culture-warrior-clay-bennett

Our Faithless Culture Wars

A while ago, I finally realized that I needed to take Jesus’ teachings much more literally. He said, “don’t judge” and I said, “I’m not judging, but clearly some things are wrong. It’s not judging to say that.” He said, “love, pray for and serve your enemies” and I heard, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” He said, “do not resist the evil man” and I signed petitions against groups and politicians in order to protect Jesus’ values. Jesus said, “so do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” and I wonder if we should make plans to attend the financial planning series the church is holding on Thursday nights. Jesus said, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” and I work really hard to be at least in the top quintile in everything I do. See the problem here?

So, haltingly and stumblingly and often failingly, I have tried to unlearn the ways we do things here in the world and adopt the Kingdom way of doing things. What I have learned in the process is that what we see as “standing up for Jesus” or “hate the sin, love the sinner” is really a form of faithlessness. We don’t trust God enough to be able to work things out according to the ways that Jesus told us to do them. We fight and opine and advocate because we are convinced that without our help, God won’t get his way. We think that all that talk about not judging and not resisting and not worrying are good – so far as they go. But there are important issues at play here. If we don’t stand up and fight, we could lose! We could be eating cat food in retirement. “God doesn’t get what it’s like down here” is what I’ve sometimes told myself. Only that’s ridiculous – God made “down here.” He came down here and suffered the worst we could throw at him. And God wins. Always, everywhere. Period. Amen. The reality is that every time I judge or fight or worry or try to keep my position, I’m throwing my lot in with the losing side. Really. Think about that and then think about our culture wars and you can start to see why “the church” has failed so miserably in fighting them. And even more alarmingly, how breathtakingly faithless we are.

What I’ve learned is that not judging means allowing God to work through another person’s sin without my input. Jesus said that the first shall be last and that this was for the good. But when our place as first is threatened, we say, “we need to stand up and stop our rights from being taken.” This isn’t the Jesus way. He gave up all his rights and tells us to be willing to do the same and trust that God will work through that. When I can allow another person to be in error without correcting or arguing with them it’s because I trust that my job is simply to point people to God and leave the rest to him.
When I started this blog years ago, I’m sure I had a reason for choosing the name “The Upside Down World”, but I no longer remember what that reason was. Today, I couldn’t possibly have come up with a better name because it’s a perfect description of the Kingdom of God – The Upside Down World. In God’s economy, the first is last and the last is first. In God’s economy, the weak are powerful and the powerful are weak. Fights are won by refusing to resist. Futures are secured by giving up today. Lives must be lost in order to be won.I was going to start this post by saying, “I’m not a culture warrior.” But I erased that as soon as it was written. The truth is that I am a culture warrior. Or at least I aspire to be one. Only it’s not political or cultural or even moral battles that I want to battle over. I want to battle for an upside down world. I want to continue battling to unlearn the deep programming that says we must stand up, fight, be heard, mark of right from wrong. It’s a strange and uncomfortable battle to wage. But the truth is that God does not need us to defend him. Jesus hasn’t asked us to go to battle for him.  We’ve been told to pick up our own cross and walk our own narrow path. That’s the kind of culture warrior I’m trying to be. Anyone want to join me?
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15 thoughts on “Our Faithless Culture Wars

  1. The paradox of Jesus’ calling cannot be denied. While trusting God to make things better Jesus sends us out to “cast out demons” and take them head on. People read, “Don’t judge” but ignore “the way you judge others will be how you are judged”, so we are to judge (and test the spirits) but do it with justice. We wait for God, but like the prophets we expose and resist “unfair weights” and God expects us to “defend widows and orphans” with more than sincere waiting. So I accept your sense of what I would perceive as “humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God”, but that doesn’t exclude the need to “carry one another’s burdens”. In my academic research it became clear the ancient mind lived comfortably with paradox, while moderns of the west want “an answer” that serves as paradigm for every situation. This is not a critique; more an addendum, if I may. With enthusiasm and enjoyment, as I feel good about it and what you’ve said (as per your post “Feel Good Church…)!

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    • Welcome! I actually touched a lot on the paradox you’re talking about with a post I called “Turning the other cheek – a lesson in assertiveness” a while ago. (http://wp.me/pa4Ae-wj) What concerns me about the culture wars is how wrapped up in them people become. It becomes part of people’s identities and an excuse to ignore or run rough-shod over all sorts of things we really shouldn’t be comprimising – like being loving servants to all.

      I think that a lot of Christians see themselves in a prophetic role without ever having been called into it. Being a prophet isn’t something that all people are called to. It’s something that a very few are commissioned into – usually against their will. It is preceded by something far outside the usual “I see what’s right and what’s wrong and that’s wrong” ability to see what’s going on. It involves a specific message, given by God – usually in a vision or through angellic messengers. When we all take it upon ourselves to act as prophets, we are well outside our bounds and do more harm than good.

      I would be inclined to agree with you about judging. However few people – Christians in particular – have any idea how to reach that balance because they have never practiced NOT judging. For several years now, I have worked hard to refrain from all criticism and judgment whenever possible and it’s been a real education for me. I’ve learned so much. Interestingly, there have been a few times just in the last 6 months or so that I’ve felt confident enough to say, “I understand that by judging, I am opening myself up to being judged likewise and in this istance I can live with that. Here is my judgment.” What I’m finding that we can’t actually know how to judge properly until we know what it’s like to refrain from judging. Frankly, I don’t think a lot of Christians have the foggiest idea how to do it.

      I totally agree with what you say about paradox. The problem I think we have (in addition to not wanting paradoxes) is we often find that we can live with paradox when it allows us to continue doing what we’re comfortable with: judging, fighting, planning, advocating. But the BIG paradox is how to simply love. How to love when it’s offensive. How to love and only love. How to love when it harms us or is risky or unacceptable. As always, I think that Jesus is our model; he spent several years giving the slip to those who wanted to kill him. He stood up for himself and his disciples and even engaged in confrontation at the temple. However, all that lead up to the point in time where he allowed himself to be caught, didn’t speak in his own defense, didn’t confront but forgave those who were against him and went to complete and utter defeat – death. I don’t think there are a lot of Christians today who would be willing to give up their battles and accept defeat like that. I guess that’s the faithlessness I’m talking about.

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      • Sorry, I should have been more precise that the prophet as model was my reference, and I should have stuck with “Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world” James 1:27 God’s Word).
        The paradox you refer to among Christians is called hypocrisy.
        Indeed, the real issue about judgment is whether we judge according to God’s laws and Jesus’ demands (Love…) or competition, greed, envy, hypocrisy, to humiliate someone who calls us to a radical obedience and humility before Almighty God. Also, Christians deliberately ignore the process to test our facts before condemnation, Matthew 18:15-17, and replace it with an ad hoc process by which they (judges) can’t lose, and the other person (accused) does lose, and that cannot ever be the purpose of one person judging another because that would be anti-love!! Which is why Jesus did not judge the crucifiers, for his judgment is true and He would have “won” before He had become the sacrifice for those very sins (and all others, of course). When He does now judge it will be based solely on what we have done; in a sense we judge ourselves.

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      • I didn’t really mean to argue with you (another bad habit I’ve been trying to break!). I’m really just talking as someone who although having a good heart and genuinely wanting to follow Jesus has fallen into all the traps and used all the justifications and excuses for it. The only thing that kept me on course was a willingness to be wrong which, unfortunately, I’m not sure everyone has. But really, all I can do is speak as an escapee from Christian-land thinking!
        Blessings,
        Rebecca

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      • I applaud your escape, and pray more people would have no other loyalty than Jesus and rely more on the Bible than bestselling writers! And I didn’t think you were arguing. I was grateful that you pushed me to be more explicit in my explanation of trusting God but not neglecting our call to do justly…

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  2. I Love this post and have actually been chewing on a lot of these same ideas as I’m meditating through Matthew. What I just ran into was that Jesus said “don’t judge” and then right after that said “don’t throw your pearls before swine.” Gwah?! Calling someone swine sounds really judgemental Jesus! So after sitting with that and chewing on it and reading a few more verses in (to the bit about recognizing false prophets by their fruit) I decided He’s instructing us not to judge people’s hearts, but to use discernment when we examine the fruits of their lives and make wise decisions about how we are going to interact with them. But you’re right, as a general rule, we do a lot of picking and choosing when it comes to which of Jesus’ words we’d like to obey and to what extent we’ll obey them. Great thoughts!

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    • Thanks for stopping by! I was just reading part of N.T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus last night and he emphasizes that Jesus was acting as Messiah, but also clearly within the prophetic tradition and role. I think that his comments of judgment must be understood as part of this prophetic mission. Like I say in the comments above, one of the big problems that I think Christians have is that we all want to think of ourselves as little prophets. But being a prophet requires a specific message and commission – not just being able to say, “this is wrong!”

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  4. oops, my bad. Posting correctly this time.

    I’m with you in a broad sense, and I have seen through the “Culture Wars” as political ploy for a long, long time. (Republicans stopped abortion or homosexuality yet? Saved the family? Nope? Didn’t think so. But they got lots of votes and they sure got lots of money.)

    However, I’d quibble with some of your definitions of judging. Yahshua definitely hated sin, while loving the sinner. (In the story of the forgiven adulteress, forever used by liberals to prove that “sin doesn’t matter” — most completely miss his parting message: “Go and sin no more.”) And in his day-to-day ministry he seems to have graded on a curve; he was a lot harder on the religious than on the profane; he held big shots to a much higher standard. They judged, so they received judgment, as promised.

    I think we should think long and hard about causes. We should learn to discern root causes from branch and twig symptoms. We should consider whether we’re spinning our wheels and wasting our talents, or investing them wisely. I regard the liberties I’m given as an American as my talents, to either take for granted and squander or wisely invest and defend. If this is so, then it would be a sin for me not to use and to stand up for my freedom.

    I agree with you that we should drop the worldly habit of worrying about material things. However, it is appropriate to learn how to be a good and faithful steward of the things we are given. Also, we are commanded to work as appropriate for our sustenance (though I have met a few believers who are convinced this is an Old Testament thing only).

    “The Upside Down World” is a perfect metaphor. (Also, it makes me think of people in China.)

    Because we Americans just love redcoats stationed in our homes.
    Songs for teenage girls to get knocked up to (newer culture blog)
    Church of Nude Protest (from my older popcult blog)

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    • I think the problem with judging is that it’s pointless. No one (or at least hardly anyone) changes their minds or behaviors when they feel judged. If anything, they just dig their heals in harder. And I think that we need to remember that in all those “men judge by outward appearance, God judges the heart” and “fear no man’s judgment, judgment belongs to God” verses apply to us. We are the men (and women) who only know outward appearances just as much as anyone else is, you know?

      I think that Jesus probably hated the brokeness that sin produces in our lives. Over the years I have become convinced that most sin has its roots in trauma and brokeness. Jesus didn’t just tell the adultering woman to “go and sin no more”. Having been the recipient of mercy and forgiveness through him would have been a profound experience, don’t you think? The woman who he told to sin no more would have been a rather different woman than had been brought to him just a few minutes earlier. Only after receiving great mercy and forgiveness and having this man of God stand up for her against those who would condemn her did he address her sin.

      And I do believe in being responsible and good stewards, but I don’t think most of us have thought enough about what that really means. Think of the story of the man who was going to build new barns to store his surplus only to die that night. Are we really sure that our retirement funds – which can be wiped out or subject to all manner of insecurity – are better recipients of our money than those in need? Maybe they are and maybe not. I don’t have all the answers to be sure. But I am quite certain that most of us – particularly most of us Americans haven’t wrestled with our ideas about money nearly enough.

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  7. I agree that “judging” (in the sense of summary condemnation, and in the sense of one sinner talking down to another) is pointless. Preaching God’s word on the sinfulness of sin, and the need for repentance, and the way to receive it in the blood of the Lamb, is not. All in proper order and perspective. 

    “Only after receiving great mercy and forgiveness and having this man of God stand up for her against those who would condemn her did he address her sin.”

    This is true.

    Your question about retirement funds has occurred to me as well. There is a thin line between responsibly laying aside for yourself and your family, and taking pride in your wealth and your financial wisdom. Like you, I don’t see a hard-and- fast rule in scripture. We are definitely adminished to work and save in the old testament. We are also adminished to give to the poor and use mammon to make friends. Some individuals who are particularly stuck to their stuff and their status (such as the rich young ruler) may have to part with ALL of it before they can get into the Kingdom. But i see no indication that is true for all of us.  

    I do think that investing in people gets a far better return than anything on Wall Street.

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