Friday, August 10, 2007

overheard: on not transforming the culture

yesterday's edition of christianity today online featured an article entitled, on not transforming the culture by mark galli, the senior managing editor of CT. when i first read this article, i found it intriguing because it seems to call evangelicals away from a niebuhrian focus on transforming culture towards a more individualistic focus upon discipling individuals and setting up the church as an institution that is contra culture.

i think that galli's work is interesting insofar as it reminds us that "transforming the world" is an end rather than an effective means of Christian work. however, i'm afraid that his argument oversimplifies the diverse idea of mission that is presented in the NT and his apparent elevation of the individual over the system is both historically evangelical and problematic. i have more to say about this, but i have to go teach a class.

please take a few moments to read the article, chew on the quote below and join the conversation.

"We are certainly responsible for going to the ends of the earth and making disciples from people of every nation. There is plenty in Scripture about doing justice and loving mercy and feeding the hungry and caring for the widow and orphan. But I find little or nothing about us having the task of transforming the culture.

We fall into this rhetoric because we know the problems we face are huge and we feel so small. We worry that if we don't boldly proclaim that we can "change the world," everybody will give up before we even begin. We all face the common temptation of Adam and Eve. We want to feel significant. We want to feel like we're players. We want to make a difference in the world. And only by imagining that we can change the world do we think our actions have any meaning."


mike said...

so what part of ""going to the ends of the earth and making disciples from people of every nation." and
"doing justice and loving mercy and feeding the hungry and caring for the widow and orphan."

isn't culture changing?

i read that article last night and i am wondering if i just don't understand what a changed culture would look like? is it the difference in how the culture would look if christians followed the teachings of christ and loved their neighbors vs. christians legislating christianity as the national religion?

g13 said...

mike, i think that he is suggesting that christians should focus on the small relational pieces instead of the end of a changed culture. as i read it, it's a very fundamentalist/calvinist perspective insofar as he talked about transformation not happening until the "end of days" - until which, presumably, christians should hunker down and wait hell out - and he focused on such transformation being the province of God in his sovereignty.

of course, i don't really disagree with the latter assumption, if that is, in fact, the assumption that the author is making. but i think that christians have continue hoping for a transformed society and keep the end in mind while we do the humble work of spiritual accompaniment, advocating for justice, etc. st. paul strikes me as someone who understood his work as humble and small in regards to God's work (see his address to ephesian elders in acts 20:17ff), but nevertheless kept his heart focused on transformation (see passages about the whole world has heard the gospel, the wall of hostility has broken down, building ALL THINGS up into Chris, etc).

one more thing, it was a small thing, but i really liked the way galli glossed jesus' command to go the extra mile with by talking about going the extra mile with the "manipulative." i don't know about you, but i can almost see myself walking an extra mile for a military oppressor.n but for a manipulative person, well, i'd rather eat my own shit first.

thanks for the dialogue friend.

mike said...

oh but there is this fragment they just found that actually adds an entire chapter to James where St. James goes on and on about how we should care for the widow and orphan but that manipulative fuck in you church... he/she is like poison and should be shunned.

really it is in there.

no i am with you on that one. when someone tries to manipulate me the contrarian dick in me steps up and looks at it as a personal calling to be that persons redemptive thorn in the side.