Jon, Caleb, and David
Jon, Caleb, and David
Jon, Caleb, and David
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.
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area we call the Twilight Zone.”
Iâ€™m starting a class Iâ€™m calling â€œLiving in the Twilight Zone.â€ At first I thought Iâ€™d call it Ministry in the Twilight Zone, but these days I shy away from terms like â€˜ministryâ€™ that have become deeply rooted in the Christian sub-culture.
The class is based on these assumptions:
This is living in the Twilight Zone. Undoubtedly, Rod Serling, in his portentous prelude to the creepy tales of that third season of the venerable program, never imagined that his words might suggest an approach to living as followers of Jesus. But, as long as light continues to meet darkness there will be shadows. That is where we have to learn to carry a torch.
Love: to act for the benefit of another—visibly, practically and intentionally.
I talked to an old farmer and mill worker moments ago. George was his name. He asked me about house churches and remarked about the need for simplicity. He told of a renowned theologian who was asked about the most profound truth he had discovered. The answer: â€œJesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me soâ€¦â€
George, speaking of himself, said that he was a simple man and I believed him. His face was leathered; his features were angular, steadfast and determined, crowned with mussed gray hair. The thing I noticed most were his hands. They were big, hard looking hands, scarred and square, at home with machines and tools. The thumbnail was rough, split sometime by a cruel machine.
A simple man, he said.
Jesus loves me. Love one another. How are we doing on the simple things? In them are found the deepest truths. Love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows Him. Love is the mark of a disciple. Love never fails. God is love. God so loved the worldâ€¦
What need do we have of deeper truth when the deepest truth floats on the surface of the scriptures?
Meditation looks for peace in the isolation of the soul.
Prayer finds peace in the communion of the spirit.
Isolation and desolation are brothers.
Communion and completion are Father and child.
Seems to me that God has given all of us the need to belong, to have â€œa peopleâ€ to belong to. Those without belonging have a hole in their soul that bleeds. Some build facades to mask the deficit. Sociopaths suture the wound with anger and aggression. Others default to fear and isolation—sociophobes.
What should be the qualities of a uniquely Christian culture, a uniformly welcoming people? Liturgy? Doctrinal purity? The implicit â€œdos and donâ€™tsâ€ of evangelicalism? Shouldnâ€™t it be love?
Love: visible, intentional and practical action for the benefit of others. Hospitality, compassion, simplicity, joy and the exhilarating release of a people who have gained the universe and have cast off fear and its sister, anxiety. For this we have to decide what is truly relevant to us as a â€œgenetically alteredâ€ ethnic group, a holy nation and a peculiar people. So much of the cultural inheritance that we have received from the time/space world we live in is, at its core, irrelevant to the new life that we are capacitated to live.
I have a box of â€œodds and endsâ€ out in the garage—nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and a generous bunch of etcetera. When I need something for a home repair or automotive fix, I often find myself pawing through that box looking for the one thing I need for the purpose. Everything else in the box is irrelevant, but I have to rummage through it all, rejecting the irrelevant, to find the thing that fits. The trick is to have a clear image of the needed item in my head. Without that, everything in there becomes a confusing mass of possibilities.
Being in the temporal world is a lot like living in that box. Most of whatâ€™s around me isnâ€™t relevant to me as a follower of Jesus. It doesnâ€™t fit the purpose. As a follower I need to get a clear picture of the needed item fixed in my head so I will recognize it when I see it—a clear and detailed image of love and loving. Thatâ€™s a fundamental element of a uniquely Christian culture: knowing whatâ€™s important and emphasizing it; and recognizing whatâ€™s unimportant and ignoring it. Let the rummaging begin! Step one is to sort out and reject what doesnâ€™t look like visible, practical, and intentional action on behalf of others. Step two, three, four, and all the steps that come after, are to do whatâ€™s left. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to wholeheartedly, and with abandon, run into the new cultural norms of Christ-following personhood.
One solemn hour each week, then six days and twenty-three hours lived in the civilization of fallen man, was not the earlier believersâ€™ understanding of ecclesia. They had their own community, they were the community, they had their own â€œcivilizationâ€; it operated around the clock and throughout the calendar.
~~Gene Edwards, The Highest Life