Monday, March 19, 2007

Counter-culture

I guess that's why God created highlighters, so we can highlight the parts of the bible we like and ignore the rest.

Returned from a great weekend at NUA. I have come home with a deep sense of dissatisfaction and anticipation.

Kind of started when I finished one of the best books I have ever read by Fergal Keane, 'All of These People'. An amazing journey into the human psyche by an Irish war reporter (his reflections of Africa will reduce any grown man to tears)

I'm currently reading Shane Claibornes 'Irresistible Revolution' (where the quote above came from). It's quite simple stuff but it scares the crap out of you. Like the story about the rich young ruler. We 'contextualise' this by explaining that Jesus is talking about love of money or making idols of our things. But what if he actually means it when he says 'sell all you have and give it to the poor'???
Another quote:
' I have come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that Christians do not care about the poor but that Christians do not know the poor.'
In my head I'm thinking we need to find a balance here, just take some parts of what he's saying and relate it to real life. BUT THAT'S EXACTLY THE POINT!. Either we do it or we don't. I don't really have many answers here and would appreciate comments (leave your name!).

What I have taken from NUA is that we are not called to be part of our culture, or to be a Christian sub-culture. We are called to be counter-culture. Jesus was. This has to affect our everyday choices in relation to our consumer driven world.

I'm not really sure what it means yet but it feels like it's getting dangerous.
Love and Peace

19 comments:

Ivonne said...

Simple but effective post - I liked it a lot. I too am increasingly growing in the awareness and noticing it to be a growing attitude in various Christian communities around me, that we ought to go back to basics, the basics of Christianity encompassing every single aspect of life: the days 'Sunday morning Christians' are over - time to make a substancial difference!
PS: Thanks for the book reccommendation, shall look into it.

Alain Emerson said...

Good work fella, keep wrestling through...

William said...

J-Mac, I haven't read the book so it is hard for me to have an informed opinion but I guess that you will enjoy a little "conversation" about this one! At the top level I like the concept - accept the words of Jesus as-is and act on them. I love that! Some of the hardest things for Christians to do (e.g. forgive others, have real faith in God that moves mountains) were spoken by Him.
My worry is that your examples from the book and the pro-Claiborne reviews (couldn't find any negative ones, LOL) on the 'net suggest that he is advocating a left-wing social gospel, and here is the crunch, without a clear understanding / presentation of the gospel. All have sinned, even those who sold everything and gave it to the poor. That "good work" counts for nothing at the end of the day!

Furthermore, Jesus clearly didn't ask the same of everyone who followed Him - it was obvious that the rich ruler (whom Jesus loved) had a problem and Jesus spoke right into his heart with that instruction. The instruction might have been different for the next guy along. You see, making it a blanket instruction for all actually diminishes the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If He truly leads us in our day to day affairs (walking in the Spirit)then we will be changed from within (as walking requires being filled...) and produce the fruit of the Spirit. This is how we really become counter-cultural, by being Spirit-led, rather than being led by a trendy socio-political notion.
Lastly, if Jesus asked me to sell everything I had and give it to the poor I do sincerely hope that I would go ahead and do so. Mind you, I would need to be very sure about it as I have a family to look after - my 3 kids would need food and shelter and I know they would be "discerning". Twenty odd years ago it would have been dead easy for me to do it as I would have been on my own.
This life is passing quickly for us all - making a difference in people's lives should not just focus on their temporal needs but on their need for salvation. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world..... you know the drill.
Love William

J-Mac said...

You make some really good points there William. Much appreciated. I'm trying to form a balanced opinion for myself before initiating action. I don't want to be led by a 'socio-political notion' either. I'm not interested in being 'emergent' or 'post-modern' as much as I'm not interested in being 'protestant' or 'catholic'. I just want to be led by the Spirit into truth, by following the examples and teaching of Jesus.

Jen said...

Agree with you John, Nua really challenged me, not just with that main message, but to step out of my comfort zones, whether that mean Northern Ireland, or in my social life! Great comment William, insightful! I think too, that nothing is strictly black and white-i celebrate the fact that God loves variety and uniqueness and I do believe he speaks into that. Also I love the fact that God relies often on us interpreting something and being able to understand how to apply to our own lives. He doesn't do the thinking for us, he expects us to wrestle with it. However, the one place i encounter difficulties with my 'everything is gray concept,' is that the world too is gray. Compartmentalising doesn't work for the world and I know I don't want to be a sub culture -we're called to -'conform no longer to the patterns of this world' (message version) So I do need to be definite and make decisions and choose not to always accept the generalised 'go with the flow' mentality. So I can't rest on those laurrels either! It's not easy when you have to think!

Alain Emerson said...

nice to see some grace-filled constructive discussion..well done guys..

Stefan McNally said...

John

Feeling the challenge.

Whilst not wanting to be driven by a socio-political agenda, I feel we ignore the socio-political elements of Scriptural narrative at our peril. We are political animals, it is impossible to be apolitical, the choice then is to develop good politics, to get involved in God's politics.

A cursory glance at scripture reveals a God who is deeply passionate about the politics of a nation: economic redistribution, housing matters, justice in the courts, preference for the poor, asylum for nationals and foreigners (read immigrants) alike, ad nausium...

Religion, as we are acutely aware, has a vital role in constructing good and, unfortunately, bad politics (US Militaristic Christianity has a particularly repugnant smell, as has some of its counterparts in our own wee province!!) However, the worst thing we can do is declare ourselves apolitical, un-political, for that is merely a concession to the power authorities of the age, which only leads to further oppressive structures being built leading to further disempowerment and disenfranchisement. Maybe what is needed is a more expansive understanding of Jesus, what God was doing with a bunch of Hebrew slaves in Egypt (empowering and enfranchising??), and the ideas of justice, repentance, and redistribution that were so crucial to the Hebrew understanding of God, and ultimately provide the ground for critical reflection that were so informative of Jesus' life and ministry on earth.

I think the challenge of scripture undermines any human political agenda. However, Christianity has been co-opted by right wingers for many, many years. In it, they have found a religion that is reactionary and conservative, that time and time again has leant its support to the existing powers that be. There are certain figures who have bucked this trend (see your excellent piece on mr Wilberforce...).

The question is, whilst not wishing to sanctify any particualr human political agenda, are there some politics on this earth (left and right?) that bear closer and greater resemblance to the one laid down by God in Scripture? (I acknowledge the difficulty of speaking of a single politic within scripture, for it does not exist, there are a multiplicity of formualtions and agendas). However, there are certain themes that seem to predominate - people created in the image of God, the right to live humanely is asserted, access to the land is protected, and justice is to be impartial and not arbitrarily implemented. These are a few examples, but serve to illustrate the 'turn towards the human' that lies within the vision and grasp of God. In light of consumer satiation and the growing rise of capitalism (and consequently the corruption that supports the whole structure) we must ask ourselves, in the light of our sacred narrative, can we continue to lend our support, and votes etc to right wing politics - is there not a need for a new socialism, influenced by Christians who are challenged by God's cry for justice at the city gates??

Liking the conversation here, if anyone wants to be part of the new socialist revolution give me a shout!!

Alain Emerson said...

Pip(stefan), you have come along way from being a no-brainer in the junior high!!

J-Mac said...

Or maybe he just discovered 'cut and paste' since then!

Just messing pip...I love it mate. Claibourne speaks of how redistribution is inextricably bound up with rebirth. John the Baptist preached repentance and in the same breath told people to give away their extra shirt...

...so William if we are truly 'spirit-led' do we have any other choice but to be a social activist? And I don't mean a marxist!

'When we truly discover love, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary'
Claibourne

Ivonne said...

I think I will make Claibourne's quote my new motto! - that sentence you quoted,J-Mac,highlights the deep significance of Christianity in answering the human craving for justice and hope. Totally awesome.

Re: Pip (I still find it an incredibly silly nickname..)- is the battle of who can use the most difficoult words on then?!?!? ;-)

William said...

J-Mac, thanks for the invite back into the debate! Jesus said that the Kingdom of God was fundamentally non-socialist (Matt 20:1-16 for a start) so I guess that starting out with a social activist worldview would need a pretty clear "calling" from the Lord. Care for the poor and justice / freedom for the oppressed is nothing to do with socialism (governmental redistribution of wealth) - it is a personal responsibility as far as I see it. Is that what you mean by being a "social activist" rather than being a Marxist. If so, we are on the same page.
If we are Spirit-led (not "spirit-led") then as we interact with the world (be in it not of it) we will have the opportunity to influence it - some in the classroom, some in the courtroom, some in children's care homes, some in the local Tesco's store.
Many western societies are, quite rightly, based on biblical principles of social justice and provision - praise God for it! That's because His people were led by the Spirit into government and other places of infuence throughout the ages.
Also, I am totally convinced that God wants us all to be counter-cultural but on His terms not on ours - obedience rather than reaction (to the world economic systems).
Does God want Mr X. to sell his business or turn it into a co-operative (like Andrew Jones' cow!)? I don't know the answer - it is not in the Bible and Mr X needs to enter into a substantive relationship with his Saviour to find out and be at peace with what he should do.
Lastly, in terms of our Christian communities I believe really strongly in submitting to each other, depending on each other and helping each other in fellowship and love. That's a sortof witness to the world rather than activism.
Really lastly, I don't like mixing "religion" and politics - it has never worked well here in NI.

Anonymous said...

To me being 'counter culture' means being counter consumerism, counter materialism. How well are we doing with this even in (our) church? I must admit I struggle when I see Christians with very expensive cars and number plates for example (something which clearly none of us NEED)... It is interesting how we think it is OK to conform to the culture around us in some areas but not in others.

EilĂ­s said...

j-mac, can i borrow that fergal keane book from you? have you read f. kefa sempangi's book 'a distant grief'? it's about idi amin's reign and this pastors life through it. brilliant book!

J-Mac said...

Anonymous, this is the point I'm trying to get at. Please leave your name next time!

Jen said...

Loving the conversation gentlemen and ladies, but fed up of using the labels. Forget describing ourselves as socially active-it's a bit like the seminar I went to on the Nua weekend about sex. It would be better to pull all those terms and labels apart-because the realisation of those labels is different depending on whether you live in the west or the east. In fact there a disparity in what those terms mean from country-country. If we are in control of the words we choose to create meaning, lets use some different ones and in a different order. Lets deconstruct the language and reconstruct it better. Lets rewrite the labels! Bring on the revolution!

Ivonne said...

Count me in,Jen, sounds just like what we need. Though I often wish we could learn from the past rather than discrediting it altogether...just a thought!

Glenbo said...

pip, what a load of old plum!

Ralf said...

If i could be so bold to make a few points on this blog i hope you don't mind.
Stefan very well written in your command of the english.

I really think the whole conservative church thing is true but then again so is the whole liberal thing.

Personally I don't believe church and state should mix it's always been a receip for disaster as Dr Martin Jones put it, "If we fail to learn from church history we will make the same mistakes again."

For me i look to Jesus when he said "render unto ceaser what is ceasers and unto God what is God's.

I believe he meant for us not to mix the church with the state, big subject but i really feel we should stay out of politics, look at Ian Paisely even his own church has issued a statement saying the free chruch will no longer allow men in leadership of the church into politics because of the damage it done.

I do however believe christians who are not leaders could enter into politics and make a difference.

Forgive me if i name names but i believe i have to on this next subject, people like Benny hinn and most of the God channel I believe have caused great destruction to us as christians, the worship of money is absoultly crazy.

John i really get what your putting across, i do however believe as far as the rich young ruler is concerned he was tested by Christ because his idol was indeed money, and unfortunatley he was not willing to give it up.

It is my view that we don't need to be like the poor to help them I think we should understand the Holy spirit better let me explain.

I once meet a missionary and he told me he was in amongst native indians who in his words "smelt to the point where he said to the Lord i can't love i hate these people"

The spirit come upon him and said i know you can't because your love is not enough God's spirit then entered him and suddenly the smell was like perfume he learnt a valuable lesson don't beat yourself up with TRYING the hardest thing for a chrisitian to do is surrender, that's all i believe we need to do then we understand grace properly.

Our works should be automatically proportioned to our relationship with him, show your works by your faith thats the real works of christ letting the spirit work through you.

It breaks my heart to see people suffer the sick poor and so on, but we need to know God is in control and the problems are much to big for us, my prayer is God give of your spirit that the poor sick abused etc will be helped by me our anyone of us.

Just a few thoughts Thanks

J-Mac said...

Great thoughts Ralf!