Thursday, September 06, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 1)

We are nearing the end of our series entitled Building a Culture of Faithfulness. I plan to collect the lessons, revise them a bit, and put them on paper so that everyone can have a copy. As I work to revise them, I hope to post them piece by piece on the blog. This will provide at least a limited forum for interaction about these important topics. Here is the introduction.

We hear a great deal in Christian circles these days about culture, especially about “engaging” it. Unfortunately, we have widely divergent ideas about what culture is and about what it means to engage it. In this little essay, I am using the term in the sense of something that is cultivated. Christians must intentionally cultivate faithfulness to our Lord in every area of life. That is the earnest desire which motivates me to put these thoughts on paper. I want High Country Baptist Church to build a culture of faithfulness.

In his recent work Americanism, David Gelernter explained with great clarity how our Puritan forefathers sought to build a culture of faithfulness. They came to America to build a city of God set upon a hill so that the entire world could see. Although the culture they built eventually devolved from faithfulness, their efforts did powerfully stamp our national character. Their faults and shortcomings should be instructive to us, but so should their vision. They saw all of life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and passionately pursued their ideal of a pure church in a godly society.

In order to bring some biblical focus to this passion, I will first offer a sketch of a biblical worldview. This is the necessary foundation for the building project we undertake. But this by itself is not enough to enable proper application. The Bible must be interpreted and applied within a given context. Thus, we must also understand our context as Americans in the early 21st century. I will offer a simple (some might say simplistic, but I hope it is generally accurate) and all-too-brief survey of our history, noting the ideas, events, people, and institutions which have shaped our current situation. I hope this section does not come across as exceedingly negative, for there is much for which we can give thanks in our American history and culture. Nevertheless, I do need to point out those areas where we have departed from a biblical perspective, so that we can more accurately see how we now stand.

Gelernter’s book also serves as a perfect foil to introduce these problems of 21st century Americanism. He enthusiastically believes that “the religious idea called ‘America’ … tells an absolute truth about the meaning of human life, a truth that we must take on faith.” This American religion has both a creed and a context. The creed, according to Gelernter, is three simple words: liberty, equality, democracy. These beliefs have been worked out in the context of American Zionism, the belief that America was the chosen land and Americans the chosen people, who thus had an obligation to spread their beliefs and the benefits of those beliefs to the whole world. Abraham Lincoln said it best in his annual message to Congress, December 1, 1862: “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth.” Gelernter hails with reverence Americanism as the last, best hope of earth, and he does not worship alone. In a review of Brink Lindsey’s new book, The Age of Abundance, in the New York Times Book Review, George Will asserted, “We are a creedal nation, dedicated to a proposition, which is approximately this: All people are created equal and have a right to spacious freedom that produces unequal outcomes.”

These claims are breathtaking in scope; yet I believe that they are on target in terms of what many Americans implicitly believe. But is this the way Christians should think? Is America really the last, best hope of earth? Are the values America stands for truly righteous? What does God have to say?

In the last section of this essay, I will attempt to sketch an overview of how Christians can build a culture of faithfulness in our current setting. Much more needs to be said, but this will hopefully set us on the path toward building a culture of faithfulness.

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