Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Relating to Others/Being In But Not Of

Several of us have been discussing, among other things, Christians' interaction with unbelievers and with the culture at large. Some issues were touched upon that I'd like to address.

Here is David's thoughtful response to Amy, emphasis mine:
The masses didn't follow Him [Jesus] around because He lived without a house like a radical or because was telling Him the truth about what was screwed up with their way of thinking. That's what happened while they listened to Him, but He had to engage them first. He had to love them. He ate with them. He talked with them.

The Pharisees didn't like that.

Secular America doesn't see enough of this. Especially here in the south, where everyone grew up in church but left it when they got out on their own. They know what it's like.

Why are our lights so dim? Because we don't love God like we should. We don't see a God-saturated everything. But why doesn't the culture want to engage us?

They can't tell the difference between our worldview and theirs. They just see our gossiping and backbiting and hypocritical rules. They just see our "intolerance" and our "ignorance" because they've never had anyone kind enough to sit down and explain to them WHY we think it's wrong to be a homosexual, WHY we think it's wrong to have an abortion, WHY we think it's wrong to leave God out of the picture. We'd rather lobby Congress (a secular institution) harder and harder for a stricter moral code, and nobody even understands why morality matters anymore.

They just see us producing record after uninspired record, movie after cheesy inoffensive movie, Christian coffeehouse after wretched Christian coffeehouse. What's wrong with their music, they wonder? It sounds just the same--better, even, usually. What's wrong with their cofeehouses[sic]? They certainly make better coffee.

We're so afraid of eating unclean meat that we've left the whores and moneylenders to feed themselves.

And rubbing our set-apartness in even harder isn't going to draw anyone to the Lord.

David makes some wonderful points here; I just wanted to respond to a few things.

1. I agree wholeheartedly that in most cases, evangelism and discipleship are best nurtured into existence through a loving relationship--if I know you love me, I am much better able to understand and accept a difficult message than if I think you automatically disapprove of me! But that doesn't mean that is the only context in which truth can be communicated and received (not that David was saying that--just making the point).

I've been convicted, sharpened and edified by strangers communicating hard truth to me at times. It all depends on how God wants to speak to someone's heart; HE knows what they need in that moment. No matter what we do, if we are communicating the true gospel to someone, it is a difficult message, and many will simply not accept it no matter how you package it.

However, David's point here, I think, is that we shouldn't hold ourselves back from engaging with non-Christians over meals, etc., where we might be able to talk to them. I heartily agree with doing this as the Lord leads (I got in many scrapes as a new believer by continuing to spend time in relationships that God was not leading me to be in. The people I was with were not saved, and I was dragged down--and I've seen that happen to others).

2. 'Why doesn't the culture want to engage us?' There are at least two answers to that question, and David does a great job with the first: the "pop Christianity" culture doesn't engage unbelievers because it's overwhelmingly lame. I don't say "our" culture, because, frankly, I don't claim it. When I became a Christian, there are many ways I separated myself from the world--but it doesn't mean I became part of the pop Christianity culture by default. To be honest with you, I view it with as much caution, and approach it with as many prayers for discernment, as I do anything in the world.

Another answer to the question above is, 'Because the world is NEVER going to engage us.' Not by and large. There will be individuals who respond to the Good News, and their lives will be changed. But Jesus said in John 15 that the world would hate us:

John 15:18-19

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

We don't need to run around trying to get their approval...it's not coming. Many things that are done in the name of reaching out to seekers is really just ear-tickling. We need to seek the Lord and communicate the Gospel in the same pure way that has opened and melted hearts since Jesus' resurrection. Sure, now that we have various technologies, the Lord may use those to communicate to people. But the message and discipleship will not change.

3. My favorite thing David wrote: "they've never had anyone kind enough to sit down and explain to them WHY we think it's wrong to be a homosexual, WHY we think it's wrong to have an abortion, WHY we think it's wrong to leave God out of the picture." HOW TRUE! That's my heart, in a nutshell, in reaching out to those who don't know Jesus. Many people simply haven't heard the truth, spoken lovingly and rationally. They're on one 'side of the fence' and may not have thought about why. They may not even realize that Christians are not mean people who say "NO!" to everything!

4. Lastly, regarding "rubbing in" the "set-apartness"--agreed. But a follower of Jesus still must separate from the world, to a Biblical degree (I know there is a lot of debate there). A prideful separation that looks down on others is obviously not godly and, I believe, angers the Lord (Ps 138:6, Prov 6:17).

I know this is turning into a novel, so I'll shut it down. Thanks, David, for all of your incredibly gracious and thought-provoking comments yesterday. I appreciate the way that you lovingly disagree with others.

Also, give Molly's wonderful comments a look.


jaygee said...

I agree with point #2, which is similar to the summary of my post in response to Amy. We make lame movies, write lame books, and sing lame songs. True, for the most part, or at least the most visible part that the culture sees. Making masterpieces won't change anything either, 'cause the world has no interest in us and our message, however packaged. Cheers.

Kristen said...

Thanks for your input, John.

I've enjoyed reading your blog, btw.

For the record, I don't think ALL Christian music is lame...I listen to a lot of it. Just not the CCM/radio stuff. Anyone heard of www.grassrootsmusic.com?

Coffee and a Muffin said...

Very thought-provoking stuff, Kristen. I used to embrace the Christian culture, but I've been questioning everything lately and have found most of it lacking. So much of it is just fluff. Give me meat, I say! Make me think! And I think unbelievers would rather have the hard teachings being lived out in our lives than to just hear about it from us while we live carnally and hypocritically before them, KWIM? We've GOT to walk the walk. Love to ya!

Kristen said...

Kim, your attitude is so awesome. I am really excited to see what God is going to (continue) to do in your life. You are blessing me every day with your encouragement and with your tales of God's newest endeavor in your life!

And you're right about the need for absolute authenticity and integrity in our walk...it's the only way anyone's going to be interested enough to listen to what we have to say. It's got to be the testimony of a changed life, moving from glory to glory.

David said...

Kim, thanks for the dialogue. I admit I cringed as I was saying some of what I said on Amy's site, because I know it all sounds good in theory, but there's the whole question of how to really truly live among and love the broken while maintaining absolute integrity and without compromising the difficult truth. Because the other half of “visiting the orphans and the widows” is “remaining spotless before the world.” I know I downplayed that in all the stuff I was writing, but I don’t think it is unimportant, I was just trying to emphasize the importance of visiting them. When we love Jesus like Amy’s calling us to, then we’ll remain spotless before the world—even when we’re among it.
I think you've hit on the one and only thing that matters about this whole thing, which is being surrendered to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Because sometimes He wants to give a kind word and sometimes they need a harsh rebuke and sometimes they don't need any words at all, just yet. There's nothing we can DO to win someone to the Lord. That's His expertise.
And you’re also right about Jesus Walks, etc. Pop encounters with Christianity have all been weak attempts at the good news, at best. Even The Passion left a lot to be desired; some have even questioned the depths of its artistry. But there is still a lot of excellent art coming from Christians these days. It’s just not really pointed at the world, and the world doesn’t care to hear it. Shane & Shane, Derek Webb, Sara Groves—they’re making God-glorifying, excellent music. And then there is the rare act like Waterdeep and 100 Portraits that actually is engaging the unbeliever with truth—most of Waterdeep’s early stuff is 100% the Gospel. Nothing easy, nothing cute. It was all grassroots, local level stuff. And maybe that’s how it should be.
Here’s an important thing I didn’t consider yesterday: back when Bach was writing his music at the commission of the church, the Church was society. It didn’t mean everyone really followed God like they meant it, but everyone was in contact with the Church and what it endorsed. So everyone heard Bach’s music, and it was what was popular. Now, the Church is a marginalized sector of society. And so is its art.
We might look back at discussions like these in a hundred years and say, “What do they mean, ‘Where’s the excellent art?’ It was all over the place!” It just wasn’t played on MTv. Why didn’t Waterdeep make it big on the secular radio? Because the world hates the light, I guess. But those hippies in the audience liked it, and that’s what matters.

Kristen said...

I hear you, David. I really appreciate the way you express your thoughts! (I know, I said that before. Sue me.)

I agree re: the Holy Spirit--and I think Christians sometimes agonize over this 'art/culture' topic needlessly. If we a) read the Bible, b) do what it says and c) listen for the Holy Spirit, testing everything by the Word, we will not be led astray. Instead, we cluck around in the flesh like chickens: "What should I do? Is art ok? Is music ok?" The answers are there for us, and God will lead us in the way HE wants us to go if we will but listen.

Hey, we like Waterdeep too! I was first introduced to them through the album they did with 100 Portraits (whom we also like).

I have seen truly incredible Christian painters, writers, and musicians. I've known many of them personally--I'm no connaisseur, but I found their art astounding. But you're right, they're marginalized. But maybe the art is better that way? Perhaps the marginalization refines them in a way they wouldn't be if they were mainstream? :)

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