Category: Gospel and Culture

3 Great Untruths Affecting Society

Have you had the sense we’re losing our moral bearings? Been dismayed by the outrage culture creeping into social media, rendering Twitter and Facebook more acrimonious than ever? How can we make progress toward civility?

Christians, whose faith is summarized in “love God, love neighbor,” should lead the way. But to get there, we may need help assessing what makes things so contentious.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt give us a big hand up in their recent book The Coddling of the American MindBy “coddling” they mean “overprotecting,” the modern tendency to insulate one’s self from disagreement, risk, and adversity. For instance, college students are protesting assigned textbooks, and visiting speakers, not because their ideas are immoral but because they “harm” or “trigger” the student.

The authors argue that refusing to engage ideas that you disagree with, in the name of harm, actually does more damage to the self and society.

Our society has become so accustomed to comfort, that differences of opinion and the exchange of ideas are seen as threatening. They argue this is damaging to society:

We are not saying that the problems facing students, and young people more generally, are minor or ‘all in their heads.’ We are saying that what people choose to do in their heads will determine how those real problems affect them.

With this in view, they identify three Great Untruths that must be overcome:

  1. Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker (retreat from hardship and difference)
  2. Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings (emotional intuition trumps reason and truth)
  3. Untruth of Us vs. Them: Life is a battle between good people and bad people (I am good; they are bad)

They note, “Anyone who cares about young people, education, or democracy should be concerned about these trends.” I would add, anyone who care about their city, neighbor, church, small group, or children.

Hope for Dizzying Times

A friend recently confessed political views in her church are so tense and divided, she can’t bring up politics with her fellow Christians. A member in my own church asked me if it was okay to not call himself an evangelical at work because he’s concerned people will draw the wrong conclusions. Many people I talk to are reluctant to evangelize for fear of losing their jobs. It’s been a dizzying year, asking it easy to feel disoriented within our own society, churches, and even with God.

Dizzying Times

Although the details were different, the Apostle Peter wrote to people facing similar challenges. He sent a couple of letters to Christians from across five diverse regions who were experiencing cultural disorientation. His letters are saturated in wisdom for times like ours. Perhaps the most important piece is this: cultural disorientation is an opportunity to re-center hope.

Cultural disorientation is an opportunity to re-center hope.

It’s easy to slip into hoping people will accept us or our views. We often go to considerable lengths to make sure people think being Christian doesn’t mean being weird, “You should come on Sunday, there are a lot of really cool people there.” Or we may avoid gospel conversations altogether. But shouldn’t being holy make us stick out a bit in an unholy culture? When cultural relevance becomes dear, we compromise our hope. Peter steers clear of this impulse to soften Christianity with the hope of cultural acceptance.

He also steers clear of cultural dominance, a posture more assertive and critical, more prone to attack or withdraw than to appease. When our hope slips into cultural dominance, we tend to get heated in political conversations, rant on social media, and subtly hope the government will become more like us. Sensing this temptation, Peter writes: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Pet. 3:9). He heads off a domineering, tit-for-tat attitude with an exhortation to bless those who call us names or show us evil.

Recentering Hope

So how do we move toward blessing others amidst the confusion?

Whenever we get lost, we’re told to find a landmark, a star, a street name, something familiar and fixed, and work our way home from there. To re-center, we must fixate on God’s call to be exiles of hope.

Biblical hope is neither passive nor aggressive; it does not strive for cultural relevance or dominance. Instead, it operates on a different plane. It steps out of the cultural moment, refuses to be defined by it, and tries to view everything from the “eternal moment.” Peter writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3–4).

Peter expresses hope sometimes in an event, other times in an age, but always in a person: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Jesus came from the future into the present, bringing some of heaven with him, to secure a resurrected future for us. In Jesus, life climbed out of death . . . and we climb out with him, with hope for a whole new world. So how does re-centering around this hope alter the way we respond to those around us?

The Difference of Hope

Immediately, Peter says our hope affects how we suffer: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1:6). When our hope is recentered in the risen Christ, we can rejoice in trials of all shapes and sizes. If the conversation gets tense around politics, we need not grow angry and embittered because we share a joyful inheritance in Christ’s future and just rule. However, we shouldn’t avoid uncomfortable debate either, knowing that our hope compels us to bring some of heaven to earth now. Viewing our work from the eternal moment, we can risk disapproval by sharing hope for a just world in Jesus, while also laboring towards one.

A version of this post originally appeared at Crossway Books as a part of a Knowing the Bible series, for which I recently wrote the 1-2 Peter & Jude study.

10 Books I Really Enjoyed in 2017

About Grace, Anthony Doerr – This author won the Pulitzer for his book, All the Light We Cannot See, which is easily my favorite novel of the past five years. About Grace is Doerr’s first novel and traces the story of a hydrologist who occasionally has visions about negative things before they happen, but explores the much deeper idea of the longing for reconciled relationships.

Silence, Endo – Such a powerful novel rooted in the history of Jesuit missions to Japan. Endo explores the differences between Japanese and Western culture, the line between contextualization and syncretism, the difficulty of faith in suffering, the question of apostasy, and the voice of God.

Liberating Black Theology, Anthony Bradley – With resurgent race discussions, this book is a helpful analysis where earlier African-American Christians went wrong in trying to address the topic of race. Bradley comes to the subject with expertise, experience, and clarity.

Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography, Gary Wills – Confessions has long be a devotional favorite. I have read a lot of Augustine but not enough about his life. Wills brings some fresh insight into often misread passages in Confessions, can turn a phrase, and keep the reader engaged all the way through. It was a delight to read.

The Culture of NarcissmChristopher Lasch – Although this book is several decades old, its critique of modern culture still has incredible relevance. The culture of narcism has not only oversold the appearance of Self, but undersold virtue and the danger of the grandiose, therapeutic Self. Great insight and language for diagnosing our present the late modern identity crisis.

Exit West, Mohair Hamid – This novel gave me fresh empathy for refugees through an interesting plot device, magical doors that allowed the refugees to go to another country to find refuge and hope. The central couple faces their fare share of challenges, not the least the unending search for refuge and satisfaction. Disclaimer: I had to skip through some scenes.

Making Sense of God, Tim Keller – A stunning guide to the undercurrent philosophies that create doubt and skepticism toward God, religion, and faith. In his characteristic style, Keller sympathizes with skeptics, understands where our skepticism comes from, and graciously dismantles the many dichotomies and conflicts underneath secularized predispositions toward Christianity.

A Theology in Outline, Robert Jensen – A fresh look at classic, systematic theology with the insight of the late Robert Jensen. Short, pithy and inspiring. Take for instance his suggestion that to be made in God’s image is to be a praying animal, dependent not upon food and water but the will of God.

The Purity of Heart to Will One Thing, Kierkegaard – The title along will send yo thinking. Kierkegaard has become a favorite companion over the last five years. He challenges aberrations of grace and “gospel-centered” with the call to a lived doctrine. We cannot truly understand a doctrine until we’ve lived it. This book challenges us to cultivate the patience of willing something eternal, something we all need more of in a fast and big data age.

Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich – The soul and struggle of Russia revealed. Alexievich won the Nobel for Literature and it shows. The book cobbles together interviews from hundreds of Russians on their experience of Stalin era and post-Stalin life, but does so with literary flair. The stories are riveting and heart-breaking, checking our Western consumer comfort at the door.

My Top 5 Movies of 2017

It was a great year for film. Narrowing down to a top five was difficult, and I still haven’t seen Phantom Thread, Mudbound, The Shape of Water. I’m including a variety of genres. I am not saying these will all win Oscars, but what I am saying is I liked them a lot, and why.

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Wind River – This film immerses the viewer in an unfamiliar landscape, the frozen tundra of an Indian Reservation in Wyoming, a bleak context for an awful crime. The wintry elements almost act like another character, as sexual assault, the power of male friendship in grief, acute pain of loss, and the zeal for justice fuse for a powerful viewing experience, especially if you have daughters. I cried three times.

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Colossal – One of the most creative films I’ve seen in a while, Colossal explores deep human longing through Hathaway’s unknowing ability to control a monster ravaging Seoul, with her motions. It imitates her! Is this a projection of her dark side, a sign there is a power behind our every action, or something else? It’s funny too.

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3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – When I saw the trailer, I thought, “There’s no way I’m seeing that movie.” I went out of deference to my brother on his birthday, and I ended up getting a gift! Wow, I know this film is taking some critical heat, but I thought it was incredible. The story-telling is Cohenesque and the humor hard-hitting. Knockout performances by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. The abrupt shift from tragedy to humor, makes you question your laugh, but think about the point. The film exposes something narrow and deeply selfish about what we often perceive to be personal injustice.

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Bladerunner – Granted, I am a sci-fi fan and loved the first Bladerunner. The film explores what it means to be human from three main vantage points, while giving the viewer stunning landscapes, surreal futuristic urban activity, and intriguing plot line. But it is slow.

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The Florida Project – Heartbreaking depiction of post-urban poor mother living in a motel with her daughter. Bria Vinaite best actress? This film will flatten you emotionally, by putting you in touch with heartache and sorrow of a desperate mother.