Friday, May 9, 2014

Drifting

Someone paid Hunter Baker's entry fee to attend the most recent "Q" conference. I had never heard of "Q" and so found his "Thinking About Q Nashville: Reflections from a Gen X Evangelical" both informative, interesting, and a bit troubling. (I also came across "A Crash Course in Q" at First Things.) From Baker:
.... When I look at Q, its hosts, and the young people participating in it, I suspect I am seeing the cultural stance of those who have grown up in pervasively Christian subcultures. For them, rebelling means rebelling against Massive Baptist Church or Church Related University or Clearly Wealthy Famous Preacherman. Those are the holders of power in their world. It is little wonder to them that the dominant culture dislikes us. We are hypocrites. We don’t measure up to our own standards. And we are judgmental while the secular world is more understanding. Or so it seems to them.

But things look different from where I stand. I grew up as mainstream as mainstream gets. The big television networks, Sports Illustrated (and its swimsuit issue), People Magazine, Dave Letterman’s show, the newspaper funny pages — these are the influences that thoroughly defined my view of the world. I was aware of Christianity in a typical American and southern way, but it was just a given. It wasn’t anything I was very interested in or excited about. It was a cultural artifact. When I went to Florida State and moved into a dorm on campus, a couple of big things happened. First, I saw the way people live when they live in a thoroughly worldly manner. The drugs, the alcohol, the casual sex, the treatment of young women, the living for parties, etc. Second, I met the first really intentional Christians I’d ever known through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. They were serious. They talked about Jesus Christ as a real person in their lives. They didn’t live a party lifestyle. They saved sex for marriage. They were interested in reading the Bible carefully and learning about theologians. And they were really just totally and obviously different from everyone else on campus. I was impressed. And when I finally joined them, I felt as though I stepped from a meaningless life with no future into something real and vital and with a destiny to it. For that reason, I was then and am now perfectly willing to be seen as other and alien by the dominant culture.

I think the kids who grew up in the Christian subculture often don’t have that same perspective. They are tired of being different, of fighting against broad cultural currents. They can just fight against evangelicalism by somehow reprising the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in a new way. And the great thing is, they keep one foot in the world of faith and one in the more fashionable world. But those two feet are differently situated. One stands on a dock. The other on a boat slowly drifting away. A choice is imminent. Where will they be standing ten years from now? [more]
A couple of days ago Trevin Wax reviewed a new book, When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, about how most white southern Christians responded to slavery and later to segregation, From that review:
The Church is supposed to live in a way that deliberately challenges and subverts the dominant idolatries of the culture. Unfortunately, the culture too often subverts the Church. When this happens, the Church's witness is harmed and evil flourishes.

I belong to a denomination sadly familiar with the reality of cultural subversion. During much of the past century, Southern Baptists and other evangelicals in the South failed to embrace the full implications of their gospel of grace. Evangelicals accommodated the surrounding culture at the very points we should have challenged it. ....

Where was the church? Most pastors and members of white churches across the South were largely silent regarding the racist violence in their midst, neither condoning nor condemning the evil, and thus becoming complicit in the injustice. While most evangelicals weren't active participants in the fight against racial equality, they were content to quietly support the established culture of the South. Put simply, "culture trumped Christ."

Why was the church disengaged? Alan traces the roots of the conflict back to economic considerations, or to put it in biblical terms — Mammon. The idolatry stretches back to the beginning of our country:
"The economic and social/cultural need for black slavery came first and then the theological justification came later. The colonists used God to defend and promote what they wanted. They used God and the Bible as a means to an end of defending and promoting their goals or way of life."
White Southerners didn't always see slavery as desirable, but because the Southern economy and culture depended on the practice, they couldn't imagine life without it. So, in order to justify their cultural accommodation, Southern Christians went back to the Bible and began to develop "biblical" defenses of racial superiority (the curse of Ham, the Tower of Babel, applying biblical references to slavery in ancient times to permanent, race-based slavery). .... [more]
Each generation of Christians must consider whether to stand with or against the dominant trends of the culture.  I'm reminded, as I often am, of Chesterton's "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."