In an increasingly post-Christian world, followers of Jesus need to think about culture in some new ways. Awhile back, my daughter was studying Constantine and the "Christianization" of the Roman Empire during this amazing period in history. The period post-Constantine has often been called the Christian Era because of the influence and even embrace of Christianity in the Western world for almost 2000 years. However, over the last several decades (and many of us would argue longer than that), we have been moving into what has often been called the post-Constantinian, or post-Christian, or post-Modern era. This era is one in which Christianity is no longer the dominating presence shaping modern culture. This can be seen in so many ways throughout the world as values shift and as Christians seem increasingly frantic and anxious about their place in the emerging political, social, and economic world of the 21st century. This is mainly because those of us who call ourselves Christians are finding that a favored, unquestioned place at the table with shared value assumptions based on a Judeo-Christian worldview are increasingly diminished. At an increased rate, Christians are having to play by the same rules as others in the public space, justify beliefs and practices, and "show" their work on their beliefs to gain credibility and validity alongside those of the rest of the culture. Heaven forbid we be known by our "fruit."
This isn't something new... just something that many are experiencing at the real-life gut level either for the first time or with increasing regularity. With this, comes the regular, perpetual values clash. In this new world, Christians find themselves often clashing with the culture around them. There are, of course, several classic responses (for more on this, see H. Richard Neibuhr's Christ and Culture or you can read this wonderful essay by Leonard Sweet which I found originally back in 2001 in the book The Church in the Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives ). They are absorbed into the culture unquestioningly, they fight against the changing culture, they retreat into protective and isolationist modes, they move winsomely toward the culture in grace and truth, or they seek to engage, transform, and lead the culture in a shalomic restoration for the sake of the Kingdom (my preference), etc.
One such place is in the education of our children. I think it's important not only to instill the values that are core to the biblical worldview in our children, but to winsomely speak these into the culture around us. I suppose I'm as tolerant as the next guy because I'm opposed to any violent force or oppression of one worldview on another (including my own on someone else's), but I am adamant about influencing or impacting the culture with the goodness that comes from the God of the Bible and the beauty and rightness that is the fruit of a life lived according to his designs.
As we begin a new school year, one way to do that is to challenge your school system to articulate the values of its pedagogy and how it impacts our children who are under its care often for more hours a day than under our own. Too often (and I'm not against homeschooling), families merely remove their children from the public schools due to clashing values because influencing the school is too difficult. The difficulty here is that they, then, merely remove their voice from the conversation. When you or I remove our voice from the conversation and from influence of an organization (church, school, workplace, legislature, etc.), we have actually helped strengthen the beliefs with which we disagree. We then exacerbate the strength of the alternative to our own viewpoint. Here are two practical questions that can help to bring your voice to the table at your local school (or any other organization, for that matter):
- Does the core curriculum (or core programming) contribute to or compromise the core values and character development commitments this organization has made a promise to sustain? This question will help to clarify what the core values and character development commitments are, and provides an opportunity to influence these with your voice.
- How is the school helping our children to critically evaluate contrasting value systems for the best way to approach life and live life abundantly? Are your children being taught to believe something particular in school, or are they being taught to learn, to critically evaluate, to imagine, to parse, and to understand?
If you can begin these kinds of conversations within your school (or organization), then you have the opportunity to share the life-giving message of deep love that comes through the story God is telling, culminating in Jesus, in the bible. It's time for us to stop pretending that we have the corner on the cultural life of the world in which we live and begin truly sharing the good news of the gospel, exposing its life-giving beauty to the world around. It's time to lift up the gospel in its purest forms and let its light cascade out in comparison to any alternatives. Are we possibly afraid, as we sing loudly in our enclaves, that the songs of hope, restoration, forgiveness, and life might not truly be as life-giving as we say they are? Do we really believe what we sing, say, and preach? It's time to trust that the truth of the gospel is what it is, and that it will outshine any challenges to the offer of the abundant life that the God of the bible offers.
One of my favorite poems is one by Jane Tyson Clement entitled, Bird on a Bare Branch, and I think it speaks here:
Bird on the bare branch,
Flinging your frail song
on the bleak air,
tenuous and brave –
like love in a bleak world,
and, like love,
that we too
may be struck through with light,
may shatter the barren cold
with pure melody
for Thy sake
till the hills are lit with love
and the deserts come to bloom.
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