Reformation and Culture

reformation-cultureA lot of my thinking these days has been around reformation and culture–not The Reformation, necessarily (although my sympathies profoundly rest there). When the church reforms, what does it rally around? What authority does it re-form from and to? Almost always, we in the church veer off on things and ideas that seem right to us. This means we judge Christianity a lot of times through the lens of our own particular culture. Tim Keller, a PCA minister in New York, said something like this once: “If Jesus Christ isn’t stepping on your toes sometimes, you have probably made God into your own image.” I might add… “you have probably made Him conform to the values of your culture rather than conforming the values of your culture to Him.”

In a terrific article, How Christians Can Bear Gospel Witness in an Anxious Age, on Christianity Today‘s website, Keller and John Inazu, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, discuss the discomforts and opportunities of being a Christian in a culture that appears to want to leave orthodox Christianity behind. One of the our opportunities, I believe, is to reform – particularly to reform around the Gospel of Jesus Christ as found in Holy Scripture rather than around the locus point of our comfort, namely: our culture. I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did.

This new cultural reality raises some anxieties, but it also presents many of us with an opportunity to rediscover Christian witness in a world that we do not control. The dominant Protestant culture enabled some Christians in this country to forget, as the book of Hebrews proclaims, that here we have no abiding city. While we are called to love our neighbors and to maintain what James Davison Hunter has called “faithful presence,” no human society can be identified with the kingdom of God. Christians profess that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), which means that we are never quite at home.

We can also learn from the biblical witness how to engage in the world around us. The book of Jeremiah tells the story of God using the prophet to instruct the Jews in Babylon not to hate or ignore the pagan city, but to become long-term residents, to exercise good will toward it through prayer, and to seek its peace and prosperity. They were to build up the social fabric for their common well-being (“if [Babylon] prospers, you too will prosper” [Jer. 29:7]). They were to be known as a people who served their neighbors and their city. At the same time, God’s people were not to place their future hopes in social and economic improvement. They were to love and serve their earthly city, but they were not to forget that God would some day judge that city for its evil and injustice. It was only in God that believers could be sure of a “hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). In this hope, instead of merely co-existing with the Babylonians, gnawed by memories of former cultural acceptance, the Jews in Babylon were to strive for the good of their city, the growth of the people of God, and their resulting testimony to the glory of God. Like the Jews in Babylon living in a foreign land, Christians are—and always have been—“resident aliens” called to love our neighbors with deeds of service so that those around us will “see [our] good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV).