Best of Mike — The Clamp

March 3, 2008, 5:30 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Featured, Mike J  | No Comments

Originally printed April 23, 2007.

Here is something I came across in my reading for school this week.

The clamp in which evangelical Christianity perpetually finds itself is that it simultaneously wants to define itself over against modern culture and yet be convincing or persuasive with respect to that culture.
~ Graham Hughes, Worship as Meaning

Hughes does not write as an evangelical Christian, but I think he lays a finger on the evangelical dilemma and perhaps the reason for so much evangelical ennui.

On the one hand, we reject much of modern culture. We decry it as hedonistic or relativistic or insufficiently grounded. Yet, on the other hand, we are the masters at imitating that culture and twisting it to other ends.

So we can go to our local Christian bookstore and find a chart that says, “If you like U2, you might like (insert flavor-of-the-week band here).” Or we can stress the ease with which a person becomes a Christian, saying, “You’re still the same person; it’s just, you know, you have Jesus now.” Or we can create thoroughly consumerist modern Christian churches which offer all the music and good coffee you could want, so long as you’re willing to accept the Gospel as part of the bundle.

I have to admit that I am both fascinated and repelled by our ability to use culture so well. It demonstrates a certain flexibility and resourcefulness that is commendable.

Yet I wonder if it does not cost us. In our desire to make the gospel so accessible, we often play up its similarity to modern culture. Yet it makes the next, vital step of Christian discipleship extremely difficult, perhaps impossible. That next step is being able to self-differentiate from modern culture, asking critical questions of it. How does the modern way of living bring Christlikeness, bring true life? How does the modern way of life bring death and distance between us and Christ? Sadly, we know that there are too few ways modern culture brings life, and too many where it brings death. Mature Christians have to be capable of detecting and avoiding that which is dangerous in the culture around us.

But because we are so wedded to the similarities between our churches and modern culture, all too often our churches (clergy included) are ill-equipped to help people navigate these waters.

Perhaps our church music and architecture and our very ways of evangelism and living should not seek to impress the world with how much like the world we are, but how very different we are.


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