What is to be done . . . to understand our moment?
Why bother going to church? BY JOHN SEEL Recovering the lost logic of church
In search of the happy life BY DAVID K. NAUGLE In disordered lives, we love things unintelligently, excessively, and unrealistically
104 Making peace with proximate justice
BY STEVEN GARBER Christians in politics must learn to accept some justice, some mercy
112 Who am I? BY BOB ROBINSON Rooting your identity in the image of God
118 Why are there so many other religions?
BY RON CHOONG They cannot all be correct, so why does God permit other religions to exist?
INTRODUCTION GIDEON STRAUSS COMMENT EDITOR
elcome to the Comment Worldview Coursepack. We are delighted to present some of the best pieces from Comment’s recent archive for this volume.
What is Comment Magazine? It is a worldview journal for the next generation of Christian leaders. We are animated by a vision of preparing tomorrow’s leaders to “think Christianly” in every sphere of human activity, and it is to this end that we publish quarterly glossy journals, in addition to exceptional essays and artwork online each week. Comment is published by Cardus, a Christian public policy think tank based in Hamilton, Ontario. What follows is an excerpt from the 2008 Comment Manifesto, first published in December 2008. Comment is a journal of public opinion bringing Christian voices to the dialogue in the public sphere, seeking the common good. Comment is committed to honest, humble thought; clear, simple writing; and courteous, civil dialogue—inclined toward identifying and affirming what is good rather than courting controversy.
A. Comment critically celebrates imaginative, skilful art work— literature and poetry, song and music, theatre and film, drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and other forms—that expresses “with simple majesty the mixture of sorrow under sin in the world and joy at the presence of the Comforter,” as Calvin Seerveld writes in A Christian Critique of Art and Literature: art that will show “the hurt and the laughter, the thoroughgoing chiaroscuro to flowers and desires and prayers alike,” that “will let a childlike gladness of hope well up through the total groaning of all creation for the Great Day still to come.” Comment seeks in particular to recommend emerging artists to its readers, and to encourage and honour underappreciated mid-career artists.
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Comment respectfully encourages world-loving, wisdom-seeking academic work that revels with delight in God’s glorious ordering of creation, reels with horror over the human evil that vandalizes the good creation, and searches for ways of following Jesus’ repair of the broken world.
B. Comment is glad to profile prudent businesses that steward the wealth of the world with enterprising innovation, patient investment, frugal management, skilful collaboration, and fair exchange. Comment hopes to contribute to the cultivation of human societies in which economic markets flourish without overwhelming other spheres of human life. Comment endorses responsible technical invention and cultivation that delights in the materials and forms of things, discloses and conserves the possibilities embedded in creation, and enables a rich diversity of human ways of life, while carefully questioning human neglect and exploitation of creation.
both individualism and collectivism, Comment resolutely campaigns for an accurate recognition and protection of different spheres of human life, with the application and limitation of political power to the administration of justice (known as the principle of sphere sovereignty or differentiated authority), and the appropriate assignment of political authority, with a preference for the more local authority where possible (known as the principle of subsidiarity).
D. Comment cherishes the enjoyment of the playful delights and everyday comforts that offer solace in solitude and enliven our common life: simple food grown and prepared with care and imagination, well-designed clothes worn with élan, streets and boulevards that invite walking and cycling, board games and ball games that test the players and amuse the onlookers, and table conversation that is on occasion witty, rich, deep, and lively—all to celebrate what it is to be human, with gratitude for the good gifts of a loving Creator who delights in his creatures.
C. Comment affirms that politics is only one dimension of our multi-faceted, common, public life and culture that is most deeply defined by religious beliefs, and informed and enriched by civil mores, intellectual opinion, artistic products and popular culture. Yet political life does possess power to define and to influence—for better and for worse—our common public life and culture. Comment esteems statecraft, the defence of peace, and the rule of law, and denounces anarchy, brigandage, and tyranny. Against
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ll of human life is shaped by some story. Alasdair MacIntyre offers an amusing story in After Virtue to show how particular events receive their meaning in the context of a story. He imagines himself at a bus stop when a young man standing next to him says: “The name of the common wild duck is histrionicus, histrionicus, histrionicus.” One understands the meaning of the sentence. But what on earth is he doing in saying it in the first place. This particular action can only be understood if it is placed in a broader framework of meaning, a story that renders the saying comprehensible. Three stories could make this particular incident meaningful. The young man has mistaken the man standing next to him for another person he saw yesterday in the library who asked “Do you by any chance know the Latin name of the common duck?” Or he has just come from a session with his psychotherapist who is helping him deal with his painful shyness. The psychotherapist urges him to talk to strangers. The young man asks, “What shall
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I say?” The psychotherapist says, “Oh, anything at all.” Or again he is Soviet spy who has arranged to meet his contact at this bus stop. The code that will reveal his identity is the statement about the Latin name of the duck. The meaning of the encounter at the bus-stop depends on which story shapes it: in fact, each story will give the event a different meaning. It is likewise with our lives. In his The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Lesslie Newbigin writes in that “(t) he way we understand human life depends on what conception we have of the human story. What is the real story of which my life story is a part?” What Newbigin is referring to, here, is not a linguistically constructed narrative world that we fabricate to give meaning to our lives, but an interpretation of cosmic history that gives meaning to human life. N. T. Wright says in that a story is “the best way of talking about the way the world actually is” (The New Testament and the People of God). For those
of us living in the West there are two stories that are on offer: the biblical and the humanist. As Newbigin points out: In our contemporary culture… two quite different stories are told. One is the story of evolution, of the development of species through the survival of the strong, and the story of the rise of civilization, our type of civilization, and its success in giving humankind mastery of nature. The other story is the one embodied in the Bible, the story of creation and fall, of God’s election of a people to be the bearers of his purpose for humankind, and of the coming of the one in whom that purpose is to be fulfilled. These are two different and incompatible stories. The humanist and biblical stories are to some degree irreconcilable. They tell two different stories. If the church is faithful, to some degree there will be a clash of stories.
THE BIBLE TELLS ONE STORY The Bible tells one unfolding story of redemption against the backdrop of creation and humanity’s fall into sin. As Wright put it, the divine drama told in scripture “offers a story which is the story of the whole world. It is public truth.” When we speak of the biblical story as a narrative we are making a normative claim: it is public truth. It is a claim that this is the way God created the world. The story of the Bible tells us the way the world really is. It is, in the language of postmodernism, a “metanarrative” or, in the language of Hegel, “universal history.” Thus, the biblical story is not to be understood simply as a local tale about a certain ethnic group or religion. It makes a comprehensive claim about the world: it is public truth for all people and all of human life. It begins with the creation of
all things and ends with the renewal of all things. In between, it offers an interpretation of the meaning of cosmic history. Therefore, it makes a comprehensive claim. Our stories, our reality must find a place in this story. Hans Frei makes this point in his The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative when he quotes Erich Auerbach’s striking contrast between Homer’s Odyssey and the Old Testament story. Speaking of the biblical story, he says: Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history… Everything else that happens in the world can only be conceived as an element in this sequence; into it everything that is known about the world… must be fitted as an ingredient of the divine plan. And yet it is the case that often Christians do not see the Bible as one story. As Newbigin relates it in A Walk Through the Bible, a Hindu scholar of the world’s religions once said to him: I can’t understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion—and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don’t need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it. We have fragmented the Bible into bits—moral bits, systematic-theological bits, devotional bits, historicalcritical bits, narrative bits, and homiletical bits. When the Bible is broken up in this way there is no
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comprehensive, grand narrative to withstand the power of the comprehensive, humanist narrative that shapes our culture. The Bible-bits are accommodated to the more all-embracing cultural story, and it becomes that story—the humanist story—that shapes our lives.
This way of narrating the Biblical story shows our place in the story. In Act Five we live in a time when the kingdom of God is already here but not yet arrived. How can the kingdom be already here but not yet arrived? And what is the significance of “alreadynot yet”?
THE BIBLE AS A SIX-ACT PLAY
First, we have been given a foretaste of the kingdom. When the end comes we will enjoy the full banquet of the kingdom. In the meantime, the church has been given a foretaste. A foretaste of the kingdom constitutes us as witnesses. The reason we have been offered a foretaste of the salvation of the end is so that we can witness to that salvation. Another illustration makes this clear. The people of God are like a movie preview or trailer. A movie trailer gives actual footage of the movie that is coming in the future so that people will want to watch it. The people of God are a kingdom preview. We embody the salvation of the kingdom which is coming in the future so that people will see it and want it. That is what the witness is all about. Our lives and words witness to the kingdom’s presence and its future consummation. A biblical witness is a witness to God’s rule over all of human life. As the contemporary testimony, Our World Belongs to God, eloquently puts it:
In The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Story of the Bible, Craig Bartholomew and I attempted to tell the story of the Bible in six acts. (The website that accompanies our book, www.biblicaltheology.ca, offers many resources to equip the church to read the Bible as one story). In Act One, God calls into being a marvellous creation. He creates human beings in His image to live in fellowship with Him and to explore and care for the riches of His creation. In Act Two, humanity refuses to live under the Creator’s word, and chooses to seek life apart from Him. It results in disaster: the whole creation is brought into the train of human rebellion. In Act Three, God sets out on the long road of redemption to renew the whole creation. He chooses a people, Israel, to embody His creational and redemptive purposes for the world. Israel is formed into a people and placed on the land to shine as a light. They fail in their calling. Yet God promises through the prophets that Israel’s failure will not derail His plan. In Act Four, God sends Jesus. Jesus carries out Israel’s calling as a faithful light to the world. But he does more: He defeats the power of sin at the cross, He rises from the dead inaugurating the new creation, and He pours out His Spirit that His people might taste of this coming salvation. Before He takes His position of authority over the creation He gathers His disciples together and tells them: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Act Five tells us the story of the church’s mission from Jerusalem to Rome in the first one hundred or so years. But the story ends on an incomplete note. The story is to continue. The church’s mission is to continue in and to all places until Jesus returns. We are invited into this story, to witness to the comprehensive rule of God in Jesus coming at the goal of history. Act Six is a future act, yet to unfold. Jesus will return and complete His restoration work.
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The Spirit thrusts God’s people into worldwide mission. He impels young and old, men and women, to go next door and far away into science and art, media and marketplacewith the good news of God’s grace… (32) Following the apostles, the church is sent— sent with the gospel of the kingdom… In a world estranged from God, where millions face confusing choices, this mission is central to our being… (44) The rule of Jesus Christ covers the whole world. To follow this Lord is to serve him everywhere, without fitting in,
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as light in the darkness, as salt in a spoiling world. (45)
HEADING OFF MISUNDERSTANDINGS Saying that the Bible is one unfolding story could lead to misunderstandings. First, by saying that the Bible is one unfolding story, I am not saying that the Bible is a nice, neat novel. In his discussion on the Bible as a metanarrative, Richard Bauckham makes this point in Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World: “the Bible does not have a carefully plotted single story-line, like, for example a conventional novel. It is a sprawling collection of narratives along with much non-narrative material that stands in a variety of relationships to the narratives.” He notes that major stretches of the main story are told more than once in divergent ways. There is a plurality of angles on the same subject matter (for example, the Gospels). He points further to many ways in which there is a “profusion and sheer untidiness of the narrative materials.” He concludes that all this “makes any sort of finality in summarizing the biblical story inconceivable.” Secondly, the Bible is not only a narrative document. There is much else in the Bible as well. While the Bible is essentially narrative in form it contains many other genre of literature: law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and others. Yet, at its core, the Bible is a grand story and all other parts can be fitted into that narrative framework. A third misunderstanding is tied up with the notion of story. In some approaches to narrative theology the notion of story enables the reader to ignore questions of historicity. Story may be only a linguistically constructed narrative by a religious community, and no more than that. Yet I use story to speak of an interpretation of history. It is important that these events really happened.
THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE AS ONE STORY The importance of understanding the Bible as one story can be seen by noting Newbigin’s notion of a missionary encounter. A missionary encounter is the normal position the church assumes in its culture if it is faithful. It assumes two comprehensive, yet incompatible, stories. The Bible tells one story about the world and human life while another equally all-embracive story shapes our culture. Christian discipleship always takes cultural shape. So in the life of the Christian community there will be an encounter between two equally comprehensive stories. When the church really believes that its story is true and shapes their lives by it, the foundational idolatrous faith, assumed in the cultural story, will be challenged. Thus, it offers a credible alternative; it calls for conversion. It is an invitation to see and to live in the world in the light of another story. Our place in the story is to embody the end and to invite others into that true story. If the church is to be faithful to its missionary calling, it must recover the Bible as one true story. I agree with Newbigin, who wrote in The Gospel and our Culture Newsletter 8 (1991): I do not believe that we can speak effectively of the Gospel as a word addressed to our culture unless we recover a sense of the scriptures as a canonical whole, as the story which provides the true context for our understanding of the meaning of our lives—both personal and public. If the story of the Bible is fragmented into bits it can be easily absorbed into the reigning story of culture instead of challenging it. A fragmented Bible can lead to a church that is unfaithful, syncretistically accommodated to the idolatry of its cultural story or, in the words of Paul, a church “conformed to the world” (Romans 12:2). So, much is at stake in reading the Bible as one story.
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THE NEED FOR ARTICULATING A WORLDVIEW Recognizing that the Bible is one story is not sufficient to bring the Bible to bear on public life in a formative way. An example from Oliver O’Donovan’s highly creative work of political theology The Desire of the Nations is helpful. In this book, reading the Bible as a single narrative is fundamental. However, O’Donovan correctly points out that sola narratione is insufficient for Christian analysis. A grand story provides the most comprehensive context and meaning for human life. But something more specific is needed to provide more specific guidance for public life. We need to develop, says O’Donovan, concepts normed by scripture in order to do analysis in the area of politics. O’Donovan is correctly looking for a way to bring the biblical story to bear on public life which avoids the problem of dualism, which sees no place for scripture, and the problem of biblicism, which forces the Bible to answer contemporary questions it was never intended to answer. But it all hinges on what is meant by “concepts normed by scripture.”
to modernity by reducing the comprehensive claims of the gospel and relegating its faith to a private or religious realm. Thus, the gospel did not speak to much of created reality. The confession, “Jesus is Lord,” certainly did not reflect the comprehensive scope of His reign in a way faithful to the original gospel. The mission of the church was thus misunderstood and narrowed in keeping with an emaciated and reductionistic gospel. The term, “worldview,” offered a way of speaking that expressed that the Christian faith is also a comprehensive and coherent way of understanding the whole world. The Gospel is good news that God’s redeeming work is as broad as creation. This understanding of the Gospel offers a much more comprehensive understanding of the church’s mission in the world. Indeed, it provides an impetus for Christian involvement in the public square. Worldview articulates and develops the most basic, the most fundamental, most comprehensive beliefs of the biblical story. It is important to clarify here the relationship between story and worldview. A story is the fundamental shape of a worldview. In his
A FRAGMENTED BIBLE CAN EASILY BE ABSORBED INTO CULTURE, INSTEAD OF CHALLENGING IT I find helpful the model that elaborates the biblical story in terms of a worldview, and theoretically deepens that worldview in terms of a philosophy which is brought to bear on public life. This is not the place to develop his model. Yet some comments about worldview are appropriate. It is instructive to look at the very reason the term “worldview” arose and has become so popular in evangelical circles. Key to this historical development was the threat the church perceived to its faith from its cultural story. The modern, scientific worldview, which came to maturity at the Enlightenment, was a coherent and comprehensive way of understanding the world that stood in opposition to the Christian faith. In response to this threat the church succumbed
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The New Testament and the People of God, Wright calls this a “worldview-story” or a “controlling story.” These worldview-stories “are the basic stuff of human existence, the lenses through which the world is seen, the blueprint for how one should live in it, and, above all, it is the sense of identity and place which enables human beings to be what they are.” Worldviewstories are “like the foundations of a house: vital, but invisible. They are that through which, not at which, a society or an individual normally looks; they form the grid according to which humans organize reality.” These stories function at a presuppositional and precognitive level. Entailed in these stories are basic beliefs and answers to the deepest questions of human existence. Worldview articulation, then, may be the exposition of the fundamental beliefs or an explication of the answers to the most foundational
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questions of human life that are entailed in the story. Wright suggests that our basic beliefs are “shorthand forms of the stories which those who hold them are telling themselves and one another about the way the world is.” The biblical story has been condensed or elaborated in shorthand form in two ways. In the first, the most basic beliefs of the Bible’s teaching on creation, fall,
WORLDVIEWS MEDIATE BETWEEN THE GOSPEL AND HUMAN LIFE and redemption are explicated. This has been done marvellously well in Al Wolters’ Creation Regained. In this book Wolters elaborates the biblical story in terms of creation, fall, and redemption. Another way to get at the same issues is to elaborate the biblical answers to life’s most foundational questions, answers that shape the entirety of human life. This is the approach of Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton in The Transforming Vision. The biblical narrative answers fundamental questions of human identity: the kind of world we live in, the problem with our world, and the remedy for that problem. Careful study of these two books, and others like them, provides several examples of the way the biblical worldview can help the church to be more faithful in its calling in the public square.
provides the light by which answers can be found. As Stuart Fowler put it in The Place of the Bible in the School (1975): The place of the Bible in our task of studying the creation is not to give answers, but to guide us in our search for the answers, to be the light by whose illumination we will find the answers in the creation itself.
Dr. Michael W. Goheen occupies the Geneva Chair of Reformational Worldview Studies at Trinity Western University, Vancouver. A long-time pastor and worldwide lecturer, he seeks to communicate the concept of “worldview” in a new (post or late modern) era, to many diﬀerent confessional traditions. He and his wife Marnie live in British Columbia and have four adult children. This article was published in Comment, June 2006 www.cardus.ca/comment
Worldview, thus, can equip the church for its missionary task in the public square by mediating between the Gospel and human life. Worldview plays this mediating or channelling function by unpacking the basic categories of the biblical story, clarifying their relationship, defending the gospel against error, and by providing light for the church’s cultural task. (This has been elaborated in my inaugural address The Power of the Gospel and the Renewal of Scholarship, 12-14). Seeing worldview as a mediating category enables us to struggle with the relevance of the biblical text to cultural life, yet to read the Bible with integrity. By articulating the Bible’s teaching in a worldview, the Bible does not offer ready-made answers, but it
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“IF SOMEONE ASKS ABOUT YOUR CHRISTIAN HOPE, ALWAYS BE READY TO EXPLAIN IT.” —1 PETER 3:15, NLT
ave you ever been asked a question about your faith you just could not answer? Have you ever questioned your own beliefs and wondered if what you were taught was actually truth? I
can say ‘yes’ to both questions. I am glad I can say ‘yes’, because in so doing, I have come to realize that I must improve my understanding of my faith, of my beliefs, and of my intellectual understanding of Christianity.
B Y T I M O T H Y P. W I E N S
There is a dangerous complacency among Christians today. Far too often we are content to listen to our pastors, our professors, or others around us without questioning what it is we believe. In many cases, we lack the skills and understanding to truly grasp what A. W. Tozer calls a “knowledge of the holy.” As Christians we have been plagued by a lack of attention to the intellect and to what an intellectual understanding of Christianity means. Too often, faith is the singular ingredient and the intellect is seldom, if ever, challenged. On the other hand, historically there has been a dangerous emphasis on intellectualism that has torn many from an integration of faith and reason. Looking back upon the founding of the Americas, we understand that many of those landing in the New World came to escape the tyranny and oppression of being told what to believe and how to live. Schools such as the Boston Latin School and the Roxbury Latin School were founded in the mid-1600’s to train young men to read and write so that the intellect would be properly developed and a greater understanding of the Scriptures would be attained. This would ensure students would be fit “for publicke service both in churche and commonwealthe.” In 1636, Harvard College was founded “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to
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posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches.”
THERE IS A DANGEROUS COMPLACENCY AMONG CHRISTIANS TODAY
Intellectualism and rationalism can be traced much further back than Puritan New England. Examining Western civilization we know that the Greek intellectual movement, the Renaissance in Europe, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment each played a role in leading us to our current state. However, instead of perpetuating Christianity and creating a greater love of our God, intellectualism in many cases contributed greatly to the spiritual descent of many within Christendom. Developing an historical understanding of intellectualism is not my goal. Nor do I wish to promote anti-intellectual fervor. On the contrary, in what follows, I want to set a course to discuss the importance of developing an intellectual passion aimed at a greater understanding and love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What does it mean to develop mental maturity, to become a thinking Christian, to embrace wisdom? I have begun with two examples of ways in which Christians have fallen into traps that God never intended—the first being Christians of “blind faith”, and the second being Christians who seek to develop intellectual capacities simply for the sake of knowledge. Because of the spiritual-intellectual conundrum faced by so many in the Christian world, in 2002 a new secondary institution was founded in Boston, Massachusetts, a city historically known
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for its academic institutions. The purpose of Boston Trinity Academy (bostontrinity. org) was established to provide academic and spiritual training to a new generation of leaders. Students from the city and the suburbs, from more than nineteen language groups, from multiple races, and from every socio-economic group come together daily to engage the mind and body, to grow in spirit. They interact with adult teachers and mentors who provide an education that would enable each student to graduate academically prepared to enter the best colleges and universities in the world, spiritually prepared to engage culture and defend the Christian faith, and socially prepared to fully engage the world around them. It is my privilege to be the headmaster of this school. It is the goal of the school to provide teachers and mentors who will equip young men and women to influence the world with a well-developed understanding of Christianity, with faith that is real and relevant, and with the knowledge that Christians are called to use our hearts, bodies, and our minds to make a difference in the world in which we live, work, and participate.
BLIND FAITH At Boston Trinity Academy we go further than “blind faith.” By no means do I want to suggest that faith is irrelevant. On the contrary, faith is the key element of Christianity. Paul writes in Ephesians that by grace we are saved through faith and that we can do nothing ourselves to earn salvation. We are called to be people of faith. It is essential. It is imperative.
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What I do not see in the Bible, however, is the call to be people of blind faith, ignorant of the tenets and underlying principles of Christianity. We are called to the opposite. Matthew 22:37 implores us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. In the same chapter of Matthew, we see that Jesus employed the ability to debate using logic and rhetoric. The Pharisees, it says in verse 15, sought to “entangle him in his words.” Jesus, however, saw through their methods and spoke to them in their language, quoting the law and interpreting the culture of the day. In 1 Peter 3:15 we are called upon to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. In Love your God with all your mind, J. P. Moreland writes: “If we are to love God adequately with the mind, then the mind must be exercised regularly, trained to acquire certain habits of thought, and filled with an increasingly rich set of distinctions and categories.” Our intellects are to be stretched and worked often so that we can grow to love God more. Christians need to understand that God speaks to us and is revealed to us through his Word, the Bible. As R. A. Riesen put it in Piety and Philosophy, “Since the message of God to man is delivered in the form of words, it is imperative that the exact meaning of those words be known.” This implies the opposite of what those who call for blind faith are extolling. This implies that we must dig in. We must get to know God with our intellects and understand who He is through the study and examination of His word and His creation. By the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 18-20), Christians have been called to make disciples and teach all nations. We have not been given an option. It is clear that we are to go into all the world. If we are to do so, like Jesus and the Apostle Paul we had better be equipped with more than blind faith.
As students progress through Boston Trinity Academy’s middle and high schools, a great deal of time is spent considering what it means to be a Christian—a true follower of Christ. Likewise, the school takes great care and exerts considerable effort to introduce students to the tenets and foundations of Christianity, and the historical reality of Christ as man, Lord, and truth. Not all students who attend the school subscribe to the faith. Some are Muslim, Buddhist, and atheist. Nonetheless, each is exposed to the message of the Gospel. Each is trained in apologetics. Each must learn the logic necessary to defend the faith. As a result, it is the school’s mission that each student will leave fully grasping an intellectual basis for the Christian faith with a heart developed to love and follow Christ, the Savior and Lord.
OVEREMPHASIZING KNOWLEDGE ONLY FOR THE SAKE OF KNOWLEDGE Christians must be intellectually equipped in order to know God more deeply and in order to perpetuate the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, many Christians have fallen away from faith as they have begun walking the slippery slope of intellectual advancement. We are called to be Christians who use our minds. In his wonderful essay, “Learning in War-Time,” in the collection The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis writes, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” We must be ready to defend the faith, to answer the questions of detractors, to supply ideas to those who are seeking, and to guide lost sheep in need of a shepherd. Being culturally relevant Christians requires us to have a strong grasp of the foundations of Christianity as well as an intellectual understanding of the world in which we live.
BECOMING A THINKING CHRISTIAN
The problem is that “knowledge puffs up” (1 grow as they learn more about all of life. Seeking Corinthians 8:1). Many times those who seek and questioning ought to be a goal for an academic knowledge do so for nothing but the sake of greater institution. If we truly trust in the sovereignty of knowledge. James Packer suggests in his great God, those same questions will certainly lead right book, Knowing God, that when we seek theological back to the creator of all, the one true God, Jesus knowledge for its own sake, we risk our spiritual Christ. health. Earlier I mentioned the example of Harvard College and how it began as an institution dedicated This past year, one of Boston Trinity Academy’s to training men in spiritual and theological matters. brightest students—fluent in five languages—found Many other institutions were born for this, the truth in the person of Jesus Christ most noble and important cause. through questioning and doubting. They, too, have dissolved spiritually. This amazing young woman, now WE MUST NOT Knowledge became something to a graduate and off this autumn be gained for knowledge sake, not SHY AWAY FROM to college, came to the school a for the sake of knowing and loving Muslim, secure in her beliefs, shared APOLOGETICS God more fully and furthering His by her family. In reading, writing, Kingdom. AND LOGIC and seeking answers, she came to the life-altering conclusion that Jesus Christ can only be the way to heaven It is the heartfelt goal of Boston Trinity Academy, and other Christian schools like and the answer to all of life’s questions. Because of it, to hold true to the faith and consistently to seek her commitment to asking the difficult questions guidance from God as decisions are made. The and the school’s commitment not to shy away from questions that may arise in such an institution allowing students to explore such difficult questions, include: When is the school too academic? How much the pursuit of the intellectual resulted in a deep and steadfast faith. Since this time, I have also been able knowledge is too much knowledge? to have some genuine conversations with her father, who himself is seeking truth. R. A. Riesen answers: It is not possible for Christian education… to be too academic. The purpose of education WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN TO DO? is precisely to be academic… The point is simply that we in Christian schools must do How do we impress upon our generation the everything in our power to ensure that in importance of developing a Christian mind for the future generations there is no scandal of the glory of God? How do we integrate our faith with evangelical mind, that we have not opted out the necessary scholarship that will enable the mind of or reneged on our responsibility to engage to grow and the Kingdom of God to advance? The culture and the natural world intellectually Apostle Paul appeals to us: and academically; that is, that we have not given the impression that Christian faith is somehow inimical to careful, honest thought Do not be conformed to this world, but be or that honest thought destroys faith. transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God (Romans 12:1-2). We believe we must train students academically and intellectually. As we do, our students’ faith will
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
T I M O T H Y P. W I E N S
WE MUST RENEW OUR MINDS. We must see the importance of spending time in the Word of God—reading, praying, and meditating on the text. The perfect example was Jesus Christ himself. Consistently throughout the New Testament, Jesus used his knowledge of Scripture to thwart His detractors and to keep Himself pure. When He was tempted by Satan He quoted scripture in order to avoid falling. When the Pharisees verbally attacked Him, He not only quoted scripture, but He had a better understanding of Judaic law than did they. When I was in elementary school, there was a churchbased program called AWANA that I attended. For five years my parents made me attend and memorize verses from the Bible. Every night after dinner my parents made me sit with my AWANA book and work on Bible memorization. While it would be less than honest to say I enjoyed this at the time, today, many years later, my recall of Bible verses memorized helps in many areas of my life. Knowing and understanding the Bible is essential as we seek true wisdom. Likewise, if we are attempting to fill our hearts and minds with the true and the good, we should avoid inputting the wrong information into those hearts and minds. At Boston Trinity Academy, difficult conversations with parents are needed to assure them that the amount of work their children are doing is legitimate. Suggesting that studying is a priority sometimes means less “family time.” In all honesty, I have realized in many cases “family time” has meant watching television together. In such cases, I am quick to recommend to parents that they read along with their children the novels being read in English class, that they sit at the kitchen table and work along with their children on science projects, and that they simply replace television time with family study hall. It does not always go over as well as I might hope, I must admit. Nevertheless, I maintain that filling our minds with intellectual pursuits, be they directly from the Bible or otherwise, beats time spent watching “Gossip Girl” every day of the week!
Books, articles, podcasts, and other forms of media from highly reputable sources are other modes to be explored when seeking to renew our minds. Some worthy of attention are Tim Keller, Gordon Hugenberger, and John Piper. We can renew our minds by memorizing Scripture, by reading and meditating upon the Bible, through prayer, and by spending time seeking God’s truth in every intellectual area of life. As we get to know God more intimately, J. I. Packer claims that we will expend great energy for God, think great thoughts of God, show great boldness for God, and reap great contentment in God.
WE MUST FIND MENTORS AND LEADERS TO HELP US GROW IN WISDOM AND MENTAL MATURITY. Parents and teachers build within children the resources and reserves to handle the struggles and answer the questions the world will pose. Whether we are children of five years, or adults of twenty-five years, we continue to learn and to develop as we watch those we respect. In The Abolition of Man C. S. Lewis suggested that Aristotle and Plato believed in modelling. For Aristotle, the aim of education was to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. According to Lewis, Plato went further, saying: “the human animal must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful.” Lewis also argues that: The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against any false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.
BECOMING A THINKING CHRISTIAN
Behaviorists call an education such as Aristotle and Plato suggest “conditioning.” You may recall the experiment Pavlov conducted on his dogs, teaching them to salivate when they heard a bell ring. In college, one of the required classes I took for my psychology degree was called Conditioning and Learning. One component of the course was training a rat through conditioning. My lab partner and I tried to teach our lab rat to dunk a basketball on a rat-sized basketball hoop (both my lab partner and I were huge basketball fans). Unfortunately, our rat was terribly trained. Our reinforcement was inconsistent. Our training methodology was flawed. As a result, the rat only got as far as pressing a lever for food. We wanted an intellectual and athletic rat, but only taught him to be a mediocre, hedonistic, food-seeking rat. We did not push him. We spent no time outside of our allotted lab period training him. As a result, he gave us what we gave him—minimal results from minimal reinforcement. How much more important are people than lab rats! We are trained to act in certain ways when we are young and to follow in the ways of the Lord. The question is, have we developed in a manner that is meaningful and has enabled us to lead and
influence this world for eternity? Have we spent the time necessary? Are we providing the necessary stimulation to reinforce the behaviors we desire, to become godly men and women? Are we being trained intellectually as well as spiritually or spiritually as well as intellectually? Are we equipped, as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan spoke of an Oxford University education, “to know when someone is talking rot”? With education and a greater knowledge of the Holy, we ought to understand when we are hearing that which is opposed to truth, that which is opposed to the foundations of our faith, and that which may prevent a closer walk with Christ.
WE MUST EXPOSE OURSELVES TO EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE. There is a reason that much of what exists in great schools has existed for centuries. Classical literature, grammar, and rhetoric ought to be studied seriously. Students should graduate as articulate leaders. Advanced mathematics and science courses ought to be offered and taken. We should understand scientific laws and theories, able to defend our beliefs masterfully as informed and learned adults. This includes a clear understanding
Deeper .Schola illustris: The Roxbury Latin School by F.W. Jarvis. .The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. .The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis.
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
.Excellence without a soul: Does liberal education have a future? by R. L. Lewis. .Love your God with all your mind: The role of reason in the life of the soul by J. P. Moreland.
.Knowing God by J. I. Packer. .Piety and philosophy: A primer for Christian schools by R. A. Riesen. .The knowledge of the holy by A. W. Tozer.
T I M O T H Y P. W I E N S
of evolution and Darwinism as well as other theories on creation. Becoming world language learners should be a goal. Many of our forefathers translated entire books of the Bible from Greek to Latin as a part of their college entrance exam. In our global society, we ought to be minimally conversant in a second language. Developing historical understanding of what has led to current world affairs should be common among educated men and women as we develop strategic initiatives to influence culture. How can we influence the future if we have no grasp of our past? Knowledge of these subjects is further knowledge of our God. If we believe that all truth is God’s truth, as Augustine said, we should not only seek truth, but also be encouraged to question why. After all, will not the answers lead us eventually to the Creator of all knowledge and all learning? We must not be afraid of doubt and fear. Instead, we must find the tools to uncover the answers to the questions that
cause doubt and fear. As we do, we will certainly find truth waiting for us in the form of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
MATURING TOWARDS INFLUENCE Boston Trinity Academy is just one example of a school’s working to train students to become transformative, Christian leaders. Whether attending a Christian or secular university, I challenge you to become a thinking Christian—mentally mature, willing and able to embrace wisdom. This is never-ending task, as Christians must seek daily to know Jesus more and to embrace Him more fully. In so doing, we must strive to be people of faith, committed to enhancing faith with our intellects, by the renewing of our minds, learning from others, and growing in community as believers. Not only will we mature mentally and spiritually, we will influence the world around us.
TIMOTHY P. WIENS is the Headmaster at Boston Trinity Academy, a Christian secondary school in urban Massachusetts. He serves as an educational consultant nationally and internationally, and holds a doctorate in educational leadership. This article was published in Comment, September 2008. www.cardus.ca/comment
making friends for “ 20
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
I WANT TO BE TANGLED UP… IN THE THORNS OF LOVE
hile I was in college, God’s providence placed me in relationship to a wise man. He challenged me to think about the connections between belief and behavior. I learned if I wanted to have a life of integrity and real knowing, that I would have to struggle to see how things connect. Seeing Steven Garber as a mentor and model of connecting knowing and loving was of vital importance for my college years.
In his book, The Fabric of Faithfulness, he lays out three things that can help college students find these connections. To oversimplify, they are: 1.
life B Y G R E G V E LT M A N
a worldview that is able to explain adequately human existence and human action in the world,
2 . a mentor or teacher who is an example of living the tensions of the story—teaching how to order priorities and contextualizing “information”—with conviction, a dedicated knower, who teaches the meaning of “to know,” and 3. a community, modelled in the setting of higher education, and reinforced by communities following the college years. A community is a common context of living where one is challenged to live responsibly, being refined and sharpened in relationship with others as one embodies the knowledge and ideas of one’s worldview.
I have since been in pursuit and blessed to have a life full of these things. This past semester I put this theory to the test. I led a book discussion class at Geneva College with eleven undergraduate students. Using as our main text Tom Wolfe’s novel, I am Charlotte Simmons (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004), the students and I explored the social life of college students and how that relates to the goals and purposes of higher education. The relevance of this discussion slowly came to the surface as students saw themselves and others with vivid accuracy in these pages. Added to this was a recent scandal at Duke University (Wolfe’s primary inspiration) surrounding the beliefs and actions of the Lacrosse team. (See the excellent article about the scandal in the June 15, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine). Wolfe’s portrait of college life reminds me of the lyrics to Dave Matthews’ “Grey Street” (see sidebar).
Exploration of IDENTITY
Oh look at how she listens She says nothing of what she thinks She just goes stumbling through her memories Staring out on to Grey Street. She thinks, “Hey, how did I come to this?” I dream myself a thousand times around the world But I can’t get out of this place. There’s an emptiness inside her And she’ll do anything to fill it in But all the colors mix together—to grey And it breaks her heart How she wishes it was different She prays to God most every night And though she swears he doesn’t listen There’s still a hope in her he might She says “I pray But they fall on deaf ears, Am I supposed to take it on myself ? To get out of this place?” There’s a loneliness inside her And she’ll do anything to fill it in And though it’s red blood bleeding from her now It feels like cold blue ice in her heart When all the colors mix together—to grey And it breaks her heart There’s a stranger speaks outside her door Says take what you can from your dreams Make them as real as anything It’d take the work out of the courage But she says “Please There’s a crazy man that’s creeping outside my door, I live on the corner of Grey Street And the end of the world.” There’s an emptiness inside her And she’ll do anything to fill it in And though it’s red blood bleeding from her now It’s more like cold blue ice in her heart She feels like kicking out all the windows And setting fire to this life She could change everything about her Using colors bold and bright But all the colors mix together—to grey And it breaks her heart It breaks her heart To Grey —Dave Matthews, “Grey Street” 22
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
The lyrics of this song get at the crisis point of college students in the 21st century. I imagine that the lyrics to this song might be going though Charlotte’s head
COMMUNITY AND FRIENDSHIP ARE THEY AREN’T EASY OR EFFICIENT.
as she reflects on her freshman year at the fictional Dupont University. A major theme in both this song and the novel is an exploration of identity. One barely has to look past the book’s title to see that Charlotte and, to a lesser extent, the other characters are experiencing a crisis of understanding themselves and their world as they journey through the halls of academia.
GIVING UP THE SEARCH FOR ANSWERS THE BEST PARTS OF THE BOOK ARE THE LONG SECTIONS OF INNER DIALOGUE in which the students reflect on their situation, their history, and their views of themselves and others. The book uses Charlotte’s relationships with her three love interests, Hoyt, Jojo, and Adam, to explore how Charlotte can become herself. Hoyt uses her, she uses Adam, and she finally settles on Jojo since “aside from him, she was as alone as on the day she arrived at Dupont.” Her identity is wrapped up in these relationships, and she can only choose one. Hoyt is over-hyped and Adam is not “mature” enough. And Charlotte soon comes to realize that Jojo has no idea what the “life of the mind” might look like. The story’s main characters, a freshman girl from the mountains of North Carolina named Charlotte Simmons; Jojo, the lone white basketball starter; Adam, a prominent and geeky writer for the school newspaper; and Hoyt, the cool and suave leader of the main fraternity on the campus of Dupont University, contribute to the exciting and disturbing adventure, as
G R E G V E LT M A N
the reader traverses the joys and dangers of plagiarism, partying, sex, cliques, the life of the mind, questions of race, tolerance, and, ultimately, the search for identity.
THINGS TO GET TANGLED UP IN.
BUT THEY GIVE MEANING TO OUR LIVES.
One of Wolfe’s major themes is students’ yearning for acceptance, as seen both in the basketball star, Jojo, who looks for acceptance in his reputation and talent, as well as in the student writer, Adam, in his influence through the media. Even Charlotte eventually gives up her virginity after concluding that sex is the currency of love at a place like Dupont. The book ends with her confusion about her own identity, and she finally chooses to ignore the uneasy feelings that it all should have been different, that something is wrong, but she is alone in her thoughts: Why, then, the uneasy feeling, the sometimes desperate feeling, that came over her now…and almost every day? If only she had someone to talk to about it…to assure her that she was a very lucky girl, after all… But there was—when she thought it through—only Jojo. Aside from him, she was as alone as on the day she arrived at Dupont.… All right, I’ll say, “I am Charlotte Simmons.”… So why do I keep hearing the ghost asking the same tired questions over and over. “Yes, but what does that mean? Who is she?” You can’t define a person who is unique, said Charlotte Simmons. It, the little ghost who wasn’t there, said, ‘Well, then, why don’t you mention some of the attributes that set her apart from every other girl at Dupont, some of the dreams, the ambitions? Wasn’t it Charlotte Simmons who wanted a life of the mind? Or was what she wanted all along was to be considered special and to be admired for that in itself, no matter how she achieved it?’
Charlotte has started to ask the questions that are worth asking but, alone and overwhelmed by the cacophony of college life, she decides to give up the search for answers. My students’ experiences weren’t that different from Charlotte’s, even at a Christian institution. But when asked the questions of identity, “Who are you?” or “What are you going to do with your education?”, instead of being “lost in the cosmos,” like Charlotte, these students could articulate the ideas they had learned in college. Worldviews had been presented that equipped them to use their Christian faith to make sense of the world. They talked about communities of friends that supported them in challenging times. And they pointed out mentors and teachers who gave guidance that pointed them in the direction of wisdom. College for most students is, indeed, making friends that will last a lifetime.
THINK ABOUT GETTING TANGLED UP IN HER BOOK, MY FRESHMAN YEAR (Cornell University Press, 2005), Rebekah Nathan recounts her research project, living in a residence hall on her campus and seeing the world of student life from the inside (she was previously a faculty member in anthropology). While trying to remain objective and anonymous, she sees the pain and hurt of students and the chaos of their lives. Their highest goal, it seems, is to have “the perfect schedule.” The students she observed were looking to get in, get a diploma, and get out—the fewer distractions, the better. They were not about to let classes and deep relationships get in the way of their pursuit of a better life as college graduates. These students suffer from what Michael Flynn’s band Slow Runner calls being “Streamlined” (see sidebar). Today’s students live in a culture that tells them to be streamlined. It is less painful, and it will get you where you want to go most efficiently. Charlotte was streamlined, and it left her “wishing it were different.” Being streamlined is the process of being numbed to
MAKING FRIENDS FOR LIFE
the worlds crying and laughter. It is to retreat into oneself. Our fear of intimacy allows us to take the path of least resistance—streamlined.
DISTRACTIONS, THE BETTER? Now loneliness is so refined It’s streamlined I slip through doors, I pass the time Streamlined I want to be Weighted down Tangled up In the thorns of love But this year I Ended up Streamlined All extra weight I’ve left behind between the rain beneath the signs I want to be Tangled up Weighted down Lost and found Cause these days I Just walk around Streamlined —Slow Runner, “Streamlined”
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
I think we ought to think about getting tangled up. The streamlined life is not worth living. Community and friendship are things to get tangled up in. They aren’t easy or efficient. But they give meaning to our lives. What does a tangled life look like? It has all the components of connecting belief and behavior that I described at the beginning. It starts by understanding the relationship of loving to knowing. We get close to both ideas and others. The thorns of intimacy bring to light our brokenness and we learn to be humble. But we come to embrace our callings.
VULNERABILITIES BECOME CONNECTIONS FOR ME, COLLEGE WAS MARKED BY THE EXPERIENCE OF DISSOLVING RELATIONSHIPS, by family’s scattering about the globe, and by homepacking-up and relocating hundreds of miles away. I have rarely returned to a place. Everything seems different where I used to belong. I am a stranger. But that reality is not just in the past, it is with me in the present. And this tangled life makes me remember that a heart can hurt. But it has also given me courage to take risks, to know that the way of real redemption means taking off an old self, and being made anew. The solution cannot be to turn life into an abstraction. As we tell our stories in community, we see our entanglement, and our vulnerabilities become connections with who we are, together. But college was also a time of deep and intimate conversations that formed friendships that will last a lifetime. Having risked entanglement, I have found others that allow me to know them and I found a place where I could be known. I continue to discuss the big ideas with friends, and often just rambling about the everydayness of life. Friendship shows us that it is possible to know and be known, to love and be loved. As friends share in your joys, you can share in theirs-next
G R E G V E LT M A N
summer, I’ll be in a wedding. Our stories start to share chapters. You almost never get back what you invest in a friendship, but what is gained is different, mysterious, and always greater than you could have thought. Friendship means rejecting being streamlined.
about sexuality, politics, economics, education, and all of life. The best place to work these questions out is with a mentor who has travelled the road before us, who loves deeply the complexity of the questions, and who is committed FRIENDSHIP MEANS to the pursuit of truth. The tangledup life is not solitary. One needs a College is an ideal time in people’s REJECTING BEING community of friends and “fellow lives to learn how to navigate travelers” to be challenged by and to STREAMLINED. life, entanglements and all. With serve. College is a space for each of wisdom as a guide we can learn and these, and Christians interested in teach a worldview-a way of being the renewal of culture have the opportunity to put these in the world that sees the reality of pain and suffering, ideas into practice in persuasive ways. College is a place to the hope of redemption, and the joy of intimacy. A learn and to live storytelling… and storied living. robust worldview is not a trite response that God’s ways are far beyond ours (and they often are), but that we need questions to go deeply into what we believe
GREG VELTMAN is a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. He publishes extensive film commentary at gregpveltman.blogspot.com. This article was published in Comment, September 2006. www.cardus.ca/comment
askingBIG questions POP QUIZ: • WHAT DO I LOVE?? LIEVE? • WHAT DO I BELIEVE? • WHERE DO I BELONG? • WHO AM I?? URT NEEDS H • WHAT HURT HEALING IN THE WORLD? OTENTIAL W • WHAT POTENTIAL WAITS TO BE REALIZED? • WHAT IS TO BE DONE? YES, THIS WILL BE ON THE FFINAL.
BY GIDEON STRAUSS
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
ollege is a time for falling in love, reading great books, and asking big questions. It is a time for adventure and exploration, discovery and delight— for “tensed leisure,” as Calvin Seerveld sometimes calls it. While our deepest loves may take root
in childhood, it is in our young adult years that we are most likely to begin to articulate the implications of what we love for how we hope to live. For those of us privileged to spend time at college, the provocations offered by books and movies, paintings and songs, teachers and friends encountered during these years bring us to question the answers we have inherited from our parents. Sometimes we appropriate those answers for ourselves with deepened conviction, and sometimes—wrenchingly— we reach for other more convincing and more coherent answers. It is a time in which we can try out different ideas, ways of life, kinds of work, with a little more wiggle-room in the face of destiny, and a little more tolerance from others for backing out of options we find to be cul-desacs. For some of us, there is a little less pressure to put food on the table by the sweat of our brows and, therefore, a little more of Seerveld’s classical leisure for reading, visiting art galleries, staying up late over beer or coffee to talk through things, wrestling with writing in which we bring our selves to bear on concerns common to humanity through the ages or peculiar to our own time and place. I remember with great fondness long hours spent in the library of the University of Cape Town in the early months of 1990 when, unexpectedly released from conscripted work, I briefly laboured as a full-time graduate student. It is in those months that I fell in love with the New York Intellectuals through their opinion journalism—one of the great loves of my life—and for the first time began struggling with the big questions raised by African poverty in an honestly post-utopian way. Compared to the preceding five years of doing a full-time day job as a conscript and doing a full load of undergraduate and graduate studies at night, it was leisure indeed. But it truly was “tensed leisure”—filled with effort and potential, like an archer’s bent bow. My reading started early in the morning and ended late at night, and I spent long laborious hours trying to think and write through the perplexing troubles of postcolonial Africa, and the questions they raised about being human, living together in a society, and trying to change the way things are in a world bent out of shape. The questions I considered in those months were genuinely academic—that is, informed by the long traditions and stringent standards of scholarship, while simultaneously being urgently connected to the salient issues in late apartheid-era South Africa. My
ASKING BIG QUESTIONS
intellectual forays were prompted by curiosity, but sustained by a nearirresistible insistence that rose up out of both the times and my own life stage of young adulthood: to choose a life, to take a stand, to decide what is to be done. I am convinced that any attentive, thoughtful young adult will find big questions rising up within themselves. The following seven questions are important for all of life—and the college years offer a uniquely privileged setting in which to seriously consider them.
1. WHAT DO I LOVE?
THESE SEVEN QUESTIONS ARE IMPORTANT FOR ALL OF LIFE—AND THE COLLEGE YEARS OFFER A UNIQUELY PRIVILEGED SETTING IN WHICH TO SERIOUSLY CONSIDER THEM.
THE MOST BASIC QUESTION ANYONE CAN ASK THEMSELVES is, “What do I love?” Steven Garber writes in The Fabric of Faithfulness that “It is in that question and the spiritual dynamics implicit in its answer that belief and behavior are woven together.” We love a great many things. I enjoy asking people to write down a list of fifty things they love. Making such a list is an illuminating exercise. I review my own list several times a year—usually in preparation of a class or workshop in which I am planning to use the exercise. I encourage people to list items that range from the sublime (for example, their love for their spouse) to the ridiculous (for example, my love for Stabilo Sensor pens), in random order, to share their lists with others, and to amend their lists whenever they wish. Once they have a provisionally complete list, I suggest that they circle the four to six items on the list that they love most deeply, and
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
that they write down a few notes on the relationships between these four to six. The list of my own four to six deepest loves includes God, Angela (my wife), Tala and Hannah (my daughters), reading, and neocalvinism. I have learned a great deal about myself in the last three or so years as I have considered the relationships among my deepest loves. For example, I have realized that there is a close and perhaps inextricable connection between my love for Angela and my love for God. It was Angela who was instrumental in introducing me to the love of God, when in 1982 she bought me a previously owned copy of The Good News New Testament at a street market in Cape Town—and it is my love of God that ultimately anchors me to a faithful and trusting marriage with Angela, despite my vigorous appreciation of feminine beauty at large. As my love of God is nurtured, so is my love for Angela—and vice versa. Human loves are not rhizomatic but, instead, exist in a hierarchy, with all of our loves being ultimately rooted in a single, deepest love, an ultimate commitment that enables and at the same time relativizes all of our other loves—a love that serves as a god. When asking the question, “What do I love?”, during the college years, our answers include matters of taste—in clothes and music, food and poetry, coffee and beer—and intimate relationships—a man or woman with whom, maybe, to partner for life or a circle of friends—but all of these emerging loves derive their deepest meaning from the decisions we make about the god we will love and who will root, centre, and encompass all of our lives.
2. WHAT DO I BELIEVE? OUR MOST SINCERE CONVICTIONS GROW OUT OF OUR DEEPEST LOVES. Our ultimate commitment to something that is radical, central, total—something that roots, holds, and encompasses all of our lives, as one of my college mentors, Danie Strauss (no relation), taught—is expressed in our beliefs about the relation between the world and the divine.
Everyone understands the world to be somehow dependent upon something that is itself independent—something self-existent, as Roy Clouser calls it in his Myth of Religious Neutrality, something that can therefore be defined as “divine.” Sometimes we identify some part or aspect of the world as selfexistent, as the very early Greek philosopher Thales did water. Clouser calls such divinity beliefs pagan. Sometimes we identify the world as a whole to be a part or aspect of that which is self-existent, as is the case in Hindu philosophies. Clouser calls such divinity beliefs pantheist. The teaching of the Bible is that God is not part of the world, and the world is not part of God, but that the whole world is entirely dependent on God for its existence—it is a creation of God. The truth of creation and its surprising focus in the incarnate Jesus is expressed best, I think, by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians when he writes: “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the
head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:15-20, ESV). Our ultimate commitment finds expression in divinity beliefs, which themselves most often ground the big stories—the grand narratives—we tell as truth about the genesis, coherent structure, and purposeful meaning (in the face of evil) of reality. In seeking to answer the question, “What do I believe?”, perhaps a good way to go about it is to ask: “What stories do I believe to be true to the reality of things?” Much has been written in recent years about the importance of stories to the ways in which we humans make sense of the world— the narrative ethics of Stanley Hauerwas and the narrative theology of N. T. Wright being prime examples. “Story” in this sense is a metaphor, and there are certainly other warranted metaphors for the ways in which we try to make sense of the world and our lives. We can think of the world and our lives in terms of maps and journeys, as lists, as logical arguments, as prospects and perspectives (like the popular metaphor of a worldview), or in the terms of number of other metaphors. But stories are the most common and profound ways in which we try to understand the world. Stories are dynamic and coherent. They have a plot with a beginning, a dramatic climax in the middle, and a conclusive and meaningful end. They have characters and a conflict, so that it makes imaginative sense to trace the trajectory of a human life from birth through the travails of life to death in terms of a story. Stories
ASKING BIG QUESTIONS
adults yet, have come to profound conclusions about the nature of love and justice, wit and honesty, through their watching and reading In wondering what stories AS WE TELL OUR STORIES, of Shakespeare’s plays— are true, young adulthood perhaps, the most AND WEAVE THEM INTO can unfold as years of imaginative and thoughtimaginative flourishing if THE GRAND NARRATIVE provoking set of stories they include the pleasures in English literature. WE BELIEVE IN, WE BEGIN of being educated by novels, Similarly, we can discover plays and movies. While TO MAKE SENSE OF WHO what we believe by I cannot say with Joseph asking questions of the WE ARE. Epstein that “novels … have movies we watch, if to been the most decisive in a lesser degree. Denis forming my character,” I do believe that digging Haack writes that some of the best storytellers of into novels—and in particular the greatest novels, our time are using the medium of film to tell their by Austen and Bellow, Cervantes and Dostoyevsky, stories, so that if we want to understand the stories Eliot and Flaubert—and the list goes that people of our own time believe to be true to reality, we have to watch and consider movies. have protagonists and antagonists—heroes and villains. We understand our own stories in those terms.
The greatest stories challenge us most deeply with their possible truth. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; Shakespeare; the Bible. I do not see how a young adult, seeking to make sense of the world, can get around reading these stories, with critical humility, trying to understand if they tell the truth, or not.
on—is a necessary part of the education of our imaginations, necessary to a discovery of the stories we believe to tell the most truth. My own daughters, while not quite young
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Deciding what we believe is not only about the stories told by others. It is also about the stories we tell ourselves, and most significantly, the story we tell of our own lives. A grand narrative only gains meaning for us as it intersects with our personal narratives. Telling our own stories and being listened to attentively and with care, by friends, is one of the most profound—while often unsettling—experiences available to us at any time of our lives. It is as we tell our own stories, and imaginatively weave it onto the grand narrative we believe to be true of the whole world, that we begin to make sense of who we are. It is as we explain where we started, where we come from, as we articulate the coherent plot lines of our lives, despite many detours, highs and lows, and reach for a sense of personal meaning and purpose, in particular as we face up to the evil around and within us, that we discover—and to a significant extent forge—our individual identities. Through our stories we make sense of what it is we are living for.
3. WHERE DO I BELONG? THE CONFESSIONAL TRADITION INTO WHICH I AM ADOPTED has as one of its biggest and most familiar big questions this: “What is your only comfort in life and death?” The historical answer to the question is, “That I am not my own, but belong— body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” One of the things this interrogatory gets right is the link between our deep need for comfort and the necessity of its being met in a complete belonging. While the deepest sense of belonging can only be met by being rooted in a relationship with the divine, we humans are neighbourly creatures. We also need the comfort of belonging to and among other human beings.
of belonging. In recent years the importance of friendship has been a leading theme in popular culture, as in the television series Friends. It is a great gift if we are able to cultivate friendships in our youth and young adulthood that can persist throughout our adult lives, and if these friends can challenge and encourage us to live lives true to our deepest commitments and most sincere convictions. As Greg Veltman writes in “Making friends for life,” “Friendship shows us that it is possible to know and be known, to love and be loved.”
4. WHO AM I?
OUR CHARACTER, AND WITH IT OUR SENSE OF PERSONAL IDENTITY, is rooted in our commitments, nourished by our communities, and articulated in terms of our Abraham Maslow correctly identified the need for convictions. I best understand myself in terms of belonging as a basic human need. While I am not what I love, with whom I am friends, and by what a wholesale social constructionist, I I believe. As Steven Garber writes think Kenneth Gergen, and perhaps in The Fabric of Faithfulness, our more so Peter Berger, are on to YOUNG ADULTS IN character is additionally shaped something when they suggest that our COLLEGE HAVE THE in relation to more experienced sense of identity is derived from our mentors who in their lives social relationships. I am to a large DOUBLE PRIVILEGE embody the commitments and extent who I am—or at least who I convictions we share. OF DEVELOPING understand myself to be—because of the people among whom I belong. RELATIONSHIPS Mentors whom we know face-to-
face and heroes whom we know WITH MENTORS For most people, the close mostly through our readings relationships of the family provide us AND OF IMMERSING of history, literature, and sacred with our earliest and most immediate scriptures serve as models for our THEMSELVES IN sense of belonging. For many people, a own development of character. faith community provides perhaps the GREAT BOOKS. The question, “Who am I?”, is deepest and most enduring sense of answered in par t when we ask belonging. Today, perhaps most obviously, our work “Like whom am I?” Young adults in college have the communities loom largest in giving us a less profound double privilege of developing relationships with but more consuming sense of belonging. Perhaps, mentors and of immersing themselves in great less than before but still significantly for many books inhabited by a great variety of heroes against people—including my family—our neighbourhood whom to consider their own lives and aspirations. provides us with a familiar place and community.
Among young adults, at least since the advent of modern popular culture, the friendship of peers is the most decisive matrix for developing a sense
Consider, for example, some of the questions raised by Shakespeare’s heroes. Is enduring historical fame worth the sacrifice of everything else? Is passionate romantic love worth civic disturbance and family
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honour? When is a mentor a millstone, and what is to be done in that event? Is revenge possible and necessary? Do we forge our own personalities, or is it shaped by forces beyond ourselves? My own sense of identity has been shaped by several heroes and mentors, but in no case have I tried to emulate someone else comprehensively. For example, one of my mentors during my teens was an Anglican monk in South Africa, Anthony Perry, whose monastery was the only site we could find in our province for a multi-racial youth camp. I strive to be like Anthony in his relentlessly living his convictions in the face of political censure, in his commitment to building institutions, in his combination of thorough scholarship with passionate (but quiet, below-theradar) activism. I do not, however, seek to live a life of monastic poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Especially not the celibacy! As another example, Angela and I seek to live a life like that of Edith and Francis Schaeffer, in nurturing a home and family life characterized by generous hospitality, thoughtful conversation, and thoroughgoing trust in the care of God. But we do not seek for our home to be an exotic pilgrimage destination, and we do not see our primary vocation as a couple to be that of missionaries.
5. WHAT HURT NEEDS HEALING IN THE WORLD? PERHAPS THE MOST OFTEN QUOTED SENTENCE BY NOVELIST AND ESSAYIST FREDERICK BUECHNER reads, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The question of calling or vocation—obtaining a sense of personal purpose or mission in the world, in particular with regard to our work—is one of the most burning questions facing college-age people. It is partly in paying attention to the world’s hunger, pain, and brokenness that we begin to discover our own answers to this question. Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase translated as “repairing the world.” While it refers in the first place to the work of God in returning the world to its original
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purposes, it is also a call to us to participate in that work. It is a phrase popularly used by Jewish social activists (reflected in the name of the journal of opinion Tikkun) and by followers of the currently fashionable mystical kabbalah tradition in Judaism. Without succumbing to the mystical panentheism of the kabbalah, this phrase does point us to the need for people belonging to God to be involved in God’s repair of the world. Finding our task in the world, our mission in life, requires attending to the pain, the brokenness in the world. Abraham Kuyper—another of my heroes—said in a famous speech in 1891, on the “social problem”—the problem of urban poverty in the wake of the industrial revolution—that Only one thing is necessary if the social question is to exist for you: you must realize the untenability of the present state of affairs, and you must account for this untenability not by incidental causes but by a fault in the very foundation of our society’s organization. If you do not acknowledge this and think that social evil can be exorcised through an increase in piety, or through friendlier treatment or more generous charity, then you may believe that we face a religious question or possibly a philanthropic question, but you will not recognize the social question. This question does not exist for you until you exercise an architectonic critique of human society, which leads to the desire for a different arrangement of the social order. Finding our vocation requires exercising an architectonic critique, also in our age. The college years offer a wonderful opportunity to hear, read and view insightful social criticism that exposes the evil in the world and in our own hearts, and its consequences in the oppression, exploitation, injustice, poverty, anger, fear, pain, and loss suffered around the world and in our own neighbourhoods. There are faults in the very architecture of society, and if we do not know where the faultlines lie we cannot know where to insert ourselves as healers and bringers of hope.
But answering this question requires more than listening, reading and watching. It also requires that our hearts be broken.
6. WHAT POTENTIAL WAITS TO BE REALIZED? THE WORLD IS NOT ONLY BROKEN—it also… no, primarily… continues to be God’s good creation, with all of the possibilities embedded in it by God at the beginning of time. The world is pregnant with potential, waiting to be disclosed through human care, stewardship, and cultivation. God enfolded the patterns of possibility into the world—the poetry of human-making lies in the imaginative unfolding, opening up of these possibilities.
The vocational quest of the college student demands more than critique—it requires reflection on the patterns embedded in the structure of reality, patterns that provide a template in terms of which critique is possible, and that offer a matrix within which discovery and invention flourishes. I remember the deep delight of such reflection, in catching glimpses of the wisdom that shapes the world, the awe and wonder that arise in the process of discovery, and the subsequent pleasure of invention and organization, as we enjoy the entrepreneurial pleasure of educated prudence brought to bear on professional and institutional tasks and challenges. College is a time for cultivating a sense of wonder that can feed a lifetime of opening up the possibilities in the world, be it in taking care of a small backyard vegetable garden or restructuring global commodity markets, writing laws or raising a family, singing songs or teaching students.
FINDING OUR VOCATION REQUIRES MORE THAN LISTENING, READING AND WATCHING. IT ALSO REQUIRES THAT OUR HEARTS BE BROKEN.
Photo by Markus Biehal, www.westausgang.de
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7. WHAT IS TO BE DONE? THE QUESTION RAISED BY LENIN DRAWS YOUNG ADULTS out of the appropriate reflection and “tensed leisure” of the college years into the responsibilities of a lifetime. Love, brokenheartedness, and wonder are necessary elements of college life, but by themselves, insufficient. Critique and discovery must translate into responsible action. And action requires strategic vision and tactical skill.
A COLLEGE EDUCATION LIMITED TO BEER AND BUSINESS SKILLS IS THE PRELUDE TO A LIFE WASTED. SO I BESEECH MY STUDENT READERS… FALL IN LOVE! READ BEYOND THE REQUIREMENTS! AND ASK BIG QUESTIONS!
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
As I have written elsewhere, young adults need college cafeteria alcoves in which to passionately “argue the world,” figuring out what is to be done. One of my favourite examples of college students arguing over what is to be done is Alcove No. 1 at the City College of New York, in the 1930s, as described by Irving Kristol: It provided serious conversation, even heated debate, around big questions as they connected with public life. It provided options and nuances on current affairs, but in conscious interaction with a grand encompassing tradition (in this case, marxism and its nearest neighbourhood, especially as mediated by an immediately preceding generation). It offered companionship around shared concerns, but also over and against a common adversary (stalinism, and in particular the stalinism of the alcove next door!). It was a place where books and magazine articles could be enthusiastically shared and vigorously discussed.
The college years, in offering a space for heartbreak and wonder, and strategic argument, offers a space in which to begin to realize and answer calling. To make the most of that space, it is necessary to do more than read— provided one does read! It is necessary to acquire certain kinds of experience: the experience of travel, finding an understanding of places different from one’s home town, sharing the wonder of new landscapes and the pain of foreign shanty towns, and the experience of volunteer service, in which a certain generosity at work and humility in leadership can begin to be cultivated. ~ There are big questions that only become urgent later in life. After some years of adult work, most of us begin asking, “How am I doing?” What expertise have I developed during my years of apprenticeship? It is good to cultivate an attitude of reflective practice: open to learning from failure, engaged in relentless incrementalism but not stubborn foolhardiness, regularly stepping back to consider our work by means of a journal, a retreat, and morning prayer. In time, some of us begin to wonder, “Who can I tell?” Out of our own experiences grows a desire to mentor and teach others, to share our expertise, to testify to our discoveries, to pass on the torch to someone who can carry on a tradition and steward a legacy. And for those who take on the responsibility of leadership, in time the question arises, “How do I say thank you?” The business leader and thinker Max De Pree famously wrote that “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two,
the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.” Saying thank you is one expression of the ethics of gratitude: an approach to life that grows out of the realization that we receive all of life, including our own work, as a gift, and that the best we have to offer is the expression of gratitude, also by giving away our efforts as gifts, even when we are getting paid to do a job.
It is good to “party.” It is necessary to learn skills that can be traded in the job market. But a college education limited to beer and business skills is the prelude to a life wasted. So I beseech my student readers… Fall in love! Read beyond the requirements! And… Ask big questions!
DR. GIDEON STRAUSS is Senior Fellow at Cardus, and the editor of Comment. This article was published in Comment, September 2006. www.cardus.ca/comment
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law. —Psalm 119:18 (NIV)
BY G A B E LY O N S
C U LT U R A L I N F L U E N C E : A N O P P O R T U N I T Y F O R T H E C H U R C H
’ve heard it said that you don’t choose the books you re a d — g re a t b o o k s c h o o s e you. In some peculiar way, I believe that is what happened in 1999 as I consumed Charles C o l s o n a n d N a n c y P e a rc e y ’s How now shall we live? Never before
had I planned to read a 600-page, non-fiction book, but once I devoured the introduction (a version of which is re-published in this edition of Comment), I could not put it down. On vacation in Mexico, I found myself reading this thick, green, hardcover book by the pool, on the beach and in my room during every waking moment. My worldview was challenged and my view of Christian influence in culture was invigorated. My wife wondered what had gotten into me—and with good reason. When was the last time you saw a grown man create flash cards for reading that was not required… on vacation?! Up until that time, I had wrestled with several questions surrounding the role of my faith in this world. I had no problem grasping the idea of eternal life and the need for personal salvation, but the answers I was familiar with were deficient when it came to how my faith practically played out during my years in this present world. Nobody addressed what to me seemed an obvious problem: Christianity gained more conversions in America over the last two hundred years than any other faith. Simultaneously, Christianity steadily lost cultural influence despite its rapid conversion growth. As I read Colson and Pearcey’s book, for the first time in my life I encountered Christians who had dared to set aside the talking points and “go off message.” They had recognized the problems and offered biblical, logical solutions. I began to reconnect to Christian purpose. Colson and Pearcey laid out all of what being a Christian was about. They challenged my worldview and invigorated my view of Christian influence. It felt simple, yet complex, true and historic. I was convinced that everyone I
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knew needed to read this book. I just knew that if more Christians could grasp this bigger picture, it could change the face of Christianity throughout our nation. Unfortunately, I knew none of my twenty-something friends would want to read a 600-page book. So, I was left with two choices: get new friends, or, do everything within my grasp to take these ideas and convey them in the most practical, life-giving, and encouraging way to everyone I could. I chose the second option. As Henry Blackaby writes in Experiencing God, the role of every Christian is to “watch to see where God is at work and join him.” A shift in Christian praxis within our culture may be one such place where God is at work. I believe God is calling the church in the United States to grasp its calling to influence the greater culture. We can feel it in the rebuke of pretentious Christianity and sense it in the hearts and minds of young Christ-followers desperate to live lives pleasing and honouring their Maker. I can’t imagine anything more important or significant in our lifetimes than to be a part of the church’s recapturing its role in shaping culture. When we do this, the life-giving message of Jesus Christ will go forward in ways unprecedented throughout the 21st century.
THE ORIGINS OF CULTURAL INFLUENCE Modern-day evangelicals are most familiar with God’s saving grace—the means by which God’s saving power, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, can redeem people from their sin and give them new life in Christ and throughout eternity. What we hear less about, today, is another theological concept called common grace. Wayne Grudem defines common grace as “the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation.” This common grace is available through and to all of His creation. David refers to it in Psalm 145: “The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made… The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire
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of every living thing.” Jesus also referred to it when he admonished us: “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). Understanding both saving grace and common grace helps us to understand the cultural mandate. It dates back to the Garden of Eden when on the sixth day of creation a momentous delegation unfolds as God hands Adam the responsibility to pick up where He has left off. He is called to reflect God’s image and to have dominion over all things, to “steward” God’s good creation and all of its resources in the service of God and man (Genesis 1:26-28). God’s declaration to humanity of their divinely appointed duties provided deep purpose and meaning to human life. Humankind were called to partner with God in the work He wanted to do throughout creation. It was Colson and Pearcey’s explanation of the cultural mandate that grabbed my mind and my heart:
idea of a “catechesis” was based on an intentional, deliberate process of growth that introduced a new believer to the life they aspired to live on this earth. Conversion was not achieved in a moment. Both the mentor and the disciple saw it as a process that required serious, disciplined engagement over time. Although eternal salvation might be grasped in a moment, the lifestyle of winsome engagement could take a lifetime to achieve. The Christian explanation for existence made sense to Kings and paupers alike. As Colson and Pearcey write, it was a “comprehensive life system that answers all of humanity’s age-old questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have any meaning and purpose?” It competed and won the day against other stories’ explaining human existence. Even intellectuals embraced it, since Christian faith offered answers to the nagging questions of the human condition. Sadly, this way of thinking would be drastically transformed by the Enlightenment and the Second Awakening.
The Enlightenment initiated a philosophical shift that would change everything. The basis for human existence shifted away from God God cares not only about redeeming and toward humanity. Human souls but also about restoring his CHRISTIANS reason, scientific research, and creation. He calls us to be agents not individual achievement had no SERVING THE only of his saving grace but also of his need for divine intervention. common grace. Our job is not only to COMMON GOOD Innovation was in the air. build up the church but also to build a Speed, volume, and progress HAVE UNMATCHED society to the glory of God. As agents of would become the celebrated God’s common grace, we are called to INFLUENCE measures for success, as Michael help sustain and renew his creation, to Metzger observes. Speed would uphold the created institutions of family overtake intentionality, volume and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create would surpass quality, and progress would overrun works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those tradition. This philosophy of human-driven cultural suffering from the results of the Fall. advancement characterized the modern view that would influence Christian thinking. Christians live to serve the common good of our neighbours, and that service creates unmatched Here is one possible way of explaining what happened influence on the culture. to North American Christianity as it developed
CULTURAL INFLUENCE LOST For centuries, Christian growth and maturing was understood as a gradual process. The historical
alongside the influence of the Enlightenment. Movements like the Great Awakening in England, New England, and the eastern seaboard of North America, and the Second Awakening that spread from New England through to the American
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frontier in the late 1700s and early 1800s introduced many people to Christ. Methodist preaching and Presbyterian Lord’s Supper gatherings staged as camp meetings convened on the frontier, having little effect on the educated intellectuals in the city. The great orators of the day used emotional preaching and proclaimed boldly the most dramatic points of the Christian story; “You are a sinner, and Christ’s death and resurrection can give you new life. If you get saved, you will have eternal life in Heaven.” They initiated special invitations to capture the most possible conversions from a given audience in a limited amount of time. They didn’t have the
As more evangelical Christians adopted this halfstory explanation of the faith, their cultural influence began to fade. The emphasis on heavenly pursuits overshadowed the idea of living a life that offered common grace and promoted cultural influence. And as personal decisions for Christ became the short-term measure of success, the church added shallow converts who were unable to see the cultural implications of their faith. If being a Christ-follower is only about getting a free pass to heaven and trying to bring everyone else with them, it will alienate Christians from the broader dialogue about life, justice, and the here and now.
benefit of living among the people and modeling the life of a Christian over the course of years. Their demanding schedule of traveling by horseback from town to town gave them weeks, and sometimes just days, to convey the depth of the message of Jesus.
Relying on the half-story explanation of the gospel is like handing someone a John Grisham novel with the first and last fifty pages removed. They’d be left with the middle portion of the book, a half-story depicting some of the most dramatic developments of the story but giving little understanding of the characters, their aims and beliefs, and how they got into their dilemma in the first place. The story might still be intriguing but the reader would be left feeling empty. The impact of the story would be lost. They could call themselves a John Grisham reader, but they would miss most of what makes him a compelling author. And the story doesn’t make sense to them because it is an incomplete truth.
It’s easy to see that when forced to convey the most dramatic parts of the Christian story in a short period of time, parts of the story are easily overlooked. In the process, Christianity was losing its profound and life-giving answers to central questions no longer representing an entire life-system and worldview. It had become relegated to a personal, spiritual decision about where you would spend the afterlife.
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When Christians dismiss the cultural mandate as an insignificant part of the Christian life, separatism and piety increases and cultural influence fades, But, if Christians learn and embrace the full story gospel and partner with God in restoring and redeeming his creation, their cultural influence will follow and the Good News will spread.
CHANNELS OF CULTURAL CULTURAL INFLUENCE LEADERS SHAPE What are the social institutions THE IDEAS, of our culture that Hunter refers
to? They are the social institutions
THOUGHTS AND that govern any society, including
business, government, media, church, arts and entertainment, OF MILLIONS OF education, and the social sector. Their combined output of ideas, OTHERS films, books, theology, websites, HOW NOW SHALL restaurants, investments, social WE INFLUENCE? work, laws, medical breakthroughs, and technology The idea of culture-shaping is widely debated. As drive an entire nation. The ideas and values they James Davison Hunter observes in his Trinity Forum perpetuate sustain the moral fibre and social briefing, To Change the World, most people—and until conscience of the culture. The people who lead these recently that would have included me—implicitly influential institutions shape the ideas, thoughts believe that cultures are changed from the bottom- and preferences of millions of others. If Hunter is up—that to “change our culture, we need more and right, a very few can effect dramatic shifts in the more individuals possessing the right values and convictions and aspirations of a culture. therefore making better choices.” The problem is that it is only part of the solution. Hunter argues The church is a unique channel of cultural influence. that “[it] is this view of culture that also leads some Few other institutions draw participants from so faith communities to evangelism as their primary many areas of society. When Christians embrace means of changing the world. If people’s hearts and the common goals of both redeeming cultures and minds are converted, they will have the right values, individual souls, the possibilities for positive cultural they will make the right choices, and the culture will influence dramatically increase. change in turn.” I believe that the church is the hope of the world Hunter goes on to argue that “the renewal of and is positioned like no other channel of influence our hearts and minds is not only important, it is to shape culture. Its people are called to be in the essential, indeed a precondition for a truly just and world. As John Stott puts it in Basic Christianity, “We humane society. But by itself, it will not accomplish find ourselves citizens of two kingdoms, the one the objectives and ideals we hope for.” This could earthly and the one heavenly. And each citizenship explain why Christianity as practiced by many well lays upon us duties which we are not at liberty to meaning, admirable Christians in the past failed to evade.” Although the work of culture creation may take place outside the physical walls of a church achieve significant traction. building, the local church creates a natural space Cultures are shaped when networks of leaders, where social networks of leaders, within all seven representing the different social institutions of a channels of culture, can work together towards a culture, work together towards a common goal: common goal. Nowhere else does this potential for “Again and again we see that the impetus, energy and synergy exist. Unlike other channels, the church is a direction for changing the world were found where living organism where God’s spirit constantly moves cultural, economic and often political resources and seeks to express Himself through a willing Body. overlapped; where networks of elites, who generated Sadly, by focusing on just the “spiritual” and the these various resources, come together in common afterlife, the Christian church has strayed from its purpose.” potential influence in the here and now, positioning
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itself instead as just another subculture. Many Christians currently hold unique and influential positions throughout the seven channels of culture, but have never been supported by fellow believers.
ENGAGING CULTURAL LEADERS Consider my thirty-four-year-old friend Dan, a leader in the business channel of cultural influence who meets with captains of industry and strategic leaders throughout the free world. He cares deeply about Christian engagement in the place God has called him, but doesn’t feel comfortable labelling himself a Christian due to the negative baggage that comes with it. When we first met four years ago, Dan was desperate for a community of believers that could understand him and his life in the wider culture. He had no community or church that could support him as he tried to fulfill his calling. Dan had given up hope and felt like the only Christian in his predicament. His story is all too common. In the work that I do, I come across cultural leaders who feel disconnected from the local church or, worse yet, misunderstood or “used.” The story for some is that the church tends to only be interested in them if the church organization can benefit in some way. Church leaders fail to recognize the current and potential influence these leaders wield within culture, and they unknowingly drive them away. Still, an undeniable opportunity for the church to regain ground exists. My friend Jon, a top model in the fashion industry, experienced something different in the local church. As he pursued the opportunity to lead a culturally redeeming project to captivate the vanguard of the fashion industry, he found help and support. His pastor spent time with him and probed deeply to find ways the church could actively support these efforts. Whether volunteering to help at local events or assisting in the organizational and administrative details of his project, this church provided the back-up Jon needed to engage where God has placed him.
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
Jon’s Christian community exemplifies a shift in the church. As one piece of a greater movement, we’re just beginning to see what might happen. As Tim Keller writes: If we produce thousands of new church-communities that regularly attract and engage secular people, that seek the common good of the whole city especially the poor, and that produce thousands of Christians who write plays, make movies, express creative journalism, begin effective and productive new businesses, use their money for others, and produce cutting-edge scholarship and literature we will see our vision for the city realized and our whole society changed as a result. This vision demands that leaders in the church wrestle with the complexity of embodying the Gospel in culture. As the church rediscovers its unique role in culture, and supports the calling of their cultural influencers, it will be a force for good in our communities, cities and the country.
THE WAY FORWARD The call to the church—to all Christians—is to rediscover the cultural mandate, embracing the opportunity to influence culture. In the church, we must teach about calling and cultural influence and provide vital support to cultural leaders. We must become an integral piece of the local culture, convening and encouraging creation of future culture that serves the common good. We must become connoisseurs of good culture, recognizing and celebrating the good, the true, and the beautiful to the glory of God, and begin to lead the conversations that will shape future culture. There’s the big idea. The vision. The challenge. The opportunity. Here are a few steps you can take to realize this vision personally and throughout your church.
1. Explore and embrace the cultural mandate Educate yourself on the whole Gospel—the complete counsel of God—and become familiar with how the
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story (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) shows up in all of life and brings clarity to the Christian’s responsibility in a fallen world. Read Genesis 1 and 2 with this perspective in mind and investigate other writings that delve deeply into the topic. Read books by C. S. Lewis, John Stott, Os Guinness, Chuck Colson, Nancy Pearcey, Michael Metzger, or Neil Plantinga for specific insight into the cultural mandate.
2. Teach about calling and cultural influence Inspire people within your church to discover their callings and pursue them with excellence, while celebrating their successes. Educate those around you about how cultural influence happens. Find the people within your church who hold unique and influential positions throughout the seven channels of culture. Help them cultivate and create culture that serves the common good. Your interest in serving them will go a long way in building their confidence in the church’s understanding of their opportunities for influence while reminding them of God’s provision.
3. Connect with your local community Ask yourself, as Rob Bell suggested in a March 2006 podcast, “If your church were removed from the community today, would anyone even notice?” As an integral piece of your local culture, adopt a missional approach to the needs of your community. Add value to the culture, support local artists, businesses, and schools, and serve the community with volunteers for good events that are redemptive in nature. Be an advocate for goodness and beauty throughout your surroundings, so that if you ever left you’d be sorely missed.
good in all things and identify the redemptive nature of humanity and its place in creating a better world.
5. Convene conversations about future culture Initiate conversations about the values of your community. Host them at your church or in a neutral location and drive the cultural conversation instead of simply responding to it. Raise issues of injustice and offer potential solutions. Be the first to praise the good culture being created in your community and inspire imagination around opportunities that support the common good, elevate beauty and align with truth. Most of all, convene the cultural leaders in your local church to encourage and inspire them to renew their channels of influence. None of us knows how human creativity will alter the world we live in next. However, our Christian responsibility is to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us and to renew all things. This alone, brings glory to God.
This article is a revision of a Fermi Short by Gabe Lyons: a chapter-length essay commissioned by the Fermi Project, “created to keep you informed of the ideas shaping our cultural context and the church’s opportunity for influence.” GABE LYONS is the founder of Fermi Project and the creator of Q, a boutique event designed to inform and expose church leaders to futureculture.
4. Look for the good Become known as connoisseurs of good culture, able to recognize and pick it out in a fallen world. Instead of being offended when confronted with darkness, suggests Michael Metzger, be provoked to get involved. Challenge yourself to find something
This article was published in Comment, March 2008 www.cardus.ca/comment
BY GREAT GRACE, OUR DEEPEST COMMITMENTS AND CONCERNS CAN BECOME LIKE GOD’S
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
BY STEVEN GARBER
FROM DUTY TO DESIRE had expected a quiet evening with a book. After a long day o f wo r k , I found a p ub with outdoor tables not far from the B od le i a n L i brar y , and s ettled i n w i th T h o mas Hard y ’s Jud e the Obscure.
But, although Jude had diligently prepared himself through a regimen of self-disciplined study—learning Greek and Latin and reading all the required texts— he was not able to get in because he had neither connections nor money. And we talked for some time about the intellectual snobbery which had so defeated the obscure Jude.
For months I had been looking forward to reading this novel, while doing some summer study and work in Oxford. Set in 19th-century Oxfordshire, it is a portrait of the life and times of Jude the stonecarver. More deeply it is a study in the meaning of education, which on a more theoretical level was the direction of my study. But my quiet was interrupted with the question, “What are you reading?” I looked up and saw a young, earnest face. He introduced himself as a second-generation Keble College student; although Indian, he had grown up in Rome. I told him that I was reading about another young man who had come to the city of steeples and spires with high hopes of being a scholar at Oxford.
D I S C O V E R I N G W H AT G O D L O V E S : A J O U R N E Y F R O M D U T Y T O D E S I R E
When I grow up I won’t have to think I won’t have to see unpleasant things It’ll all be perfect just like on TV When I grow up I won’t feel a thing I won’t trifle in other people’s pain I’ll put those childish things away When I grow up, when I grow up When I grow up I won’t have to think so much When I grow up I’ll look out for me It’s a small lifeboat and baby, it’s a great big sea And your tears are nothing, don’t put that guilt on me When I grow up, when I grow up When I grow up I won’t have to think so much The one who does with the most toys wins The one who dies in unspeakable sin While the hungry multitude is condemned to live Loaves and fishes and fairy tales Let them eat cake, let the strong prevail Let me alone, let them help themselves I wanna kill this little voice inside of me The crazy little bastard saying things I will not believe I wanna slide just like a snake into the driver’s seat I’m so glad I’m lining in the USA With my BMW and my MBA Driving over these slums high on the new beltway When I grow up, when I grow up When I grow up I won’t have to feel so much
“WHEN I GROW UP” Pierce Pettis Windham Hill Records, 1988
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
“What are you studying at Keble?” I asked. Having lived my life among students it was obvious within sentences that this young man was unusually articulate. He told me of his studies in political theory, and I asked more questions. The longer we talked, the more ironic our conversation seemed. I was talking about a book which explored the question, “What’s the point of education?” with a student who seemed remarkably insensitive to the responsibility of knowledge. His own studies were extremely self-oriented, with no concern for people—political theory, with no apparent concern for the polis. In the most selfish way, he saw his education as a passport to privilege. I pressed the young student, hoping—as Hamlet taught, that “the play’s the thing to catch the conscience of the king”—to tell enough of Jude’s story to help him see himself more truthfully. We parried back-and-forth for a long time, but throughout he seemed as hard-hearted as he was articulate. I shook my head sadly as I watched him walk away, knowing that he had little if any sense of the stewardship of his gifts in service to the world. On the other hand. Just a couple months ago I was again in Oxford, and met another young man studying political theory who was also of Indian descent. Unlike the first student, this one was almost done with his education. Having gone through Harvard for his B.A. and Ph.D., he was completing a year of post-graduate study in Oxford. We went off for lunch together and talked for a long time about his
studies and his hopes and dreams for the future—in Oxford’s oldest pub, a venerable institution serving students since the 13th century! In the back-and-forth of conversation we talked about what we were reading. He had come to finish out his graduate study, wanting to “think theologically” about a very contemporary and complex political question, and knew that some of the best people in the world were on the Oxford faculty. I had been reading in the works of Michael Polanyi, the scientist and philosopher whose analysis of modern ways of knowing has been so transformational, as we move into of what many are calling “the postmodern” era, in these last years of the 20th-century. Polanyi’s critique of the Enlightenment epistemology was that, fundamentally, it led to detachment and disengagement, i.e. I can know but not care. We wondered together about a way of knowing, a way of learning that might be inextricably linked with the notion of responsibility. As we parted I found myself thinking a lot about what had passed between us. I don’t know that I have ever met a more graceful young man; that is, a young man so full of grace. Not only was that evident in his personal qualities, showing a remarkable thoughtfulness and kindness to all. But beyond that, it was his “full of grace” vision for his academic labor itself that impressed me even more. The categories and questions that he used to make sense of his studies were deeply and distinctively marked by the gospel of the kingdom.
The longer we talked the more impressed I was with the contrast in conversations between these two unusually intelligent Indian students studying politics at Oxford. If the first student was marked by a hard-hearted concern for him and him alone, the second was marked by a remarkable care for “the least of these,” to remember the words of Jesus. If the one was able to study the “polis” with no evident concern for people, the other had forged a worldview that had people made in the image of God at its very heart. If the one saw his education as simply and straightforwardly a passport to privilege, the other saw his life and learning in stewardship to God and in service to the world. To put it starkly, it was the difference between selfishness and selflessness. How is it that in studying the same “stuff” two students could come to such different conclusions about its meaning? To press the question even a bit more deeply: how did the second student learn to love what God loves, and to see that concern as at the very centre of his studies—even in the very secularly spirited settings of Harvard and Oxford? These questions are rooted in the biblical reality which teaches that what we see and hear is most profoundly affected by the nature and direction of our hearts. In the Hebrew worldview, which explicitly frames the Old Testament and implicitly the New, the heart is the centre of all that we are as human beings. In it we are most truthfully understood, and out of it we are most clearly known. For this reason the Proverbs put it plainly: “Lay hold of my words with all your heart” (4:4), and “Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (4:23). Jesus is just as straightforward: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34), and “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the
heart” (Matt 15:18). And He pictures this biblical truth for us in His response to the widow of Nain whose only son had died: “When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her and He said, ‘Don’t cry.’ Then He went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you get up!’” (Luke 7: 13-14). We see and hear out of our hearts, and so seeing and hearing are moral acts and result in moral action. This is true for every son of Adam and daughter of Eve, in every culture and every century. And so we need to understand that these two students’ worldviews and ways of life are different—because of their hearts. They see and hear the world differently—because of their hearts. They make sense of the world and of their place in it differently—because of their hearts. How then do we grow our hearts so that we see and hear as we ought? The word “ought” is a tip-off to a dilemma that must be understood, if we are ever to learn to love what God loves. In the moral life, whatever one’s heart commitment, it is all too easy to do what one ought to do simply because one ought to do it. At least for a while. Most of the time, that motivation wears down and out. And then what? In a life where one’s moral vision has been transformed by the amazing grace of God, it is possible for duty to grow into desire.
NO LONGER IS THE SELF AT THE CENTRE OF THE COSMOS
Inch by inch and day by day our desires are transformed, so that we increasingly long for what is real and true and right; in sum, for God himself. No longer is the self at the centre of the cosmos, and so no longer is it possible to see one’s education as a passport to privilege. Instead—and this is all by great grace—we start to see that history begins and ends with God, and that its unfolding in our own times and places only makes sense if He is there. And then slowly, slowly,
D I S C O V E R I N G W H AT G O D L O V E S : A J O U R N E Y F R O M D U T Y T O D E S I R E
we come to understand that it is only as our deepest commitments and concerns are transformed— becoming holy as He himself is holy—that we become fully human, true sons and daughters of the CHOICE BY CHOICE, second Adam, Jesus, who was, is, and ever shall be YEAR BY YEAR, God Incarnate.
DUTY CAN GROW INTO DESIRE
It is as we draw near to this God in worship and service that we come to know Him and to love Him, and then, choice by choice, year after year, we begin to know what His commitments and concerns are—and to love them because we love Him. Augustine’s insight echoes through the centuries, probing the deep place where belief and behavior are formed: “For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes... but what he loves.”
What do you love? What are you learning to love? For Christian students, this movement from head to heart, from doctrine to discipleship, is what the college years are all about. In the reading and reflection upon texts, in the choice and deepening of friendships, in the listening to music and watching of films, in the decisions about semester breaks and summer vacations, in the forming of vocational visions—in and through it all, it is nothing more or less than learning to love what God loves. Two very bright students, studying the same “stuff” in the same place, and yet… and yet, one is learning to love what God loves. In a word, it is a matter of the heart. That is the difference, and the difference it makes is all the difference in the world. This article appeared in Boundless Magazine, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.
Habits of Heart
The last half of my book,The Fabric of Faithfulness, is a report on what I found as I listened to men and women from all over the U.S. and the world who, twenty-five years later, were still pursuing a coherent faith—who had sustained spiritual depth. I asked them a host of questions centred upon the relationship between their
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
present commitments and their experiences as students two or three decades earlier. What did I learn? That those who keep on keeping on, growing in love with God and his world, are people marked by three habits of heart:
STEVEN GARBER directs The Washington Institute, helping young people understand the integration of faith, vocation, and culture. The author of The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, he lives and works in Virginia. This article was published in Comment, March 2007 www.cardus.ca/comment
1. They developed a worldview that could make sense of life, facing the challenge of truth and coherence in an increasingly secular and pluralist society;
2. They pursued a relationship
3. They committed themselves to
with a teacher whose life incarnated the worldview that they were learning to embrace; and
others who had chosen to live their lives embedded in that same worldview, journeying together in truth, after the vision of a coherent and meaningful life.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE…
IN THE PUBLIC
SQUARE? B Y R AY P E N N I N G S
’ve admitted in this space (“Learning from the journey,” Comment, V. 22, I. 9, November 2004) that my analysis of North American public life has changed significantly in the past twenty-five years. Christians who take their faith seriously, today, constitute a small minority. The liberal-democratic framework within which we live needs some tinkering, but actually works reasonably well. Our governments are reasonably representative of society. When mediocrity and hedonism shape the lives of the citizens, why should their governments look any different? I don’t like it. I believe we are on a path towards spiritual—and with it inevitably legal and social— suicide. But it doesn’t do us any good to deny the realities of our present environment. North American society is such that North American Christians in general are apathetic and hedonistic, and as such are generally satisfied to live in the culture as it is without seeking to effect cultural renewal.
A few terms require clarification. The term “public square” is used by some as a synonym for politics. In my understanding, politics is only a subset of the public square. Politics is concerned
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
about the exercise of power and the mediation of conflict. The public square is concerned about the exchange of ideas. Ideas do matter, and they do have consequences. Already in this series, we have seen the implications of presumptions regarding the human person, the role of the state (and other social institutions) as well as our understandings of power and justice as they impinge on political theory. Vincent Bacote focused on creation, the church, the Holy Spirit, and the human person (dealing with race and ethnicity) as priorities for renewed theological enquiry and development (see “The Spirit and institution-building,” Comment, V. 23 I. 13, August 2005, and “What is to be done in theology?” Comment, V. 24, I. 4, September 2005). Both disciplines—while having an integrity and identity in their own right—also are part of the public square. We could stretch our definition of the public square so broadly that the term becomes practically meaningless and any suggested agenda unmanageable. My focus is those institutions which have as their mandate the communication of a message to the general public or to be adopted as public policy. This includes political parties, the media, think tanks, industry associations, and labour groups whose public agenda are broadly
recognized. It also includes, however, arts groups, the academic community, and the church—among others—who influence the public agenda in different ways. Not everything that each of these institutions does is a public square consideration. Some serve memberships or constituencies in a manner that have little public impact or import. However, each of these institutions works from a particular understanding of
NORTH AMERICAN CHRISTIANS IN GENERAL ARE APATHETIC AND HEDONISTIC, AND AS SUCH ARE GENERALLY SATISFIED TO LIVE IN THE CULTURE AS IT IS WITHOUT SEEKING TO EFFECT CULTURAL RENEWAL. truth, and each engages in activities that address the public beyond their own memberships. The public square is more than politics. Our efforts should shift from short-term grasping after political power toward medium-term influence through ideas on a variety of public square fronts. Another term that requires some comment is the term “public.” While the distinction between public and private is still one that is understood, the line between public and private and what belongs to each has changed over time. It used to be that the notion of “public” included a sense of service to others beyond one’s immediate group. “Public service” or the “public good” involved a willingness to look beyond family and friends, and to do something that would benefit society at large. Today, if that “public good” relies on any truth claim for coherence, it either needs to be watered down to the point of inoffensive vanilla nothingness in order to be “tolerant” of all, or it must
be relegated to a “private good” in which the reach of that good belongs to a more limited group. In the case of the various institutions we mentioned earlier as possessing a role in the public square, the general consequence has been that they’ve ‘morphed’ into service organizations to their own constituencies. Tolerance is the screen to sort out what does and does not belong in the public square. When understood as the opposite of “intolerance”—a term whose contemporary stereotype is a Muslim society which persecutes infidels and denies women their rights— most North Americans, including Christians, want to be tolerant. But to force a choice between the two polarities is to pose a false dilemma. Christians ought to be civil and charitable in their public contributions, but that’s quite different from contemporary tolerance. As Meic Pearse notes in his helpful book, Why the Rest Hates the West (IVP, 2004), Where [tolerance] used to mean the respecting of real, hard differences, it has come to mean instead a dogmatic abdication of truth-claims and a moralistic adherence to moral relativism— departures from either of which is stigmatized as intolerance (p. 12). This understanding of tolerance has as its by-product the relegation of truth-claims to the private sphere. In this context, identifiable institutional voices contributing to the public square with ideas rooted in defined truth claims are silenced. No longer are the transcendental ideas of truth, beauty, goodness and unity subjects on which relevant comment is heard. Instead, churches focus on the needs of their members, arts groups recruit and keep patrons satisfied, social agencies become advocacy groups for their constituents, and our unity is reduced to a common acquiescence to the latest court pronouncement or feel-good, wrapyourself-in-the-flag speech from our political leaders. As long as we are willing to accede to this post-modern arrangement, there will be no effective Christian voice
W H AT I S T O B E D O N E . . . I N T H E P U B L I C S Q U A R E ?
in the public square. The essential message of the Scriptures—that God made the world for His glory and although humans messed up everything through sin, God has provided and is carrying out His plan of redemption—is reduced to a private belief system. The notion that God has jurisdiction or that His Word offers wisdom in matters concerning here and now becomes about as relevant to the public square as whether I prefer my coffee “black” or “double-double.” Christians must not submit to being silenced by the hegemonic ideology of a mock tolerance. For a Christian voice to speak, there must be a body and community from which that voice can be raised. I am not simply referring to the organizational or
It used to be that the church sat on the main street of each town, with its steeple the highest point. Even those who never set foot inside its doors were reminded of its presence, even if they chose to ignore everything beyond the here and now. Vibrant churches, while a necessary prerequisite, are by no means a guarantee of a Christian voice in the public square. The lessons of history painfully remind us that some of the most anti-Christian, destructive agendas have advanced while religious life appeared to be thriving. Other institutions involved in the public square also play important roles. The public square really cannot thrive without any of them. Churches must practice public theology—recovering a central place on the public square by proclaiming the meaning of the gospel for
CHRISTIANS MUST NOT SUBMIT TO BEING SILENCED BY THE HEGEMONIC IDEOLOGY OF A MOCK TOLERANCE. institutional manifestation of that body. Rather, I am referring to a worldview that understands I am not a privatized individual who happens to live alongside many other individuals, some of whom share my faith in God and others who don’t. That I am part of Christ’s church on earth who are called to be salt and light in the world. If I understand myself to be part of the body of Christ, then every action I undertake I will reflect on the witness of the church in the world. Then the “my-life-is-my-business” mindset which is too prevalent among church members will change. A different culture will emerge within the Christian community as to a view of authority and community. Let me state the point starkly for clarity. When churches back off their confessions in an attempt to avoid controversy, when the authority of ordained church leaders is ignored by church members and a blind eye is turned to lifestyles that flagrantly contradict what the church stands for, when the sacraments are debased and any transcendent significance lost, then those outside the church have no way of identifying who the church is, much less any reason to pay attention to what is said in the church’s name. While various theological traditions and local church circumstances will apply this to their own context, it holds implications for the public square.
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
the common good. Vibrant churches with biblical and confessional grit, sacramental heft, and serious moral discipleship are central to any cultural strategy. There are three strategic priorities on which we need to focus if we are to advance this agenda at all. Although some strategies make impact on one institution more than another, it is the synergies created by the activities of all of these organizations that generate the momentum necessary to observable change. Christians are working in virtually every quarter of the public square, but the accumulation of individual efforts do not amount to a strategy. Cultural change does not result from the accumulation of individual efforts, no matter how well people do their individual jobs. Most haven’t really considered our efforts in the context of a cultural change effort. They simply latch onto good ideas when they hear about them, get enthusiastic and write cheques until they tire themselves out, and retreat to the safety of the sanctuaries to tell war stories and lament the lack of progress. Christian efforts in the public square are analogous to a bunch of hockey players who show up at the arena for a pickup game, hop onto the ice, and take on whomever happens to be carrying the puck at the moment. They don’t know who is on whose team, let alone positions
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or a game plan. I fear the analogy is more true than those in public life care to admit. I have more fingers and toes than there are individuals in Canada (I make no claims as to whether this is similar in the United States or not) who are: 1. 2. 3.
consciously Christian, active in public life, and who have cultivated meaningful relationships with likeminded significant leaders in each of the political, business, media, arts, and church communities.
Those Christians who are culturally active more often than not lack a viable strategy, partly because of the pervasive consequences of individualism. The cumulative effect of uncoordinated individual efforts is sadly inadequate. Christians need to shift from an individualist mindset to a sense of being the Body of Christ The building of diverse networks and investing the time necessary to build understandings and relationships of reliability are essential at both leadership and grassroots levels. At an individual level, people need to diversify their involvements where they meet different people. While not everyone can be involved in everything, people should consciously rotate their organizational commitments. It is the rare person who has the interest, aptitude, or energy to develop strong relationships in all five of the institutions I mentioned as being “key” to public life. But we need many more three- and four-institution players than we have today. There are two natural consequences that emerge from a conscious effort toward institutional diversification. The first affects our perspective. The ability to look at a problem through various lenses will deepen our understanding of both the problem and result in a far more creative process in proposing solutions. It will also help our communications. The age of broadcasting in which a single newscast or newspaper singularly shaped the environment is over. In an era of narrowcasting, aided by technological tools that equip everyone to communicate more broadly—even if it is simply forwarding emails to contacts on their contact list, diverse networks are essential to the arsenal required to fight the culture war.
Not only do we need individuals to diversify themselves, but we need forums that bring leaders from these sectors together. Time spent in discussion is necessary in order to bring coherence to a Christian framework of public life that will be communicated through a compatible vocabulary and based on some broadly recognized principles. Today, most Christian organizations are re-inventing the wheels. I noted earlier that participation in the public square understood as an exchange of ideas should be distinguished from politics understood as managing the conflict between those ideas and determining which ideas govern. However, as James Davison Hunter points out in his speech, To Change the World, while ideas matter, not all ideas matter. There are tactics, tools, and competency involved in every
CHRISTIAN EFFORTS IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE ARE ANALOGOUS TO A PICKUP HOCKEY GAME aspect of public square participation. While the quartet of tools I identify here is usually linked in people’s minds to partisan political activities, most overlap with all institutions. There are four essential components to any organizational strategy: a message, human resources, money, and leadership. While the philosophy, background data, option papers, and alternatives considered in building any platform take many words, the core message is reduced to a simple image or clear slogans. While most of us would like to think we are more sophisticated than to be influenced by marketing, the truth is that marketing does work. The marketing and “branding” of Christian public square involvement needs some work. For most, Christian public involvement today equates to “sex and family issues,” with a secondary brand of “peace and poverty issues” that has carved out its place on the left. Neither is an adequate distinguishing brand. This isn’t a call for an advertising makeover or cute slogans. However, “Joe and Mary Public” who drive by
W H AT I S T O B E D O N E . . . I N T H E P U B L I C S Q U A R E ?
the local church and notice its steeple should equate the Christian church with something different from what they do currently if our voice is to be heard in the public square. Human resources, leadership, and money are significant pieces of the strategy, but these are mainly internal challenges. There is simply not enough experience and practical know-how to fill the many crucial positions required. Even today, with the relative dearth of Christian candidates and cabinet ministers seeking and holding office, finding competent staff members to fill out their teams is a challenge. When it comes to the day-to-day tactical and communications skills required to conduct significant campaigns targeted to the general public, our best do not match up against their best. In fact, those who would oppose a Christian voice can go through several rungs on their depth chart before the levels even out. The only cure for this is time and experience. Perhaps the most significant challenge will be reorienting expectations and the framework within success or failure as currently evaluated. Although motivating that majority for whom the public square is not on the priority list is the biggest challenge, the expectations of activists also need reorienting. While successes are to be preferred to failures, the battle for public square influence is not dependent on any one policy initiative, election, or campaign. Results will only be measured over decades, and we need to develop the persistence and perseverance to keep at it. The recent debate about redefining marriage is a prime example. It is only in the past few years that there has been anything that even approached a widespread awareness of this issue in the Christian community. For many, this was their first political experience. They became despondent when their petitions, protests, and ballots seemed not to affect the outcome. What is forgotten is that this issue is the culmination of about three decadesâ€™ very active work by the gay-rights advocacy community. They used a variety of societal institutions and patiently worked, always keeping their longer term objectives in mind. We have some lessons to learn:
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
1. Existing Christian cultural leaders need to reach out to one another across the divide between the various spheres to develop a common overarching strategy. This can unfold only if new forums are organized for intentional conversation about such a strategy; 2. Christian cultural engagement must be rebranded both among Christians and in public opinion. It is not enough to be identified narrowly with either sex and family issues or peace and poverty issues; and 3. It is important for Christians to recalibrate expectations to allow for perseverance over decades of effort, rather than be exhausted by the rollercoaster ride of short-term triumphs and disillusionment. We must gather our strength from the source of our hope and the promise of the gospel. The work required toward envisioning a public square in which a Christian voice is heard, at least in proportions to our numbers in society, can seem intimidating. But if we take the claims of Scripture seriously, we have little choice but to pursue such an agenda. When such an agenda is faithfully pursued, we can be certain it will have positive results. Change will be realized in ways we can hardly imagine, albeit may not be in our lifetimes.
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Ray Pennings is Director of Research with Cardus, leading the organizationâ€™s economic and industrial relations research. He has wide experience with trade unions, public aďŹ€airs, business consulting, public policy, and political activism. He has authored several books and hundreds of journal and magazine articles, and lives in Calgary, Alberta This article was published in Comment, December 2005. www.cardus.ca/comment
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
(This is a condensed version of the “Abraham Kuyper Prize Lecture,” delivered at Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary, March 29th 2007.)
KUYPER FOR A NEW CENTURY
BY RICHARD J. MOUW
n an essay offering a Jewish assessment of Karl Barth’s contribution to “divine command” ethics in his “Talking with Christians: Musings of a Jewish Theologian” (2005), Rabbi David Novak expresses some puzzlement about why Barth was so negative about natural law thinking. He sees Barth as a lot like
some prominent Jewish thinkers, teachers who advocate a “retreat into sectarian enclaves, where [people of faith] can live more consistently and continually according to the direct commandments of God.” Novak rejects that kind of approach. And having pointed to what he sees as an important weakness in Barth’s perspective, Novak suggests a remedy that should gladden the hearts of at least some Reformed Christians. Expressing the wish that Barth “had been more of a Calvinist in his treatment of law,” Novak offers, in a footnote, some examples of people whose writings he wishes Barth had read with openness to learning from their views. And at the beginning of his list is “the Dutch Calvinist theologian/statesman Abraham Kuyper.” As someone who does his theological scholarship, as the Dutch would say, “in the line of Kuyper,” I take much delight in that counsel to Barth. To be sure, in the same breath in which Novak commends Kuyper’s thought he also observes that Kuyper “was certainly not in Karl Barth’s theological league.” This is a legitimate assessment. When it comes to sheer sustained scholarly theological brilliance, Barth was in a league of his own. There are other theological leagues, however, and if we were to do our ranking with reference to a very broad range of roles and activities, Kuyper does stand out as a giant in the league that we have come to think of as public theology. Much of Kuyper’s theological output was produced on the run. His theological probings were
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never far removed from his public commitments as the founder of two newspapers, a university, a political party, and a denomination. In addition, he regularly wrote articles for his newspapers, while also leading his party both as a member of the Dutch parliament and, for a few years, as Prime Minister. Even when Kuyper sat back and engaged in systematic theological reflection, his thoughts were never far removed from his public roles. Two key themes that Kuyper held in tension within his theological system—the radical antithesis between Christian and non-Christian thought on the one hand, and the reality of common grace on the other—played an important role in his political leadership. When Kuyper wanted to rally the Calvinist troops to support an unpopular partisan effort he would preach antithesis, but when the opportunity arose to forge a strategic alliance with another party on a given issue he would remind his followers that God often works mysteriously in the hearts of the unregenerate to restrain their sinful tendencies. My guess is that Kuyper’s common grace preachments are the kind of thing that led Rabbi Novak to suggest that Karl Barth might have profitably interacted with Kuyper’s thought. And while I take delight in that piece of counsel, I have my doubts whether Karl Barth would actually have received much help from Kuyper on the topic of natural law in particular. Kuyper’s understanding of God’s lawful ordering of the universe was of a very dynamic sort. As Kuyper’s younger colleague Herman Bavinck put the view: “God does not stand outside of nature and is not excluded from it by a hedge of laws but is present in it and sustains it by the word of his power.” Kuyper’s God is ever-present to his creation, a cosmic legislator whose law “lays full claim, not only to the believer (as though less were required from the unbeliever), but to every human being and to all human relationships.” While these emphases are clearly grounded in a robust theology of creation, they are also linked to
RICHARD J. MOUW
a theology of redemption that features the notion, to use the apt phrase that Albert Wolters chose for the title of his book setting forth the Kuyperian perspective, “creation regained.” One of Kuyper’s images for Christ’s redemptive mission is as a kind of cleaning operation. “Verily,” he says, “Christ has swept away the dust with which man’s sinful limitations had covered up this world-order, and has made it glitter again in its original brilliancy.” Kuyper included the full range of cultural reality within the scope of this cleaning operation.
TRAFFIC SIGNALS AND FIRE INSPECTIONS I discovered Kuyper in the 1960s when I was struggling with fundamental tensions between my evangelical pietism and what I had come to see as the non-negotiable biblical mandate to work actively for justice and peace in the larger human community. Kuyper helped me, more than any other thinker, to see the profound connection between the atoning work of the loving Saviour who is my “only comfort in life and death” and that Saviour’s kingly rule over all spheres of human interaction. During the 1970s, I attended a gathering of folks who were focusing on “radical discipleship,” and one of the speakers kept describing the United States as given over to “the way of death.” He formulated his case theologically by citing William Stringfellow’s argument, quite popular at the time, that the United States was the present day manifestation of the biblical portrayal of fallen Babylon. As I listened, I was struck by the gap between this unqualified rhetorical depiction of the American political system as given over to death dealing and my own experience that very week of accompanying our son on his way to school. He had just started kindergarten, and his daily walk to school followed a path through many blocks in the inner city. As I took the journey with him, I was especially aware, as a parent concerned for the safety of our son, of the places where there were traffic lights and
stop signs. Approaching the school, I overheard two teachers mention a fire-safety inspection that the city had conducted the day before. Later, as I drove during the noon hour to the campus where I was teaching, I passed another school where a uniformed crossing guard was taking children by the hand to lead them across the street. These phenomena all struck me as life-promoting services provided by the government, for which I as a parent was deeply grateful. In the light of those services, the unqualified rhetorical depiction of “the American system” as given over to “a way of death” struck me as rooted in, among things, a theological myopia. My uneasiness with that kind of perspective was grounded in what I am presenting here as a very basic Kuyperian impulse. The late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder once captured the impulse quite nicely when, in the course of one of our public Anabaptist-Calvinist debates in the 1970s, someone in the audience asked him if he could put in simple terms what he saw as the basic issue of disagreement between his views and mine. Here is how he answered: on questions of culture, he observed, “Mouw wants to say, ‘Fallen, but created,’ and I want to say, ‘Created, but fallen.’” That was a helpful way of putting the differences, including the element of ambivalence in each case. We Kuyperians do pay considerable attention to fallenness—at least we ought to—but our basic Kuyperian impulse is to look for signs that God has not given up, even in the midst of a fallen world, on restoring the purposes that were at work in God’s initial creating activity. This calls for Christians, then, to work actively together as agents of this restorative program that encompasses the whole range of cultural involvement. In those circles where Kuyper’s name is still revered, laypeople credit Kuyper’s influence in their understanding of what it means to serve the Lord in the insurance business or journalism, as a state legislator or in the teaching of English literature. Even when these folks may not know much
about the technical details of Kuyper’s theological system, they are quick to quote at least some version of his bold manifesto, set forth toward the end of his inaugural address at the founding of the Vrije Universiteit: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
is Kuyper’s insistence that God has programmed creation to display a marvelously complex diversity, including a complex array of spheres of human interaction. The other is the necessity, especially under sinful conditions, that we be diligent in keeping clear about the differences among these diverse cultural spheres.
Even politics—often depicted by theologians as a Multiformity—a favorite term of Kuyper’s—was in purely post-lapsarian remedial response to human his view necessary for created life to flourish in a rebellion—is grounded for Kuyper in God’s original “fresh and vigorous” manner. Referring to the creating purposes. Even in a sinless social setting biblical account of creation, Kuyper noted that the some sort of collective decision-making would be Lord willed “[t]hat all life should multiply ‘after its necessary for the harmonious ordering of kind.’” That the Genesis writer human affairs. In a sinless world where employed this phrase specifically OUR BASIC complex activities take place, rules and with reference to animal life did regulations would have an important not deter Kuyper from making KUYPERIAN function. Even totally benevolent, Goda more general application. “[E] IMPULSE IS TO glorifying human beings would have very domain of nature,” he says, had to decide which side of the road to LOOK FOR SIGNS displays an “infinite diversity, drive on, and would have had to stipulate an inexhaustible profusion of GOD HAS NOT when individuals who wanted to practice variations.” And this many-ness playing their tubas could do so without also rules the world of humanity, GIVEN UP unnecessarily disturbing the naptimes which “undulates and teems” of children who live in the same sub-section of the with the same sort of diversity, bestowed upon our Garden. It is this same kind of ordering/regulating collective existence by a “generous God who from the function that also promotes flourishing under riches of his glory distributed gifts, powers, aptitude, present sinful conditions by setting up traffic signals and talents to each according to his divine will.” and hiring school crossing guards. It is Kuyper’s sense that God loves many-ness that also informs his sphere sovereignty doctrine. A FAMILIES ARE FAMILIES; healthy culture, Kuyper insists, will be characterized by many-ness, plurality. God built these patterns of CHURCHES ARE CHURCHES associational diversity into the very fabric of creation. Things get especially interesting in Kuyper when Families, schools, and businesses do not exist by the he discusses what it is that God actually wants to permission of governments or churchly authorities— be ordered by government, a subject that Kuyper Kuyper was equally critical of totalitarian states and develops at length in setting forth his theory of politically powerful churches. God has ordained the “sphere sovereignty.” This theory has much to offer plurality of spheres, and no human power has the to contemporary discussions of civil society, but right to inhibit their proper functioning. not without some serious re-working in the light of present-day conditions. This leads immediately to the second crucial
Foundational to the requisite re-working is, as I see it, the preservation of two key Kuyperian themes. One
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theme: the importance of keeping clear about the boundaries that define the unique character of each sphere. Consider, for example, two persons who are
KUYPER FOUNDED TWO NEWSPAPERS, A UNIVERSITY, A POLITICAL PARTY, AND A DENOMINATION
related in three different ways. She is the young man’s SPHERE-REPAIR AND mother. She is also an elder in the church where their WORLDVIEW NURTURING family worships. And she is the academic dean at the university where he serves on the faculty. Suppose, So far, so good. There is a problem today, however, however, that he commits a serious crime—using, in following Kuyper too closely in the way he spelled for example, a university computer for illicit sexual out the practical implications of this theme. purposes. As his dean she will be required to fire him. As his church elder she might even participate During many visits to mainland China over the past in a decision to excommunicate him. But as his decade, I have discussed with church, seminary, and mother she continues to love him as a member of the government leaders some pressing cultural challenges family. In each case her authority role is a different being faced in changing urban communities: one, as is the basis for acceptance within each especially, a rising divorce rate, new patterns of interrelationship. In the university she judges his fitness generational conflict, and an increase in the number to remain a member of the community by some of suicides. Much of this seems to be a result of a straightforwardly formal standards of performance. breakdown of traditional kinship systems because of In the church, she also enforces certain norms, increasing social mobility and the reconfiguring of but here with a pastoral openness to repentance urban neighborhoods. The supportive infrastructure provided in the past by and restoration. In the family, the stable extended families has ties go much deeper—so much so that the bond is not easily A HEALTHY CULTURE been deteriorating. broken by either bad performance IS CHARACTERIZED The Christian community or unrepentant sin. In short, in China would do well to families are families, churches are BY PLURALITY place a special emphasis churches, and the academy is the right now on the biblical academy. Suppose, for example, image of the church as the the young man were to complain to his mother: family of God, and for the church to take on some of “How can you fire me from my teaching job? —I’m the functions of the family. I must confess that there your son!” This would be a clear case of blurring the was a time in my life when I would have resisted boundaries of the spheres.
such a recommendation on Kuyperian grounds. Churches are churches; they are not families. Each mode of association has its own place in the divine ordering of human life. What God hath put asunder let no human being try to put together! I think differently these days. In many situations one of the spheres becomes severely weakened. Having identified the missing functions, we must do one of two things. Either we repair that sphere in the light of our understanding of God’s creating intentions, or, when that is not immediately feasible, we look for ways in which some other sphere can compensate for the loss by taking on additional cultural “work.” It is important for the church to provide some infrastructural support for cultural “shrinkage” in the sphere of family life. In Kuyper’s day Dutch families tended to be associated with rather stable confessional or ideological communities. Thus the “pillarization” pattern of Dutch life in which various worldviewish pillars—Catholic, Reformed, Liberal, Socialist— generated distinctive school systems, labour unions, art guilds, and farming organizations. Things are very different in our own day. We have been experiencing not just a thinning-out but a kind of slicing-up of worldviews. The leader of an evangelical campus ministry observed to me a few years ago that today’s students think nothing of participating in an evangelical Bible study on Wednesday night and then engaging in New Age meditation group on Thursday night, while spending their daily jogging time listening to a taped reading of The Celestine Prophecy, followed by a yoga session—without any sense that there is anything inappropriate about moving in and out of these very different perspectives on reality. People change religious affiliations frequently in our culture—thus, the phenomenon that has come
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to be known as “church shopping.” Families think nothing of moving from a Presbyterian church to, say, a Nazarene congregation—while also sending the occasional contribution to a Baptist TV preacher and enrolling their children in a Christian school sponsored by Pentecostals. Not only are we experiencing sphere-shrinkage, but also worldview-fragmentation. The necessary remedies, then, will require both sphere-repair and worldview nurturing. These in turn require patient work within civil society, in a variety of spheres, including an address to issues in public policy, a focus on various vocations, specific kinds of marriage and family counselling, and so on. And all of that requires new concerted educational strategies on liberal arts and seminary campuses, as well as in think tanks and para-church ministries. And in churches. Especially in churches.
BE NEAR UNTO GOD In some insightful reflections published in Comment awhile ago, Al Wolters suggested that a neocalvinism that is well equipped for our present situation must be under-girded by a deep spirituality that draws on various spiritual disciplines, including those, for example, from both Ignatian and Pentecostal resources. I agree wholeheartedly. Kuyper has inspired many of us with his profound insights into the ways in which all of the diverse spheres of cultural life stand directly coram deo, before the face of God. But this is an important time to remind ourselves that he also wrote many meditations about the spiritual life, published under the general title, Nabij God te Zijn, “to be near under God.” We need to work diligently today at making a strong connection between the “every square inch” of cultural engagement and a sense of nearness to God that must necessarily be grounded in the worshipping and nurturing life of the local church. Only then
RICHARD J. MOUW
can we hope to form the kinds of congregations that will function, in Ronald Thiemann’s apt phrasing in Constructing Public Theology (1991), as “‘schools of
public virtue,’ communities that seek to form the kind of character necessary for public life.”
RICHARD J. MOUW has served as Professor of Christian Philosophy, since 1985, and President, since 1993, of Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. This article was published in Comment, June 2007. www.cardus.ca/comment
The Flash of a
FISH KNIFE B Y C A LV I N G . S E E R V E L D
y father is a seller of fish. We children know the business, too, having worked from childhood in the Great South Bay Fish Market, Patchogue, Long Island, New York, helping our father like a quiver full of arrows. It is a small store, and it smells like fish. I remember a Thursday noon long ago when my Dad was selling a large carp to a prosperous woman and it was a battle to convince her that the carp, “is it fresh?” It fairly bristled with freshness, had just come in, but the game was part of the sale. They had gone over it anatomically together: the eyes were bright, the gills were a good colour, the flesh was firm, the belly was even spare and solid, the tail showed not much waste and the price was right. Finally my Dad held up the
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fish behind the counter, “Beautiful, beautiful! Shall I clean it up?” And as she grudgingly assented, ruefully admiring the way the bargain had been struck, she said, “My, you certainly didn’t miss your calling.” She spoke the truth. My father is in full-time service for the Lord, prophet, priest and king in the fish business. And customers who come in the store sense it. Not that we always have the cheapest fish in town! Not that there are no mistakes on a busy Friday morning! Not that there is no sin! But this: that little Great South Bay Fish Market, my father and two employees, is not only a clean, honest place where you can buy quality fish at a reasonable price with a smile, but there is a spirit in the store, a spirit of laugher, of fun, of joy inside the
buying and selling that strikes an observer pleasantly; and the strenuous week-long preparations in the back rooms for Friday fish-day are not a routine drudgery interrupted by “rest periods,” but again, a spirit seems to hallow the lowly work into a rich service, in which it is good to officiate. When I watch my Dad’s hands, big beefy hands with broad stubby fingers each twice the thickness of mine, they could never play a piano; when I watch those hands delicately split the back of a mackerel or with a swift, true stroke fillet a flounder close to the bone, leaving all the meat together; when I know those hands dressed and peddled fish from the handlebars of a bicycle in the grim 1930’s, cut and sold fish year after year with never a vacation through fire and sickness, thieves and disasters, weariness, winter cold and hot muggy summers, twinkling at work without complaint, past temptations, struggling day in and day out to fix a just price, in weakness often but always in faith consecratedly cutting up fish before the face of the Lord: when I see that, I know God’s Grace can come down to a man’s hand and the flash of a scabby fish knife.
Calvin G. Seerveld is Professor Emeritus in Aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, and the author of several influential books, including Rainbows for the Fallen World. This piece first appeared in Christian Workers, Unite! by Calvin Seerveld (Mississauga, ON: Christian Labour Association of Canada, 1964).
WHY BOTH RECOVERING THE LOST LOGIC OF CHURCH
BY JOHN SEEL
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PERSONAL SPIRITUALITY V. ORGANIZED RELIGION
ook after book and survey after survey tell us what any parent can easily observe by watching their “twenty-something” children: “spirituality is cool, church is not.” Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus
but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations (Zondervan 2007), is representative of this. For the emerging generation, “church” is too homophobic, too male-dominated, too judgmental, too negative, and too political. Kimball’s conclusion is that the traditional church is significantly “out of synch” with postmodern youth. As with many others, he suggests changing the style without changing the substance. There is more at stake here than what first meets the eye. The generational fault line is actually more than style. Ceding style usually results in ceding substance as well. This strategy is an example of wellintended incremental decisions that frequently lead to disastrous unintended consequences.
PRICE OF CONSUMER RELIGION Consider for a moment the typical beliefs of the emerging generation. For them, religion is a personal experience relegated to one’s private life. It meets a personal need and is chosen accordingly. For those born after the cultural dislocations of the 1960s, religious truth is subjective—that is, personspecific. When I’m talking about “spirituality,” I’m talking about “my” truth. I dare not impose my views on you, and the reverse is especially true. If religious truth is subjective, if authority is personal, and if religious experience is individual, then church as the traditional, institutional locus of religious authority has no place. In reaction, church leaders appeal in myriad ways to the consumer preferences
of a particular target market. But in so doing a consumerist mindset is reinforced and the authority of the institution is ceded to the individual. Under these conditions, the church no longer claims any binding address on the person. The threat of excommunication or withholding the Eucharist is of little consequence when one can go down the street to sample from a different religious brand. This is the cultural situation that Nietzsche foresaw, when he stated that it would soon be impossible for any institution—family, church, school, or state—to say with any meaningful conviction, “Thou shalt not.” In consumer religion, the consumer rules. Under these conditions, many ask, “Why bother going to church when I don’t feel like it?” Cannot a walk in the woods be as spiritually meaningful? Cannot a latté at Starbucks be as deep a time of fellowship? Cannot sleeping in on Sunday morning be as personally refreshing? The church has lost its logic for church.
CHURCH AND COLLEGE LIFE This is especially true for college students. College life has its own rhythms and church is not one of them. Only 20% of students who attended church regularly before college will attend church at all after two years in college. There is an 80% drop-off rate. Only 10% of students who identify themselves as Christians attend church regularly while at college. But regular church attendance while at college is the single strongest, statistical indicator of whether or not a person will maintain their faith commitments after college. These statistics prompt three observations: the church has lost its logic for church attendance by young adults; the typical way the church is seeking to restore its rationale—by becoming more appealing—is counter productive because it doesn’t address the underlying issues; and church attendance is the most important variable for maintaining an ongoing relationship with Jesus while at college. This is a significant, personal and institutional problem.
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HISTORY OF SKEPTICISM A student in college does not lose her faith overnight. It is a gradual process, but slippage can be profound within a single semester. In Tom Wolfe’s novel about contemporary, college life, Charlotte Simmons lost her faith and her virginity by the end of the first semester of her freshman year. As with Wolfe’s character, it is not the academic subjects that present the greatest spiritual dangers, but the social environment. The Christian student wants to fit in, and only later uses pseudo-intellectual rationalizations to defend his loss of faith. The process was described brilliantly by William Wilberforce in the nineteenth century: A typical case of such unbelief begins when young men are brought up as nominal Christians. Their parents take them to church as children and there they become acquainted with those passages of the Bible used in the service. If their parents still keep some of the old habits, they may even be taught in the catechism. But they go off into the world, yield to youthful temptations, neglect to look at their Bible, and they do not develop their religious duties. They do not even try to reflect, study, or mature in the thoughts that they once might have had as children. They may even travel abroad, relax still further their religious habits, and tend to read only about those controversial issues of religion. Attending church occasionally, these occasional incidents more often offend such youth than strengthen them. Perhaps they are tempted to be morally superior to those they think are superstitious. Or the poor examples of some professing Christians disgust them. Or else they stumble because of the absurdities of others who see they are equally ignorant to themselves. At any rate, they gradually begin to doubt the reality of Christianity. A confused sense of relief that it is all untrue settles within them. Impressions deepen, reinforced by fresh arguments. At length they are convinced of their doubts in a broad sweep over the whole realm of religion. This may not be universally so, but it may be termed the natural history of skepticism. It is the experience of those who have watched the progress of unbelief in those
they care about. It is confirmed by the written lines of some of the most eminent unbelievers. We find that they once gave a sort of implicit, inherited assent to the truth of Christianity and were considered believers. How then did they become skeptics? Reason, thought, and inquiry have little to do with it. Having lived for many years careless and irreligious lives, they eventually matured in their faithlessness—not by force of irreligious strength but by lapse of time. This is generally the offspring of prejudice,
GRADUAL DECISIONS AND SUBTLE CHANGES IN PRIORITIES ARE WHAT UNDERMINE FAITH
and its success is the result of moral depravity. Unbelief is not so much the result of a studious and controversial age as it is one of moral decline. It disperses itself in proportion as the general morals decline. People embrace it with less apprehension when all around are doing the same thing. What Wilberforce described is the gradual decisions and the subtle changes in priorities that undermine faith. Rarely is the loss of faith the result of careful inquiry or a single experience. It’s more like gaining weight than falling off a ladder. When your friends, your roommate, and others in your dorm all treat church as irrelevant, it is easy to adopt the same attitude. Arguments against organized religion are used to bolster these already formed attitudes. If a relationship is involved, if casual sex is in the picture, then the arguments take on a particular inevitability. Let’s be honest: if you are sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend there are a lot of things one might think about doing on a Sunday morning at college, other than attending church.
SIGNS OF APPRENTICESHIP However, if you are serious about being apprentices of Jesus, you will go to church each Sunday.
Gathering with the people of God was Jesus’ practice from youth. It will become yours. Luke writes, “He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16). Wanting to worship with other believers is a sign of genuine belief. The Psalmist observes, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalms 16:3). As with David, attending church will not be a burden, but a joy: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Psalm 122:1). But proof texts don’t constitute an argument. The institutional church only makes sense if truth is objective, if belief is determinative, if plausibility is communal, and if real presence is uniquely promised.
TRUTH IS OBJECTIVE If truth is objective, then the source of truth is outside myself. I am no longer the epistemic centre of the universe. I stand under truth—both that revealed in nature and in Scripture. I am accountable to truth, and I need others to help me guard against my own intellectual self-deception and behavioural rationalizations. We harbour suspicion of institutions because it is often easier to see the failures in institutions more readily than in ourselves. But at a deeper level, we don’t want to acknowledge the authority of institutions over ourselves. We are rebels. Paul warns his spiritual son, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:1819). We must hold on to a body of doctrine. Faith is more than having a religious experience. It is a dynamic ongoing relationship based in truth about the Truth. We need regular instruction in God’s Word and for others to hold us accountable to God’s Word.
BELIEFS ARE DETERMINATIVE
WE DON'T WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE
Our beliefs determine our behaviour. We may not live what we profess, but we always live what we believe. Wrong behaviour is symptomatic of what we really love, trust, and follow. Over time our beliefs will always be revealed in our practice—most honestly in what we do in secret behind closed doors away from public view. This is why we need public confession before others and accountability to others. Although little practiced in Protestant circles, we are commanded for good reason to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). There is more honesty in the local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting than in most church services on Sunday morning.
THE AUTHORITY OF INSTITUTIONS OVER OURSELVES… WE ARE REBELS
PLAUSIBILITY IS COMMUNAL Social context determines the plausibility of belief. The pious quip, “One person and God is a majority,” may be good theology, but it is terrible sociology. Social context does not make something true, but it can strengthen or weaken whether or not I think it is true. Take heroin, for example. The average student will readily acknowledge that heroin is dangerous. But consider the seventeen-year-old overdose victim who taught Sunday school at a local church. She told Newsweek, “In the beginning I was so against it. I was raised in a real strong Christian home, and I’m strong-willed. But once you’re around it every day, it becomes pretty ordinary. Then you get curious, and you think it’s not a big deal to do it one time.”
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
Without constant resistance, we will inevitably mirror our immediate social context. The pervasive culture on college campuses today combines nihilistic hedonism with metaphysical naturalism. Meaning is personal pleasure. Life is an accident. Everything else follows naturally from these two beliefs. Unless one makes the choice to go to church, to place oneself periodically in the context of those who believe the truth about reality, this unreality will become one’s own personal reality. Attendance at campus parachurch activities, however valuable, are no substitute for going to church, because they do not really break one out of one’s insolated sub-cultural
both “holy” in the sense of “set apart” and “to the Lord your God.” The purpose of keeping Sabbath is directed by this defining relationship (Exodus 20:811). It is a creational ordinance that we disregard or dilute with serious consequences.
“IN SYNCH” WITH REALITY
UNLESS WE CONSTANTLY RESIST IT, WE WILL INEVITABLY MIRROR OUR IMMEDIATE SOCIAL CONTEXT
reality, nor are they God’s chosen institution. At their best, they should point one to church rather than being a substitute for church.
REAL PRESENCE IS PROMISED Most importantly, we are promised that God uniquely shows up at church. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). We come to church to be with Jesus in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. We need real presence. We need an encounter with the living loving, communicating Heavenly Father. We need a sense of the sacred, a space and time set apart from the routine of daily life. The Sabbath is not a day of leisure, but a day when we rest or stop our daily routines to receive spiritual nourishment. It is to be
The church is collectively the Bride of Christ. There are no “Lone Ranger Christians.” We are part of a body, an institution. The church is Christ’s idea. Uniquely through it we are nourished to do His work. Through it His Word is received. Through it His body is given as food. Contemporary, western culture is “out of synch” with God’s reality. If the emerging generation is individualistic, subjectivistic, consumer-oriented, anti-authoritarian, antiinstitutional and consequently anti-church, then they are in great peril. If we want to know how we can grow spiritually—to increase in love and good deeds—the author of the Book of Hebrews writes, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). We need each other because we need Jesus. He is the Rock on which He builds His church (Matthew 16:18). To deny this anchor is to be set adrift. Church leaders must do more than pander to the preferences of potential participants. They must address underlying assumptions that make church a personal, consumer option… instead of a spiritual necessity.
JOHN SEEL is a writer, educator, and cultural analyst. He is a viral marketing consultant and writer for Walden Media, where he was involved in the release of Amazing Grace. This article was published in Comment, September 2007. www.cardus.ca/comment
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he furnace repair man who came by my house, today, chatted politely about my family, asking about their work and studies. He complained about taxes and about the
T (PART I) A CRASH COURSE ON WORLDVIEW, AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
BY DON OPITZ
limits of the medical coverage provided by his employer and the state. Mostly he enjoyed describing his cottage on Lake Canadoda, the place that was for him the reward of a life of hard work. Now, these things don’t seem strange to us, but place this repair man in some other cultural setting and his personal inquiries might be invasive, his expectations of government and his employer absurd, and his hope for the future extravagant beyond imagination. The repair man’s life and dreams make sense under our cultural heritage of beliefs: that humans have rights and freedoms and should be treated with dignity, that the government should keep its hand out of my purse but provide for my basic needs, and that the good life is marked by comfort if not by prosperity. Individual beliefs vary, but in a particular cultural context people share many beliefs, values, and ways of thinking and living in common. Questioning such beliefs and patterns generally doesn’t occur to the people who hold them because these cultural beliefs are so deeply integrated with their perceptions and expectations. Such culture-shaping constellations of belief are sometimes called worldviews. For some time, now, the term “worldview” has shown up in almost every discipline in the academy, and has been widely used in discussions about faith, philosophy, culture, and education. The word migrated into English from the German, . The history and development of the notion are discussed in other places, most thoroughly by David Naugle in (2002). I want to offer a working definition of worldview, and to highlight the role that particular worldviews play in shaping everything from art to zoology. (In “Part II,” my emphasis will be on work and leadership.)
BUT NOW I SEE (PART I)
”Worldview” is variously defined as: •
“a set of presuppositions which we hold about the basic makeup of our world”—James W. Sire, (1997);
“a comprehensive framework of one’s beliefs about things which function as a guide to life” —Albert R. Wolters, (1985); and
“a vision of life and for life” —Brian J. Walsh and Richard J. Middleton, (1984).
A worldview is a set of eyeglasses through which we see everything. It is the perspective or perceptual framework that frames our thoughts and actions. A worldview opens up ways of seeing, and it points our attention toward certain things. Our worldview also blinds us and limits our understanding and appreciation of certain things. It sketches the contours of what is real and what really matters, and it provides instructions about how to go about living in that reality. Worldviews for us the reality that we will experience, and they to us how we ought to live in that reality.
Just one half hour, and so many assumptions, most of them unconscious. Why does work go until five, and why do I make this distinction between the forty or sixty hours of work (which belongs to someone else) and the “discretionary” rest of my time? Why are my satisfactions and delights so weekendfocused? Apparently I have beliefs about the nature of work and leisure, though I don’t often think very clearly about what these beliefs are. I value my friends, my family, and my church, but I also value my own freedom to recreate. A sense of the urgency of my own life is revealed by my impatience in traffic. Why am I always in such a hurry? I muffle the curse and the song, desiring to appear both civil and macho. I don’t even think about stopping by the bars anymore, but a would be nice. I value time with my family, and I think we are still on for dinner together. My girls must drink a gallon of milk a day. I don’t need to milk a cow or even think about dairy farmers or pasteurization. “Pull in, two dollars and change, out with the milk.” That took about four minutes, so I’ll be home by 5:44 p.m.
Most of us haven’t been critically attentive to our worldview. Instead, we live relatively unreflectively. Because worldviews are generally lived unreflectively, it is misleading to make them sound too academic or philosophical. They are everyday patterns of shared thought and behaviour.
I imagine that many of these rituals and the thoughts that accompany them are similar to your own. We think in similar terms because our lives are similar in many ways. Our lives are similar because we share deeply culture-shaping assumptions.
THE WEEKEND ROUTINE
MORE “CAUGHT” THAN “TAUGHT”
It is five o’clock on Friday, and everything on my desk at least appears to be in order. My attention turns to the weekend, and I begin to anticipate time with some good friends, my daughter’s softball game, and the Sunday school lesson I still have to prepare. Could I fit in a round of golf if I got up early on Saturday? As usual on a Friday afternoon, traffic is tight, I curse (under my breath) a pushy driver who is nudging into the lane ahead of me to save ten seconds of commuting time, and I sing along with the radio—cautiously so nobody can see my lips move. I pass bars and fast food joints crowded with
people. I remember to stop to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home. What a good Dad I am!
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
There are several ways to begin the process of identifying and clarifying fundamental beliefs and worldviews. I have found the basic worldview questions listed by James W. Sire in his (1990) to be helpful. Questions like these help get at the beliefs, the deep convictions, upon which people build their lives: •
Who am I? What does it mean to be a human being?
Where am I? What is the nature and purpose of the cosmos, this earth, my community?
What’s wrong? What is causing all the problems in my life and world?
How can it be fixed? How should these problems be addressed or resolved?
How should I act? Are there any standards, guidelines, principles for behaviour?
What lies ahead? What does the future hold for me, and for everything?
Most of us haven’t “journaled” answers to these questions or struggled to develop responses that are consistent and coherent. Responses to such questions that are carefully and consistently bundled together are sometimes called ideologies—Marxism, scientism, economism, Darwinism, feminism, for example. Those that have developed broad culture-shaping influence are also called worldviews. Marxism, for example, was far more than a theory about human nature, history, and revolutionary redemption. It was a way of life, shaping every institution and everyday life for millions of people.
“QUESTIONING OUR “EVERYDAY” DOESN’T GENERALLY OCCUR TO US.”
As we look back to my half-hour commute, a consistent ideology is difficult to detect. Indeed, we live under a quilted worldview, a little piece of this sewn to a little piece of that. Snatches of the Christian faith, though often generalized into a friendly humanism, are stitched to various patches of hyperrationality (“scientism, economism, consumerism, and technicism”). These patches of hyper-rationality (the “isms”) develop when the breadth of life is viewed through the lens of one of its particular dimensions. The pieces are stitched onto the quiltbacking of individualism. Each individual’s interests and needs become rights that take priority over the common good. Utilitarianism (if it works, let’s try it) stitches all of these different pieces of fabric together. This analysis—that our North American worldview is best described as utilitarian individualism—is argued by Robert Bellah and his co-authors in (1985) and (1991).
BUT NOW I SEE (PART I)
Most of us live according to this culture-shaping radical switch from one set of foundational beliefs cluster of beliefs and values. And we live according to another alternation. In religious parlance this to these beliefs and values, not so much because we is called “conversion.” Alternation is a fascinating have chosen them, but because we have grown into social, psychological, and, sometimes, spiritual them. Worldviews are more caught than taught. We transformation. On occasion corporate executives inherit them, absorbing them by osmosis through really do get fed up and leave it all behind to till the experiences of everyday life. In youth, our the earth. Hindus become Christians, and long-time primary “others” and language were key “carriers.” church-goers become Muslims. Curiously, changes Later, the institutions and rituals of life, peers, the in belief often don’t translate into comprehensive changes in behaviour. In the context media, and just about everything of North American culture, religious in culture communicated the beliefs are so privatized, so discrete dominant, cultural worldview to MOST OF US from the rest of life, that they often us. Our North American worldview DON’T CHOOSE have only a marginal life-shaping has been programmed into our influence. In my town Baptists and brains by family, friends, school, BELIEFS AND Buddhists talk, spend and play pretty TV, and other worldview “carriers” VALUES; WE much like Anglicans and atheists. since we were babes. This is because they share a number GROW INTO This does not mean that we of beliefs in common that go further THEM are powerless to change our in shaping their lives than the beliefs or lifestyle. We are largely distinctive religious beliefs that they programmed, but not entirely so. Human beings are hold. Religious conversion is no guarantee that remarkable creatures with both the freedom and the an individual’s worldview and way of life will be responsibility to make choices and to change. The radically transformed. worldview we have grown up in may be adapted as we encounter other perspectives. Let’s employ a little theoretical jargon and refer to these adjustments INFLUENCING as alteration. For example, many of us have been convinced that we must change our answer to the NORTH AMERICA question, Where am I? We know we cannot treat Transforming one’s values, habits, hopes, and the world as an unlimited source of resources or as culture is a difficult and generally painful—and lifea dump for our discarded waste. North Americans long—process. If all of the institutions and carriers continue to consume more natural resources of our culture’s dominant worldview have been and create more waste per person than any other shaping us from early on and throughout each day, continent on the globe, and our environmental the possibility of “alternation” is slim and even efforts have not gone far in changing this pattern “alteration” becomes a struggle. Reflective Christians of consumption. But at least we are beginning to experience this conflict. Many recognize that their believe differently. Changing the patterns of life own lives and their culture are not consistent with the woven throughout the institutions of our culture desires of God and the message set forth in the Bible. will take far more time, and it will require vigilance Most of our churches have not helped us develop our and sacrifice to change. Changing beliefs that run Christian beliefs into a worldview, a way of thinking deep in a culture, and in each of us, is an extremely about, living in, and challenging the world in which difficult process. we live. Change is not easy, and deep faithfulness will require that we pursue it in the company and with the More thoroughgoing change is also possible, though encouragement of others. it is experienced rarely if at all. Let’s call the more
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
A biblical worldview is a basic way of looking at all structures, and management theory. We know that of reality from the perspective of the biblical story. we will not purge all evil and redeem the creation by It involves recognizing the structural goodness of our own efforts. The glory of a renewed creation will creation, that creation itself is not finally be revealed when God judges the problem—that it was designed to and cleanses all things. Until that honour God. Human beings were time, however, we participate in the CHANGES IN designed to honour and obey God “now, but not yet” work in Christ. BELIEF OFTEN in this creational context, to develop Our North American worldview creation in ways that display God’s DON’T MEAN has been influenced deeply by good intentions. Because of sin, CHANGES IN Christianity, and it has also been however, our lives have become full shaped by beliefs that are alien to the of confusion, pain, and self-interest, BEHAVIOUR testimony of Scripture. Our task is to and all creation bears the marks of recognize and to defeat the dualism our disobedience. Nothing is as it should be, and all institutions are in need of the of the Greeks (inherited as the sacred-secular redemptive and restorative attention of Jesus and divide), the individualism of the Enlightenment, His followers. The Bible provides us with the big and the spirit of domination and exploitation from picture (creation, fall, redemption, consummation), our American experience that have been woven and with basic principles for obedience, but it does into our own worldview. Our culture’s view of work not detail all of our responsibilities for the various and leadership is also in need of some reform. The areas of responsible cultural activity. We need to resources of the Christian faith can point us in the work together to apply what we do know through right direction. That is where we will turn in “Part Spirit and the Word, and to seek faithfully to wrestle II”.
with what God might desire in politics, sports, education, economics, business ethics, corporate
DON OPITZ is Associate Professor of Sociology at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and co-author of The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (Brazos, 2007). This article was published in Comment, March 2007. www.cardus.ca/comment
I SEE NOW (PART II)
WITH A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW, OUR DAILY WORK CAN TRANSCEND THE GRIND AND CONNECT TO A GREATER PURPOSE
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
BY DON OPITZ
In Part I of “But now I see”, we whirled through an introduction to worldviews. In this brief essay, we want to slow down and employ our insights about worldviews to explore two aspects of our daily lives—work and leadership.
h e C o n f e re n c e B o a rd ’s surveys of job satisfaction suggest that about 40% of working people in the United States were unsatisfied with their jobs in 1995, and that the proportion of unsatisfied working people grew to about 50% by 2005. For the unsatisfied half of working Americans, work is an ugly
necessity, something they need to do to get by. If work is despised, it is easy to imagine that motivation and morale on the job will be low and the need for vigilant oversight and incentives will be high. It is also understandable that many will seek to define themselves by their leisure activities more than by their careers. Such workers will naturally work for the weekend where they can “grab the gusto” (as the old Schlitz beer ads used to encourage) and live large, or they will pour their lives into family and community affairs as a way to find some meaningful centre of their existence. What forces have been at work to forge such a low view of work? Other people seem to live by a super-inflated sense of the importance of work. Their motivation is
extremely high, but they are driven by engines that may eventually propel them toward self-destruction. They may be on an intense quest for money, power, or status, or they may be seeking to assuage guilt, win favour, or affirm their own self-worth. It is no more pleasant to work in the company of these workaholics than it is with the job-haters. What shapes our various views and attitudes about work? I have a friend who is a successful investment banker. Stan makes about ten times more money each year than I do. His workouts each day at lunch are extremely grueling and accurately timed. No harm in that—in fact, he is in great shape. But there isn’t much play or joy involved, and one gets the feeling that time away from work must be as efficient as time on the job. Time is, after all, money. Stan knows how much an hour of his time is worth, not to the dollar but to the penny. It is wasteful, he reasons, for him to mow his own grass, fix his own gutters, or iron his own shirts. Even this doesn’t seem all that bad, and you might argue that it keeps the local economy alive. But what if Stan’s company offered a service that not only took care of his car and his personal bills, but also picked up his kids before and after school? What if his secretary bought nice gifts for Stan to give to his wife? What if all of Stan’s friends were executive coworkers, because those were the only people he had time for? What I am trying to describe here is a kind of spillover from Stan’s work to the rest of his life. I think that a healthy economy is a good thing, and
BUT NOW I SEE(PART II)
that it is good for some people to know how to yet still feeling somehow off-course. We worship in manage money, even huge amounts of it. Certain market-driven churches, and find it hard to imagine skills and ways of thinking are essential in order to recreation without a ten-million-dollar movie or an do such a job well. But when those ways of reasoning, eight-hundred-dollar mountain bike. evaluating, and valuing spill over into other areas of life, the results are disastrous. Michael Ende addressed the When an economic orientation threat of economism in his takes on too central a role in WHEN ECONOMISM fairy tale novel, Momo (1974). a person’s worldview, other Strange businessmen began to TAKES HOLD, aspects of life are reduced in move into town. They were all significance. Ethical questions PAINTINGS BECOME identically dressed: gray suits, become merely questions of ONLY INVESTMENTS, gray shoes, gray Derby hats, cost-benefit analysis. Paintings gray briefcases, and prominent are viewed solely as investments. FRIENDS BECOME pocket watches. The adults in Friends become clients. When town were quickly drawn into ONLY CLIENTS such views take hold of the heart the gray army of workers. A and imagination of a culture, we small group of children provided can call this perspective economism. the only resistance. They met daily in the old ruins just outside of town to assess the strange invasion. A young girl became the leader of the resistance. Her WORKING MORE, only credential for leadership was that she cared in BUYING MORE, AND excessive and expressive ways for almost everyone. She was called Momo, perhaps because she didn’t FEELING OFF-COURSE Two of the primary paradigms for organizing mark time by minutes and seconds. She took the modern economic life, Marxism and capitalism, are time necessary, at any given moment, to respond both prone toward economism (the domination of with concern and compassion. This was her great life by economic rationality and concerns). While gift, and with it she was eventually able to locate and the success of capitalism has all but extinguished restore the time and life that had been stolen by the Marxism from the Western world, it is important gray parasites. to recognize their similarities and the way in which spillover from the marketplace is shaping our North I don’t think this story was about the fear of growing American worldview. Both Marxism and capitalism up, like Peter Pan. It wasn’t the adult world that was define people too much by their role in economic life. gray, but something that was happening to adults. If we begin to believe that we are first and foremost They were being drawn into something that was not economic beings, then we will identify problems and bringing them life and happiness, but something solutions in economic terms. Marxism sees human that was turning them gray. Many of us feel ourselves beings fundamentally as producers who have been growing gray at work. We have lost the exuberance we alienated from the fruit of their labour and who once had, and we have many reasons to feel cynical. must rise up against the bourgeoisie to reclaim their For some of us, the only reason we don’t quit is that freedom and identity. Capitalism sees human beings we’re not sure we could find something better. At fundamentally as consumers who can solve problems least we are making enough to make ends meet. But and obtain happiness with money. The marketit’s tough to get up for work every morning when driven media reinforce this consumerism daily, and the job is merely instrumental, a means to an end, we respond by working more, buying more, and to a paycheck.
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
MANY OF US FEEL is resting, parenting, praying, Work can, and I think OURSELVES GROWING celebrating, and helping those should, be something in need. God has called us into much more. Our work ‘GRAY’ AT WORK responsible action in a number can have meaning. of different areas of life. To view To have meaning it all of life through one aspect has to be connected of the creation (like work or to something greater, economics) leads to distortion. to some purpose that If we work to bolster our selftranscends the daily esteem, to gain power, or to hide grind. A Christian from other responsibilities, we view of work can will ultimately be disappointed. connect us to this We ought to “work heartily, as greater purpose. A for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) look at the institution of work in Genesis 2, without being consumed by the before sin entered the grayness of economism. world, indicates that work is something WORLDVIEWS more than a necessary evil. Adam and Eve FORGE LEADERSHIP are commanded to work, not as punishment or as MODELS a means of survival, but because it was part of their God-given nature and mission as God’s agents in the Work doesn’t exist in isolation. In fact, all of us engage world. They were given the gifts and tasks of filling in our work while connected to others in some way. and cultivating the creation in a way that would And in these contexts we are at times frustrated by honour God and demonstrate His gracious rule over those who lead us, and we often find ourselves leading all things. Their happiness was linked to the obedient somewhat ineptly. Leadership, put rather simply, is the execution of their office. They were responsible to act of mobilizing people to bring about change. It is care for creation, to care for one another, and to concerned with both the means (the mobilizing) and the honour God with the fruit of their hands. We were ends (the desired change). Leaders mobilize followers in created to be workers in God’s creation. To begin to all sorts of ways. They lead by example, the strength of recapture meaning in the workplace, we need to go their character, sharing or clarifying a vision, selecting to work with the intention of honouring God in all excellent managers, developing functional teams, our relationships, calculations, and transactions. This executing sensible strategies, removing obstacles doesn’t mean that Christians won’t have gray days, be or creating incentives, encouraging and serving worn down by the daily grind, or be trapped in jobs coworkers, and in dozens of other ways that you that apparently contribute little to the common good. have practiced or witnessed. There is also a long list Christians, after all, live and work in the same hard of the potential goals or changes that the leader may be pursuing: policies, laws, products, services, beliefs, world as everyone else. attitudes, productivity, innovation, growth, and so forth. With this broad field of possible leadership In the Christian view work is situated in the broader behaviours and objectives, I think you can imagine perspective of a life of responsive service. Working how dynamic and challenging the field of leadership is one expression of our loving obedience to God, as studies has become.
BUT NOW I SEE(PART II)
UNDERSTANDING LIFE'S FRAMEWORKS, WE CAN BECOME HOPE-BEARING AGENTS OF CULTURAL RENEWAL
If worldviews are as pervasive and formative as I argued earlier in Comment, we ought to be able to anticipate what kind of leadership models will emerge in certain cultural settings. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Genghis Khan, one of the world’s greatest military leaders, was raised in the fastest and fiercest army of the world, that Frederick Taylor’s scientific management theory was hatched around the turn of the century in the incubator of a culture warmed to the possibilities of rational control and calculation, and that Total Quality Management rolled off the floors of Japanese assembly lines. Worldviews forge certain kinds of leaders. Of course, some leaders defy the status quo and seem to draw from different sources, even sources outside their own worldview community. Several of the biblical prophets strike me as good examples of this, and several important scientific breakthroughs have come about because scientists were able to imagine things according to entirely new paradigms.
We also ought to be able to study various leadership models and begin to “sniff out” the underlying beliefs and assumptions held by theorists and organizational leaders. Even if we can’t detect exactly what answer a particular theorist or organizational consultant would give to the first worldview question about human identity, we can suspect that their answer is not very satisfying if their theory does not recognize the value and dignity of the follower. Strategies for manipulating followers and exploiting resources are disguised as leadership theories. Assumptions and theories are unwittingly affirmed by those utilizing a particular leadership model. And to make matters more confusing, leaders sometimes jump from one leadership model to another, cycling through several fashionable models in a year! Christian leaders ought to be leery of the strategy du jour, and thoughtful Christian leaders ought to be able to sniff out the
Servant L E A D E R S H I P “
It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions… The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
—Robert K. Greenleaf The Servant as Leader (1970) | see www.greenleaf.org
C OA RMDMUESN Tc oMuAr Gs eA pZ aI Nc Ek : w o r l d v i e w
foul odor of manipulative leadership models. Many models are designed to help people with power to exploit those without it. The only goal is getting a job done as quickly and cheaply as possible. When work is defined simply in terms of efficiency, it is no wonder that workers begin to feel like they are simply cogs in the machine. Bureaucratic management techniques are no substitute for real leadership. In fact, such impersonal bureaucratic processes generally create a culture in which real leadership is impossible. In organizational cultures dominated by control and coercion, relationships are strained, trust is broken, and real leadership becomes a mere pipe-dream. Thoughtful Christian leaders ought to draw upon a biblical worldview to discern the leadership challenges and opportunities of their place and time. What are the deep and good things that God has in view for this area of life? How is sin masking and twisting that good potential? And how can we rely upon God and work together to pursue mutual goals that will honour the Lord of all work and all places? Learning to see work and leadership and the particular issue
at hand through the lens of creation-fall-redemption can lead to the revitalization of organizational culture. Healthy approaches to leadership are being explored by scholars and deployed in the workplace (such as transformational leadership and various empowerment models). Others are attempting to draw even more deeply upon Christian ideas such as the servant leadership approach pioneered by Robert Greenleaf. Christians still have a great deal of work to do, not only to develop servant leadership as a viable approach for the workplace, but to explore other models of leadership that are informed by the biblical narrative. Every area of life and every area of the academy is shaped by worldviews. It is tough to recognize worldviews in everyday life because life is so thick, and we are enmeshed in it. Working together, however, we can become more adept at recognizing these foundational beliefs and frameworks for life. Together we can become sin-contending cultural critics and hope-bearing agents of cultural renewal.
Don Opitz is Associate Professor of Sociology at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and co-author of (Brazos, 2007). This article was published in Comment, March 2007. www.cardus.ca/comment
Sex is easier than LOVE: why sexuality is at the very heart of life and learning
BY STEVEN GARBER
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
ONLY IF THE CHRISTIAN VISION OF SEXUALITY CAN MAKE SENSE OF WHAT I FEEL MOST DEEPLY,
Do you believe in love? I believe in saying, ‘I love you.’ —All That Jazz
couple times each year I teach a course called Learning to Read the Word and the World, at the Same Time. We spend the first month exploring sexuality. Although the class
has a reputation now, in some ways it is always a surprise for the students. Why? Simply, most have never been invited to think seriously about the meaning of sexuality.
OF WHAT I KNOW MOST PROFOUNDLY…
Sex, they know, of course. Everywhere in every way in everything. As the wonderfully gifted poet Steve Turner puts it in “Creed,” capturing with his characteristic brilliance the air we all breathe, We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage. We believe in the therapy of sin. We believe that adultery is fun. We believe that taboos are taboo. Or in the words of Jon Foreman, the front man for “Switchfoot,” who puts his poetry to song, Sex is currency She sells cars, She sells magazines Addictive, bittersweet, clap your hands, with the hopeless nicotines
ONLY THEN CAN I BE PERSUADED OF THE CHRISTIAN VISION OF EVERYTHING ELSE
Photos: Annie Ling
Everyone’s a lost romantic, Since our love became a kissing show Everyone’s a Cassanova, Come and pass me the mistletoe Everyone’s been scared to death of dying here alone She is easier than love Is easier than life It’s easier to fake and smile and bribe
SEX IS EASIER THAN LOVE
Most understand this, painfully so. They know the aching and the yearning that is always mixed up with the hope and dream of being young—and male or female. They know that there is something about being a body that is beautifully right, viz. “This is the way I am meant to be! This is how I am meant to feel—and I feel most alive when I feel this way!” And yet, and yet. They also know that there is true sorrow and grief that comes with the desire to love and be loved. They know that there are amazingly complex feelings that come with being male, with being female, with being embodied, with having eyes and ears, minds and hearts—yes, and with having genitals too.
Christianly about everything and anything—I am sure that unless we are confident that the Scriptures tell the truth about sexuality, about being bodies, and about being full of sexual longings and desires, it is hard to believe they are true when they speak about the rest of life. How can I be persuaded that it is worth all the work of developing a Christian vision of literature, of music, of political responsibility, of international justice, if I am not persuaded that the Christian vision of sexuality really makes sense of what I feel most deeply, of what I know most profoundly?
The Bible itself seems to understand this. Or to put it another way, God in his grace gives us the Bible as A question I ask, again and again, is this: Is it possible a lens into reality, about the way the world really is, to be holy and to be sexual at the same time? You telling the truth about God, the human condition, see, my desire is not to offer and history. Everything… one more session—a montheverything, depends on long one at that—on why sex that—it is the cosmic lineWE ARE MADE TO BE is wrong. Incredibly, most of in-the-sand. Calvin argued HOLY AND SEXUAL AT those I talk to and teach about that the Scriptures are like this, who over the years have spectacles: we see ourselves THE VERY SAME TIME. ranged from seventeen-year-olds and the world through the to twenty-four-year-olds, tell me, biblical story. And it is a “We have never ever heard anyone say anything other story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. than ‘No!’”
In the beginning, God made us in his image, male and female he made us—and it was good. To be fully human is to be a man in relation to a woman, to be a woman in relation to a man; together we are the image of God. There is a deep truth in that, with psychological, social, and sexual implications. The very last word of Genesis 2 is that Father Adam and Mother Eve were naked and not ashamed. We are to learn from that, to ponder that, to remember that. God in his goodness made us sexual, and it was good.
I begin with sexuality because it is a line in the sand for everything else. While I believe that we have to get to the arts, politics, economics, and globalization eventually—that we have to learn to think
The next chapter tells the story of the Fall, and the first words after their sin is that “they were naked and ashamed.” The last word, and the first word:
While I agree that there are proper ‘noes’, I am even more sure that there are proper ‘yesses’—and if we are going to find our way to a biblically rich and honestly Christian vision of sexuality, then we are going to have to dig more deeply into the possibility that we are in fact made to be holy and sexual at the very same time.
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
yes, we are to learn from that, to ponder that. There is something about being bodies that is central to our humanity, at the very core of our humanness as image-bearers of God. Faithfulness and faithlessness are first of all seen and known in relation to our sexuality. Sort of scary, isn’t it? But to know that about ourselves is to know the true truth about ourselves.
The world that is really there, the world that God has created, and in which we live and move and have our being, is tinged with meaning. If we have eyes to see, we see it to be holy, as God Himself is holy. But that very reality is what makes it, at the very same time, so susceptible to idolatry. We will adore someone or something—at our deepest, we are homo adoramus, man the adorer.
As the story of Scripture unfolds, this same dynamic is seen in every generation. The history of redemption is story after story of persons and peoples whose deepest identities are played out with sexuality at the center. Why is it that God chooses circumcision as the sign of the covenant? A strange way to mark one’s faithfulness to God, isn’t it—unless it is a sign of something profoundly important? Why is it that idolatry is primarily seen in sexual distortions? Centuries and civilizations are full of strangely sexual windows into the hopes and dreams of human beings, even in our fallenness. Why does God choose the marriage bed, and the relationship of husband to wife, as the primary metaphor of his relationship to his people? Intimacy, adultery, prostitution, commitment are all words God uses to teach us about faithfulness, and faithlessness.
Why is it that the Canaanites, in their idolatry, represented their vision of the good life with a giant phallic symbol? Do your own work, and think again about Baal worship and the meaning of asherah poles, which were set up on the hills of the promised land, standing larger than life for the people of Israel to ponder. How could they possibly “be holy as the Lord your God is holy” with giant penises looking down upon them?
Idolatry is always and everywhere a twisting of a good gift of God. We make idols because we are prone to pervert what God intends as good and beautiful and true, making the gift either more important or less important than God intends. What is meant to be meaningful, full of meaning—the sky, the sea, a bull, a fish, money, freedom, a breast, a penis, even love itself—in our bentness becomes something, first of all, with inflated meaning—and then tragically and sadly, inevitably it becomes meaningless, as it cannot stand having been made so meaningful. The reality of God’s world will not allow it. The poets over the centuries have captured this with poignancy. Hear Hart Crane: “Love—a burnt match skating in a urinal.”
What was it about the idolatries of the Mediterranean world of the New Testament, the cities that Paul and Peter visited in their missionary travels that became incarnate in female statues with 60 breasts? The next time you feel weighted down—or maybe even intrigued—by the promises of Cosmopolitan in the grocery-store checkout line, think about what the early Christians had to see on their way to the market—and realize that the call to be holy and sexual is perennial, it has been the challenge for God’s people in every time, in every place. Or ponder what the world looked like to Patrick, as he returned to Ireland, committed to giving the gospel to the pagan peoples who had earlier enslaved him. Walking through the streets with the good news of the kingdom he found his way among statues of naked women and men with incredibly engorged sexual organs. My family and I were in India at Christmas. It is a wonderfully alive culture, with spices and colours that
SEX IS EASIER THAN LOVE
HOW DO WE SEE THE PROPER “YES” THAT IS WRITTEN INTO OUR DNA AS SONS OF ADAM AND DAUGHTERS OF EVE?
are threaded through its historic Hinduism. There is a 2000-year-old tradition of Christian witness, too. As the story is told, the Apostle Thomas came to India’s west coast, establishing what is now called the Mar Thoma Church, among others. What did Thomas find? He saw what we saw, travelling twenty centuries later. In every Hindu temple we visited, the pillars which hold the roofs in place are girded by penises. To say it plainly, it is the male sexual organ that holds the temple together. Homo adoramus? Yes, we will worship. What we worship will promise to make sense of life; it will promise to give meaning to life. It is uncanny that in the history of the human race, in centuries and cultures the world over, being naked—ashamed or
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
Photo: Annie Ling
not—is so close to the heart of our humanness, and of our longing to be holy, to touch transcendence.
A PROPER “YES” Creation, fall, and redemption. We find ourselves in this story that God tells, beginning in Genesis with “It was good,” and ending in Revelation with “By amazing grace, it will be good again, even glorious.” The fall is real, horribly so. Its reality is not only in sexualized statues, which to the 21st-century person may seem a bit abstract. More personally, it is felt in the human heart, full as we all are of longing and hope, of yearning and heartache. The very possibility of knowing and being known, of being naked and not ashamed in every dimension of life,
in our fallenness becomes the dynamic center of our most deeply-felt fears. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t have a tender conversation with someone somewhere about relationships in general, and sexuality in particular. Feelings are always deep, and often there are tears. What do we do with this? How do we begin to rethink sexuality? To redeem sexuality? To see the proper “yes” that is primordially written into our DNA as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve? To understand that in this now-but-not-yet world it is truly possible to be holy and to be sexual at the same time? In my class I begin in this way. I ask the students to bring in film and music that reflects the truth of the human condition, especially about sexuality, in both its glory and shame. The whole world becomes our classroom at that point, and the songwriters and storytellers whose work shapes and reflects our culture, become our companions. We do work our way through Tom Wolfe’s Hooking Up and I Am Charlotte Simmons, and we read Naomi Wolf’s “The Porn Myth,” but the burden of the reading and reflection is to find our way into the goodness of this gift. I want my students to understand that the real issue is truthfulness—that is, does the song or story tell the truth about the human condition, about the meaning of sexuality? What are the glimmers of real glory, of our true humanity? What do we learn about the way things ought to be—even as we carefully and critically work to understand the contours of our culture, so very fallen as it is. I want them to wrestle with the Song of Songs, and its gloriously perplexing account of sexuality—even as I want them to ponder why the Church for 2000 years has so stumbled over its interpretation. Why, for example, do we have such a hard time believing
that the writer waxed eloquently about real breasts, and wonderfully so, and that they are not mostly a metaphor for the beauty of Christ? The fall so twisted our reading of the Word and the world that we have a lot of work to do, if we are to “untwist” the meaning of God’s grace to us in the gift of sexuality. I ask them to read Wendell Berry, so grandfatherly in wisdom and yet so radical in his analysis and insight too. His poetry is probing, and beautiful, and thoughtful, offering poem after poem about the meaning of love, even of sexual desire. And his short stories are also included, where he tells the tales of a community over time of people who know and love, even amidst heartache and loss. But I also want them to read his essay, “Sex, Economy, Freedom, Community,” in which he insists that we see sexuality in the context of larger, deeper responsibilities and relationships. He resists the reductionism of “sex.” It is as important an argument for the redemption of sexuality as I have found—and by someone who has loved his wife well for over fifty years, which is not a small thing. While I do love books, at the end of the day we need to find teachers for whom ideas have had legs, who in their lives offer honest integrity, where words have become flesh, and yes, where love has flourished. And then, listen carefully.
IF IT IS TRUE THERE, IT IS TRUE EVERYWHERE Looking back on my own undergraduate years, I remember being drawn into the richness of the worldview that grows out of the gospel of the kingdom. I desperately wanted a vision that made sense of all of life. But I knew that, truth be told, most of my thinking was about girls, not macroeconomics. I wanted to know who they were, what they meant, what my life meant in relation to
SEX IS EASIER THAN LOVE
them—and it seemed honest and right that I should see whether my new convictions about truth and meaning and reality could really make sense of my complex feelings about girls, full of holy and unholy hopes as they were. I am deeply persuaded that there is an ancient wisdom in beginning where human beings have always begun—with our nakedness, with our bodies, with our maleness and femaleness. We are perennial people, after all. Reading the Confessions of Augustine always reminds me of that. I ask that my students read it, too. Some things change, but most things don’t. The same longings, the very same temptations that were his are ours. His story is amazingly contemporary. And so when he writes that “I had not yet fallen in love but I loved the idea of it,” it is not so far at all from the headlines on CNN.com as I write, “Jessica Simpson loves to be in love.” Perhaps, even and especially, when “sex is easier than love,” as Jon Foreman laments. That too is perennial. So here is the vision, and the vocation that comes out of it. It is crucial to develop a proper confidence that what the Bible teaches about our bodies is really true. Otherwise, it is a hard sell to believe that the Christian vision can really make sense of aesthetics and astronomy, political theory and
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the physical sciences, psychology and sociology. Thoughtful Christian students will get there too, because they know they must—doing the hard work of asking important, foundational questions in their disciplines, reading the required texts, thinking through what they believe and why they believe what they believe about anything and everything that the curriculum, in class and out of class, sets before them. That is the task of the Christian student, always and everywhere. But they will get there because they are confident that their faith is coherent, that what they believe about the world makes sense of the world. Several years ago one of my students told me at the end of the semester that she had come to believe that “truth is woven into the fabric of the universe.” I pray and teach towards that end. It is always my hope that my students will come to that conviction, as it is the raison d’être of learning for Christian students wherever they are, in the most faith-formed institutions and in the most secular-shaped ones. My own best guess is that to get there we have to walk through an honest conversation about sexuality, seeing whether or not biblical faith can adequately account for what we know so well and feel so deeply. If it is true there, it is true everywhere.
A teacher of many people in many places, STEVEN GARBER directs The Washington Institute, which has as its passion the conviction that faith shapes vocation shapes culture. With a long interest in the relation of popular culture to political culture, he is also the author of The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, now out in its 2nd Edition. This article was published in Comment, September 2008. www.cardus.ca/comment
WHAT IS TO BE DONE…
our moment BY GIDEON STRAUSS
he late Bernard Zylstra, a political philosopher and a mentor to many Christian social activists, wrote in a little booklet, Challenge and Response (1960):
Millions of Christians are spread over the face of the earth today. In one way or other they are all confronted with the question, What does God ask of me at this time? That question can only be answered when the Christian knows God’s message, that is, His Word, and secondly, the spirit of the times. I have tried over the years to develop a discerning attentiveness to the spiritual tectonics of the times in which I live. What an earlier immigrant generation of Dutch-Canadian neocalvinists called gereformeerde voelhorens, “zeitgeist antennae,” if you will. I have found the development of such deep-going cultural discernment to be an immensely difficult effort. Despite the difficulty of this task, I remain convinced of its crucial importance. Without wise discernment, without the ability to identify the relationship, as Bernard Zylstra insisted, between the Word of God and the spirit of the moment, we will not know what God asks of us in our time.
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One of the wiser men of our moment, the cultural critic Denis Haack, writes that If anything is certain for Christians today, it’s that we find ourselves living among people who do not share our deepest convictions and values. If we are to be faithful as Christians in such a pluralistic setting, we need to develop skill in discernment. An ability to respond winsomely to those who see things very differently than we do, instead of merely reacting to the ideas, values, and behavior of the non-Christians around us. An ability, by God’s grace, to creatively chart a godly path through the maze of choices and options that confront us, even when we’re faced with situations and issues that aren’t specifically mentioned in the Scriptures. The first strategic challenge to the present generation of Christian cultural activists is not knowing what to do about the challenges facing us. The first strategic challenge is to identify correctly what those challenges are, at root. In this essay I will suggest that there are four major root challenges to Christian cultural faithfulness in these times, and that we have a long
way to go before we will adequately understand their true nature and most significant implications for us. The most perplexing of these root challenges is also the most immediate to most of us: the challenge of modern liberalism. I am at turns amused and frustrated by my academic colleagues who continue to insist that we live in postmodern times. The suggestion that somehow the spiritual force of modernity has been exhausted and replaced by something altogether different simply does not ring true to what I experience in my own daily work nor to the cultural forces I see at work in the world. Following the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, I understand modernity to be a spiritual force that has bound and guided an historical epoch. I view it as a spiritual force that emerges out of the dialectical relationship between two beliefs: a belief in the moral and intellectual autonomy of the human person, and a belief in scientific and technical control over nature. The most forceful expression of this spiritual force—so forceful that Francis Fukuyama considers it to represent the teleological end of history, in the hegelian sense— is liberal capitalism. Other contenders to represent this force—the foremost of these being communism, fascism, and national socialism—have been consigned to the ash heaps of history. But liberal capitalism is not losing steam, and not relinquishing its hold on the reins of the leading cultures of our time. To the contrary, it is assimilating the elites of an ever-growing number of cultures around the world, and extending its reach ever more pervasively into every nook and cranny of those cultures where it enjoys hegemonic power. Lest I be misunderstood, this is not a screed against constitutional democracy or a market economy, both of which I believe are blessings to humanity with rich
potential for responsible cultural action. Instead, I am concerned about the spiritual power that animates both liberal democracies and capitalist economies. It is a spiritual power that seeks to combine unfettered individual liberty with the commodification and bureaucratic subjugation of all of nature, and that recognizes no law or power beyond or independent of nature. I am astonished by the power of liberal capitalism to persuade even those whose deepest commitments should predispose them against the libertarian erosion of communal ties and the grasping extension of market logic beyond its proper economic sphere that there is no alternative. Living in a society guided by liberal capitalism is like being submerged in an acid ocean stretching to the horizon—there seems no possible escape, and the very flesh is being eaten off our bones.
LIVING IN A SOCIETY GUIDED BY LIBERAL CAPITALISM IS LIKE BEING SUBMERGED IN AN ACID OCEAN STRETCHING TO THE HORIZON.
Having seen the pragmatic power of liberal capitalism in action up close, in the shaping of the decisionmaking of marxist politicians in Africa and of evangelical social activists in North America, I am perplexed by the difficulty of figuring out how to live faithfully to the gospel, in every sphere of life, in the smothering embrace of a society that is radically and comprehensively guided by this sweetly destructive force. Given that there is no new found land remaining to which Christians can repair to establish a new city on a hill, how should we now live, in the
WHAT IS TO BE DONE... TO UNDERSTAND OUR MOMENT?
very midst of this often so seemingly welcoming but yet so profoundly antagonistic social order? The second and most obvious of these challenges is the challenge of Salafiyyah Islam. This is the movement in contemporary Islam that seeks to return to that religion’s purest roots in its first three generations, generations known collectively as the Salafi, or predecessors. It is a complex movement symbolized in popular sentiment by Osama bin Laden and the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. It is easy to mistake Salafiyyah Islam for a simplistic, even backward, historical force. There is no doubt that its intentions are anachronistic and reactionary,
supposedly shared concern for religion’s finding a space within a secularist political order, and because of our supposedly shared concern for what is here often term a “social conservative” stance on issues like marriage and abortion. I have also heard Christians argue that within the context of what, first, Bernard Lewis and, then, Samuel Huntington termed the “clash of civilizations,” Christianity and liberal modernity are—as the religious expressions of “Western civilization”—closely allied against the global expansion of the Islamic ummah. While there are several sets of such multilateral interreligious relations in the world (yes, liberal modernity is religious in nature), the relations between Christianity, Islam, and liberal modernity are perhaps the most difficult to understand, particularly when we
SHOULD “JOHNNY CHRISTIAN” GO TO WAR IN IRAQ TO HELP ESTABLISH A LIBERAL DEMOCRACY, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME MARCHING HAND IN HAND WITH YUSUF ISLAM BACK
HOME IN WASHINGTON D.C. AGAINST ABORTION? desiring to return Islam to its most ancient practices and at the same time to extend the territorial supremacy of Islam over all of the earth. But it is by no means unsophisticated in either an intellectual or an organizational sense. Salafiyyah Islam has a theoretical base that has taken careful account of modernity in its historical expression in every sphere of human life. It has found modernity not only inimical to the teachings of the Koran, but also inadequate for the cultivation of a wholesome human society. The contemporary adherents of Salafiyyah Islam are technically competent in the arts of war, and organizationally adept at the social technologies of terror and subversion. What is not at all clear is how Christians should respond to the struggle between modernity and Salafiyyah Islam for global hegemony. I have heard Christians argue that within the context of North America we are more closely cobelligerent with Muslims, against liberal modernity, because of our
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try to comprehend the relationships simultaneously on a local and a global scale. What seems expedient globally does not always seem to make sense locally, and the reverse. Should “Johnny Christian” go to war in Iraq to help establish a liberal democracy at the historical heart of the Islamic caliphate, while at the same time marching hand in hand with Yusuf Islam back home in Washington D.C. against abortion on demand? It might seem strange to go from modernity and Islam to a more concretely geopolitical entity, but the third challenge facing us in our moment is China. Conceiving of itself as the Middle Kingdom, or the central political entity in the world, China has succeeded in assimilating several waves of religious change and barbaric invasion, while maintaining this vision of itself. At present it seems to be in the process of extracting from modern capitalism certain key elements of economic organization, while refashioning its official communist political order into something
resembling a blend of the fascism of Benito Mussolini with the nine-rank mandarin bureaucracy of the Tang dynasty. Both China itself and the overseas Chinese communities—the approximately 34 million Chinese people who live throughout Southeast Asia, North America, and Australia—have been fertile fields for the expansion of the Christian faith. China is simultaneously repressive in its relations with independent Christian churches and welcoming to scholarly engagement with Christian intellectuals. An example of the former is the arrest of approximately ten Catholic bishops and priests who have been and jailed or sent to labour re-education camps as recently as April of 2005. An example of the latter is the Chinese Studies Program at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, where many scholars and theologians in Christian studies from academic institutions in China and Hong Kong have been involved in short-term lecturing and research since 1992. Each year at Regent College, up to ten doctoral students, in their second year of studies at key academic institutions in China, do academic research on dissertation topics in the areas of Christian philosophy, theology and Chinese studies. The relationship of China as a geopolitical entity to Christianity as a religion holds fascinating and troubling world historical potential. David Aikman, the author of Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power, suggests that China might in this century become substantially Christian, and explores (in an interview with National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez) some of the consequent options: What would a non-Christian China be like if it became a superpower capable of rivaling the U.S.? Probably dangerous and unpredictable. A Christian China would be far more likely to view its role in the world as containing a global
moral responsibility, an “Augustinian” national self-view, if you like. China presents its own Christians with a cultural challenge very different from that presented by liberal modernity, but perhaps no less perplexing. How does one live within an established social and political order that is at once seemingly tolerant of and fundamentally antagonistic to one’s most basic commitments and convictions? For Christians in North America, one additional question is how we relate to Chinese Christians as our co-religionists in a complex geopolitical situation, particularly given the high probability of serious international conflict between America and China in the twenty-first century, as predicted by pundits like Robert Kaplan? The last challenge I want to identify is the challenge of post-Western Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In books like The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins and Whose Religion Is Christianity?: The Gospel beyond the West by Lamin Sanneh, it is argued that Christianity has burst forth from its primarily European and North American context over the past hundred years to become a religion weighted toward the global South. There are now more Christians, and a more vital Christian religious practice, in Africa, Asia and Latin America than there are in the countries of the North Atlantic. The rapid secularization of Europe and Canada particularly since the 1960s—that is, the mass displacement in personal belief and public influence of Catholic and Protestant Christianity with liberal modernity—and the even more rapid Christianization of Africa since 1900 are perhaps the most significant features of this turn of events. This shift in religious demographics gains additional weight if it is considered that North Atlantic Christianity has in many ways internally accommodated itself to liberal modernity. This is exemplified in the doctrinal acquiescence of liberal Protestantism to the key intellectual notions of liberal modernity, and in the pragmatic adjustment
W H AT I S T O B E D O N E . . . T O U N D E R S TA N D O U R M O M E N T ?
of evangelical Protestantism to consumerism and a celebrity-focused media culture. By contrast (although this is an over-simplification), Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America (“give or take” a local syncretism or two …) is attempting to be more orthodox both in faith and life. This leads, for example, to the contemporary conflicts within the Anglican communion between African and Asian bishops (on the one hand) and British and North American bishops (on the other hand) over the question of the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the priesthood.
THESE FOUR ROOT CHALLENGES TO WESTERN
The sociologist David Martin has documented the social effects of the emerging pentecostalism of Latin America, most famously in Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America (1990). According to Mr. Martin, this explosion is already bearing significant social consequences, not the least of which is the relatively rapid alleviation of poverty among the pentecostal poorest of the poor. Admittedly Latin America is a a case very different from Africa. Whereas in Africa mass conversions have been effected over the past hundred years from an autochthonous paganism to a missionary evangelical and Catholic Christianity, in Latin America, Pentecostal and more broadly evangelical conversions are unfolding in the context of hundreds of years of a hegemonic Catholicism.
CHRISTIANITY—LIBERAL MODERNITY, SALAFIYYAH ISLAM, CHINA, AND POST-WESTERN CHRISTIANITY IN AFRICA, ASIA AND LATIN AMERICA—ARE OF
While, from my Christian perspective, the growth of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is an exciting historical development, this massive shift in religious adherence has as yet resulted in only limited positive social change. The most obviously troubling problem in this regard is the devastating AIDS pandemic in Africa, which is almost entirely the result of personal sexual practices that are in every respect at odds with a Christian sexual ethic. In the long run, however—if we are to take as an example the slow emergence of Christian cultural influence in western Europe between, say, the deposition of Romulus Augustus as Roman emperor in AD 476 and the crowning of Charlemagne as Imperator Romanorum in AD 800—it is entirely possible that Christianity will result in a rich cultural flowering in Africa, in every sphere of life.
CARDUS coursepack: worldview
The situation is different yet again in Asia. There Christianity continues to be very much a minority religion, despite its rapid growth. Like Africa but unlike Latin America, Christianity is very much a newcomer to much of Asia. Unlike Africa, the competing religious systems in Asia have proven to be much more overtly tenacious. The evidence of Christian cultural influence in Asia—outside of South Korea, perhaps, and some overseas Chinese communities—remains very limited. How are we Christians in Europe and North America to relate to our fellow Christians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America? Against the background of a rising Christianity in the global South, what—perhaps more broadly—are our responsibilities for Africa, Asia, and Latin America? As I have written elsewhere, My Africa problem is not whether there is something wrong with Africa, or whether something should be done about it if there is. Both reliable research and my own direct experience assures me that something is indeed very wrong with Africa, and I have no doubt that something should be done about it. My problem has to do with
what should be done, and by whom. More particularly, what is my own personal responsibility toward Africa, and how does that responsibility weigh up against my other responsibilities? (the New Pantagruel, Issue 1.4). Similar questions trouble me about Asia and Latin America. These four root challenges to Western Christianity— liberal modernity, Salafiyyah Islam, China, and post-Western Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America—are of equal importance, even if only the first has an immediate and intimate influence on our daily lives. Christianity is a global religion, and Christians share a responsibility for one another and for the planet as a whole, regardless of our particular location. I have friends who argue that all that we need to do—indeed, that our only appropriate action—is to take part in the life of our local church, to nurture our immediate family and friends, to cultivate our own garden or farm, to steward our own business, to help govern our own parish or township. This localism I reject for its neglect of a serious and active taking up of responsibility for negotiating the global challenges listed in this essay. Yes, we have local responsibilities, but they must be balanced with our global responsibilities. In this sense, we must
cultivate an earnest Christian cosmopolitanism in our generation—a cosmopolitanism very much in evidence, for example, in early international Calvinism, or in the early Christianity described in the New Testament, for that matter. All I have done, here, is to point out four big challenges. What these challenges mean for us, and how we are to address them, will require much study and debate, and at least this is clear: Western Christians must think through these issues in partnership with Christians from around the world, if we are to truly understand the implications of what we discover. I fear I must disagree with V. I. Lenin, from whom we borrowed the title of this series, “What is to be done?” He wrote: It is not a question of what path we must choose (as was the case in the late eighties and early nineties), but of what practical steps we must take upon the known path and how they shall be taken. It is a question of a system and plan of practical work—What Is To Be Done? (1901-1902). There is as yet much thought that needs to go into what path we must choose. Perhaps our greatest difficulty is that we cannot avoid taking practical steps even as the path ahead remains, to a large extent, unknown.
DR. GIDEON STRAUSS is Senior Fellow at Cardus, and the editor of Comment.
This article was published in Comment, December 2005. www.cardus.ca/comment
in search of the
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Happy Life. DISORDERED LOVE, DISORDERED LIVES… REORDERED LOVE, REORDERED LIVES
B Y DAV I D K . N A U G L E
’m simply unhappy. If anyone is unhappy, I am.” So mourned Leo Tolstoy’s doleful character Anna Karenina in the famous novel that bears her name. Chances are that we can all
identify with her dejected state at some point in our lives. Although some may tend to romanticize unhappiness, who among us, when actually miserable, doesn’t wish that a present condition might change somehow for the better? Happiness—we all want it, whether or not we are willing to admit it. Although we are rarely reluctant to wish people happiness on their birthdays or at the beginning of a new year, cynicism often abounds when people broach this topic overall. As the character Mac Sledge in the film Tender Mercies uttered on one occasion, “I don’t trust happiness. Never did, never will.” The humourist Garrison Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion fame, talking about being raised with a midwestern American fatalism, said something similar in a 2006 interview. “We come from people,” he said, “who brought us up to believe that life is a struggle. And if you should ever feel really happy, be patient. This will pass.” We may be suspicious of happiness, but it is an innate human yearning, even a God-given desire. We are all, according to one truth-telling bumper-sticker, “In Search of the Eternal Buzz.” If we are to be genuinely happy, then we need to
iN SEARCH OF THE HAPPY LIFE
know something about it. I am convinced that truth about the happy life is bound up with the essential components of the biblical narrative and the order of our loves.
GOD’S RECIPE FOR THE HAPPY LIFE In the account of creation in Genesis 1 & 2—a good news story if there ever was one—we discover that God formed, filled, and illuminated an initially formless, empty, and darkened earth. In six creative days, he fashioned all things into a beautiful world, designed for human habitation and well-being. Everything necessary for us to flourish was present in the beginning. Spiritually, we were made to enjoy intimate union and fellowship with God the Creator. Vocationally, we were made to undertake fulfilling work based on the commandment to rule the earth. Socially, we were made for companionship with our neighbours, especially as man and woman in the context of marriage and family. Nutritionally, we were made to partake freely of food and drink, as seen in the generous provision of plants, fruitful trees, and water in the Garden of Eden. Sabbatically, we were made to rest and play, based upon the blessing and sanctification of the seventh day. Habitationally, we were made to take pleasure in our surroundings since God set us in the delightfulness of Eden amidst the astounding beauty of the whole creation. These six ingredients make up God’s recipe for the happy life as He ordained it—God himself, work, people, food, rest, and place. Boethius, according to Thomas Aquinas, defines happiness as “a state made perfect by the aggregation of all good things.” God intended us to live fully in Him and in the multifaceted aspects of His marvelous creation in a complete and satisfying way. This is not a “hedonistic” but an “edenistic” happiness, rooted in the Creator and His creation. The Hebrews called it “shalom.” What robbed us of this blessing and peace that God originally intended? The answer is found in Genesis 3, which contains the bad-news story of the fall of
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humanity into sin. Some may brush it aside as an inconsequential myth, but we must take its message seriously. As Peter Kreeft writes in his article, “C. S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire”: “What happened in Eden may be hard to understand, but it makes everything else understandable.” What this story enables us to understand is the origin of evil and suffering in the world. It accounts for the tragic character of the human condition—idolatry, immorality, falsehood, warfare, disease, famine, earthquakes, poverty, injustice, greed, and so on. Things are no longer the way they are supposed to be. Shalom has been vandalized, to use Cornelius Plantinga’s terms—the peace has been disturbed. As Bob Dylan has reminded us in his 1989 lament, “Everything is Broken”: Broken bottles, broken plates, Broken switches, broken gates, Broken dishes, broken parts, Streets are filled with broken hearts. Broken words never meant to be spoken, Everything is broken.
SEARCHING ALL OUR LIVES Despite this major alteration in our consciousness and circumstance, our interest in the happy life remains intact. Perhaps, it has even intensified. As Augustine writes in the City of God, “For certainly by sinning, we lost both piety and happiness; but when we lost happiness, we did not lose the love of it.” The German term Sehnsucht is used to describe this obstinate aspiration for something that satisfies, even though we seem perpetually estranged from it. Amidst the storms and stresses of daily life, this “inconsolable longing” for “we know not what” gets triggered unexpectedly and “stabs” us in mind and heart in most unexpected ways and times, as C.. S. Lewis wrote in the preface to the third edition n of The Pilgrim’s Regress. “Because the sky is blue,” sang ang The Beatles on their Abbey Road album, “it makes me cry.” In whatever way it is evoked, we occasionally ally experience a mysterious and tremendous feeling that attracts and baffles us simultaneously. We
D AV I D K . N A U G L E
need “it” and want “it,” whatever “it” is. It seems to be what we have been searching for all our lives. But right here we often go wrong, terribly wro ng . I n o u r desperate search to find something that satisfies, we attach our loves in disordered ways to things we think will make us happy. Our spiritual ignorance and the deceptive images and messages of our culture lead us astray. Problems don’t arise because we need or love things or because of the things themselves that we love and need. Problems arise when we fail to grasp the nature of the objects that we need and love, the manner in which we love them, and the expectations we have regarding the outcome of our love. Many of us fail to grasp the unique character of each object, the place it should hold, and the purpose it is to fill in our lives. In Augustine’s words in The City of God, people “do not observe the value of . . . things in their own sphere and in their own nature; their position in the splendor of the providential order and the contribution they make by their own special beauty to the whole material scheme, as to a universal commonwealth.” Since we are metaphysically discombobulated, we love things unintelligently, excessively, and unrealistically—that is, in the manner of disordered love. Augustine used sobering words like “cupidity” and “concupiscence” (cupiditas and concupiscentia) to describe misdirected forms of “love” and “desire.” He also used the word “curiosity” (curiositas) to refer to our consuming interest in created things but without reference to their Creator. When cupidity, concupiscence or curiosity happens, then the happiness we hoped to obtain from loving things the way we do is surely to be frustrated. Things can only impart what they possess, a trait of reality we must surely remember. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip or get water out of a rock. In
loving things immoderately, our inconsolable longings continue. Our hearts feel empty, our souls shrivel up. There’s got to be something more.
IN DISORDER, WE LOVE THINGS
The New England Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady testified to this void in his own life in a revealing interview on the November 6, 2005, edition of CBS’s 60 Minutes. Brady: “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is.’ I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, ‘God, it’s got to be more than this.’ I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.” Interviewer Steve Kroft: What’s the answer? Brady: “I wish I knew. I wish I knew… I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I’m trying to find.” Since finding real fulfillment is a matter of life and death, we keep on looking, keep on striving, keep on hoping, keep on demanding that something, somewhere will finally work. Is it him? Is it her? Is it this? Is it that? Is it here? Is it there? Is it now? Is it then? In the midst of needing to have some happiness, we quietly change—typically not for the better. In other words, our disordered loves become disordered lives of idolatry, and our idolatry transitions naturally into the seven deadliest sins of all—pride, envy, and anger rooted in an undue love for ourselves; sloth in a deficient love for God; avarice, gluttony and lust in an insatiable love for money, food, and sex. Should these sins convert into habits and addictions, as they often do, they can foster crime or even warfare, if we think violence is necessary to remove obstacles to
IN SEARCH OF THE HAPPY LIFE
get what we want. “You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4: 2). Who can calculate the consequences of these missteps in our quest for the happy life? What shall deliver us, who shall save us from this deadly living, from this living death?
COSMOS TO CHAOS
THE RESTORATION OF SHALOM IS UNDERWAY.
“Jesus wept” (John 11: 35) may be the English Bible’s shortest verse, but it contains the core of the gospel. When Jesus “burst into tears,” he was approaching the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus. Jesus wept because he had lost a dear friend, and because he was sad for his friend’s surviving sisters. The Saviour was no stoic. Jesus wept not only out of sorrow and sympathy, but also because he was mad and filled with rage. Twice in the story about Lazarus we read that Jesus was emotionally disturbed and troubled within (John 11: 33,38). According to Princeton’s late 19th-c., early 20th-c. principal and theologian B. B. Warfield, the original wording indicates that there was something about the heartrending scene before him that evoked his indignation, as tears flooded his eyes and fell from his cheeks (see “The Emotional Life of our Lord,” in The Person and Work of Christ). What was it that prompted this geyser of indignation? It was death—the sickness that caused it and the grief that followed after it—that angered Jesus so. It was also the underlying source of death in the devil against whom his anger burned. Jesus was “mad as hell” at the devil—the enemy who was a murderer from the beginning and the father of all lies—because he was the one who was ultimately responsible for all the desolations and anguish inflicted on humanity and the earth. The death
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of Lazarus stood for “the general misery of the whole human race,” according to John Calvin (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John 1-11). Sin, Satan, and death had reduced the cosmos to chaos. Life itself was in ruins. God’s very good creation had become a deviant uncreation. “Jesus wept” because of the vandalism of shalom. But Jesus had a plan all along. After offering a prayer to God, Jesus cried out before the tomb with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out,” and that’s exactly what Lazarus did. Death was no match for Jesus’ prevailing word (John 11: 4344). This sign of release and renewal showed that Jesus was moved to redemptive action to salvage a sin and death-wrecked world. Sinners needed forgiveness. Falsehood needed correcting. Diseases needed curing. Demoniacs needed delivering. Hunger and thirst needed satiation. Storms needed stilling. Death needed defeating. Life needed restoring. In Christ, we see the kingdom of God in dynamic action. It was the divine empire striking back! The restoration of shalom was underway.
THE GIGANTIC SECRET OF THE CHRISTIAN Paul interpreted God’s mighty deeds in Christ in terms of propitiation (substitutionary sacrifice), redemption, and reconciliation. For him, Christ was the truly good news story that God’s justice has been satisfied and his anger has been averted. By grace those who believe are delivered from bondage to sin and death, and restored to friendship and peace with God.
D AV I D K . N A U G L E
Although many seem to think that salvation has to do with an escape from earth to heaven, from the physical to the spiritual world, this is a major mistake. We are not saved out of the world, but in it! The only way we are saved out of the world, to employ Charlie Peacock’s language, is by God’s choosing us for Himself, by replacing the world’s ways with His ways, and by leaving us here in the world to complete the work He has given us to do. This is the new way to be human, the only way to be human. At the heart of this incredible transformation is the reordering of our loves. “Who would have thought my shriveled heart / Could have recovered greenness?” asks George Herbert in his poem, “The Flower.” Yet this is one of the chief benefits of the gospel! It reorders our love for God, ourselves, other people, and for all things. Then we experience newness of life! In the holy of holies of the first commandment, we learn to love God the Creator and Redeemer supremely with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In the holy place of the second commandment, we learn to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. This necessarily includes a love for creation since that’s what we and our neighbours are! If Christians sported a tattoo, then love would be it. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, “said Jesus, “if you have love for one another” (John 13: 35). There is no greater sign of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ at work than in the reordered loves of Christians. Love is “the mark of the Christian” (Francis Schaeffer). A reordered life born of reordered love results in a major transition in our character from vices to virtues, whether of the intellectual, moral, or physical kind. Reordered love for God reorders how we think and prompts us to cultivate intellectual virtues and the
habits of a godly mind. The overall goal is “devotion to Christ set on fire by truth” (John Stott ). Reordered love also displaces the seven deadly sins with the seven cardinal virtues. These make a huge difference in how we live our lives and in the impact we have on others— in terms of faith, hope, and love; in pursuit of courage, justice, temperance and prudence. Reordered love generates new attitudes and actions with regard to all things physical. We discover that ‘matter matters’ since it is God’s creation, especially when it comes to how we treat our bodies, in stewarding the resources of the earth, and even in how we relate to the kingdom of the animals. Finally, if we do the math, we will find that the love of God and these virtues will give us strength to overcome bad habits and addictions, and to thwart any propensities toward violence, crime, and warfare. How we live is rooted in how we love—whether well or badly. As Augustine noted in his “Reply to Faustus the Manichean”: “For every man’s life is good or bad according as his heart is engaged.” The problem is that in our insurgency against God we have abused our loves in search of an enduring happiness, but with miserable results. Disordered loves equal disordered lives. The grace of the gospel has quelled our revolt against God and ended our alienation from Him. In our redemption, we have redirected our loves with satisfying results. Reordered loves equal reordered lives. Now we know something of shalom. We have discovered the happy life in Christ, the satisfaction of that inconsolable longing, a “foretaste of glory divine.” There is no reason to be skeptical about it. “Joy… is the gigantic secret of the Christian” (G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy). We must persevere in order to experience it. With Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem, “Thou Art Indeed Just,” let us pray: “O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain.”
DAVID K. NAUGLE is chair and professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University, director of the Paideai College Society, and author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans, 2002). This article was published in Comment, June 2008 www.cardus.ca/comment
PROXIMATE E C I T JUS
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CHRISTIANS IN POLITICS MUST LEARN TO ACCEPT SOME JUSTICE, SOME MERCY BY STEVEN GARBER
few years ago a city asked if I someone in his whose work was in na t i on al s e c uri t y .
pastor in the would meet congregation the world of
A s en i or of f i ci al w i t h complex responsibilities, he knew that his deepening faith required him to “think Christianly” about his life and labour, but he did not know where to begin. What could he read? With whom could he talk? As he put it, “Day by day I have unimaginable evil coming across my desk. What am I supposed to do? How do I respond in light of my faith? I cannot do nothing—but what am I to do?” And so we began to think together. I arranged a conversation with a handful of friends from across the city whose theological instincts I trusted, but whose own work ranged from the U.S. Congress to a Cabinet office to the State Department to a think tank: all people who with fear and trembling have given themselves to working out the meaning of their salvation in the world of politics. We began with Augustine, and made our way through the centuries, eventually coming to the contemporary political philosophers Hannah Arendt and Jean Bethke
DAY BY DAY I HAVE UNIMAGINABLE EVIL COMING ACROSS MY DESK
Elshtain, intriguingly both scholars of Augustine’s political vision, 1500 years later. As we got up to leave after several hours, the friend whose questions had brought the meeting into being said, “Thank you for taking my vocation seriously. That has never happened before.” The stark simplicity of his statement stuck with me. How is it possible to find our way into great work, even great work in the realm of politics, without the collegiality of kindred spirits who will pray with us, think with us, work with us, as we give heart and mind to living the vision of the coming of the Kingdom?
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DO JUSTICE, LOVE MERCY, WALK HUMBLY WITH GOD? PLEASE, GROW UP. THAT’S FOR THE YOUNG AND IDEALISTIC.
There is not a week in my life when I do not think about the tensions of the now-but-not-yet nature of the Kingdom, where Jesus has made all things new, and yet where we still do not see that reality completely incarnate in history. I have to make peace with proximate justice, even as I ache for hope and history to finally and fully rhyme.
SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING For many years, I taught in the American Studies Program on Capitol Hill, an interdisciplinary semester of study focused on nurturing in undergraduates the vision and virtues required
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to take up vocations in the public square. Formed by a deeply wrought understanding of Christian responsibility, the curriculum centred upon an exploration of the themes of truth, justice, shalom, and hope, set amidst concrete, contemporary policy debates ranging from welfare reform to Middle East politics. If one issue perennially reared its head among the students it was this: I used to believe that doing justice was possible. In fact, that brought me to Washington. But now I see that hope is naïve: it just isn’t going to happen. It was as if we were always living and learning within the tension created by the Machiavellian temptation, which lurks for anyone who dares to care about the
he searched Scripture for a way of understanding his own moment. How do the people of God remain faithful to the vision of the Kingdom, when evil and injustice seem to rule, when there is more heartache than WHEN EVIL AND happiness in being citizens And so, semester-by-semester I INJUSTICE SEEM TO set in time and space, in would reflect on the hard-won finite, fallen cities and states? and, perhaps, even, hardRULE, PROXIMATE The now-but-not-yet of the bitten wisdom of Lord Bismarck: JUSTICE GUIDES Kingdom was his bread-andIf you want to respect sausage butter and, therefore, he gave and law, then don’t watch US THROUGH THE us proximate justice as a way of either being made. There is a finding our way amidst the RUINS truthfulness about the aphorism ruins of political economies that is more than just realpolitik. anywhere and everywhere. Bismarck offers a window into the reality of political life in a fallen world, even though his story is not Proximate justice realizes that something is better than nothing. It allows us to make peace with some the whole story. justice, some mercy, all the while realizing that it will I know of no one who has honestly tried to be only be in the new heaven and new earth that we politically faithful—in the general vocation of God’s find all our longings finally fulfilled, that we will see people to be the salt and light of the Kingdom in all of God’s demands finally met. It is only then and every sphere of human concern nor in the more there we will see all of the conditions for human specific occupation of politics, whether as elected flourishing finally in place, socially, economically, official or in some other manifestation of public and politically. service—who has not navigated through the shoals of the conflicting calls of the city of God and the city of man. The calling implicit to that quest requires that LIVING BETWEEN TIMES we ponder the sausage-making with our eyes wide When we pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be open, and still choose to act with a responsibility done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are yearning marked by love. I do not know of any challenge that for the way things ought to be, and someday will be— is more difficult than to really know the world, and even as we give ourselves to what can be in a world still choose to love it. where evil persists, sometimes very malignantly.
polis, viz. “Please grow up, will you? Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God? That’s for the young and the idealistic. If you are going to make it here in the city, you will have to leave that innocence behind.”
It is one thing to come to a capital city like Washington with great hopes of change. If I work hard, then it will be different—at least in a year or two or, at the most, maybe five. But putting one’s shoulders to the wheel of history more often than not produces a bruise to one’s spirit, not the advent of the Kingdom in all its fullness.
If we think that the Lordship of Christ over every square inch of the whole of reality means that we can settle for nothing less than explicit recognition of that claim and its reality in public life, then we will never be able to sustain the vocations that are required for meaningful political witness in the face of the continuing injustice which comes from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Augustine understood this a long time ago. Wrestling with the ruination of the Roman Empire—what we now know as its decline and fall—
A couple of years ago during Advent I offered a meditation in the White House that I called “Always
M A K I N G P E A C E W I T H P R O X I M AT E J U S T I C E
Syriana But Never Christmas.” The film Syriana had been out for several months, and it seemed to fall into line with other stories of cinematic cynicism that were recent box-office hits. I saw them all, and strained against them each time. On the one hand I do remember Bismarck and sausage-making—all too well, given my years in Washington. Like everyone, I feel the weight and complexity of our globalizing
world, and I am aware of some of its terror and distress. The love of money and power is the root of all kinds of evil. And yet, and yet… I protested the end-of-thestory “realism.” That if we watch long enough, then everyone will finally sell out, the last man will finally be compromised because, of course,
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no one has any real integrity, and truth, justice, and mercy are never really part of the political equation. Therefore, our cynicism is justified. Always Syriana but never Christmas? I was thinking of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the yearning for the White Witch’s cursed rule, “Always winter, but never Christmas,” to finally be overruled by the coming of Aslan into his kingly
MY DESIRE WAS TO SET BEFORE THIS GROUP OF WHITE HOUSE STAFF A VISION OF VOCATION THAT WAS BOTH HONEST AND HOPEFUL
glory, making all things new and right. All Narnia longed for that, and then, one day, winter finally became Christmas. My desire was to set before the group of White House staff a vision of vocation that was both honest and hopeful. The spirit of Syriana is a perennial temptation, even as the siren call of Machiavelli’s realpolitik and realeconomik seem more real than the voice of Israel’s prophet, Micah of Moresheth. Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God!? Where and when and how? Isn’t it all a bit naïve, given what we know about politics in the push-and-shove of the Washingtons of the world? I recently read the prophet’s words, wanting to hear him speak into my heart, into my time and place. The prophet is also a poet, seeing visions of God, human nature, and history all entwined together “during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Nation against nation, the peoples of the earth and the people of God called to the very high standard of the character of God himself, and judged in history for failing to do what God requires of Everyman and Everywoman, “It is ruined, beyond all remedy,” Micah laments. But also there is the clear vision of what will someday be true: He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. We long for that day. It will surely come. The hard part is living between times, honestly taking account of what is in the light of what ought to be, believing that someday in history it will be seen and heard,
Corruption charges. CORRUPTION? Corruption ain’t nothing more than government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That’s Milton Friedman. He got a ***damn Nobel prize. We have laws against it PRECISELY so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are here in the whitehot center of things instead of fighting each other for scraps of meat out there in the streets. Corruption... is how we win.
Stephen Gaghan, Syriana a (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005)
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known and experienced, by every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve, viz. “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings,” and there will be no more tears and sadness, evil and injustice, disappointment and grief.
HOPE IN REPAIRING THE RUINS In the here-and-now, I vote—but always with a torn heart. I have not yet met a candidate or a political proposal that embodies all that I dream for as one whose deepest loyalties are grounded in the hope of the Kingdom. But I do vote. As William Imboden wrote in the Public Justice Report, “It is clear that the precepts and practice of proximate justice are deficient when judged by the standards of the City of God, but they may be superior to no justice at all.” We take up our responsibility as citizens, realizing that our best efforts are clay-footed, our best insights are flawed. And yet it matters for this earth and the one that it is to come that we work alongside others to establish what Walker Percy called “signposts in a strange land” of what is already real and true and right in the now-but-not-yet of the Kingdom. To keep on keeping on in our callings is the hard thing. Crucial to that ability is a theological vision shaped by Scripture, one that gives us the cast of heart and mind to understand the frailties of our own selves, as well as those of our societies. And, still, to hope for the reality and meaning of the way things ought to be in every area of life, from painting to play to politics, and on and on and on. What keeps us going is the possibility of proximate justice—of something rather than nothing—knowing ahead of time that it will never be everything on this side of the consummation. Francis Schaeffer called this the vision and hope of substantial healing, arguing that it was the antidote to the allor-nothing syndrome that so afflicts us, whether in the most personal parts of life, as with marriage,
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or the most public, as with political engagement. I really hoped, I really tried, and it didn’t work—so I’m done. His words have been a great grace to me for a long time. A person can touch and feel something that is substantial; it is real, even if it is not everything—but it is not nothing, either. My own reflection over the years has also persuaded me that in addition to the vision, those who carry on find teachers who embody the vision. Words must become flesh for us to understand them. It is only as we find mentors who offer us that overthe-shoulder and through-the-heart learning that we begin to “get it.” And finally, those who sustain their commitments time and again embed themselves in communities of kindred spirits where, in Lesslie Newbigin’s words, “the congregation becomes the hermeneutic of the gospel in and for the world,” keeping our hearts alive to what matters most. It is one thing to sense a call to political engagement. It is something else altogether to develop the habits of heart that can sustain that call over a lifetime. When I graduated from college I was given the award for the senior student most concerned for political responsibility. It surprised me, and I was glad—even as I felt the weight of its implication. Years later, I have never run for office, or even worked in a political role, but I have cared about our life together, the polis, passionately. That commitment has been a thread through all that I have done vocationally. It still gets me up in the morning, giving me energy to keep trying to care for my culture, as well as cultures all throughout the world. It is the work of repairing the ruins, the calling to act with responsibility for history, hoping for the renewal of all things, even as I know that at my best I am a pilgrim in the ruins. Even after a lifetime of bumping up against the brokenness of life, seeing and hearing the wounds of both persons and polities, I still believe that the vision of vocations as salt and light—John Stott calls them affective commodities, transforming their
environments—sends us into the world week by week, year after year, with callings to care about the way things are and ought to be. Bono echoes this vision in his reflection on his own vocation: “I’m a musician. I write songs. I just hope that when the day is done, I’ll have torn a little corner off of the darkness.”
If that can be true of me, of you, then we will have made peace with the doing of proximate justice. And that is not a small thing for people who yearn for the whole cosmos to be made right, and who know that someday it will be.
STEVEN GARBER directs The Washington Institute, helping young and old understand the seamless relationship between faith, vocation, and culture. The author of The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, he lives, worships, and works in Virginia.
This article was published in Comment, December 2008 www.cardus.ca/comment
WHO AM I? ROOTING YOUR IDENTITY IN THE IMAGE OF GOD
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ollege can be an anxious t i m e . Yo u h a v e f i n a l l y escaped the box in which your high school had placed you, where you were labelled a certain type of person. You no longer need to be categorized by that box. But who are you?
You also have breathing space from family obligations and expectations. You can reinvent yourself outside of the way your parents or siblings have defined you. But who are you? Just about everybody asks you, “What’s your major?” as if you know what you will do for the rest of your life. It’s a daunting task to choose a major because it identifies you. Yes, this is the time to ask yourself, “Who am I?”
BY BOB ROBINSON
BY BOB ROBINSON
College is a time of real wrestling with this big question. For the first time in your life, you have the freedom and responsibility to decide for yourself who you are. Many college students try to find themselves by partying or sleeping around. They try to reinvent themselves but merely find that they are conforming to new destructive patterns of pleasureseeking. Some of your peers seem self-confident with who they are and how that influences what they do. But the reality is that all college students are struggling with this issue, no matter how well they appear to have it all together. You are not alone.
WHO AM I?
And, thankfully, you are also not left alone in figuring out who you are either. To answer your personal question, “Who am I?”, the best place to start is with how God answers the larger question, “What is a human being?” In the first chapter of Genesis, we read, Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
OUR CULTURE’S WARPED STANDARDS FOR BEAUTY, TALENT, CELEBRITY, WEALTH, AND POWER HAVE NO CLAIM TO A PERSON’S VALUE.
So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:2628, TNIV). The wonder of being a human being is that you are created in the “Image of God” (“Imago Dei” in Latin). However, sin has cracked the image in humanity so that we have deviated from the original plan for our development, no longer living out the wholeness and beauty of being image bearers. The Gospel places those with faith in Jesus Christ back on course toward God’s intended goal for us—to be fully human, glorifying God as the Imago Dei.
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CREATED TO REPRESENT In the ancient, Near Eastern cultural context within which the book of Genesis was first read, the idea of the “image of a god” was familiar. It was commonly believed that humanity was created as an afterthought to do the work the gods no longer wanted to do. The gods would bestow their image to kings who would rule people to serve the gods’ desires. The distorted worldview of this creation story created a social order that was inherently unjust, exploiting the mass of human beings to the benefit of the powerful few. In contrast, God reveals that all of humanity (both “male and female”) possesses the dignity the ancients bestowed only on kings—we are all created in the image of God. Notice how the first chapter of Genesis echoes this concept: God commands all humans to “rule.” J. Richard Middleton, in his book The Liberating Image, says this “serves to elevate the dignity of the human race with a noble status in the world.” Therefore, as God’s image-bearer, you have dignity. Our culture’s warped standards for beauty, talent, celebrity, wealth, and power have no claim to a person’s value. Each person has a distinct ability to radiate the infinite, divine image. When we look at the vast tapestry of the human race, with all our particular gifts and talents, all of our quirkiness and idiosyncrasies, we see the reflection of God! Together we shine forth the glory of God. Humbly remembering that our dignity is derived from God, we can affirm that each and every human being (including the
person in the mirror) is created in the image of God, awaiting full restoration. The image of God in humanity is cracked because we treat some humans with less dignity than others. Our culture looks down upon the old, the weak, those who don’t fit in, and those who do not contribute to our agenda. But when we deny the dignity of others made in God’s image, we dishonour God. Jesus Christ came, however, to redeem and to serve humans so that we can experience the fullness of what it means to be the image of God. The answer to “Who am I?” is disclosed as we participate in the body of Christ, cooperating with Christ in his ongoing reconciliation project for all things (Colossians 1:1520), serving those who are different from us, who have different views from us, and respectfully proclaiming the Gospel of restoration to each one.
CREATED TO CULTIVATE The human race is mandated to “subdue the earth” (Genesis 1:28). We do that when we “cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, NASB). We are to cultivate the world: not only are we to plant crops, we are to create cultures—develop civilization, build bridges, compose music, conceive new cuisines, and invent and improve things. The human race was never meant to be stagnant. We were created with great potential and placed in a cosmos of great potentiality. In his Heaven is a Place on Earth, Michael Wittmer writes that “God has humbly chosen to complete and care for his creation through you.” Selecting a major
is a discerning process—learning how you uniquely reflect God’s creativity and character, coming to know how you’ve been gifted to take the raw materials God has given to craft culture. We find joy and fulfillment when we live purposefully as the persons God has made us to be, working interdependently with others in response to this cultural mandate. This is a constant discovery—your entire life will continue to be a deeper unearthing of your contribution to the Kingdom of God, bringing glory to God.
CREATED TO RELATE God does not tell us that our identity as image-bearers is individualistic. God tells humanity to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). To be the image of God means to be a part of the human family, relating to one another as interdependent persons in community, building societal institutions: families, churches, schools, clubs, trade associations, cities, and governments.
WE FIND JOY AND FULFILLMENT WHEN WE LIVE PURPOSEFULLY.
God is a Trinity, an eternal loving relationship. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a social relationship with one another, for one another, and in one another. The ancients called this “perichoresis,” from a word root similar to our word “choreography.” Tim Keller writes in The Reason for God: “Each [of the divine persons of the Trinity] voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them … That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ holds this purpose for those who follow him: To
WHO AM I?
unite us in this perichoretic love, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21). God is love (1 John 4:16) and we are created in God’s perichoretic image. We are more human when we love. We are more human in community. The “cracks” in the Image of God can be seen in how broken our relationships are. Scot McKnight writes, “The Eikon (image) of God cracked and its glory quickly faded. Why? Because what was designed for one purpose started to unravel. Arms that Adam and Eve previously used for an embrace were now being used to push God and others away” (Embracing Grace). In a culture that has sunk deeply into individualism, the Gospel of Jesus Christ restores the relational nature of human beings. Remember, Jesus told us that the “greatest commandment” is to love God and to love others (Mark 12:30-31). North America’s individualistic culture is displayed in our consumerism. In her book No Logo, Naomi Klein correctly called corporate marketers the “brokers of meaning.” They seek to define you through the place you live, the image-based fashions you wear, or the latest tech toys you own. Young people may think they’re above the marketing machine’s influence, but Rob Walker’s new book Buying In shows that they are only kidding themselves. In fact, marketers are cashing in on the young generation’s desire to be individualists, promoting products by casting them as anti-corporate. Don’t allow consumerism to feed your individualism and thus divert you from loving God and others and from cultivating God’s creation. North American church life reflects this consumerist culture. Many youth groups are consumer-driven, doing little beyond responding to the impulses of young people. Now that you are in college, it is time to actively participate in the whole life of the church, knowing others and getting to be known, seeking to
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serve rather than to be served, finding your place in the community that is impacting the culture with the Kingdom of God.
RESTORING THE IMAGE Each of us struggles to find our identity and significance. With abundant mercy, God does not leave us as “cracked” people. Jesus Christ restores the Image of God in humanity. He is the Image after which each of us was made, and now He is redeeming us back to that Image. Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Most of us read that and think that it refers to the Jesus’ divinity. However, not only is Jesus fully God, he is fully human. Jesus’ mission is to restore humanity to our original trajectory. Since Jesus as the head of the human race fulfills the mandate to be the image of God, we who follow him can fulfill that mandate as well. Paul explains that as we yield to Jesus Christ, we “are being transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The promise for those who are called into a relationship with God, those who willingly decide to love God in Jesus, is that we will experience ongoing transformation. Both the goodness and the difficulties of life, from the exhilaration of first love to the tragedy of when parents divorce, are used by the sovereign God to mold us into the image of Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God. That is our destiny, finally arriving at what God intended all along. We will be God’s representatives on earth, in harmonious relationship with the Trinity and with our fellow human beings, continuing to carry out that original cultural mandate. We are not transformed as individuals. We need to be interconnected with a faith community that walks with us toward this shared destiny, where
we all contribute and experience encouragement for the journey. The eschatological future is not about persons experiencing individualistic bliss in some ethereal heavenly realm. Some day, God and God’s people will live in harmony on a redeemed earth.
“What can I do to connect with God and with a community so that we can interdependently live our purpose as God’s representatives on earth, fulfilling the cultural mandate and positively moving toward God’s destiny for us as the human race?”
So, “Who am I?” Root your identity in the Image of God. Ask yourself,
BOB ROBINSON serves the Coalition for Christian Outreach as Area Director for Northern Ohio, supervising campus ministry staﬀ placed strategically on university campuses and starting new college outreach ministries at churches and schools. He has served as a pastor of adult ministries in a large church, and as a church planter. This article was published in Comment, September 2008 www.cardus.ca/comment
Why are there so many
other religions BY RON CHOONG
f God is one and the Christian faith is the true understanding of God’s revelation, why are there so many other religions? They do not refer to the same idea of God. They cannot all be correct — they are mutually exclusive. So why does God permit other religions to exist? If God is not without a witness in the entire world, then are nonChristian traditions not also God’s witnesses? If they are, then Jesus cannot be the only way. If they are not, then God cannot have witnesses among them. This is a demanding issue facing theologians, and no one has offered a fully satisfactory answer. That is why I am grappling with it. My tentative attempt reflects a passion for “the lost,” and represents a small step toward a theology of religions. Let us begin by defining what we mean by religion. The Christian notion of religion refers to the binding belief of communities in their response to divine revelation. Non-Christian religions need not include a god, a community, or revelation. Their
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diversity makes it impossible to make simplistic statements about what they are, so I will limit myself to considering how Christians ought to relate to them. I believe we should engage other religions with respect, humility, and awe. Why awe? Because the persistence of religions in every known human culture testifies to humanity’s restlessness — a restlessness that prompts humanity to seek security and significance beyond the biological needs. It reminds us that among creation, humanity alone is the praying animal. We anticipate future joy with our imaginations and suffer the anguish of the past with recollective memory. We invest huge amounts of resources in celebrating births and mourning deaths. We ritualize the passage of time with symbolic markers of our existence, and we create art, music, and poetry to express the inexpressible as we monumentalize our presence. Is it any surprise then that the study of religion is the oldest persistent preoccupation of human existence or how it bears on every discipline of inquiry?
I grew up in Malaysia, a multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious nation once colonized by the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of the Indonesian archipelago and of India, the Chinese mariners of southern China, the Arabs, followed by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and then the Japanese. Each left its religious influence and, today, we have no fewer than twenty different religious faiths actively practiced. How did I end up a Christian? Why do I remain one when so many options are present? Bertrand Russell argued that where you grew up and how you were exposed strongly influences your religious inclinations. Living in New York City, today, I am reminded of the increasing options for religious beliefs around me and the appearance of new religious identities brought by immigration from faraway countries. This led me to ask: What is the Christian view of other religions?
condemnation, killing any opportunity for building trust and dialogue. Yet dialogues are not fusions of thought. They demand clarity and precision of thought regarding one’s convictional beliefs while respectfully learning about others. This discipline is a labor of love, one that requires a suspension of disbelief while engaging the opinions of another.
ELEMENTS OF TRUTH IN OTHER RELIGIONS
The finality and particularity of Christ rest on two biblical claims: Jesus is the full and authoritative revelation of who God is and what God desires. He is the particular and unique individual whom God designates as our savior. No other revelation will surpass him (John 1:9) and God has not left himself without a witness among non-Christian traditions (Acts 14:17). The ‘scandal of particularity’ is the conviction that God has revealed himself in particular places and times, especially through the Jews and Jesus, and not to every human being in equal measure.
Christians of my background typically assert that non-Christian religions are demonic. We describe them as works of the Devil, or we consider them man-made, false attributions of divinity. But why would demonic religions also teach many of the moral values shared by Christianity, and why would man-made religious continue to thrive alongside Christianity? Could it be that many of these religions that share kernels of truth claims with the biblical teachings survive as corruptions of the original, syncretized with animism, legendary myths, and shamanism? Or are other religious local variants of the Western, idealized faith we call Christianity. When we ignorantly assume that non-Christians have no knowledge of God, or that non-Christian religions, usually coupled to nationalistic cultures, are demonic, we project a climate of hostility and
The challenge before the Christian claim in a world of religious pluralism is Jesus himself, specifically, the finality and particularity of Christ. Why should the non-Christian accept the view that Jesus alone is the source of salvation? The quick answer is in fact, a retort: no other religion really avoids this question of particularity. Even the most amorphous notions of Hinduism and animism claim particularity and finality. Yet, asserting the finality of Christ does not relieve us from explaining the status of other religions. Do they also save? Do they offer truths?
The Christian church in line with the witness of the scriptures holds that God has revealed himself in an authoritative manner. This first truth claim is the starting point for a theology of religion. The second truth is that God has made all humans in His image, whether or not they acknowledge this. God’s definitive but not exhaustive revelation is written in the Bible. God has at various times revealed himself
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY OTHER RELIGIONS?
directly to specific people outside the covenant community of Israel (and hence for us today, outside the Church). These include Abimelech of Gerar (Gen. 20:3-7), the Egyptian pharaoh (Gen. 41), Balaam (Num. 22), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2, 4), Jethro, Job, the Queen of Sheba, and Cornelius (Acts 10:3-5). God’s creation has been corrupted by sin. But the atoning work of Jesus on the cross allows humanity to be reconciled to God. Jesus is the unique incarnation of God and is the only Savior for all peoples. But it is not necessary for everybody to possess a conscious knowledge of Christ in order to benefit from redemption through him, since this would physically, geographically, and historically limit the work of Christ and put the bottleneck of evangelism at the competence of missionaries and evangelists. Indeed, neither Adam or Noah, nor Abram, nor any of the Old Testament prophets knows Christ as the Logos incarnate. The work of salvation was accomplished by the second person of the eternal Triune God who penetrated space-time as Jesus. J. I. Packer, Millard Erickson, John Stott, and Christopher Wright argue that in principle God might, indeed, save some who have never explicitly heard the gospel but respond to what they know of God through general revelation and turn to him for forgiveness. We simply do not know. Our wisest approach is not to rule out this possibility. Should this mean that all other religions are the equal of Christianity? No. Does this mean that we need not evangelize those of other religious beliefs? No. What it does mean is that while we urgently share the message of the gospel, we must remain agnostic about the exhaustive means by which God draws His creation to Himself. We must continue to affirm with confidence the truth of the scriptures while not assuming to comprehend all the mysteries of God.
seriously the claim that all humans are made in the image of God—made to be morally aware of right and wrong by God’s standards, then we ought not be surprised by elements of truth in the teachings of other religions. People are, first and foremost, made in the image of God before they are Buddhists or Muslims or Hindus, observant Jews, or pagans. We are all related to God whether or not we acknowledge this relationship. Our differences are secondary to what primarily unites us: our humanity as made in the image of God. From this starting point, we should expect to find nuggets of truth and echoes of Christian belief in every religion. We may think of other religions as displaying varying degrees of understanding God. Their teachings may be partial and often distorted. One example of a universal teaching is the Golden Rule: we are not to do to others what we do not wish to be done to us. Even its positive variant, we are to do to others what we wish others to do to us, pales in comparison to the striking teaching of Christ—you shall love your neighbor as yourself! So why did God allow so many other religions? I suspect that God’s way included the progressive revelation to different human groups through general revelation. This seems an unsatisfactory answer as it raises up the question of favouritism. The Bible is unashamedly open about how God chooses one over the other: Jacob over Esau, for example. However we try to parse the biblical text to soften this blow, the fact remains that each day, millions die without direct knowledge of Jesus. I welcome at least their understanding of nuggets of truth through other religions instead of no knowledge of God at all. And we may pray that God will have mercy on them and judge them according to their level of understanding coupled with their response in worship.
A WORD OF CAUTION IMAGEBEARERS FIRST What did Muhammad receive as revelation, and what knowledge awakened the Buddha? If we take
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A study of non-Christian religions, while part of a maturing process for our faith, holds certain temptations. One may be tempted to water down or
compromise the truth claims of Christianity it order to make it more palatable to other religious claims. One may flirt with commitment to another faith out of admiration or disappointment with some aspects of Christian worship or in the mistaken impression that a suspension of oneâ€™s own commitments is necessary in order to study other religions. This was the route taken by the formerly conservative scholar John Hick, who turned from a Christian apologist to become the preeminent religious pluralist of our time. There is no such thing as a person with no
commitments. However, commitment to Jesus does not rule out acceptance of the truths that other faiths may incidentally contain. Finally, danger lurks for those of us whose knowledge of Christianity is shallow. The answer is not to avoid learning about other religions but to hasten oneâ€™s understanding of the Christian faith.
RON CHOONG is founder and director of the Academy for Christian Thought in New York City. He lives a threeminute walk from Ground Zero in Manhattan. He loves to play ping-pong on his project table when not working on a research project. And he loves watching Foodie shows and counting the number of TV chefs who can eat durian with a straight face.
Published on Jun 4, 2009
Welcome to the Cardus Worldview Coursepack. We are delighted to present some of the best pieces from Comment's recent archive for this volum...