Category: On Call in Culture

carolers2Over the last century, Christianity has declined in social influence across much of the Western world, leading many to believe it has little place or purpose in public life.

In response, Christian reactions have varied, with the more typical approaches being fortification (“hide!”), domination (“fight!”), or accommodation (“blend in!”). In each case, the response takes the shape of heavy-handed strategery or top-down mobilization, whether to or from the hills.

And yet the cultural witness of the church ought to flow (or overflow) a bit differently. For Greg Forster, it has less to do with “cultural lever-pulling,” and a whole lot more to do with joy.

“Christianity is losing its influence in contemporary America because people outside the church just don’t encounter the joy of God as much as they used to,” Forster writes in his latest book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. “…The joy of God can do what cultural lever-pulling can’t do.”

As we experience the joy of God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, our attitudes and activities are transformed. As Christians, our primary task is not to take that transformation and funnel it toward end-game tactics, but to faithfully embody it across culture: blessing our neighbors and cultivating civilization, whether in the family, our work and the economy, or citizenship and community (Forster’s three main categories). (more…)

carolerAs Christians living in a secular age, there’s a temptation to use Christmas as a wedge to wage epic new battles to restore Christendom.

But despite the flurry of hackneyed “War on Christmas” tropes, there is, alas, something rather amiss. Though the battlefront may not be a petty replacement of “Merry Christmas” with “happy holidays,” society is obviously devoid of a true understanding of the season, diluting a celebration about the invasion of heaven to a shallow idolatry of tradition for tradition’s sake.

Yet, as Andrew Ferguson reminds us, despite its best efforts, culture cannot, and indeed, doesn’t want to escape the “true meaning of Christmas” after all. In many ways, Ferguson writes, alluding to G.K. Chesterton’s famous words, it’s impossible to live in a post-Christian age.

Some things can’t be undone, and chief among them is the Light that was lit the first Christmas morning, while choirs of angels sang above,” Ferguson writes. “It can be ridiculed and parodied, satirized and scoffed at, obscured and sentimentalized, but it won’t be extinguished. So even a secular age continues to go through the motions, singing the same songs, sometimes the old songs, without quite knowing why.

And those songs — they bring such revelation and power, wherever they find a welcome set of lungs. (Yes, wherever.)

It is with Christmas music, Ferguson argues, that we see the Christian witness endure at its finest, not via an antagonism of tacky cultural kitsch, but through an elevation of the true and serious joy of Christ:

A good carol, said the great musicologist Percy Deamer, “was witness to the spirit of a more spontaneous and undoubting faith.” The effusions were organic, growing from the bottom up, and like the Gospels themselves, filled with metaphors taken from field and hearth…

…To take life”—and hence Christmas—”with real seriousness is to take it joyfully,” Deamer went on. “For seriousness is only sad when it is superficial: the carol is thus nearer to the truth because it is jolly.” The opposite isn’t necessarily true, by the way. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” [by Mariah Carey] might be described as jolly; no one would describe it as serious. “Joy to the World,” on the other hand, is both. A Christmas carol is meant to liberate us from phony seriousness and phony good cheer.

In the past that lesson has often been lost, at times even more thoroughly than in our own day—a reminder that should cheer us up, if you’ll forgive the expression. The serious joy, or the joyful seriousness, of Christmas is offensive to the grim Christian.

Carols offer a profound example of cultural engagement done right, shining a blinding light that, by virtue of its truth, goodness, and beauty, welcomes a lost world even as it wages war against hell.

Thus, as we worship and magnify Jesus this Christmas season, let us avoid petty battles against petty gods, whether of blind consumerism or nostalgic knick-knackery. Instead, let us exude and share the serious joy that comes from being a child of the living God. Let us simply sing, and sing of Jesus.

And let earth receive her King.

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
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0611When we think about “stewardship,” our minds tend to revert to the material and the predictable. We think about money or the allocation of resources. We think about growing crops or creating goods or financial investment and generosity.

For the Christian, however, stewardship goes much further, weaving closely together the tangible and transcendent in all areas of life. “Stewardship is far more than the handling of our money,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef. “Stewardship is the handling of life, and time, and destiny.”

In For the Life of the World, God’s oikonomia is compared to a song, with our activity in each sphere of creation harmonizing together even as it plays in its own distinct way and through its own “modes of operation” — whether in family, business, education, or elsewhere. God has given us stewardship as a gift, granting the responsibility to manage his house and the availability to partner with the divine in that remarkable task.

C.S. Lewis points to this reality in The Magician’s Nephew, where he writes at length about the origins of Narnia and the creative call of humankind. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
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colson-way-owen-strachan“I’ve done my best to popularize Kuyper, because that’s what’s so desperately needed in Western civilization today: a looking at all of life through God’s eyes.” –Chuck Colson

Given the recent release of Abraham Kuyper’s 12-volume collection of works in public theology, it’s worth noting his influence on modern-day shapers of Christian thought and action.

From Francis Schaeffer to Cornelius Van Til to Alvin Plantinga, Kuyper’s works have expanded the cultural imaginations of many. Another devotee was the late Chuck Colson, author, founder of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint, and past recipient of Acton’s Faith and Freedom Award.

In The Colson Way, Owen Strachan’s new book on Colson’s model and enduring influence, we learn how Kuyper’s works had a profound impact on Colson’s perspective (joined by the likes of Wilberforce, Carl F.H. Henry, and Schaeffer).

In the late 1970s, Michael Cromartie (at that time, on Colson’s staff) introduced him to the “reformed  world-and-live view,” reconciling the City of God with the City of Man.

“In this tradition,” Strachan writes, “Colson found the theological orientation he craved”:
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What is the pastor’s role in affirming the various callings within his congregation? How might churches empower the people of God in pursuing vocational clarity and economic transformation? How can we better encourage, equip, and empower others in engaging their cultures and communities?

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, theologian and author Charlie Self explores these questions and more, relaying many of the themes of Flourishing Churches and Communities, his Pentecostal primer on faith, work, and economics.

“Faithful churches create flourishing communities,” says Self, “bringing the joy, peace, and justice of Jesus Christ in everyday life.”

Pastors have a great role to play in commissioning their people to create value through all of their work, and commissioning entrepreneurship and creativity. And they have great value also in letting us know that we’re more than our job…And yet waking up on Monday with purpose is so important for discipleship, for personal thriving, and for community flourishing. Are you commissioning people to do God’s work in the world through their work? …

…The pastor has the job not to be a specialist in every field, but to give the gospel-centric and ethical boundaries and blessings by which they can go and flourish in each of their vocations. …Pastors can help people see that vocation is larger than just the job, that one’s calling to Christ in general, and specific gifts and mission, include their daily work and transcend it, and that daily work…is part of obedience in this age while we wait for the coming Lord.

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arion_press_printing_san_franciscoThroughout its history, the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven.

Given our newfound status, manual labor is increasingly cast down in the popular imagination, replaced by white-collar jobs, bachelor’s degrees, and ladder-climbing. Whether due to new avenues and opportunities or a more general distaste for the slow and mundane, work with the hands is either ignored or discouraged, both as vocational prospect and consumeristic priority.

Amid this sea of new efficiencies, the art of craftsmanship is at a particular disadvantage. Whereas things used to be made with a certain individual artistry (out of necessity, no doubt), so much has become industrialized and systematized. That shift has led to unprecedented blessings, to be sure, whether in time, money, energy, and convenience, and for those fruits we should be grateful and rejoice.

But even in an economy such as this, there remains a need, a market, a knack for the slow and steady. There remains room not just for the magnificence of a well engineered microchip, but for a masterfully carved table and an artfully tailored suit. Creative service comes in all kinds, and God has a plan to both meet our immediate needs and fill our bodies, souls, and spirits with beauty and wonder. (more…)

“God somehow demands of us so much more than this transactional nature. It is really about the gift that we’ve been given, and the only response we can give back is with extravagance, with gratuitous beauty.” –Makoto Fujimura (Episode 6, For the Life of the World)

sara-feature-305x305We live in a society that has grown increasingly transactional in its way of thinking. Everything we spend or steward — time, money, relationships — must secure a personal reward or return. Even when we give things up for “useless” activities, it is framed in terms of self-indulgence or personal release. We are making “me time,” “emptying our busy brains,” or “rewarding ourselves.” Even our wasteful moments are in the service of balancing some imaginary busyness ledger.

But countering our transactional nature will require far more than surface-level tweaks such as these.

In For the Life of the World, Evan Koons discovers that we must learn to appreciate the value of God’s creation in and of itself. If we hope to unlock the Economy of Wonder, we must realize that everything need not be tied to or offered up for some sort of pragmatic use. God wants us to be gift-givers who focus not on scarcity but divine abundance.

In a new video blog, musical artist Sara Groves touches on these same themes, inspired by artist Makoto Fujimura, who also makes an appearance in FLOW. “Pragmatism and utility have infected every area of life,” she says. “…It’s the artist’s role to push back against pragmatism and utility.” (more…)