Posts tagged with: church

3-ways1How are we to be in the world but not of it? How are Christians to live and engage, create and exchange, cultivate and steward our gifts and relationships and resources here on earth? Beyond getting a “free ticket to heaven,” what is our salvation actually for?

These questions are at the center of Acton’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, which begins with a critique of three common approaches to Christian cultural engagement: fortification (“hide! hunker down!”), domination (“fight, fight, fight!”), or accommodation (“meh, ok whatever”).

The framework comes from Pastor Greg Thompson’s paper “The Church in Our Time,” in which Thompson summarizes the paradigms as follows (bold emphasis added):

The fortification paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is to guard the integrity of its divinely wrought life against the assaults of the world. In this view, the basic task of the church is vigilant preservation and the basic threat to the church is the destructive character of the larger culture…

…The domination paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is to triumph over her cultural enemies. In this view the basic task of the church is to extend its own values into the world while the basic threat to the church is those whose values differ from its own…

…Contrary to fortification, the accommodation paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is collaboration with the world in the service of the larger good. From this perspective the basic task of the church is active partnership with its neighbors in the interest of social renewal, and the basic threat to the church is its own separatist tendencies.

Each stems from a legitimate theological starting point, but each also tends to falter, in part due to the typical confusions and conflations between the sacred and secular. In Thompson’s paper, he seeks to avoid these pitfalls, attempting to pave a “fourth way” forward by drawing on James Davison Hunter’s notion of “faithful presence.” In For the Life of the World, we see a similar but slightly different path, one framed around embracing a position of Christian exile and “seeking the welfare of the city.” Rod Dreher has been busy exploring yet another. And the list goes on. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
By

pearl-and-leavenIn its 2,000-year history, the church has actively integrated evangelism and social action in powerful and transformative ways. Yet for many of today’s Christians, we feel as though we must choose between a life of ministry and cultural engagement, that our vocational paths are inevitably torn between “saving souls” and “serving justice.”

In the Bible, however, we see both calls woven together — “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). They were not meant to be taken separately, pieced apart and divided up among believers based on our individual strengths or giftings.

We are called to a life of holistic discipleship, filled with a faith that’s integrated with cultural witness. We are called to be both “a pearl and a leaven,” as Jessica Driesenga puts it in The Church’s Social Responsibility, a new collection of essays on evangelicalism and social justice.

“When we survey Christians’ posture toward the world, it can seem as though there is an either-or decision to be made: either choose to be a part of the world or separate yourself from it for the sake of the gospel,” Driesenga writes. “But these tasks ought to be seen as necessary counterparts to each other.” (A partial excerpt of Driesenga’s essay is available at Letters to the Exiles blog.)

Pointing to a metaphor used by theologian Herman Bavinck, Driesenga reminds us of Jesus’ parables comparing the kingdom of heaven to a leaven (Matt. 13:33) and a pearl (Matt. 13:45–46). “These two metaphors, mixed as they may seem, are Bavinck’s way of understanding the dual tasks given to humanity: to preserve and preach the good news of Christ and to take the world that has been given to us and make something of it.” (more…)

Brooks-2x1500We continue to see the expansion of freedom and the economic prosperity around the world. And yet, despite having enjoyed such freedom and its fruits for centuries, the West is stuck in a crisis of moral imagination.

For all of its blessings, modernity has led many of us to pair our comfort and prosperity with a secular, naturalistic ethos, relishing in our own strength and designs and trusting in the power of reason to drive our ethics.

The result is a uniquely moralistic moral vacuum, a “liberal paradox,” as Gaylen Byker calls it — “a hunger for meaning and values in an age of freedom and plenty.”

In the past, American prosperity has been buoyed by the strength of its institutions: religious, civil, political, economic, and otherwise. But as writers such as Yuval Levin and Charles Murray have aptly outlined, the religious and institutional vibrancy that Alexis de Tocqueville once hailed appears to be dwindling, making the space between individual and state increasingly thin.

The revival and restoration of religious and civic life is essential if we hope to cultivate a free and virtuous society, occurring across spheres and sectors, from the family to business, from the church to political institutions.

Given the increasing attacks on religious liberty, Christian colleges and universities are standing particularly tall, even as they endure some of the highest heat. In a recent talk for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, David Brooks demonstrates the cultural importance of retaining that liberty, explaining how his recent experiences with Christian educational institutions have affirmed their role in weaving (or re-weaving) the fabric of American life. (Read his full remarks here.) (more…)

Untitled1Throughout our debates over foreign policy, trade policy, immigration policy, and otherwise, the 2016 election has seen increasing concentrations and divides between nationalism and globalism, each blind in its own way.

Those who promote a (supposedly) “America first” agenda, ignore the impacts to our neighbors across the globe, each created in the image of God and deserving of the same rights and freedoms we enjoy. Meanwhile, the globalists ignore the benefits of local community and national sovereignty, promoting inclusion to the detriment of distinction.

This needn’t be an “either-or” divide, and for the Christian in particular, the choice is particularly ill-suited to our basic theological vision. (more…)

halo-effect1As church attendance continues to decline across the West, many have lamented the spiritual and social side effects, namely a weakening of civil society and the fabric of community life. What’s less discussed, however, is the economic impact of such a decline.

In a new study published by Cardus, Dr. Michael Wood Daly of the University of Toronto explores this very thing, researching the “economic value” of ten Toronto congregations, and finding “a cumulative estimated economic impact of approximately $45 million,” based on a combined budget of only $10 million. The study refers to this as the “halo effect,” noting the church’s value to the community, whether through social capital, community services, or physical resources and infrastructure.

The research builds on an existing framework from a pilot study done in 2010 by Partners for Sacred Spaces and the University of Pennsylvania, which resulted in similar findings. Focusing on 12 congregations, the Pennsylvania study found an economic contribution of roughly $52 million, concluding that local congregations can “now be viewed as critical economic catalysts.” Both studies evaluated a range of variables in the seven key categories, including (1) open space, (2) direct spending, (3) education, (4) magnet effect, (5) individual impacts, (6) community development, and (7) social capital and care. (more…)

Americans are growing in their distrust of the U.S. government and its leaders, with polls typically showing approval of Congress somewhere around 11%. As Senator Ben Sasse put it in his first remarks to the U.S. Senate, “The people despise us all.”

“No one in this body thinks the Senate is laser-focused on the most pressing issues facing the nation,” he said, “No one. Some of us lament this; some are angered by it; many are resigned to it; some try to dispassionately explain how they think it came to be. But no one disputes it.”

In a recent interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge, Sasse expounds on this further, noting that the problems in Congress have less to do with nefariousness (though that surely exists) than with efficacy. “There is a gigantic deficit of vision,” he says. “We have generational challenges, just at the level of federal policy.”

Sasse traces the decline of American government from Teddy Roosevelt onward, highlighting the 1960s as the eventual tipping point away from constrained constitutional governance. The federal government has now expanded into far too many areas, he argues, and the culture has responded in turn. (more…)

detroit-neighborhood“The Bible has a rich desert theology…He will cause rivers to flow, even in desert conditions.” –Christopher Brooks

Pastor Christopher Brooks and Evangel Ministries have demonstrated a unique model of urban ministry in Detroit, focusing not just on meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but on fostering a vision of long-term, whole-life discipleship.

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, Brooks offers invaluable perspective from his years of ministry, concluding that the gospel has the power to bring economic flourishing to impoverished communities. Poor communities are very similar to deserts, Brooks explains, where people feel trapped by the elements and desperate from the thirst. “These feelings of fear and vulnerability, and feeling overwhelmed, is exactly what the poor feel on a daily basis,” he says.

The good news is that Christ brings life and liberty to all people and in all places. “We preach a gospel that tells people they don’t have to relocate in order to experience the blessing and flourishing that comes from being in Christ,” Brooks says. “In other words, you shouldn’t have to change zip codes for the gospel to work for you.”

Thus, Brooks and his church have sought not only to meet temporal needs, but to help communities see the gifts and resources they already have, harnessing and connecting them accordingly. This isn’t to say that it’s as easy as strolling into these communities and peeling open a Bible. It begins and continues with close and attentive relationships. (more…)