This little gem has obvious relevance to my last post and is worth reposting here. Jake Belder is a Canadian “millennial” living in Kingston upon Hull, England, where he serves as assistant minister at St John Newland Church.
Something of a ‘blog war’ over the ‘culture wars’ has unfolded recently, beginning when Rachel Held Evans presumed to speak on behalf of millennials by declaring, ‘My generation is tired of the culture wars.’ This post is not going to be a response to that post specifically, as guys like Jamie Smith and Brian Mattson have already done a fine job addressing the problems her post is laced with.
All this, however, does raise the important question of what faithfulness in the context of our culture looks like. What should we expect as the community of believers when we live under the rule of our King? Last week, I was sitting with four university students as we finished working through Albert Wolters’ book, Creation Regained, and we spent some time chewing over this bit in the postcript, which he co-authored with Mike Goheen (and which loudly echoes the renowned missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin):
Mission entails suffering; faithfulness to the gospel of the kingdom will mean a missionary encounter with the idolatrous powers of our own culture. Loyal allegiance to our kingdom mission will mean a clash of comprehensive stories. The gospel makes an absolute claim on the whole of our lives. The story that shapes our Western culture is likewise a comprehensive story which makes totalitarian claims. There is an incompatability between the gospel and the story of our culture. Every culturally embodied grand narrative will seek to become not only the dominant, but the exclusive story. If we as the church want to be faithful to the equally comprehensive biblical story we will find ourselves faced with a choice: either accommodate the Bible’s story to that of our culture, and live as a tolerated minority community, or remain faithful and experience some degree of conflict and suffering.
Ours is a mission under the cross. The good news may call forth opposition, conflict, and rejection (John 15:18-25).
Though it is hard to get accurate statistics on such things, some estimate that about 170,000 Christians die each year for their faith. All of us would agree, I’m sure, that this is a group of people that really gets what Jesus is saying in John 15. The disaffected millennials – indeed, all of us – should stop and think about this for a moment when we’re tempted to try and find ways around bits of Scripture we find uncomfortable or that require us to be in stark opposition with the culture around us. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are willing to die (and millions more willing to endure persecution) instead of capitulating to a culture that demands they live unfaithfully. And all the while we try to fit Jesus into a mould that will make him easier for us to get on side with.
I’ll be the first to agree that the ‘culture war’ mentality is problematic and unhelpful (I think James Davison Hunter makes an excellent critique of that paradigm in his book, To Change the World), but deciding that we should be the ones to set the terms for our faith is not the answer. This is simply idolatry, replacing the rule of Christ with our own authority.
Newbigin’s idea that we need to understand ourselves as missionaries in a culture whose story is entirely antithetical to the story of Scripture is so important to remember at this point. We bear witness to the rule of a King who makes a total claim on all of life, and at every point the gospel challenges a culture which rejects that rule. And so we should expect conflict.
Trying to live faithfully under the lordship of Jesus Christ isn’t about making Christianity palatable to the culture around us. As it is, sometimes the total allegiance that Jesus demands will make it feel like we’re sititng all alone in a crowded room. Sometimes it is even going to hurt. But for Christians, it is the only option.