Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Look, Feel, and Smell of Christianity

Just in case you were wondering why we are dealing with "building a culture of faithfulness," here is the answer. This is simply a hot button subject in Christianity today, and I am afraid that many of the answers being given are incomplete or inadequate. I would hasten to add that this is not an easy subject to circumscribe, and doubtless my own treatment needs much more work. Nevertheless, we must start working somewhere.

I would like to highlight one important aspect of our approach that is often lacking in treatments of "Christianity and culture." We are working on this in the context of a local body of believers. "Culture" is too much of an abstraction to be manageable until it touches down in the lives of real people in a real place. (As an aside, this is one of the criticisms I have of a standard work in this field, H. Niebuhr's Christ and Culture. No real person or group that I know actually fits in the categories he describes. Ok, rabbit trail is done.) We are building up, tearing down, correcting, refining, teaching, questioning, probing, encouraging, rebuking, doing, producing, and dreaming together, and through these countless daily activities we are trying to put into practice what it means to love the Lord with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves. As we do this over the course of generations, we will by God's grace build a culture of faithfulness in the midst of a society that has no idea which way it is going.

Because Christians have not done this very successfully in the past (and we include ourselves here), we have a very hard time "engaging the culture" (a rather nebulous buzzword) without capitulating to it. We really have very little developed idea of the alternative we are offering to the world. And because our hearts have not inhabited an alternative to the world, we do not have the spiritual sense or taste to develop something truly different than the current standard fare. Taste is something that must be developed by practicing. It is in a sense something that is prior to cognitive reflection; nevertheless, it is a value judgment. The best way to develop and transmit good taste to new believers and to the next generation is to develop a corporate culture of biblically, spiritually refined patterns of judgment and thinking and living.

One of the reasons this is so hard is that it requires time and work - lots of time and lots of work. Lots of saturation in the scriptures. Lots of practice trying to apply the scriptures. Lots of evaluation of where our efforts failed. Lots of rethinking and retrying. All in the context of the body of Christ. But time and work are precisely the opposite of the prevailing pop culture which values immediate gratification and immediate accomplishment and immediate popularity.

So to close these rambling thoughts by reiterating my main point. We cannot effectively "engage the culture" around us unless we have some idea of what lived Christianity looks and feels and smells like. This can only be developed in our local churches, in our case, in High Country Baptist Church. When we have the look and feel and smell of Christ about our lives, we will be able to identify with sinners without losing our identity.

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