From Subculture to Counterculture

(The third of three parts. Continued from March 22&23)

By counterculture I’m not advocating adversarial expressions of faith. The term “counter” needn’t require revolution. I agree with Jim Peterson, “Change by revolution is almost always more destructive than constructive. It is a revolt against the prevailing system.” (Church Without Walls. Navpress, 1992. p. 215). I’m not presenting a blueprint for revolt. To be a counterculture we need only to know ourselves well enough as new creatures to be able to make Kingdom choices. That is “thinking Christianly” (The Christian Mind. Servant Books, 1978. p.44), which inevitably will run against the current of culture. Peterson calls it, “change by innovation.”

Such change requires the posing of questions: What is our place in the world? What are the implications of being spirit-born and Kingdom bound? What is truly relevant to living as a Christ-follower, and how can we creatively live as one in the world without relying on world’s systems? In other words, how do we live in the world and not be of it? If we are to be a community that is truly an alternative to the world; a kinship that provides a place of faithful example where seekers may discover, in Christ, a relationship with the Father; and a team that moves fearlessly and joyously in the world carrying the good news of Jesus, then we have to get a grip on the answer to that question.

Originally, I had intended to do a publication that addressed these ideas. I was going to grapple with the practical issues of living beside, outside and beyond systems of culture. I’ve changed my mind. I think this format might be as, if not more, effective, dynamic and personal in spite of my occasional formality in expressing ideas.

I expct I’ll be sharing an unfolding journey as I consider how to deal with systems in the world. For now, I’m thinking that those systems may fall into four broad categories:

Polity. The Christ-follower and politics, government, foreign policy and law.
Economy. How are we to live relative to issues of commerce, money, resources and ownership.
Society. Living next to systems of education, entertainment, science health and others.
Community. Religious systems, interpersonal relationships, personal integrity

My intent is to clarify for myself the relationship between the community of Christ-followers and the world that we are camped in so that I can learn what it means to, “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” I think we need a better understanding of the Christian species so we can be a better version of ourselves.

An Outsider’s Code of Conduct

(Second of three parts. Continued thoughts from March 21, 2005)

The community that Jesus had presented to his followers was simple:

* You are not of this world. Don’t try to live like you are.

* Love each other. That is the mark of a disciple.

* You are not part of a hierarchy. Serve, do not dominate or set yourself apart with titles.

* Walk in unity with the Father.

Simple though it was, Jesus’ directive didn’t prove to be easy. He had effectively made outsiders of his disciples. It’s never easy for outsiders, particularly deliberate ones who act like aliens by choice. Christ-followers were going to be misunderstood and hated because they didn’t fit in chose not to fit in. Jesus warned his disciples that the world wouldn’t understand a people that consciously rejected it and its systems.

But therein lies the problem. Are we conscientiously rejecting the world? Are we familiar enough with the ways of the Kingdom that we can differentiate between it and what Paul called elementary principles- simple kid’s stuff? (Colossians 2:20). Furthermore, are we able (more importantly, willing) to set a course that intentionally diverges from the world’s systems and aims for a rendezvous with the Kingdom of God?

Not so much.

I am feeling compelled to explore practical ways for we Christ-followers to live as outsiders-strangers and aliens-in the world. My view is that the systems of the world are, at their core, idolatry, that is they are patterns of thought and practice that are human constructions under the covert supervision of the enemy of God. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not thrashing in the brush looking for demons. Wild-eyed paranoia over the works of the devil would make lousy editorial policy. I’d rather make a case for a uniquely Christian worldview that puts the world-the kosmos-in its proper place relative to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23). I italicized the last line here because that is precisely what I believe has happened in Western evangelicalism. Our light is darkness so we are only dimly aware of the rot that has eaten away at the substance of contemporary society. We have contented ourselves to be a “subculture” borrowing liberally from the world, sanitizing what we borrow to make it look “Jesusy,” then consuming it-white-bread Christianity packed with processed sugar and flour-as though it were actually good for us. Worse, a subculture is a culture in isolation. John Fischer said,

Instead of engaging our culture in a meaningful way, we have often preferred a siege mentality, retreating into the safety of our Christian subculture. We are more comfortable fighting culture than we are being constructively involved in it. Ironically, on every front we mount highly charged rhetorical battles with a worldly culture, while at the same time, within the walls of our subculture, we try to imitate the worldly culture’s nuance. (Fearless Faith. Harvest House, 2002. p. 15)

Moreover, we have missed the need for what Blamires calls, “a Christian Mind.” (The Christian Mind. Servant Books, 1978). I think that as we press into the 21st century, such a mind will call us beyond subculture and into counterculture.

Faces of the Fallen

Fly Kid (small).JPG
David & Iraqi Child

Today, our friends, David’s parents, are in Washington, D.C. to participate in the memorial to fallen soldiers of the Iraq war called, “Faces of the Fallen.” The photo above is one such face of the war. David said he hadn’t been so tired in a long time having spent a couple of hours playing with Iraqi children. Please pray for the family as we remember the sacrifice of our soldiers. and their loved ones.

In memoriam…
David J. Weisenburg,
B-Co, 2/162 infantry
Killed in Action 13 September 2004, Taji, Iraq

Reflections on a Long Year

The Soldier Comes Home
“Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.” ~Amelia Earhart

And so ends 2004.

I know, 2004 ended three months ago, but for us the challenges of that year could not be ended until our son, Caleb returned from Iraq.

There were three families that stuck together during this trying time. We prayed together, shared our fears and, in one case, wept deeply together when one of our children, David, was killed in action. We rejoice at Caleb’s return, and in anticipation of Jon’s, but weep with David’s family. His parents will be travelling to Washington, DC for the unveiling of the tribute to the fallen soldiers.

“Soldiers that carry their lives in their hands, should carry the grace of God in their hearts.”
~ Richard Baxter

Another Flavor of World

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.


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