Posts Tagged application

Get Personal: Restoring Individualism to Gospel-Worthy Conduct

Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance, Duane LitfinIn his new book, Word versus Deed, Duane Litfin contemplates how Christians are to be Christians at a time when the church seems bent toward what I might call representation without proclamation (and vice versa, though to a lesser extent, methinks). “Today some are emphasizing deeds at the expense of words, while others hold fast to ‘talking’ and forsake the doing,” Litfin writes. “This is an imbalance that must be righted.”

The book covers a range of topics, but for the moment I want to focus on an interrelated “imbalance” that Litfin briefly notes in his chapter on “gospel-worthy conduct” (i.e. the “doing” piece). Litfin encourages us to think of such conduct as being “lived out in five distinguishable circles of application”: personal life, family, God’s people, society at large, and the natural world.

These are all good “circles” for us to think about, yet we must also take care to order them properly. For example, as Litfin duly notes, the church has, as of late, begun to shift its focus directly to the social realm, ignoring the “personal life” or “private dimension” altogether—a faulty either-or approach that will not bode well if the church has any hopes of transforming the social sphere toward the heart of God.

According to Litfin, this switch has happened for the following reasons (quoted directly from the book):

  1. Our time and place in history is stamped with the radical individualism of the Enlightenment. In reacting against this imbalance some may be inclined to move directly, and perhaps too quickly, to the social and corporate implications of the gospel, bypassing the individual realm entirely.
  2. In certain Christian circles the personal dimensions of Christian living—issues of sexual morality, personal honesty, worldliness, etc.—seem to be as far as the demands of the gospel ever reach. These issues are stressed constantly but little is heard of the social implications of the gospel. Such a perceived imbalance undoubtedly prompts others to leapfrog these “overworked” private matters on their way to broader social concerns.
  3. Any emphasis on issues of personal holiness in the Christian life appears for some to be an embarrassment. They tend to write off such concerns as the unwarranted obsession of pietists.

These realities have largely shaped the focus of Remnant Culture (thus my focus on “Radical Individualism”). From Shane Claiborne to David Platt (in varying degrees, to be sure) we are consistently sold on the idea that misaligned, Enlightenment-style individualism is the only kind there is, and the only way the American church will get past it is by bloodying itself on a self-constructed altar to abstract social goods. Under this perspective, anything that might result in individual advancement or recognition, regardless of what is driving it, must be too individual-oriented, and thus we are told to compensate by injecting our actions with impulsive socially conscious do-gooderism. We may still be trying to push Christians toward obedience to God (Platt certainly is), but we will continuously miss the mark if we “leapfrog” past the messy, complicated subject of (1) what this all means at a personal, individual level, and (2) how that translates into the social dimension holistically (i.e. encompassing all of the circles Litfin mentions).

The fundamental problem with the American church is not that we are too focused on our private lives and need to go on more mission trips or curb our incomes at a certain level. It’s that we are not recognizing that our private lives need to be broken by God’s grace and our social responsibilities need to be rightly ordered in turn. We want a quick-fix answer for everything—as nearly every observer of the West will recognize—but such an orientation does not stop at the electronic store check-out line; it drags itself into every element of our vocation-building and world-changing, prodding us to skip pass complicated questions of individual purity and purpose and jump straight to easy-and-convenient “social” arguments, whether we’re talking about sexuality, mega-church management, or global poverty.

We need to take a step back and make sure our hearts and our deeds are on the right path, and that means doing a lot of difficult work at the individual level. We need to cry out, as David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We need to pause and pray, asking Read the rest of this entry »

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Aspiring to Nothing: Millennials and Christian Vocation

"Good" according to whom, and for what?

"Good" according to whom, and for what?

The Barna Group has released more research findings on the reasons behind Christian millennial migration, this time delving into the topic of vocation-building.

From the summary:

In particular, 84% of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests. For example, young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church. On the creative side, this includes young musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actors. On the science-oriented side, young engineers, medical students, and science and math majors frequently struggle to see how the Bible relates to their life’s calling.

This week at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I offer my own thoughts, noting that such a fundamental disconnect should shake Christians to their cores:

Although it’s encouraging to hear that millennials are actually aspiring to careers—no offense, folks!—such disconnect and confusion among Christians makes me wonder what they are aspiring for in the first place. If the Christian life is a constant, daily struggle, and our daily lives are highly consumed by professional interests and “career” activity, what does it mean for us to divorce the two?

It would seem that either one or the other would suffer—either our Christian walks or our professional careers—but when I survey the landscape of “Generation Y,” the confusion seems to be impacting both.

As for why the confusion persists, I don’t think it’s due to lack of discussion. Indeed, the topic of “Christian living” and “Christian mission” has become wildly popular as of late. What, then, is wrong with the message?

As I’ve previously argued regarding David Platt’s popular book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, even where the church has gotten its theology right (itself unusual), it has still proven resilient in getting its application wrong.

Yes, we are called to obey God. Yes, this will involve sacrifice and struggle. But does this mean that we are called to sacrifice and struggle for the mere sake of sacrificing and struggling?

That’s where the popular message is directing us, and as long as this is the case, it should be no surprise when those of us aspiring to something (often through a “professional career”) find it confusing to be told by Christian leaders that this something is really nothing. If we are finding fulfillment in what we do, and if we feel called by God to do the work we’re doing, why wouldn’t we be confused if we are being told to flush any personal ambition down the toilet?

Far too often, such imperatives toward “missional living” treat our missional directives as though the material realm is an insurmountable obstacle rather than a tool for us to own and wield appropriately.

The result: a form of spiritual escapism from our day-to-day socio-economic activity—a full-throttle rejection of the material world, rather than a pursuit of appropriate Read the rest of this entry »

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Objectivist Ethics vs. Christian Ethics: Is There Any Common Ground? (Part 2)

Objectivism, Ayn Rand, Christianity, Sermon on the Mount, contrast, ethics, philosophyBy William Schultz, Guest Contributor

Editor’s Note: This the second post by guest contributor, William Schultz, who began by providing a basic introduction to the ethics of Ayn Rand. In this installment, William discusses whether (and where) Christians and Objectivists might find common ground.

At a public forum on the minimum wage, a man talked with two people. Both were vigorously opposed to lowering or abolishing the minimum wage.

One of these individuals was a “social-justice” activist whose concern was that abolishing the minimum wage would lead to the exploitation and suffering of the poor. This concern was, however, only the tip of the activist’s ideological iceberg. His ultimate political purpose, his ultimate political value, was a radical egalitarian society which reined in the power of large corporations and wealthy individuals for the sake of the common good.

The other individual was a Wal-Mart lobbyist whose concern was that abolishing the minimum wage would hurt Wal-Mart by increasing the competition the company faced in the market. This concern was, however, only the tip of this lobbyist’s ideological iceberg. His ultimate political purpose, his ultimate political value, was a corporatist state where Wal-Mart’s profits would be indefinitely secured.

These two had a common interest in supporting minimum wage laws. However, their ultimate political values conflicted. With enough time, their political values would clash.

There’s a similarity between the relationship of the two individuals above and the relationship between Christians and Objectivists. Christians believe that men should be treated as ends not means. They believe that murder, theft, initiation of violence, lying, etc. are evil. On these issues, Christians and Objectivists are in agreement.

However, the ultimate value of a Christian is different from the ultimate value of an Objectivist.

Just what are the ultimate values of a Christan and an Objectivist? What criticisms does Read the rest of this entry »

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City of Man: Defining the Future of the Religious Right

City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New EraIt’s hard to deny that the religious right has been on the wane. Need some proof?

Once-prominent religious leaders like Pat Robertson are now viewed as fringe radicals by many conservative elites and “ordinary people” alike. Social issues like gay marriage and abortion have been largely dismissed as secondary by tea partiers and Republican politicians. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican voters preferred the irreligious “pragmatism” of John McCain to the Bible-belt fervor of Mike Huckabee.

As author Brett McCracken recently said in an interview with yours truly, aligning oneself with the religious right has become increasingly “unhip.”

But some don’t see such a change as an overall indictment of the movement itself. For Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, authors of the new book, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, such a change is “less a value judgment than a fact of life.” Despite some fundamental flaws in the religious right’s approach, Gerson and Wehner see the energetic movement of yore as a highly positive, right-time-right-place kind of thing.

But the times they are a-changin’.

We are in a moment of transition, say Gerson and Wehner. The same Christians who aligned themselves with the Religious Right now find little use or relevance in its tactics or execution. Strict conservative political theology has been by and large replaced by universalist political activism. Social conservatism has been subtly supplanted by a blurry, left-leaning social justice. The cutting, careless words of Pat Robertson has been overshadowed by the moderate tone of Rick Warren.

But although the political scene is changing (and necessarily so), Gerson and Wehner see more confusion in the shift than they do clarity. For them, this is a prime opportunity for conservatives (and everyone else) to reexamine the proper relationship between religion and politics. Now, they argue, is not only a time for adaptation, but also for introspection.

The aim, therefore, is to crystalize a proper Christian approach to politics — one that takes full account of theological fundamentals, proper Read the rest of this entry »

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