A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Monday, August 11, 2008

In the World





There is a common phrase the Christians often use: Be in the world but not of the world. Two recent discussions (within the last several months or so) have me thinking about this topic.

This is a post (Insane and Evil and the Goodson Rec Center) by Doug Groothuis on his blog, The Constructive Curmudgeon:

Coming out of the men's dressing room, I sat down and was looking through The New Yorker. Then I gazed at some art work on the walls. Sadly, a huge TV was on. Before I knew it, the area was full of the sounds and sights of a rape-murder scene. It was in a public area. I was shocked by the visceral evil of the scene even as I fled the area as soon as I could, disgusted, shaken--wanting to rid my consciousness of what I just heard.


This culture has lost its sensitivity, its sense of saying "No" and leaving some things alone. There is no more childhood, as Neil Postman said. Everything is out in the open. There is no reticence, no restraint. This TV scene was from a major network and played on a public screen.

Being removed from TV culture, this kind of thing stuns me. And to think of the millions who see it every day and thing nothing of it... As Isaiah said long ago, This people has forgotten how to blush.


I posted a comment that said, simply, "So?"

The comment was promptly deleted.

So, I expanded my thought a bit and posted this comment:

I'll take another try.

My original comment was "So?" which was deleted because (I assume) you presumed I was being mean spirited. But that's not my point.

For the younger generation your above description is day to day reality. You can express moral indignation and awe, but in the end the question I have is this: how then shall we live? Your description does not shock me because I live within and inhabit a world you do not understand. My purpose in living in this world (rather than running from it) is to present a Redeemer to those who are interested in redemption.

So, I watch the movies, watch television, surf the internet, read widely of contemporary literature, and try to stay abreast of popular culture. I live the culture and become the culture. I don't run from the culture. You may criticize myself and others for "selling out" to the culture by becoming a part of it and not taking "the high ground" like yourself, but Christ became sin for us and inhabited the world, and he is my example.



Your post leaves me and others with nothing. That's why I ask, in all seriousness, "So?" For all of your moral indignation, you leave the next generation with no real plan for action, except to blog (i.e., use contemporary technology) about the evils of the contemporary world.

My question is a serious one of theology and praxis, and I submit it to you again in hopes that you will engage it. I do not do so in spite; I ask you in passion, but also in the spirit of grace and charity.


The other discussion I had was with JPS, who made the point that popular level conservative Christianity is a slave to the same entertainment industry, albeit without the four letter words. As he put it, we Americans are all addicted to entertainment (both Christian and non-Christian), the only difference is that Christians have "Christianized" forms of entertainment. So, Christians might ingest the same amount of entertainment (or nearly so), but it is a softer version; that is, our movies/music/etc. doesn't have the four letter words. For JPS, the problem is the same: an addiction to entertainment.

These two engagements bring to the forefront the question of "the world": What is the world? How have people of faith related to the world? And what are the implications for our interactions with the world here in the 21st century?



The 20th century conservative Christian reaction is essentially this: create alternative realities and an alternative "Christian" culture. So, we create Christian coffee shops, Christian cafes, Christian roller skating parties, Christian bookstores selling Christian books, Christian radio stations broadcasting Christian music, and, of course, most importantly, Christian thinkers labor long hours to develop a "Christian worldview" that Christian schools and Sunday school classes can then teach to Christians who do not want to be polluted by the warped thinking of the "secular worldview."

The Christian artificial reality, however, does keep us protected from the evils of the world, but it has had some interesting results. For example, the children of James Dobson's crowd are pure and safe, but they are still as spiritually bankrupt as the rest of the heathens, suffering the same OCDs and addictions as the rest of "the world," just without using four letter words. This is because the same Big Empty remains, regardless (or perhaps because of) how pure and safe we are.

In Romans 12, Paul says to not conform to the pattern of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. To me, this indicates that there seems to be a sense in which "the world" may be a pattern of living and thinking that does not depend on one's environment. That is, regardless of the believer's sitz im leben (or "life situation"), the question is one of mindset. Being "of the world" is a state of mind/heart/soul.

Let's turn to Jesus.

There is an odd thing that Jesus says in John 17 that interests me. John 17 is usually used as the basis to suggest that Christians should be "in the world but not of the world." But that's not really the point of Jesus' statement, as far as I can see.

15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

What Jesus actually says is strange: being "of the world" is not a choice for a believer. Those who have the faith that Jesus speaks of cannot be "worldly" even if they wanted to. Verse 16: these people are not of the world just as Jesus was not of the world. This is something of an ontological statement of being; it's the stuff that true believers are made of. Believers just are not worldly by their very nature. As such, sitting through an "immoral" movie, listening to "secular" music, or even watching a porn flick doesn't mean one is worldly because being "of the world" is not an action or even a choice: it's the status of those who have been transformed by encountering Jesus and making the decision of faith.

Just like the Apostle Paul, the vision here in John 17 is pro-active and optimistic: be sanctified by truth. What is truth? Where do we find it? This doesn't matter b/c all truth that is sanctifying truth originates from "the word." The word moves the believer forward into a state of purity and sanctity. One can abstain from all of the so-called vices that "the world" offers, but this would be to miss the point. For Jesus and Paul the vision is to move forward in truth and being-of-truth.



This being-of-truth is not something I claim to know anything about, but it is clearly a powerful vision for transformation that does not depend on creating an artificial "Christian" culture. The Christian culture movement has created an us-versus-them mindset, but Jesus himself broke down such cultural boundaries by feasting with "sinners." Those who follow him in faith seem in the same situation: they are no more "of the world" than Jesus.

Notes
For more on a so-called "Christian worldview," browse through these pages:
http://www.christianworldview.net/
http://www.carm.org/issues/worldview.htm
http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-worldview.html





52 comments:

Melody said...

What Jesus actually says is strange: being "of the world" is not a choice for a believer. Those who have the faith that Jesus speaks of cannot be "worldly" even if they wanted to.

I don't know, I think you're reading a bit much into that.

Jesus is saying that believers are not of this world, not that they can't immitate it(as the term worldly implies). And if he were saying that we would have to believe that John, James, and Paul wasted quite a bit warning against worldliness - when in fact it was an impossible error for Christians to make!

We can immitate the world. We do.

But I do think you hit the nail on the head when you said,

To me, this indicates that there seems to be a sense in which "the world" may be a pattern of living and thinking that does not depend on one's environment.

None of the afore mentioned authors were writing/preaching against clothing, music, movies, books etc. that don't glorify God.

They were warning against vanity, greed, pride, etc. - but we've somehow missed the point and made it about being family friendly. And there's a place for family friendly, it can be a good thing, but it's not a replacement for the gospel.

What is truth? Where do we find it? This doesn't matter b/c all truth that is sanctifying truth originates from "the word."

I don't have any idea what you're trying to say here. We need to be santified by the truth, but it doesn't matter what it is or where we would find it because of where it come from?

That's about as helpful as Mr. Groothuis' outrage over the evening news.

daniel hutchinson said...

Fantastic post Jon. Thanks for taking the time to put that together.

God so loved the blogspot that He sent Theosproject.

Anonymous said...

So?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

Yes, I think you are getting my meaning about truth. My point is that in John 17, Jesus states that it is the word that sanctifies and that the word is truth. This is abstract to be sure, but it is necessarily abstract (I think). On the surface it doesn't seem very helpful, but most of the book of John is rather abstract and symbolic; it speaks in metaphors. The metaphor used in John 17 is a purifying word of truth. I'm just thinking that if we attach "truth" too closely with a doctrine, belief, or practice, then we might miss the purifying essence of it.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: Thanks.

Anonymous: Well said.

daniel hutchinson said...

Not at all Jon. Keep on doing what you do best. Being "in the world" is what made Jesus our saviour, that's what we are called to do too - for no other reason than the love of God.

Melody said...

Jon,
I echoed what you said. A usefull skill, to be sure, but it doesn't mean I understand what you're saying (and I don't).

ktismatics said...

Erdman, in your comment on my recent post called "The Movies We Deserve?" you said this:

"Coming from a very conservative Christian-American background, I learned to be suspicious of the movie industry. They were a part of “the media,” a group of worldly-minded heathens who were deliberately producing material that would undercut wholesome American/Christian (the two being more or less equated) and destroy one’s biblical foundation. The art (whether music or film or television) was only used as a medium to sell an anti-Christian or atheistic message."

Here's a post a Christian writer friend of ours recently wrote on her blog:

Patrick and I watched Children of Men last night. I can't remember who recommended it to me, but we both HATED it. Then again, you might love the movie if:
* You like the F word a lot.
* You like to see England even more gloomier than it is now (all shot in gray-gray-drab tones).
* You love ongoing, unrelenting, evil violence. Random too.
* You like disturbing images.
* You enjoy unsatisfying ending.
* You like depressing flicks about the future.
* You think pot-smoking is cool.

I cannot ever recommend this movie. And I wished I hadn't seen it. Has this happened to you before? What movie? In the comments section, I'd love to hear about YOUR WORSE MOVIE LIST EVER.


Her commenters tended to use the same criteria for picking their most hated movies. Schindler's List was mentioned twice -- such a downer. Interestingly, the person who had originally recommended Children of Men showed up and offered a defense, based not on its artistry or truth but on its redemptive qualities.

ktismatics said...

I probably shouldn't have cut and pasted directly from her blog -- bad etiquette. Summarizing it in my own words would have been better. Also, I don't comment on her blog directly mostly because I'd just as soon not be perceived as an advocate of worldly temptation. I suppose I could pose as an evangelical but I'd have to disguise my identity.

Crystal McCoomb said...

Erdman's no savior, Daniel, even though he has interesting points of view of a variety of topics which lead to good discussion. Just as our auspicious blogger has mentioned Rom 12 recently, let's not forget v 3.

Besides the fact that as soon as I read watching a porn flick is okay, red sirens started going off in my head to warn me of danger,I can't seem to put my finger exactly on what this post means. Doesn't "sanctified" partly mean becoming more holy by following God and His standards? We are covered by Jeses' blood and grace, but that doesn't mean we should be pushing the line to see how much we can get away with before damnation sets in again.

Also, if you are defining "the world" as culture with its own standards and perceptions (every culture having its own), then the essence of "Christian culture," namely Jesus and His example, has to come through to the people in the culture without bringing a since of us vs them? Christians still have to live by certain standards which will separate them from those around them, but they be lived in such a way as to draw people in, rather then repel them from a life of faith. Christian standards are one of the few things that have people question there lives and where they stand with God. This is not to say that Christians should have complete alternative realities cut off from everything around them, I agree with you on that point. I just wonder how far Christians should go then to engage their culture if they are to keep "sanctified standards." Enter postmodernism, I know.

amy said...

I'm not sure that the issue is pushing oneself to the brink of damnation for the sake of remaining in the world. To not run from the brokenness of the world is to allow oneself to be broken by it, as Jesus surely is, and to seek to understand it so that truth can be accurately translated. I can "guard" the "sanctity" of my mind by covering my eyes during the evening news; but the Holy Spirit, who inhabits the dead shell that used to be me, was there as an eyewitness. I think there is value in wanting to grieve with him.

The same can be said for witnessing a "porn flick." Pornography is one of the great tragedies of our fallen world, the abuse and exploitation of a damaged, vulnerable population for the sake of selfish gratification. I desperately grieve for the slaves to that industry, on both sides of the screen.

However, a sage once warned that the redeemed person must be cautious not to become ensnared by sin even while he seeks to help his sinning brother. I'd like to meet the man (or woman) who can view pornography without drowning in it.

ktismatics said...

Recently a Marxist blog I visit occasionally posted a Youtube clip of Noam Chomsky describing his interview with Hustler magazine and his views on pornography. Here's the link.

daniel hutchinson said...

Jesus, sent from Heaven to Earth, did not consider it beneath himself to come and dwell among us. Most often so-called sanctity is motivated by pride, and humility would lead us to feel free to mingle in our world (of which we are unseperably a part of anyway).

Yes, Crystal, as God has called Jon to be a blogger he exists here to redeeem the space.

I would quote Romans 12:3 in this context too - don't think of yourself so highly that you can't be with other people, because of their sin. The world, in my view, is simply people (and their culture too but that is really secondary).

According to scripture the only people we are to seperate ourselves from are those who claim to be Christians but sin deliberately.

Is watching pornography sinful? For the majority of us, yes... but Amy does have a point in that God sees this stuff... and that is why he sent his Son Jesus Christ, to rescue us from it.

The Christian that has the guts to go into the porn industry and introduce the good news is following Christ's example, and being the saviour that God has commanded us each to be, each in our own sphere of influence.


Speaking of movies I saw a great one last night, called "Once". Anybody else seen it?

ktismatics said...

Yes Daniel, I've seen Once -- seen it twice, actually. I too liked it a lot -- very romantic and touching. The duet they perform in the music store won the Oscar, and the girl gave a moving acceptance speech about following your dreams.

daniel hutchinson said...

Really Kt? It won an Oscar?

One of my favourite parts was when she was composing lyrics to the song and went to get new batteries, and walked back with the lyrics in her head - that was very effective.

There duet in the store was also good but less effective in terms of the reality/fantasy mix for me.

I also liked the scenes with the dad, and the mom and little girl. Those made me feel a little better about my own less-than-perfectly decorated domestic environment.

The movie had an affirming kind of realism, very rare.

Jon said:

This being-of-truth is not something I claim to know anything about, but it is clearly a powerful vision for transformation that does not depend on creating an artificial "Christian" culture.

I think you are being falsely modest here Jon. I believe you can claim to know something about being-of-truth. I recognise the being-of-truth in you.

daniel hutchinson said...

BTW Kt I liked your pun on seeing Once twice!

ktismatics said...

Oscar for best original song -- there were 3 really lame Disney tunes in competition, with big showbiz production values, but none was nearly as good as the Once song. The music in this movie was rather overraught and angsty, but it fit the characters well. The story was extremely basic, but the earnest performances and the setting made it special. I too liked the girl's walk home with the batteries through the deserted Dublin nighttime streets. And the guy's da was great.

Jason Hesiak said...

i was reading through the recent comments...i remember the first time i read the blog i kind of had a red flag go up too when i saw the porn comment...but i was at work and in a hurry. i went back and re-read the post just now...so for clarity...the erdmanian didn't say we should watch porn...he said that watching porn doesn't necessarily or automatically make us "worldly." which i think i would have to agree with. but that's not the same question, though, as whether porn is good or bad or right or wrong or worldly or not. but i think the assumption behind the statement in the blog was that it is bad/wrong/worldly...i think that thinking was that that would be obvious, no? meaning...what though? in the context of the overall post, that would mean that we would and/or should just go ahead and watch porn. but the blog thing-bob that the erdmanian's blog and comment was a reaction to was about a guy sitting in a dressing room in like a public shopping place or whatever...where you won't find porn. you have to go look for porn to see it, usually. so i think its a different question. its not "should we watch porn?" its: "if porn comes on when we are with our friends, then should we force the issue and ask them to turn it off?" or: "is it ok as christians to actively seek porn out and go look at it? does that make us 'worldly'"? i think, however, that the first question is more to the point of this blog. am i right? if i'm right...erdman...i actually can't figure out from your blog what you would do in that situation. what would you do, do you think? probably, maybe...i realize its an oddd question with a somewhat unpredictable answer...

Jason Hesiak said...

erdmanian...i'm curious to know what you think of the folliwng? would this go with or against what you have in mind with this post? if so, how? if not, how?

http://www.abcnews.go.com/Nightline/Beliefs/story?id=2841065&page=1

the following quote (from the link) is not what i am asking you about in and of itself, but exemplifies the idea (the idea of the link, that is):

"The adverse reactions came quick and came heavy, and to this day my inbox is filled with people that can't stand us, that hate us, that wish us to go to hell," explains Mahon. "Our biggest critics are Christians."

Some Christians may be even more critical now. "Nightline" traveled with the fellowship to the world's biggest porn convention in Las Vegas last month. The annual Adult Expo boasts two halls full of various exhibits ranging from the latest prosthetic devices, to hardcore high-definition films and handcuffs covered in pink ersatz fur.

The XXX Church set up camp, somewhat sheepishly, between the male gay section and the so-called Bang Bus -- a tired old minivan which is used to film sex scenes that are then sold via the Internet.


:))

Also, interestingly: The XXX Church pastors reject these arguments and are determined to challenge the juggernaut of porn even as it thunders out of the shadows and into the mainstream. In addition to their presence at the Adult Expo, Mahon and Gross also tour universities where they debate with their philosophical nemesis: the legendary porn actor Ron Jeremy. They have become good friends with Jeremy but he remains undeterred, having starred in 1,800 porn movies…and counting.

However, the Porn Pastors say that they are seeing converts -- people turning away from the sex industry and finding salvation.

Gross recalls one such testimony. "One of the girls that we helped out of the porn industry last year, she had to have four surgeries on her body because of the pornography and the abuse. She actually went into prostitution at one of the places here in Nevada. And I thought, 'man, I can't believe that.' And she said, 'What are you talking about? It's so much easier to do prostitution than pornography.'"

Since her conversion to Christianity she no longer appears in pornography nor does she work as a prostitute. Meanwhile, the Porn Pastors continue to hand out Bibles and engage people in discussion, in between the relentless sounds of ecstasy that dominate the Adult Expo.

daniel hutchinson said...

I suppose where I disagree with you Jon is that I do see the Church as bringing the alternative culture, the Kingdom culture.

When it comes to "how" this happens I would probably be more in agreement with you. Any chance of shifting the discussion to "how"?

Jesus prayed "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Jesus came to establish the Kingdom on earth, in our hearts and in our lives, and as an outward expression that results in a Christian way of life.

The Church has carried this mandate and this responsibility through the centuries, and sometimes gets it right, sometimes not.

I am quite impressed with what Jason posted. The Church taking the alternative right where it is most lacking.

ktismatics said...

In his post Erdman says:

"You may criticize myself and others for "selling out" to the culture by becoming a part of it and not taking "the high ground" like yourself, but Christ became sin for us and inhabited the world, and he is my example."

The world is in a lose-lose position. If it panders to common appetites for sex, violence, wealth, entertainment, etc. then it's feeding the fallen nature. If instead the world aspires to truth, beauty and justice then it's idolatrous and prideful. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Erdman also says:

"being "of the world" is not an action or even a choice: it's the status of those who have been transformed by encountering Jesus and making the decision of faith."

I've engaged in long and spirited argument at another Christian blog about this transformed status. It's come up here too from time to time. Christians often claim some magical transformation of their essence that places them above the rest of humanity, almost as if they constitute a separate race or species, immunizing them from contact with the masses of corrupt humanity. I think Erdman has made this observation before about rich Christians: "I've given my wealth to the Lord, so my vast storehouse of possessions and huge bankroll no
longer own me." Sure.

"...or even watching a porn flick..."

Erdman presents porn as the most extreme form of worldliness, as opposed to, say, amassing treasures here on earth or failing to turn the other cheek. Eventually the comment string zeroed in on porn, regarding it as the rotten spot in Erdman's argument. It's as if sexuality is the hidden core around which all of evangelical Christianity is organized.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hey all, thanks for the insightful commentary. I've been on away from the computer for a few days.

Crystal, I thought you had some good thoughts here (my bold):

Besides the fact that as soon as I read watching a porn flick is okay, red sirens started going off in my head to warn me of danger,I can't seem to put my finger exactly on what this post means. Doesn't "sanctified" partly mean becoming more holy by following God and His standards? We are covered by Jeses' blood and grace, but that doesn't mean we should be pushing the line to see how much we can get away with before damnation sets in again.

Christians still have to live by certain standards which will separate them from those around them, but they be lived in such a way as to draw people in, rather then repel them from a life of faith. Christian standards are one of the few things that have people question there lives and where they stand with God. This is not to say that Christians should have complete alternative realities cut off from everything around them, I agree with you on that point. I just wonder how far Christians should go then to engage their culture if they are to keep "sanctified standards." Enter postmodernism, I know.


C, you've kind of targeted one of my primary areas of thinking: Christian standards. Specifically, I question the usefulness of having Christian standards. For example, those of us who have been involved in Christian circles know of people who have very high "standards" and "morals" but fail to exhibit any maturity in their lives....or.....they fail to demonstrate any spiritual power at work in their lives. I find the New Testament to be focussed first and foremost on transformation that comes as a result of the work of God's power in the lives of the believer.

So, for me, I see standards as often times being counter-productive to spiritual and personal growth. The problem is that we can find ourselves living up to obligations and standards such that we are no longer living with transformative power. Why? Because there is always another, higher standard to live up to. It can become a destructive way of live: always measuring ourselves up to standards and always falling short.

Here's the problem: the standards become an end in and of themselves. God exits the picture.

I am at the point where I think that God doesn't really care all that much about standards; rather, he seeks to redeem and transform through power, love, and grace.

So, my first thought is that standards and moral obligations may have nothing to do with power.

My second thought is from 30 years of personal experience and observation of American Christian culture: having higher standards does not automatically guard against "the flesh." In fact, it often works the other way around: having higher standards incites the flesh to desire to break them.

I guess one of my main concerns is that I feel like the commercialized form of American Christianity has put forth standards as the essence of Christianity: abstinence b/f marriage, anti-abortion, homosexual sex as illicit, pornography as evil, etc. I feel like American Christianity is primarily a commercialized movement of promoting higher standards as the means to a better life, and that Jesus/God is merely a means to that end. It seems to me like the Jesus Version of the self-help culture.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for self-help; nothing wrong with promoting human flourishing. However, human flourishing is not the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus and Paul is something very different, and I don't know that it really has to do with having higher morals. I could be wrong, though.

Jonathan Erdman said...

K, Thanks for the link to Chomsky's thoughts on porn. It is interesting that traditionalists on the left and on the right have common ground on the porn issue: they both see it as a non-negotiable issue. The right as a moral God-issue, the left as an issue of exploitation of women.

I want to explore this further in other posts, so I'm tucking away that Chomsky link.

I think it is funny that Chomsky doesn't even think porn is an issue worth thinking about: the mark of a grumpy old thinker past his prime!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Oh, and I also found it funny that Chomsky referred to "Hustler" as "The Hustler"! Not only did he not know that Hustler was a porn mag, but he still doesn't even know how to say the name!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Amy, you said that,

However, a sage once warned that the redeemed person must be cautious not to become ensnared by sin even while he seeks to help his sinning brother. I'd like to meet the man (or woman) who can view pornography without drowning in it.

Actually, there are plenty of people who work in the porn industry who are not interested in porn. I'm thinking specifically of the people who produce the stuff. For them it's a business.

Porn isn't a draw for everyone. There are many people (believers and non-believers) who do not find porn stimulating.

Also, a few years back, our good friend James Dobson did some research on pornography. He was part of a group that studied porn films for sake of understanding what it was that draws people into it. I remember listening to him request that his radio audience pray for him as he researched pornography.

I don't mean to suggest that porn does not have destructive potential....I don't want to be naive here...but at the same time, porn can be extremely unsexy and non-stimulating; much of it depends on the person and what their role is in the industry. There are those, of course, who suggest that simply by viewing porn a person has compromised their integrity and purity, regardless of whether or not they are sexually stimulated.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: The world is in a lose-lose position. If it panders to common appetites for sex, violence, wealth, entertainment, etc. then it's feeding the fallen nature. If instead the world aspires to truth, beauty and justice then it's idolatrous and prideful. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

That's a good point.

K: Christians often claim some magical transformation of their essence that places them above the rest of humanity, almost as if they constitute a separate race or species, immunizing them from contact with the masses of corrupt humanity. I think Erdman has made this observation before about rich Christians: "I've given my wealth to the Lord, so my vast storehouse of possessions and huge bankroll no
longer own me." Sure.


Another good point.

As you suggest at the end of this same comment: It's as if sexuality is the hidden core around which all of evangelical Christianity is organized. I think that you make a fairly accurate assessment.

It is true that the New Testament vision is for a magical transformation that sets the believer above all of humanity. I think that to suggest otherwise is to not be fair with the purity of the vision of Jesus and Paul. Don't you think? What is your assessment of the NT on this matter?

And yet, the vision for those who are transformed is that such transformation is by love/sacrifice and for love/sacrifice. It is by the sacrifice of Jesus that transformation occurs (not the result of praying a prayer or believing a creed or being part of a Christian church club/group), but such individuals wind up loving and sacrificing themselves for the sake of others.

This brings me to the original topic of the post: what does it mean to be "of the world"? Does it have to do with one's moral convictions? Or even one's moral (sexual) behavior? I'm thinking not. I'm curious as to what you think, though.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel, I think that the emerging Christian movement and the traditional evangelical movement are in agreement over what you said:

I suppose where I disagree with you Jon is that I do see the Church as bringing the alternative culture, the Kingdom culture.

Yet I am still a bit disturbed by it.

As far as I can see.....the difference between the emerging folks and the old-school evangelicals is just that they disagree on what the values should be for the new Kingdom culture.

I'm not saying that the church can't promote a vision for a changed culture, but I am questioning the assumption that cultural change should always be the primary focus. The body of Christ (as I see it) are fundamentally a collection of transformed lives who live by freedom, power, love, and grace.

As I said, the Body can be pro-active, but the danger is in confusing social action with spiritual change. A "new creation" is an ontological change; social and cultural transformation does not mean there is a "new creation." (Of course, action can initiate transformation, but not necessarily so.)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

So, your scenario is what to do if porn comes on with friends? Perhaps at a party?

I think from the perspective of the moral crusader, the answer is clear: turn it off or leave the premises. For the moral crusader, one must take a stand.

My question is whether we are called to be moral crusaders in this culture of porn. I think no.

In Jesus' day, the moral crusaders hated Jesus because he "ate with sinners." But Jesus' mission in that context was to love not to crusade.

This is not to suggest that moral crusades are never important. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others joined together in the name of love to crusade against injustice and oppression. He and others did so in the name of Christ. I think these moral crusaders were in the right spot at the right time doing the right thing.

Also, I like what XXX Church is doing. They are offering hope to those who are losing their souls.

tamie said...

I'd like to try to translate this conversation into my context, which is so-progressive-we're-heretical Christianity, in a hyper-progressive mountain town in the west.

Okay.

"Worldliness" in this context might mean participating in flag-waving or driving a Hummer. My friends have few qualms about condemning Hummer-drivers and those mindless patriotic idiots who get all revved up about 4th of July parades. Those who are consumer whores, don't care about the environment, are homophobic, etc. We definitely get off on judging conservative Christians. You probably get the idea. Porn is also pretty much a taboo for us, I think, although I have an acquaintance who is a stripper, and it's never crossed my mind to try to convert her or something.

Anyway, I think that it is just as easy for me to judge & condemn someone who buys their clothes at Wal-Mart as it might be for someone else to judge & condemn me for, I don't know, having sex outside of marriage. And in both cases, I think we're wildly missing the point(s). The points being:

1. Don't fucking judge.
2. Love love love.

Maybe in reverse order. But I'm pretty sure that they're both biblical, as long as you prioritize the right things hermeneutically. :)

If love dictates not watching porn, then by jove, don't watch porn. On a rare occasion, I can certainly imagine love dictating watching porn. Compassion, hope, joy, friendship--these things, in their concreteness (not in some ethereal ideology) ought to dictate our actions. Moral crusading can be cool, even super vital, but it can so quickly become self-righteous and power-hungry, if not grounded in love/justice/truth. I guess I'm just agreeing with Erdmanian, except trying to switch contexts a bit.

tamie said...

A quick further clarification. The reason I tried to switch contexts like that is that it's easy for me to say that we shouldn't be moral crusaders when it comes to issues with which I disagree (I don't want someone crusading for keeping the definition of marriage between a man and a woman), but it's so much harder for me to see when it comes to things like shopping at Wal-Mart (ie. participating in exploitation). Of course I *do* think that we should be moral crusaders, but I think that 1. our moral crusades should generally be against systems, not against people, and 2. our moral crusades should be driven by compassion, etc.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Tamie:
1. Don't fucking judge.
2. Love love love.

Maybe in reverse order. But I'm pretty sure that they're both biblical, as long as you prioritize the right things hermeneutically.


I think there is a new urban Bible translation of 1 Corinthians 13 that uses the same language!

=)

Jason Hesiak said...

Erdman,

I've been thinking about XXX Church a lot the past couple of days, and I think I'm with you on liking it. Interestingly, my question in regards to whether I could actually participate in such a thing doesn't have to do with "standards", but is more to your greater point of "maturity." I am just afraid that I don't have the strength (yet) to do that. We will see :)

PEACE and goofiness,

Jason

Also: As you suggest at the end of this same comment: It's as if sexuality is the hidden core around which all of evangelical Christianity is organized. I think that you make a fairly accurate assessment.

I think this may be a fair assessment of evangelical culture, BUT...for clarification...I didn't myself participate in the porn thread because for me sexuality is the hidden core around which all of (my) Christianity is organized. I saw porn coming up a lot in the thread and its something on my heart a lot lately and it was a question in my own mind with the thread/post. I realize that that simple statement flies in the face of Lacan, but oh well.

And plus...along the lines that sexuality is more of an aspect of what's going on here...even maybe a central or important one...when we look at the Bible...when the Israelites would "go astray" one of the prime or first or main things that would happen would be the setting up of a statue of a "pagan" fertility god in the temple...and when the Israelites would "come back to God", one of the prime or central or main things that would happen would be to get rid of that "image" in the temple (or on the hill tops of Isreal or wherever).

tamie said...

It seems to me that sex is talked about quite often in the comment section of this blog. I just wrote a post today on how intimately related sexuality and spirituality are. It seems to me that evangelicals for the most part haven't begun to come to terms with sexuality, and it's reflected in their kind of spirituality. But frankly I don't know many religions or sects or even people who have truly and maturely come to terms with sexuality, so that's certainly not an attack on evangelicalism.

Jon....I'd love to see a copy of that urban bible. Maybe I'll have to write it.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

What is it, exactly, that you think flies in the face of Lacan? And how?

I'm curious, because Ktismatics and I have had some discussions in this regard.

Jason Hesiak said...

i was thinking that the idea that evangelical christianity (or anything else) isn't organized around sexuality flies in the face of Lacan (although, as the Doylomania said, the "Father" in Lacanian language is figurative and not so literal). what was the content of your discussion along those lines?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

Yes. I think we were saying that evangelicalism is organized around sexuality; that sexuality is the "hidden core." So, this seems to be in agreement with Freud and Lacan. I suppose we will have to check in with Dr. Doyle, our resident Lacanian specialist.

Jason Hesiak said...

so...is that a speculative theory that is supported by your (our) empirical evidence? (yes, right?) if so, then why would we as christians say that? why would the bible itself not provide that text by which we would read the world? even if we do empirically observe lots of sexual whackiness in our evangelical culture (and i think we can all agree that we do observe that, most likely), why would we not interpret that through the lense of the love of God rather than through the lense of sexuality?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason: why would the bible itself not provide that text by which we would read the world?

I do not believe that the intended purpose or function of the Bible is to "read the world," nor do I think it is a good use of the Bible....at least, for the most part. The Bible might be a guide to evaluating culture as well as a necessary corrective at times, but the Bible seems best used primarily as a commentary on its own culture, e.g., Paul writing to the first century Corinthians about first century Corinthian problems, etc.

Jason Hesiak said...

so in the bible when israel would fall away from god they would set up images of fertility gods in the temple (the middl of it, btw, figuratively) or on hilltops or wherever. when israel returned to god, they would destroy those images. this story or idea is untranslatable to today's context!? is this because signifier and signifed are not connected or what? i mean...i of course totally understand the idea of projecting our situation onto the bible...as a bad thing. but...?? i mean...i can also see the idea that...using the bible as a text to read the world is itself...when taken at face value...a similar kind of "projection". but...??? i mean the reality is...we as human beings are make a choice as to whether its God or sexuality that governs...stuff. or would you say that we don't make that choice? i am confused (seriously).

daniel hutchinson said...

As far as I can see.....the difference between the emerging folks and the old-school evangelicals is just that they disagree on what the values should be for the new Kingdom culture.

I'm not saying that the church can't promote a vision for a changed culture, but I am questioning the assumption that cultural change should always be the primary focus. The body of Christ (as I see it) are fundamentally a collection of transformed lives who live by freedom, power, love, and grace.

As I said, the Body can be pro-active, but the danger is in confusing social action with spiritual change. A "new creation" is an ontological change; social and cultural transformation does not mean there is a "new creation." (Of course, action can initiate transformation, but not necessarily so.)


Jon, thanks for your response.

I agree with you that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. I too do not see morality and standards as central to the Christian message - if anything, these things are the substance of the fall, the tree of knowledge, in my view.

I agree that any change happens first in the individual before in the culture. Culture is secondary.

Furthermore, there is a lot of goodness and beauty that is in human culture ("humanity") by default. Sometimes we forget this. As Christians we should be the first to acknowledge this and celebrate it.

I think we have gone wrong by despising our humanity instead of celebrating it. We are the crown of God's creation, "a little lower than the angels".

I think we have also gone wrong on not celebrating and crusading for the environment, the beauty of what God worked hard to create.

Values are vital, but not beacuse they are imposed, but because they come from the heart. Its about how we live.

In this context I commend you for the way you respond to all our comments. You always demonstrate fairness, open-mindedness, patience, and this attitude speaks more to me than what you actually say.

amy said...

Jon,

I have to admit, I've known enough slaves to the porn industry (male and female) to be incredulous at the notion of someone not being vulnerable to its draw. I have a hard time picturing ministry to that culture simply because it scares me--a great, ominous unknown. If you say its possible, then I believe you, and thanks for the correction.

My point was not necessarily that no one can resist it; it was only that I imagine that it is purely the power of God that shields his missionaries to that culture from becoming enmeshed. A less mature Christ follower could easily use evangelism as an excuse dive right in, so to speak. I think the people you describe are fairly rare. However, I could be completely wrong, so please forgive my potential ignorance.

Also, forgive my rehashing of this rabbit trail. I've been computerless for several days.

Crystal McCoomb said...

tamie,I liked what you said here in quotes(somebody needs to coach me on how to italicizes things):

"If love dictates not watching porn, then by jove, don't watch porn. On a rare occasion, I can certainly imagine love dictating watching porn. Compassion, hope, joy, friendship--these things, in their concreteness (not in some ethereal ideology) ought to dictate our actions. Moral crusading can be cool, even super vital, but it can so quickly become self-righteous and power-hungry, if not grounded in love/justice/truth."

It seems as if here you are saying here that it is alright to go on moral crusades, but not to have definite morals. Without an absolute moral standard or even defining exactly what love, compassion, hope, joy, etc is, the standard is left to personal preference and in the end can't measure up to any solid social system.

This then brings us back to the question of what truth and justice are, namely Jesus and the standard of the Bible, which give us a solid system to attain the true meaning and lifestyle of all those good things you mentioned before that we all want. The Christian system is first of all a personal issue, and second of all a communal effort, none of which can work without the power of God working in and through it.

You said also:
"Of course I *do* think that we should be moral crusaders, but I think that 1. our moral crusades should generally be against systems, not against people, and 2. our moral crusades should be driven by compassion, etc."

I see in myself that I generally go against people and not systems and I'm seeing that that is wrong (I've even done that on this blog!). It's interesting to think that even though we should going against systems, the way the systems change is one person at a time; showing compassion, love, justice,truth...to one person at a time that will eventually break done that system as a whole and replace it with a better one.

Crystal McCoomb said...

Jon,

"So, my first thought is that standards and moral obligations may have nothing to do with power.

My second thought is from 30 years of personal experience and observation of American Christian culture: having higher standards does not automatically guard against "the flesh." In fact, it often works the other way around: having higher standards incites the flesh to desire to break them."

Isn't the exact point of the standards is to show us how bad we are and how much we need God? If we could measure up on our own, then we wouldn't look to God for the answers to all our problems.

If we were able to measure up or do whatever we wanted scott-free once we claimed allegiance, then we would not need to be trying to live in constant communion with Him, His truth or power.

"I am at the point where I think that God doesn't really care all that much about standards; rather, he seeks to redeem and transform through power, love, and grace."

If God didn't care about standards, why would He have set them up? Yes, His primary focus is on redeeming and transforming, but how He does that is often through pointing out sin in our lives through standards to show us our need for Him.

"I feel like the commercialized form of American Christianity has put forth standards as the essence of Christianity: abstinence b/f marriage, anti-abortion, homosexual sex as illicit, pornography as evil, etc. I feel like American Christianity is primarily a commercialized movement of promoting higher standards as the means to a better life, and that Jesus/God is merely a means to that end. It seems to me like the Jesus Version of the self-help culture."

If American Christianity only about promoting higher standards as a means to a better life, then it is wrong because none of us can help ourselves or measure up. We all need grace and we all need God's redeeming and transforming power in our lives.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Crystal,

As you have probably guessed, I'm not a big fan of systems. They seem necessary for government and in politics, and also for businesses and maybe non-profit organizations.....but for Christianity, I'm not so sure?

What do you think of the early days of Christianity? Don't you think it was more pure when it was less systematic? Jesus continually resisted the crowds when the crowds started to want him to establish an earthly kingdom. And the early church seems very spontaneous: believers just getting together because they wanted to and because they loved one another, not because it was a "ministry" or a "program."

What do you think? Do you think Christianity is best served when it is a system? If so, what are the benefits, as you see it?

Crystal McCoomb said...

A book y'all might be interested in is "The Gutter" by Craig Gross one of the co-founders of the XXX Church. It's a rather redundant book, but it gives some of his main ideas on reaching the porn culture or any culture really that people tend to shy away from.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Crystal: If God didn't care about standards, why would He have set them up?

Could you expand your thought here. What standards are you referring to? The Old Testament Law? When do you see God setting up standards, and how did he do so?

tamie said...

Hi Crystal; thanks for responding to what I wrote. Let's see if I can respond to your response!

You said that it feels like I am saying that it's okay to go on moral crusades but not have definite morals...and you're wondering about absolute morality, etc.

Here is my take on the matter. I think it depends on how one defines "definite morals." If one wants to define "definite morals" as things one believes in really strongly, and doesn't intend to question incessantly, cool. But if one defines "definite morals" as things based on supposedly absolute standards, like biblical standards, then that seems problematic to me.

For one thing, I don't see a consistent and coherent standard/guideline for behavior or morality in the Bible. For another thing, I don't see what is so absolute or objective about the Bible and its standards. People have decided that they believe the Bible is the word of God handed down to us. It is their *choice* to believe this, and it certainly not a choice that the majority of humanity is making. It is not a given, not something that everyone knows. It's not even as common an assumption as gravity--not by any stretch of the imagination. So it's not absolute at all. In fact, there are no absolutes, as far as I can tell. Not even in science. Not even gravity or magnetism are un-questionable "facts." And when it comes to belief and spirituality, there are definitely not absolutes or objective truths.

We do in fact choose our moral systems and guides. But that doesn't mean that the doors are just flung open and we can do anything we feel like at the time and no one has a right to question it. It does, however, mean that there is no *objective* standard by which we measure behavior or morality. This makes it so much messier all around. Because we can't fall back on an objective, black-and-white standard. And we also can't fall back on the lazy way of dealing with morality that says "if it works for you, cool." Neither of those options are acceptable; we have to reach for something else, something more human, more grounded in relationship, embodiment, and dialogue.

I must confess that I disagree with you when you say that Christianity is first of all personal and second of all communal. I would say that either it's just the opposite or, probably, that the personal and communal are so woven together that none of us can truly distinguish them, and there's actually not really a need to. For example, the vast majority of us who are Christians are Christians because we were raised in some kind of Christian context or culture--hence, it was first of all communal for us. The way we have taken up the world was given to us--it was not something we freely and objectively chose. A professor of mine used to say "We begin having already been begun." I think that says it.

As for changing systems & changing people....yes, so often powerful change happens one person at a time. But systemic change is just absolutely vital. For example, changing the system whereby our entire lifestyle depends on the economic oppression of Latin America, Africa, India, etc. etc. It has to change, and one person at a time is not enough. It needs to change at a systemic, political, economic, governmental, corporate level. But--what will be the impetus to change these things? And can we really legislate love or compassion? Well, no. We can't. But we can make damn sure that no one has the right to chain 14-year-olds to sewing machines and make them work 20-hour days sewing our clothes. But we have to make damn sure also that we're somehow spreading love, making the world a place where people no longer *want* to chain 14-year-olds to sewing machines. And so, we must go on moral crusades. But we have to understand that the CEO of the clothing company isn't the enemy. No one is the enemy. There is no enemy. We are all complicit, all broken, all loved.

One final thing. You mentioned in a response to Jon that the point of standards is to show us how bad we are, and how much we need God. Why do you think that we are bad? We clearly have capacity for cruelty in us, but does that make us inherently bad?

Okay. Enough for now! Looking forward to your response...

daniel hutchinson said...

It's too easy to be a Christian by the world's standards.

Crystal McCoomb said...

Jon,
I was in a rush to type out the thoughts I had before going out and didn't have time to read or respond to any of what you were shooting at me yesterday. I don't generally have answers on the fly for those kinds of questions anyway, so here are my thoughts after turning them around a couple times.

You first asked about systems, more specifically a Church system.

I looked up the definition of "system" and here is what I found:
n.

1. A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole.
2. A functionally related group of elements, especially:
1. The human body regarded as a functional physiological unit.
2. An organism as a whole, especially with regard to its vital processes or functions.
3. A group of physiologically or anatomically complementary organs or parts: the nervous system; the skeletal system.
4. A group of interacting mechanical or electrical components.
5. A network of structures and channels, as for communication, travel, or distribution.
6. A network of related computer software, hardware, and data transmission devices.
3. An organized set of interrelated ideas or principles.
4. A social, economic, or political organizational form.
5. A naturally occurring group of objects or phenomena: the solar system.
6. A set of objects or phenomena grouped together for classification or analysis.
7. A condition of harmonious, orderly interaction.
8. An organized and coordinated method; a procedure. See Synonyms at method.
9. The prevailing social order; the establishment. Used with the: You can't beat the system.

Most of these could easily be used to define the Church, early or otherwise, particularly the references to the bodily system ( community), distribution (evangelism), principles (relating to doctrine, morality, and practice). I don't like to think of the Church as a system either until I look at these definitions and see them spelled in the Bible (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:12ff; 1 Cor 14:26-39.... It's also cool to remember that the early church system completely overrode the OT system of law and at the same time went against the Roman ideologies of that time period.

What I think about the early days of Christianity and the Church was that it was struggling. A lot. Jesus kept having to correct His disciples who couldn't seem to get a clue about who they were or what the roles Jesus had placed them in were. They acted like idiots all the time and were constantly being reminded by Jesus that everything was not all about them, but about Him and the One who sent Him.

Paul had the same kind of problems. He was constantly writing to churches (members in churches) who needed to get over themselves and over the people around them. He was always encouraging them and pointing them to a better way of life through new ways of thought and livelihood (systems if you will).

There was always plenty of conflict in the early church. It did matter that they loved each other as one body, and I bet a lot of people were drawn to coming to the church because of seeing that love, but I think the truth was the main reason that drew them together not an over abundance of warm feelings towards each other. Jesus gave an overwhelming display of His power and wisdom which could not be denied as truth without staying in the old mindset of the law that had just been replaced by Him. The truth of a system, a way of living and thinking, that has radically changed the world for over 2000 years.

The benefits of this system is an orderly network of interdependent people on God and each other for the encouragement and showing of God's power to the world.

Expanding my thought on standards:
Your question seems like a rather loaded one of which you already now the answer to.
After reading one of your past posts on Law-Freedom-Spirit-Flesh I can understand a little better why you would be asking me it, although I really have no idea how to answer any of it in entirety.
It seems as if the whole Bible is full of standards God wants us to follow. Standards of faith over flesh going back to Abraham or maybe even further, and standards of purity right up until now. Even living by the Spirit has some sort of system to figure out what the Spirit wants and how people should move within it.

Anytime I've seen people try to live only in the Spirit without any order they seem to take a lot Scripture out of context and yet still become very legalistic over silly things (aka Pentecostals who speak in tongues and think women should only wear dresses and have long hair, etc).

My brain feels like is going to explode now.

Melody said...

Well said, Crystal.

Lisa P said...

I'm a neophite to this blog, and I hope I'm not intruding, but I wanted to put in a thought or two to the question that Jon posed Crystal on systems in Christianity.

I agree with many of the points Crystal posted in her most recent comment. People who reject all of the "systems" of Christianity are often floating through life alone for fear of being caught in the system. Now, that doesn't mean that all of the systems of Christianity (and various churches) are beneficial, but there were certain things that Paul (and others) recommended systematizing (is that a word?) to help organize and strengthen the church. Off the top of my head I can think of a few:
1. meeting together regularly--note, regularly doesn't have to mean every Sunday between 10-11am.
2. creating some order around the practice of communion/remembering Christ's sacrifice to help the budding relationships in the church
3. figuring out a way to help/minister to/support the widow population of the new church.

There are many more, but I think that there are times for systems--we get in trouble when Christ's purpose is slave to the system rather than keeping systems in a place that they serve Christ's mission.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thanks Lisa,

Yes, I would not categorically dismiss all systems as bad, either....however, from my experiences, systems tend to become an end in themselves even while they claim to only be a means to an end.

Also, it is true that Paul does make suggestions for systematizing the church and creating hierarchy (I think of his suggestion to Timothy to appoint elders). But given the nature of systems (that they tend to become an end in and of themselves), I think it is important for believers not to over-emphasize Paul's systematizing. The life of Christ (completely unsystematic), the example of the early church (somewhat systematic and largely unsystematic), and the ministry of Paul (gradually moving toward more systematization)---these are only examples to follow. Ultimately, if God is at work in a body of believers, they have the freedom (and responsibility, I think) to do what makes sense in light of what they believe to be God's mission and vision for their group. This means paying close attention to the culture around them and the culture they are creating amongst themselves.

I think that in America we are grossly over-dependent on systems (ministries, services, programs, etc.) to the point that the presence of God is completely unnecessary and entirely beside the point.