The driving motivation behind the creation of a Christian subculture in America has been the issue of relevancy. We have wanted to make ourselves relevant to the world around us so that the gospel can be understood in terms that are common to the day. There is nothing wrong with this as long as we can maintain a different standard for how we live our lives. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. We have become so enamored of the primary culture in the process of trying to be relevant to it that we now offer it hardly anything other than another flavor of itself. I used to think American Christians were shallow; now I realize it is American culture that is shallow. Our failure has not been through our identification with the culture as much as it has been through our inability to rise above it.
-John Fischer, Fearless Faith, pg. 30-31
In general, I have been impressed and inspired by what John Fischer has written in his book. He is like the child in the old story who cried out among his elders the obvious truth that the emperor had no clothes on. Still, I wonder how important it is to “make ourselves relevant to the world around us so the gospel can be understood in terms common to the day.”
Maybe that’s not the place we should be starting. That we start there may be the reason we can’t find the standard for living our lives differently. What’s relevant to them? Maybe the moving question ought to be, “what.’s relevant to us?” If we look to the world to provide the baseline for our relationship with it, aren’t we apt to be spending more time looking at the world than at God? This is what has been happening. I’m becoming convinced that we need to have a crystal clear understanding of what is relevant to us. How should redeemed, regenerated, sojourners bound for a kingdom that is not of this world live their lives? Let’s start there.
Moreover, when I sense someone is trying to be relevant to me, I can’t help but feel patronized. I’m more drawn to a person who is confident in their own space even though I may not be with them in it. Isn’t that the message of many folks today? Stop patronizing me! Stop trying to sell me stuff! Get real; get authentic! What’s up with a world where I can find real lemon juice in my furniture polish but not in my lemonade? —real faith on the streets, but precious little in the churches?
Meanwhile, we’re printing bibles that imitate the publications of the world, and producing music that sounds like the world, but isn’t the same. Fischer is right. Another flavor of world isn’t what those who live inside the world need, neither is it what those of us who are outsiders need.
What’s needed is a genuine “counterculture.” By that I don’t mean a league of antagonists—storm troopers in the culture war— trying to defend their claim in popular society in order to protect their world-flavored sub-culture. That, it seems to me, is an “anti-culture.” What is needed is a counterculture made up of people who know the eternal Father, and know what He has made of them. For them to live peacefully, confidently imitating Jesus as they honor their Creator, might well appear to the insiders of the world to be a society of faithful people. It might also appear to be a good place to come ashore after running aground in the shallows of American culture.