restoration Posts

Faith leaders reflect on the movie NOAH

Christ and Culture

There is a great need in these days for followers of Christ to think more deeply about how to effectively engage culture as we join God in the renewal of all things. Richard Neibhur was arguably the most important Christian theological-ethicist in the 20th Century. For several decades he taught at Yale Divinity School and in 1951 he wrote his classic work, “Christ and Culture”- which is still used today to help frame the Christian’s cultural engagement.

Neibhur’s five typologies (or categories) offer a helpful framework as we consider how followers of Christ relate to culture at large. Below is a (far too simplified, but perhaps helpful) explanation of how Neibhur’s categories allow us think more deeply about our role in culture. One way to understand and apply his categories is to think of a more widely known principle: Christians are to be “in the world but not of the world” (actually based on Jesus’ words in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17).  Each of the five approaches is essentially a variation on the application of that often-referenced phrase. Here they are:

  • Christ against Culture – This is the “exclusive Christian” who sees history as the story of a rising church up against a dying pagan civilization. This approach, ultimately leads to an “us against them” approach- it’s the Church against the world.
  • Christ of Culture – This is the “cultural Christian” who sees history as the story of the Spirit’s encounter with nature and culture. Taken too far this could be described as “in the world and of the world” where there is no real distinction between the believer and the non-believer.
  • Christ above Culture – This approach might lead some to think we are to be in the world and over the world. That is, us over culture. This approach would say,  “We better get our man in the White House or we’re doomed (God is not going to know what to do) and the Gospel will cease to advance.” History proves otherwise.
  • Christ and Culture in Paradox – This is “the dualist” approach in which history is a struggle between church and culture and the constant tension that will only be lifted when Christ comes again. Taken to extremes this approach can lead to disinterest and apathy regarding cultural renewal, believing that God will make all things right in the end. The tendency is to disengage- to not be in the world.
  • Christ Transforming Culture – This is “the conversionist” who says, history is the story of God’s work in the world and humanity’s response to Him. Conversionists live more in the divine “now” than the followers listed above. This approach focuses more on the presence of God in time and would say it is Christ in us- in the world but not of the world. Christ brings about the transformation of culture through us, as we live as a “faithful presence” in our particular sphere of influence. This is the belief that there is a divine possibility of a present renewal, while at the same time, we prepare for what will take place in a final redemption and restoration of all creation.

Niebuhr doesn’t “land” on any one approach- as his work is more descriptive than prescriptive. I believe that Scripture (and experience) points us to the last one: Christ transforming culture through His followers as we live incarnational lives in every domain of culture. Is this God’s plan to change the world? If so, are you allowing his Spirit to live in and through you in your particular domain or sphere of influence? Are you practicing the faithful presence of Jesus in your life?  What do you think?

The Separation of Church & Hate

Every four years Christians in America are challenged again to rediscover the incomparable power of the Gospel. Oh, most don’t realize that’s what is happening but it really is. It happens every four years. We claim that Christ alone is the hope of our nation and our world, that it is only the power of the Gospel that brings real transformation, but during the presidential race we seem to forget that. Our language, our argumentative spirits, our anger, and often hateful speech, betrays our hearts and the true nature of our belief.

As I’ve watched this season approaching, I’ve grown increasingly disappointed with how Christ followers are more passionate about politics than the Gospel. And I know, already the questions surface, “But don’t politics matter? Shouldn’t we be engaged in every sphere of culture, including the political domain? Don’t we have a God-given right and responsibility to engage, inform, and enter the public discourse of politics?” Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But we are to enter into public discourse like Jesus (our perfect Model in all things) or we do more damage than good. To remain silent is not an option but to be ill-informed or to have a spirit that does not represent our Savior is unacceptable. Authors Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman, in their book unChristian, point out that most young (18-29) non-Christians in America see the primary witness of the Church as a political witness.  We simply do not find this in the teachings of Jesus or anywhere else in the New Testament. Many believe this younger generation just “don’t get it” (like former generations thought of them), but I see a generation of young believers who are tired of the culture wars and they see another way. Young Christians are ready for peace.  As one young Christian said, “We are ready to lay down our arms. We are ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.” The Jesus way is a different way.

How do we enter the political fray in a way that honors Jesus and keeps the Gospel central?

Too often believers seem to get a pass for their political indiscretions. Often they are applauded for what the Bible calls “slander.”  We slander others in order to win an argument, disguising it all behind “righteous anger.” What is more, other believers applaud our passion and “conviction”, all the while losing the battle but feeling good they were able to “speak our mind.” Rather than simply engaging in political discourse (which is rarely “discourse” in the end), Christians should actually elevate the process.  We are called to stand with Jesus, above the great partisan divide and demonstrate a better way.  I heard one speaker remind us that, “Jesus did not come to take sides but to take over.” If He is Lord of our lives, others will see a better way. Remember:

1. Simply because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Imagine that. Believers should approach political discourse with a humble posture. We should enter in (like any conversation) first to understand, and then to be understood. Understanding, of course, means I enter in loving my neighbor, eager to learn, and willing to express the love of Jesus. When I disagree, I do so in a humble, clear yet loving way.

2. People from both political parties are followers of Jesus (and thus, your brothers and sisters). On the weekend just prior to the election, churches will gather together and pray towards the outcome. Some will pray for God’s “will to be done”, but most will be praying for their candidate to win. That’s an appropriate prayer but the point is that sincere Christians on both sides of the political aisle will be praying equal and opposite prayers. And I doubt God is wringing His hands over the conflicting prayers of His people. He is sovereign over all things.

3. Some people like to argue more than others.  Simply because someone is more passionate than you are about politics doesn’t mean they’re more committed to Christ than you are. You are probably more passionate than they are about other matters of faith and culture. In fact, the Bible teaches us that those who cause strife and are prone to quarrel are weak in their faith, not stronger (James 4:1-2). Consider the biblical strategy up against what we see most of the time in the public discourse of our day:

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 2:23-25

4. Thinking any one political party’s platform is altogether right, is wrong.  Any government, nation, or political party is only as good as those who make it up. All politicians (like each of us) are imperfect people and many (not all) are driven by sinful ambition. The policies of your political party are not altogether biblical or Spirit-led.

5. Broaden your perspective by listening to opposing views.  Many people narrow in on one political perspective and then listen only to those who affirm and confirm what they already believe, right or wrong. Remember that political talk radio and cable news channels are in it for the ratings; it’s what keeps them afloat.

Many who obsess over one political perspective become paranoid because the message heard is that the world will end if “our” political agenda is not established. 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Our identity, worth, perspective, hope and focus is found in Jesus Christ.

6. Scripture tells us to pray for our governing leaders and to respect those in authority.  We are told to pray for those whom God has allowed to be placed over us (2 Timothy 2:1-4).  We are to give honor to our leaders and to show them respect as well because, “there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1-7). Instead of vilifying our political leaders, we should pray for them.  I’ve often wondered what God would do if we prayed for our political leaders for as much time as we spend talking about them, and often maligning them.

Getting to the heart of worship

We showed this video Sunday, seeking to apply the main message in the Book of Job. In the end, the Book of Job asks the question: Do you worship God because of all that he has done for you or do you worship Him simply because He is God? Matt and Janna Shuford share the powerful story of how they discovered the answer to this question in one of the clearest explanations of the Gospel I’ve ever heard. Hit the link below:

 CLICK HERE: My Story- the Shufords

What is the Gospel?

When Paul wrote his letter to the churches in Galatia, it was in response to one stark reality: the Gospel was in danger. Church leaders need to take a cue from Paul. He was frustrated and furious with anyone who would try to add to or take away from the Gospel of free grace. This Gospel is in danger again in our day. For most people in America, Christianity has become a form of “moralistic therapeutic Deism”. It’s “moralistic”, in that Christianity provides an avenue for moral living. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not the Gospel. It’s “therapeutic”, in that it feels good to live a moral life, in adherence to biblical principles. Again, this is not a bad thing, it’s just not the Gospel. And it’s clearly a form of “Deism”, in that God is certainly in the mix, though not the central focus much of the time. More often, the focus is on our works for God, not His work for us, and on our preferences as oppose to His. The Gospel that Paul defended is in danger and Christ (His heart, His mission, His Person) has been lost in a religion that bears His name.
We must join Paul and confront any altering of the Gospel in any way. He distinguishes between the Law and the Gospel. The Law tells us what God expects from us, the Gospel tells us what God has done for us. The Law is about what we do, the Gospel is about what Christ has done. The Law provides the diagnosis, the Gospel provides the cure. In order to defend the Gospel, we must be clear about what the Gospel is. Herein lies our problem. So, what is the Gospel?

The Absolute Gospel:

1. Christ lived the perfect life, fulfilling the requirements of the law. Just as central to our salvation is Christ’s death on the cross is the fact that He lived the perfect life. This is significant for two reasons: First, He could not have provided the perfect, “once and for all” sacrifice if He had not lived a sinless life. Secondly, He has done for us what we could not do ourselves. We cannot and now- need not- live the perfect life. The Gospel is one-way, descending love. We bring nothing to the Gospel expect our sin that makes it necessary. James reminds us how desperate we are. “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Jesus did not come to “abolish” the Law but to fulfill the righteous demands of the Law and in so doing, we are set free from the demands of the Law placed on us.

2. He died for us on the cross, paying the price for our sins. We are justified before our Holy God because Christ, who lived the perfect life for us, took our sin upon the cross. The due penalty of our unrighteousness was placed upon Him and we have been set free from the judgment that comes upon sin. Through the Law God makes the demands for holiness and in Christ He fulfills them. Then miraculously, Christ takes on our sin and completely forgives us, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). His perfect life was imputed to us and therefore, God’s wrath was taken away from us. Only God acting on our part brings salvation.

3. He rose again, conquering death and hell. By overcoming death, Christ leads all of creation into a triumphant procession into eternity. And all people who receive His amazing grace through faith, join Him in this victorious life. This life begins in the here and now and continues in eternity.

4. He is coming again, to restore all things. The work of Christ and the purposes of God are bigger than our salvation. God does not make mistakes and nothing surprises Him. His purposes do not fail; He always wins. Though all of creation has been effected by the sin of mankind, all things will be restored to God’s original intent. God’s restorative agenda is in effect and will be completed as He comes again to make all things right. Ultimately, He will “make all things new” and a redeemed people will worship God on a redeemed “New Earth” for eternity.

It’s important to remember that the Gospel of the early church, of Paul, of the evangelists, was this: All of the promises of the Jewish Scriptures has come true in the Resurrection of Jesus. And this is the Gospel that we preach, teach, defend, and live out in our day. This is the Gospel.