Lesson 23: Connections

The newly elected president of UkraineThe last two chapters in the book examine further how technique has damaged culture by removing things from their real-life contexts, how faith, hope, and love correct that for the Church, and how this enables the Church to offer much needed guidance to culture.

In one of my face-to-face classes, I suggested that the customs, values, and traditions we associate with culture stem from some kind of common story that provides meaning and purpose for the group. When I asked the participants to discuss the common story shared by the citizens of the United States, just about everyone easily contributed to a long narrative that recognized our connections with time, place, nature, and community. The discussion included the unique history linked to our location. It touched on being a melting pot that offers opportunity through democratic government. But it also quite naturally included the dark sides, such as slavery and our treatment of Native Americans.

It did not take long for concerns to arise about whether we can still speak of a common story. Modern technology has enabled political communities to form around single issues that ignore essential connections with life. Realizing the most efficient way to win an election is to avoid the in-depth conversations associated with cultural values, they rely on bumper sticker slogans. Urgent problems demanding thoughtful disciplined approaches are addressed with cute phrases such “Build that Wall,” “Drill Baby Drill,” “The Work of Business is to make a Profit,” or “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In order to make a point, my face-to-face group discussed all the implications of the last. The list went on and on mentioning issues necessitating deep and prolonged conversation. However, the politicians on the left and right carefully confine their campaigns to the slogans that keep things on an emotional rather than a rational level.

It is easy to see the consequences when recently, the Ukraine elected (by a whopping 70%) a president who has no qualifications for office, except having played the role on a popular television show. Some would argue the US did much the same when we elected a reality TV star.

The Church’s common story is based on the interaction of faith, hope, and love that acknowledges the connections we have been mentioning. Faith trusts the story of God’s involvement with humanity that goes far back in history. Hope includes visions of the future extending far into the future based on the promises in that ongoing story. When properly functioning, faith informs and hope inspires loving actions in the present.

It should be obvious by now that many Christians do not agree with our contention that faith, hope, and love provide guidance for saving culture. Our book assumes the position H. Richard Niebuhr labels “Christ transforms culture” in his book Christ and Culture. It takes a positive and hopeful attitude toward culture based on 3 theological perspectives: 1) The logos theology in which God is present, creatively working in the world even though he is never totally discerned. Crucifixion is a critical creative act in God’s Incarnation leading to the Resurrection that invites Jesus’ followers to join in love’s mission to save the world. 2) Salvation includes restoring the Powers and Authorities of this world to their proper functions. This means transforming rather than replacing the world. And 3) trusting God’s grace to make this possible.

Although Christians cannot expect all persons in our secular culture to accept these three perspectives, we can voice confidence in the fruition of all loving actions and programs. And we can demonstrate how acknowledging our connections with community, nature, place, and time enrich our lives. Next week, I’ll delve deeper into this.

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1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. Fritz Foltz says:

    The main responses to this lesson were surprisingly about the great conflicts in Christianity these days. Some appreciated recognizing Niebuhr’s perspective on what was regarded as a helpful way to see our relationship to culture over against the many bad ones. On the other hand, some wondered what I meant when I used the term “Church”. They rightfully challenged my abstract and fairly meaningless usage. It is pretty obvious that many of our readers find the present institutional church to be an obstacle to following Jesus.

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