Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wrestling with Radicals (LE3)

(*LE = Lifestyle Evangelism)
A recent court case in Tennessee centered around a baby's name and identity. The parents had named their child "Messiah", but a judge ordered them to change it. Why? Because Jesus is the Messiah. A higher court judge over-turned the order, and the baby gets to keep his name as Messiah.

(Imagine the thorny problem of enforcing the original ruling: if "Messiah" was banned, how many Spanish-speaking people named "Jesús" would be in even more trouble?)

The issue of how we present ourselves to the culture around us is equally important as we continue to look at Lifestyle Evangelism. Author Joe Aldrich paints several different approaches to culture that many (if not most) Christians have wrestled with.

Radical Difference
"The first response to human culture is rejection… because of their emphasis upon only a radical difference, they have a message but no audience." (page 61)
Christians who adopt this approach to culture have sometimes gone to the extreme of ignoring the world around them, huddled in little fear-based enclaves and reminding each other of the peril of losing one's faith. We've all met them. Some of us have, at times, been them.

And it's true: Christians are called to be "radically different". But I would like to suggest that "different" cannot be expressed if we are "aloof" or simply "absent". Salt has no effect unless it comes into contact with something needing salt. (Matthew 5:13-16)

"Evangelism that does not flow into the real world (subculture) of the unbeliever can become a raiding party, a foray into enemy territory, followed by a quick retreat to safety; instead of being a neighbor who loves." (page 69)
The "hit and run" evangelist that I wrote about in AWK-werd would fit that description.

And the problem, as Aldrich points out, is that Christians who approach culture in this way have managed to be radically different from the world, but nobody cares -- except for them. They have a message, but nobody's listening. Or, when they attempt an evangelistic "raiding party", they do little more than create a new pet peeve for their "audience".

Radical Identification

Honestly, most of the Christians I know -- including myself -- struggle more with this end of the spectrum. Anyone who has played in the "secular" music scene (my own pond) has wrestled with the feeling that Aldrich's words might be or may become true of us:
"These Christians, sensing a need for radical identification with human culture (the world), fail to maintain the radical difference… They have an audience but no message." (page 61)

I don't think I'm the only one who has wondered about this. In order to follow the example of Jesus, the friend of sinners (Luke 15), we have to radically identify with the culture around us. However, it's not an uncommon thing for me to look at the people around me, and wonder, "Am I making a difference here, or am I just fooling myself?"

It's helpful for me to remember the questions that George Mercado used to evaluate the outreach events that our youth group put on:
  1. Did any non-Christians come?
  2. Was the Gospel clearly presented?
  3. Did anyone become a Christian?
  4. Did anyone at least leave with a positive impression of Jesus Christ? (ie. are they one step closer?)
Not everyone gets to be present when the "sowing" turns to "reaping". Sometimes, we have to continue to live out the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-20), and recognize that we called to sow seeds. Others may reap at a later time (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).

But it will always be wise to question ourselves: if we have an audience -- do we have a message? (And when was the last time we shared it?)
(Of course, what Aldrich could not have foreseen is the number of Christians in the early 21st century who would opt to change the message to make it more politically correct socially acceptable.)
Critical Participation

Aldrich suggests a third way which will allow us to avoid the extremes:

"...critical participation. A dual citizen in heaven and earth, this believer knows that God has him involved in a redemptive mission with cultural implications." (page 62)

"A balance between a critical transcendence (radical difference) and a concerned cultural participation (radical identification) must be maintained." (page 63)

Thinking back to my friends Jack & Diane, I wonder if the ability to figure out what Aldrich's "critical participation" looks like, might have been a key element that would have prevented them from throwing their faith away. In Aldrich's book, the emphasis is on evangelism.
But I have to wonder if wrestling through Radical Difference, Radical Identification, and Critical Participation is a process that every Christian needs to experience, for the health of their own faith first.
And then, they'd be equipped to share their faith.

1 comment:

  1. Very relevant topic.I have struggled with being building a readership of both Christians and nonChristians on a secular writing site. I had one comment from an atheist cyber friend who once told me that he reads my articles until he gets to the word 'Bible' and then he stops reading. I have tried coming up with creative titles, and in hindsight realize that I have used the bait and switch technique, What has happened it that I have written some 'Christian' and some 'secular' articles, and they have a totally different voice. But if I would only write about Christian topics on the Christian writing sites and not identify myself as a Christian on secular sites, then as you say, I would have an audience but no message. Cultural relevance really is a balancing act.