Gospel & Culture


“The problem of bread for me is a material problem, but the problem of bread for my neighbor, for all, is a spiritual, religious question.” Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev

 

I read this and thought of previous lines of discussion on this blog and with some of you who I know. I thought it was a quote worth pondering (or–can I help myself?–chewing on). Comment at will.

Ricky Gervais, the boss (“David Brent”) in and also co-writer of the fantastic BBC series The Office, keeps me “havin a laugh” and entertained. Besides The Office, he also co-wrote and starred in another great BBC comedy series, Extras. I highly recommend both.

Months back a friend made me aware of some Youtube videos wherein Gervais works through, if you will, Genesis 1-3, offering reflections. I watch these on a monthly basis, sometimes weekly depending upon my mood.

Beyond being ridiculously funny, these videos also highlight various perennial issues and questions people in our culture(s) have with some traditional Christian positions related to and stemming from Genesis 1-3. So, watch these, “have a laugh,” and enjoy an entertaining encounter with some typical questions people have about various of our more traditional approaches to Genesis 1-3, creation, beginnings, etc… (more…)

Yesterday I posted on The Epistle to Diognetus and the striking passage within it articulating the significance of what God did in/as Christ—especially in terms of the “…sweet exchange…that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!”

 

 Today I thought I would post part of the following passage from the same writing, one discussing what it means to be an imitator of God.

 

…By loving him you will be an imitator of his goodness. And do not be surprised that a person can become an imitator of God; he can, if God is willing. For happiness is not a matter of lording it over one’s neighbors, or desiring to have more than weaker man, or possessing wealth and using force against one’s inferiors. No one is able to imitate God in these matters; on the contrary, these things are alien to his greatness. But whoever takes upon himself his neighbor’s burden, whoever wishes to benefit another who is worse off in something in which he himself is better off, whoever provides to those in need things that he has received from God, and thus becomes a god to those who receive them, this one is an imitator of God. Then you will see that though your lot is on earth, God lives in heaven, then you will begin to declare the mysteries of God, then you will both love and admire those who are punished because they refuse to deny God, then you will condemn the deceit and the error of the world, when you realize what the true life in heaven is… (Epistle to Diognetus 10.4-7a) (more…)

Before going to bed I wanted to share this with everyone. Try not to laugh too hard…

 

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Recently I heard a presentation from someone who works at a Christian organization that seeks to help pregnant women—especially to help deter them from seeking an abortion and to help them through pregnancy. During this presentation Planned Parenthood was presented in almost satanic colors. There was nothing good this person could say about Planned Parenthood. Everything seemingly good that Planned Parenthood does is clearly motivated by a lust to aid in committing murder and also by greed—so says this person.

 

Even if I am against the seemingly wide-spread abortion culture of the United States, such polarizing, sensationalist, and black-and-white discourse, about Planned Parenthood rubbed me the wrong way. Setting abortion aside (which for many is a big thing to set aside for the moment), Planned Parenthood offers many important health and counseling services—many of them for free that most of the Christian counterpart organizations do not offer. Also, is it really helpful to portray someone with whom one deeply disagrees in such polarizing and polemical ways—only evil always?

 

Enough of the above ramblings. This experience brought me to a set of questions… (more…)

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a front-page article today on Peter Enns getting suspended from Westminster. You can read it online here. (more…)

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer features an op-ed piece entitled “Conservative Christianity wanes in a shift to center” by Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.  Read it in its entirety here.

Hamilton is interested primarily in what he regards as a decline in political influence by conservative Christianity.  However, the lead example in his argument certainly took me by surprise:

One of the most obvious signs of this is the change in political fortunes for conservatives, but I see it anecdotally in many other places as well. At one of the leading conservative seminaries in the United States, students question the doctrine of inerrancy (while the school continues to officially embrace it).

This sound bite characterizing the division at Westminster isn’t precisely accurate, but his application of the seminary’s crisis to his thesis is a stunning reminder of the ripple effect.  It’s already being interpreted in ways that the participants would hardly recognize.  It’s ironic that for all the theological richness housed within the walls of today’s Westminster, its relevance to the secular world is not about the way in which it drives the gospel forward, but its utility as a harbinger of changes to the American political scene.     

I often find that my theological/ecclesiological thinking is spurred by astute observers of the secular – and particularly business – culture.  In a bit the same vein as The Starfish and the Spider comes Mark J. Penn’s (with E. Kinney Zalesne) compelling but easy read – Microtrends:  The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes.  Penn’s thesis is deceptively simple.  Small changes in patterns of behavior in our culture can achieve outsize influence, and those who identify them correctly can benefit. 

Americans as people and the US as a nation have changed.  We’re not the great melting pot anymore, but a sliced and diced conglomeration of micro communities and special interest groups.  Think Mexican-American evangelical Protestants.   Or Christian home schoolers.  Penn is the one who first identified “soccer moms” as a crucial constituency in Clinton’s 96 reelection campaign, and is now intrigued by the lack of concensus in Republican party politics.  His observation is that by using data, one can identify and isolate a particular group or trend, analyze it, and convert the resulting knowledge into investable action. 

Penn asserts that one percent of the public – or a mere three million people – is enough to launch a new movement.  He calls these “societal atoms – small trends that reflect changing habits and choices.”  These operate just under the radar, and “are the seeds of unexpected change.”  He  provides 75 examples of such cells of activity, including groups as diverse as those with “uptown tattoos,” millionaires who live below their means, do-it-yourself doctors, sex-ratio singles, the new Luddites, and teen knitters.  Find and identify a group, meet its needs, and reap the rewards.

Conversely, Penn warns that ignoring microtrends invariably results in bad decision-making.  It’s a risky thing these days to process macro-level information from one’s own particular point of view, and rely on gut-feel.  Conventional wisdom conclusions are frequently flat out wrong, and erroneous judgment has its own consequences.  To avoid this, Penn challenges his readers to be intentional in recognizing their presuppositions, and to be willing to seek out and engage pertinent data.

Although Penn’s book is largely a postmodern, anti-meta narrative analysis of American life, his microtrends do reveal some common themes.  Individualism and self-expression are on the ascendancy, and social cohesion is in decline.  A small group of dedicated, intensely passionate people can spark a movement.  And, contradictory trends are bound to emerge at once because there is almost always more than one way to approach things.

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