Christian Voting Part 2: Seeking the Good of the City

I need to give my initial disclaimer; this post is appearing on “the green room” which is a blog by the students and alumni of Eternity Bible College. These are my opinions and in no way does what I write in this series exclusively express the positions of Eternity Bible College’s students, staff or alumni. My hope is that if students, staff or alumni disagree with me, we could do what Christians out to do, to dialogue in a healthy, scripturally based manner.

In my last post I argued against the popular argument that as Christians, specifically in this year’s election, we need to choose the “lesser of two evils.” Today I want to address another theme I’ve seen come up in these conversations. Continue reading

The Offense Of The Cross

Earlier this summer I was struck by a small phrase in Galatians. Paul was upset that the Galatians were being swayed from the true gospel to a works-based gospel, and in Galatians 5:11 he says,

“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.”

It was the last part of the verse that caught me: “In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.” The Galatians were being convinced by some people that they needed to do some works (namely, circumcision) to merit favor from God. For these people, the cross was too offensive for them. They were insisting that works were necessary for salvation. And the Galatians were giving in to the peer pressure. Paul, perplexed at the Galatians, wrote his letter to steer them back to the true and only gospel.

The main point I wish to convey here is that the way of the cross is offensive to the self-centered life. It flies in the face of the American mentality that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. “You can do whatever you put your mind to,” says the American mentality. Determination, hard work, and perseverance are admirable qualities, but they will never bridge the gap between you and God. Only the cross can bridge that.

The way to God is the way of the cross, and it involves slaying the self-centered life. It requires humbly acknowledging that we bring nothing to the table to earn favor with God. Often the slaying of the self-centered life occurs after we have come to the end of ourselves, after much effort has been made to make ourselves acceptable before God, after we have exhausted our search for any other way to God. When all personal efforts have failed, our souls will be able to hear Jesus’ words in John 14:6,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

And we will be able to humbly heed the way of the cross as described in Matthew 16:24-25,

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'”

For those who are already believers, growth in our relationship with God involves continually going back to the cross. God will reveal areas in our lives to which the self-centered life still clings; be it status, money, family, career, lingering sin, etc. We will be reminded that the way to life is the way of the cross and that we must slay the self-centered life to live for Jesus and thereby “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Living in America, it can be easy for Christians to remove the offense of the cross in their lives. It can be easy to subtly exchange the way of the cross for the American mentality, replacing grace with works. People who don’t know God find the way of the cross offensive and will in some way persecute believers for living out grace. And no Christian is exempt from removing the offense of the cross in their lives. Even the apostle Peter slipped away from the offense of the cross and was rebuked by Paul in Galatians 2:11-14.

In a culture saturated with self, we need to remind ourselves of the offensiveness of the cross. We need to ask ourselves, “Does my life reflect the way of the cross? Are there parts of my life that are still ruled by the self-centered life? Am I trying to find life in something other than in Jesus? Do I really believe that I will find life if I slay the self-centered life?” As a sinner saved by grace, I do not exempt myself from these questions. I pray that both you and I can say with Paul in Galatians 2:20,

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Just Have Faith…

We Americans live in an interesting culture. It is culturally acceptable in America to say nice-sounding words without defining our terms. I recently was reminded of this reality as I watched the (amazing) movie Cowboys And Aliens. In one scene, a preacher is helping a bartender learn how to shoot a rifle. As the bartender vents in frustration, the preacher calmly tells the bartender to “just have faith.” This advice seemed to help the bartender, but it made absolutely no sense. Francis Schaeffer calls this semantic mysticism. People like to use words that have religious connotations, but are devoid of any real meaning.

The two biggest words that get misused in our culture are “god” and “faith.” Most Americans who talk about God are either misinformed or uninformed, mainly because they have not gone to the source of information about God, the Bible. As the book Almost Christian notes, many Americans really believe in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism rather than Christianity. It’s very palatable, uses nice-sounding words, and centers around the individual rather than God (sounds pretty ‘Murican). Moralistic Therapeutic Deists don’t need to regularly read the Bible, because they don’t regularly need God. As a result, the god they say they believe in is really just who they would want God to be. They essentially say, “I don’t care who God says He is in the Bible; this is who I want Him to be.” And in the American culture, this attitude is completely acceptable.

The problem is that it’s completely false.

The other word that is misused in America is “faith.” As I watched that scene in Cowboys and Aliens, the big, obvious question I had for the preacher was “Have faith in what?” Faith doesn’t stand alone; it requires an object or source. When I want to wake up at 4:35 AM for work, I don’t tell myself, “Just have faith.” I set my alarm clock. I trust that my alarm clock will wake me up; I have faith in my alarm clock. Similarly, I have faith in God’s character and promises as shown in the Bible, not just some nebulous, meaningless faith. Francis Schaeffer comments on this modern view of faith in his book The God who is There:

Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its “size” as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward…This position, I would suggest, is actually a greater despair and darkness than the position of those modern men who commit suicide. (84-85)

This sort of meaningless faith can survive when life is going well. But when hardship comes (not “if” it comes), trite, nice-sounding, meaningless phrases will not suffice. Our sources of faith are tested when troubles arise in life. For many Americans, the storms of life will show that their faith is false because it has no source. But Christians have a real and steadfast source of faith. They trust in God’s character and promises, which can be known through the Bible. They don’t “just have faith”; they have faith in God. I’ll close with Jeremiah 17:7-8 (see also Psalm 1), which I hope will be an encouragement for fellow followers of Jesus who are currently facing hardships:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Artists and Gardeners

People_Children_Young_artist_023259_Ask any Christian in the world how they respond to and interact with culture and you’re likely to get a wide array of responses. First, because cultures are different around the world. A Christian in India responds differently to Indian culture than a Christian in England responds to British culture. Second, because there’s a myriad of ways for Christians to respond to culture. In one of my favorite books from the first semester of class at Eternity, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch addresses this very issue.

As in all good discussions, terms must be defined before expounded upon. The term, “culture”, then, Crouch defines as “what we make of the world…the name of our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s give to us and make something else” (23). This idea manifests itself in what people physically create and is always first and foremost effected by personal worldview. Crouch refers to the physical creations of culture–such as movies, music, clothes, and tools–as “artifacts”. Each artifact asks specific questions about the world that it encounters, such as “What does this artifact assume about the way the world should be?”, and “What does this artifact make possible?” (29). To put it practically, what does a movie like Inception assume about the world? What does a book like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows make possible?

The very heart of Culture Making, the meat of the subject, lies in the four ways Crouch perceives Christians interacting with culture:

  1. Condemning. Christians who condemn culture separate themselves from the surrounding culture with the notion that all culture has to offer is strictly evil. This was especially popular during the Fundamentalist revival.
  2. Critiquing. Critiquing culture is taking cultural artifacts and thinking critically and philosophically about their existence and the worldview(s) portrayed through their medium. Francis Schaeffer, before his untimely passing, propagating a cultural critiquing stance.
  3. Copying. Christians who copy culture take the framework of cultural artifacts, empty the artifacts of “secular” content, inject the artifacts with Christian worldviews, then offer the final product to a subculture of Christians. Crouch proposes that the Jesus Movement and CCM made this stance wildly popular.
  4. Consuming. Consuming culture is perhaps the most dangerous. Those who consume culture merely feed on the fat of cultural artifacts without question. They turn into cultural gluttons, blindly gobbling up all artifacts culture offers.

Not a single one of Crouch’s four stances are completely right or, for that matter, completely wrong. There are some aspects of culture that are rightly condemned. Some artifacts require critique before consumption, and some “secular” aspects of culture are rightly painted gray-scale onto the background of Christian subculture. It’s here that Crouch offers two more postures that Christians should take towards culture:

  1. Creating. Within the very definition of what it means to be human is creation, for humans were created “in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Creators make artifacts that enhance the cultural experience and engage the secular culture with a Christian worldview.
  2. Cultivating. In The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons’ accessible book on the Christian generation following Generation X, the author offers the term “Restorers“. Cultivators, or restorers, take the artifacts culture offers and improves upon them as part of their God-given ability to be creative. This posture directly interacts with culture in an effort to make it more beneficial for the common good.

Culture Making begs the reader to take an introspective look at the way they live their lives, and assess their personal interaction with culture. It’s a challenge to look at how the reader’s posture towards culture betters, or unfortunately damages, the world around them. Christians come alive when they create and cultivate the culture that surrounds them in an effort to continually better the world and point back to the original Creator who gifted them with creative abilities.