I have a really short attention span. I seem to work best in chaos. I like when there is more than one thing going on at a time. This is not to say that I am good at multitasking. I seem to really be able to only focus on one task at a time. It’s just that I like it when there are several tasks going on at once that I can switch between.
This is also the case with my reading habits. At any given time, I have about 3 or 4 scifi and fantasy books to read that I switch between. And at church I have 3 or 4 Christian books I am reading and re-reading. This week I began 2 books: “Leap over the Wall,” by Eugene Peterson, and “Living in God’s Two Kingdoms,” by David VanDrunen. I don’t know if this happens to you, but one of the best things I like about reading multiple books is that they sometimes seem to talk to each other. These 2 books had an interesting take on how culture and Christ intersect.
In “Living in the God’s Two Kingdoms,” David VanDrunen writes about the concerns he has over language he has been hearing from within many Christian circles. He argues that writers like N.T. Wright and Brian McLaren both seem to argue that as Christians we need to think less about the future of heaven and salvation and instead, as individuals freed from sin, we should re-take up the cause of Adam to be caretakers and redeemers of creation. We should focus more on the human side of life- bringing justice, love, and peace to culture.
Peterson seems to write about the need for this as well. “A surprising thing about the readers of [the story of Jesus] is that, by and large, through the Christian centuries, we’ve had a harder time taking seriously the human elements of the story than the divine. It’s been easier to believe that Jesus was God than that Jesus was human.” Peterson argues that throughout the centuries we’ve worshiped many gods (and we still make up new things to worship today). It is the human side of things that frustrate many of us. Peterson suggests that this is because humanity, “is so frequently experienced as dishonorable and wicked, flawed and foolish; it’s hard to maintain respect for it and be patient with the human condition. It looks easier and far more attractive to specialize in something we’re apt to call ‘spiritual,’ to throw all our efforts into trying to be ‘like gods,’ forgetting that that’s how we got into all this trouble in the first place [with Adam and Eve and the apple].”
However neither VanDrunen or Peterson argue for more “engagement” with culture (or more “disengagement” from it either). Peterson reminds us that Christ was both “man and God.” And VanDrunen argues that we do not need to “follow the pattern that the first Adam was supposed to follow” because Christ was the last Adam. Christ obediently did what Adam was unable to do. “Christians are not to pursue righteous obedience in this world, and then, as a consequence, enter the world-to-come [like Adam was called to do]. Instead, Christians have been made citizens of the world-to-come by a free gift of grace and now, as a consequence, are to live righteous and obedient lives in this world.”
So why am I blathering on and on about this. It seems to me, that as Christians we can engage in culture by making 2 major blunders and that maybe there is a path between the 2 extremes.
BLUNDER #1: we can believe that, “It is all on my shoulders to bring justice or love to this situation; to fix the problems of the world.”
-The only thing that seems true to me about this statement are the words “justice and love.” We are called to bring justice and love to the world. However, (a) it is not all on our shoulders… in fact, God is in charge not us (it all is really all on His shoulders). And as a result (b) WE are not going to be able to fix anything. Maybe God will “fix” an injustice where we are serving God faithfully within our lifetimes and maybe it will only happen when Christ returns. In either case our job seems to be just to keep serving God faithfully.
BLUNDER #2: “Why worry about anything in culture anyway? It is all going to hell in a hand-basket. Let’s just spend our time doing spiritual things.”
-It is true that human institutions, projects, etc, are going to always run into the problem sin. Even worthwhile things like raising kids, marriage, and working (which the scriptures say are good), are going to be hard at times. But it seems to me that we are called to people not institutions. It seems that all too often we can get ourselves all wrapped up into institutions and organizations and interest groups because we like how that particular group “helps people” but as time goes on it just gets easier to deal with the institutions rather than the people themselves. But aren’t we actually called to help the people? So even if we feel at times like we are on a sinking ship, there are still going to be people around us who will need help (getting their life preservers on, the life boats inflated, etc.). And we also never know if that ship will actually sink (or stay sunk). Because we believe in a God who can bring about miracles and resurrections!!