Monday, April 23, 2012

Faithful Presence in All Realms of Life

"The creation mandate (Gen. 1:28) inevitably leads Christian believers to a transformative engagement with the culture in which they find themselves. Yet by its very nature, this engagement will not be neutral in character. whether we like it or not, merely engaging the culture implies the issue and exercise of power. The matter of power is unavoidable. One cannot transcend it or avoid it or pretend it isn't there. The only questions are, how will Christians think about power? What kind of power will Christians exercise? How will Christians, individually and institutionally, relate to the range of powers that operate in the world?

If the analysis I have offered thus far is correct, it would be natural for some to conclude that what is implied here is an alternative way for Christians to pursue, attain, and use political power to achieve faith-based ends. It might be natural but it would also be completely wrong and, in my view, an utter distortion of the creation mandate. This is an interpretation of the creation mandate that Christians should reject entirely. Speaking as a Christian myself, contemporary Christian understandings of power and politics are a very large part of what has made contemporary Christianity in America appalling, irrelevant, and ineffective- part and parcel of the worst elements of our late-modern culture today, rather than a healthy alternative to it. . . .

Let me say further that the best understanding of the creation mandate is not about changing the world at all. It is certainly not about 'saving Western civilization,' 'saving America,' 'winning the culture war,' or anything else like it. The reason is that so much of the discussion surrounding this kind of world-changing is oriented toward the idea of controlling history. The presumption is both that one can know God's specific plans in human history and that one possesses the power to realize those plans in human affairs. There is a fine line between presumption and hope, as Aquinas observed, but in our culture, such presumption nearly always has tragic consequences.

For now, I will only say that the antidote to 'seizing power' in a new way is a better understanding of faithful presence. Consider it this way: the culture matrix from the previous chapter is not just a visual demonstration of Christianity's lack of influence in the larger culture. It is also, and far more significantly, a visual demonstration of its absence (of people, institutions, and other resources) from key areas of culture; an abandonment of the call to faithful presence- irrespective of influence. Not least, the culture matrix is a visual demonstration of where the church is not healthy. A healthy body exercises itself in all realms of life, not just a few. The failure to encourage excellence in vocation in our time has fostered a culture of mediocrity in so many areas of vocation."

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