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Kingdom Values

It seems that Mike finds himself busier than expected these days and will be unable to contribute directly to the discussion we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks (part one, part two, and part three).  I thought I would wrap up the discussion by addressing one final element of George Soros’s piece that struck me in connection with how I understand the gospel.

Near the end of his article,  Soros compares the conditions that produce change in H20 with what produces historical change (in the markets or anywhere else). Soros remarks that just as temperature determines whether H20 will be solid, liquid, or gas, so “the values that guide people in their actions” are the primary cause of change.

Now at one level, this is a completely unremarkable observation.  Of course what people value will determine what they do—what else would?  But I think that anyone who takes seriously the idea that God really does desire historical change—that he’s not just interested in rescuing people out of this planet but actually transforming it—will want to think more carefully about the implications of this obvious claim.  Among other things, it forces the sobering question: If historical change is not taking place (at least not the right kind of historical change), what does this say about the absence of the requisite “conditions?”

Well, it could mean that we are being guided by the wrong—or at least not “right enough”—values.  I came across two (negative) examples of this yesterday.  The first came from a book review of D.A. Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited where the reviewer takes issue with Carson’s understanding of what the church’s role in the world ought to be.  Here’s a quote:

The [point] that he [Carson] does make clear is that the church shouldn’t be any too focused on anything normally considered to be cultural engagement, such as “ministries of compassion and justice.” While the church may dabble in such forms of cultural engagement here and there, the real stuff of the church’s role in the world is that of “evangelism and teaching the Bible.” Churches who muddle about doing too much justice work ultimately “delude themselves into thinking they are faithful when in reality they are overlooking what is central to any Christian’s obligation to the risen Lord. They marginalize their responsibilities as members of the church of Jesus Christ, the church that lives and dies by the great commission.”  In short, for Carson, the church had best stick to things that are spiritual and churchly. Stuff like preaching, evangelism, and worship songs.

Compassion and justice are not the “real stuff” of the church?!  Wow.

The second came in the form of an Easter devotional reflection on John 2:23-3:15 sent out from our denominational seminary.  Here, again, we see the stuff that can produce real historical change being described as a “distraction” from the real task of the church:

The question for us is whether we are continuing to let Jesus
usher us more deeply into God’s heart. As we go about living our
Christian faith, where is our focus? We can easily get distracted.
Nicodemus and Israel’s leadership were distracted from God’s
kingdom by many things, chiefly making boundaries to distinguish
faithfulness from unfaithfulness. Sometimes we become distracted,
too—whether by movements for one social issue or another, or by
national politics, or by perfecting Christian religion. But in the
midst of it we run the risk of taking our eyes off the person of Jesus,
who shows us God.

The values betrayed in both of these quotes reinforce a completely false dichotomy between concrete action in the world and spirituality that I think is almost entirely absent from Scripture.  Whatever else “going deeper into God’s heart” and “keeping our eyes on Jesus” might mean (I find statements like these annoyingly vacuous), it seems to me that becoming more socially involved and culturally engaged would be an important place to start.

At the end of the day, I suppose that the main thing I’ve taken away from thinking about Soros’s article in connection with the gospel is the reinforcing of the very simple idea that what we believe and what we value matters a good deal.  All ideas have public consequences—even (especially?) the idea that religion ought to have little public relevance.

The world is very familiar with some of the results of the ideas behind the two quotes above, and while I don’t doubt that they are responsible for some genuine good, I would submit that it’s time for the church to embody a more biblical, life-giving and transformative set of values—values that would lead to the kind of historical change that the world (and God) is waiting for.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dilys #

    Your post brings up several questions for me.

    Why, why must we pit world against God? How does redemption fit into this dichotomy, if indeed there should be a dichotomy between world and God? Are we (as the church) following Jesus’ teachings to care for the poor, minister to the sick, and make peace if we only pay attention to a specific kind of evangelism, Bible teaching, and worship?

    I have a great quote from Madeleine del Brel, who wrote _We the Ordinary People of the Street_, about the relationship of church to world. I’ll find it and post it.

    March 5, 2009
  2. Ken #

    I don’t know what accounts for the polemic in the reviewer of the book. Like you I don’t understand the meaning of the words in the devotional material. I suspect there is polemic there too. Certainly their positions are more narrow than the normal practice of churches over the centuries.

    I think our missions reflect more than our values. They also reflect our vision of the church, ourselves and God.

    While staying a couple of nights at a monastery I asked one of the monks, “What is your mission here?” He replied, “It is to praise God.”

    The mission was not compassion or justice, or evangelism, although the lives of the monks and their prayers included these concerns and they were certainly not opposed to others who lives and churches had different missions.

    I think the monks believe that what they do in the monastery, praising God, has public relevance. I believe they are right. It slowed me down to hear what the monk said to me.

    March 5, 2009
  3. I would submit that it’s time for the church to embody a more biblical, life-giving and transformative set of values—values that would lead to the kind of historical change that the world (and God) is waiting for.

    I whole-heartedly agree with you Ryan… but you already knew that. To simplify (perhaps) Soros’ H2O concept, I think that who we are, and who we believe Jesus was goes a long way to determine the speed and intensity of historical change. That is exactly why the Soros theory caught my eye in the first place. You’ve captured it beautifully.

    March 8, 2009
  4. “The question for us is whether we are continuing to let Jesus usher us more deeply into God’s heart.”
    Can anyone tell me what that really means?

    March 9, 2009
  5. Your guess is as good as mine, Dale!

    (I don’t doubt that many have the best of intentions when they use phrases like this and may even be able to provide some kind of substantial content if pressed to do so. But I also think that phrases of this type fall into the category of a weird kind of “evangelical-ese” that nobody really understands but everybody is pretty sure they ought to think and say.)

    March 9, 2009

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