Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The City of Man

I received a record number of comments ( 3 ! ) to my recent post, It’s the Theology, Stupid, and so I thought I would respond with another post to keep the conversation going. I don’t intend to begin a political debate but perhaps a theological one, and if the political implications become the focus for awhile, that is ok. It is an election year.

The general comment I am responding to is this:

“We're certainly called to bring others into our community, but I'm unconvinced of the effectiveness of Christians' attempts to impose Biblical morality on a secular culture."

Really?

First of all, please read all the comments so you can be sure alongside me that I am not taking this, or anything, ever, out of context. I hate that. And then second, before I summarize my thoughts, please check out these articles / resources that explain much better than I could some perspective on the dilemma of Christians in secular culture.

Why Secularism Will Not Work - Al Mohler

How to Pick a President - Christianity Today June 2008

Faith in the Halls of Power - Michael Lindsay
- Surprising Candor
- The Evangelical Elite

Culture Shift - Al Mohler

City of God - Augustine of Hippo

The book by Al Mohler, Culture Shift, is probably the most helpful and readable resource on the topic, though City of God is a classic. I won’t be able to cover everything, and so let me just explain some thoughts in a few clarifications:

- I do not believe the President of the United States and an average citizen has the same ability or obligation to “impose” Biblical morality on a secular culture. The average citizen has more.

- I do not like the word “impose” in this context, because probably that is not what any Christians should be doing. But it is certainly better than “ignore”, which is what I am concerned many in our country, even Christians, have a tendency to do.

- I think there can be a difference between lobbying government and living your Biblical values so overtly that through the Holy Spirit you begin to transform the culture in which you are placed (workplace, school, government, sports team, etc.). We have to remember that God is not just redeeming people, but he is establishing a kingdom, which includes community, culture, and a lot more. So we should expect something to happen within our secular culture. Note: There is a lot more I could say about this, so please stay tuned to a post I am working on about the scope of the Gospel, and the potential errors, reductionisms, and distortions that are prevalent on this subject, even within the Church.

- I do not necessarily support efforts to focus Christian ministry entirely on political influence, which some people have unfortunately fallen into, or at least that has become their legacy (Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, even James Dobson). This confuses people as to what is ultimate. I believe God is Sovereign (purpose of this blog) and therefore He is accomplishing His purposes on Earth and in America in many ways: public, private, and in-between. Therefore neither method is absolute, nor expendable.

- I believe social change isn’t possible without soul change. In other words, until people in our culture and around the world are captivated by the transforming power of Jesus Christ, not much ultimate progress will be made in the areas of sanctity of life, care for the poor, traditional marriage, the war on terrorism, etc. But I believe this transformation is obtainable even if not in our lifetime. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. We should not be ashamed of this or just wait patiently for it; especially those of us who have the unique opportunity to speak, live, and reveal this truth without the obvious obstacles of tolerance and sensitivity with which those in the public square may struggle. I think that Michael Lindsay’s analysis of the Evangelical Elite in Faith in the Halls of Power is very interesting and very encouraging to the reality that God is working for His glory in our country from the inside out. Let’s do more of this. This is why ministries to college students, young adults, and youth are so important and effective for the kingdom.

- The Body of the Christ, the Church, is able to change political structures for the glory of God; but it is, and always has been, more effective changing people, who in turn, by the power of the Spirit, transform political structures and an entire culture into the image of Christ and His kingdom. Ultimately, this is probably what the quote I am responding to really meant. I just didn’t want to leave the possibility open of hanging a secular culture out to dry. That is not its destiny.

But I have opened up a can of worms now. How do we do this? How do we “do church” and execute ministry and live life (i.e. participate in politics) in such a way that is glorifying to God, encouraging and beneficial to God’s people, and compelling and life-changing to unbelievers, thus transforming hearts and advancing the kingdom of God? Welcome to God is the Details. I’m working on it.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Hey, Joey. I'm finally getting around to responding to your response to my response. I believe my comment that you quoted was:

We're certainly called to bring others into our community, but I'm unconvinced of the effectiveness of Christians' attempts to impose Biblical morality on a secular culture.

I think the 2nd-to-last paragraph of your post summed up your response nicely:

The Body of the Christ, the Church, is able to change political structures for the glory of God; but it is, and always has been, more effective changing people, who in turn, by the power of the Spirit, transform political structures and an entire culture into the image of Christ and His kingdom. Ultimately, this is probably what the quote I am responding to really meant. I just didn’t want to leave the possibility open of hanging a secular culture out to dry. That is not its destiny.

Indeed, I do believe that the Church is most effective at changing people, not institutions. However, I believe people tend to think they are more effective at changing institutions than themselves. This manifests itself in contemporary moral issues like abortion (protesting outside of clinics) and homosexuality (proposing constitutional ban on gay marriage).

From my perspective, attempts to bring "judicial" morality (laws regarding personal vice or, loosely speaking, "victimless crimes") in line with Christian morality have led to hypocrisy on the part of Christians and resentment on the part of non-Christians.

I don't discount the power of God to change culture and government, but I think some of what Christians put the most voice and action to is minimally effective compared to the change we could see if we would just love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.