Future History: Part 2

So, continuing, albeit late, from my previous post…

How shall we now live given the dimensions of our culture & faith?  Increasingly I find myself drawn more and more to an essentially conservative approach to faith and life, not that I’ve ever been particularly liberal.  What I mean is that I am beginning to doubt the progressivist agenda of our age, especially the social justice wing of American evangelicalism.

It is not that I reject social justice; indeed, I believe that any reading of the gospels and the totality of holy scripture reveals a deep seated demand for justice to be implemented and to be sought after by the people of God – not just personal, but systemic.

 What I reject is the subtle substitution of such justice concerns for what might be called (and what have been called) fundamentals of the faith.  I do not think we can afford to bend out understandings of scripture to prevailing socio-cultural norms in an effort to be people of justice & mercy at the expense of holiness.

Ah holiness… that elusive word which I hear less and less of in any circle at all, but which is, to me, bedrock to our understanding of God and salvation.  God, it seems, is holy, and has the audacity to insist that we emulate him in that holiness.  Yet often social action, acts of mercy, etc., are substituted for personal holiness which, unlike the kingdom of God, is the one thing we are given sole jurisdiction over.

What do I mean?  Simply this: peace and justice in society are ultimately the purview of God who has promised that perfect peace & justice will not prevail until “the Day.”  What we have been given charge over is our own lives and bodies, which we are to purify and present spotless before the Lord.  Part of that purificaton and spotless presentation is working for peace & justice in the world and in our respective spheres of influence.

As we look towards future history, we would do well to look far enough ahead that we remember that history itself will one day draw to a close, and we will be ultimately evaluated not on the basis of how our sons & daughters remember us, but how our actions and beliefs are remembered by the chief judge.  That will certainly mean acting and believing in ways that will increasingly become unpopular and countercultural.  Just because those who have followed Jesus before us believed some things that we may not think of as being wrong, doesn’t mean that we are right.

Future history: Part 1

Back in those hazy crazy sleep deprived days of graduate school, we learned about the academic discipline of history.  Among other things we learned that history is not simply a record of events that occured in the past.  It is the selection of events that are deemed to be important, for whatever reason.  We were also warned against presentism which is the tendency to read history based on current morality, understanding & knowledge. 

I learned the same thing in school as part of Christian fellowship about reading the Bible.  A text can never mean what it never meant, and we must try to learn what the author’s intent in writing was.

Why do I mention these things?  Because I have been giving some thought to how future Christians will view the current period, when now becomes then.

When we look back on Christians during the era of slavery, we find it so easy to condemn them for their complicity and endorsement of slavery.  We do the same with those during the civil rights movement.  We commit what historians call presentism… we evaluate them essentially based on our now and judge them deficient in their understanding.  And there are those who think and do theology with an eye to the future by asking questions about how we will be viewed by them.  This is especially true about things like women’s ordination or gay rights.  No one wants to be on the wrong side of history.

Is this a problem?  I’m not sure, but I think so. It is easy for us to think that we are somehow above the culture, but it is amazing that as culture has shifted on issues of, say divorce, or women’s ordination, the church at large has trotted happily in its wake while telling ourselves that we are following the scripture.  I cannot help but wonder if we are deceiving ourselves.

So in the future will people look at us like we look at those who justified slavery because we hold the line on certain issues?  But if that is true; if truth is true, then it is always true and has always been true. And a shift in culture should not shift us.

So how do we remain in truth?  Some say scripture, but people use scripture to provide justification for anything and everything.  I think that is where the cloud of witnesses come in.  I don’t think we are wide enough to judge our own motives and so we need the weight of the entire communion of saints, not only present, but past, to help us discern what is true and right.

This post may offend

I want to start by saying the obligatory declaimer that I am an American, loyal, etc. and love my country, blah blah blah….

Today on this auspicious anniversary of what has become known as “the day that the world changed” (more on that later) I was driving past the headquaters of a not to be named but quite prolific book publishing company of a major denomination and I noticed the US flag flying at half mast.  Nothing unusual there; and quite appropriate given the remembrance of the day.

Beside the US flag on another pole was the Christian flag also flying at half mast.  From my vague remembrances of civics, I know that flags of sovereign nations are to fly at the same height, symbolizing their international equality, and the flags of the respective staes fly lower than the national flag, relfecting their subordinate status in the union.  Of coure, my social studies classes didn’t cover protocol of the Christian flag.

Aside from whether or not a Christian flag should even exist, should it follow the rules of other flags? Should it be flown at half mast to mark a uniquely American event, and if it is, what does that say about the theology of those who would fly it thusly?  Did those who made the decision view it as inappropriate that the Christian flag should fly higher than the US flag on a day of remembrance?  Should the Christian flag ever fly at half mast, since we who are believing know that from the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of God is advancing, continues to advance, and will advance until The Day?  Perhaps though the Christian flag should always be at half mast because of the pervasive un-kingdom realities that are true throughout the world, indeed in our own hearts, and not just on September 11.

Why is it that this day should be the day the world changed?  Is it because something happened to us?  The world did not change when ten’s (or was it hundreds) of thousands of people died in the tsunami.  Then again, that was a natural event.  So then why did not the world change when the embassies in E. Africa were bombed and hundreds of embassy employees working for the US died?   Perhaps because it did not happen here, and more likely because it happened to Africans.  What does it say when an event which kills hundreds or thousands elsewhere doesn’t change the world, but an event which kills thousands here is declared to signal a paradigmatic shift in “the world?”

I am troubed by this, as an American, but more significantly, as a believer.  Both the issue of the flag at half mast and the ways in which many of my brothers and sister of the faith blithely follow the line of reasoning that implies (if not outright states) that the lives of American people are more valuable, more significant, than the lives of any other people. I do not dismiss the tragic nature of the terrorist events of September 11, but neither do I support the notion that everything must now be redefined in light of those events.  As a Christian, there are two world changing days; the day of Christ’s resurrection, and the day of his return.  Until then the kingdom of God advances, and does not retreat; the flag of the kingdom of God is never half mast.  Likewise the pervasive reality of sinful brokenness that leads to terrorist attacks, economic exploitation, personal sin and public vice are reasons why every day is a day of mourning for believers until He comes.

come quickly Lord!