Spiritual Formation and Discipleship

 If ‘whatever’ is your attitude, should I, like, care?

Attitude (ˈadəˌt(y)o͞od)

Why do so many of the oft repeated quotes about attitude suggest that it is more important than money, education, circumstances, skill, and success? Perhaps it is because it somehow determines all of that and more, but most importantly it may be that attitude flows from the root of our character. Many motivational speakers today even go so far as to say that attitude is everything, especially when they speak of it as a kind of magic cure to everything that eludes us. They promise us that (for a fee) they can show us how to use attitude to get money, success, or whatever we want. Even if we do not accept their assumptions and offers, we must reckon with attitude’s profound role in our hearts and lives, that even if it is not everything, it does affect everything.

Psychologists consider attitude a “predisposed” state of mind, and its orientation/expression (positive, negative, or ambivalent) towards its object, that is acquired (learned and formed) through various experiences. It could in this way be said to reflect who we are as persons, and so it is even more important than all external success in money and education and circumstances. It is also universally recognized that our attitude determines how we weather our hardships and failings in each of these externals. Surely, we have all observed that destructive and convoluting attitudes bring trouble, and worse, into our lives. Contrarily, it would seem, that rightly constructive attitudes relate to that which enable us to flourish regardless of externals of life circumstances, and also enable us to face hardships and failure with grace and peace. Because of this profound impact on our lives, many conclude that if we just get the right attitude then we will succeed in all these things, even totally changing our circumstances. That is understandable, but is this not just a “positive thinking” idea that fails to grasp the full complexity of attitude in our mostly unpredictable lives?

We speak often of the primary role in our lives of our ideology, worldview, or convictions based on propositions or ideals and beliefs, and that is a fundamental truth. But, do we reckon adequately with the role of attitude in that, as well? But what exactly is attitude? We sometimes say, “[so and so] has attitude.” Or that someone’s attitude is what caused a particular decision, either good or not good, and that had a profound impact on some outcome in their life. Anyone who has raised children has observed that attitudes are caught as easily as the common cold, and that one is constantly battling to arm them against the many ways even what appears to be an innocuous attitude can change the course of one’s life. A particular attitude that subverts one’s entire life direction may have even come from a single comment made by a disapproving third grade teacher, after years of our cogitating (stewing and internalizing) about it. Or, disparaging peer-comments about education, certain vocations, or particular companies, can unwittingly impact the course of our life and choices.

Attitudes are the hidden rudder, appearing to us only rarely, but all-the-while guiding the whole ship. In this sense, they can be notoriously difficult to identify and address, yet failing to do so can have cataclysmic consequences in the long-term. Attitudes determine how we view our work, colleagues, neighbors, property, authority, even our own families, and life itself, and so commonly without much basis in factual reality. It might be said that human conflicts and even wars are frequently the result of attitudes run amuck, and since we might conclude that attitude is a matter of the heart it is thus one that is not easily remedied. Why then does it seem we do not often address this? I have not been able to find in all of my theological dictionaries any more than one short entry on the word attitude.

It could be said that attitude is the sum total (or result) of combined values, beliefs, experiences, values, ideals, perceptions, moods, and can be either true or false, or contain a mixture of both. Attitude may also be described as an accumulation of all of the above that compounds in interest as one mulls and ruminates. Attitude often is applied to a person who has such a strong feeling, disposition, or perspective on something that they are not able to see any other options; that they have an attitude that has closed their mind. When this is the case, we might conclude that they are not oriented by reason or logic but by an unguided attitude.[1] Could it be described in this case as one’s feeling overpowering reality and the truth?

I recall in my youth how negative attitudes about so many things governed our perspectives on life, institutions, money, work, family, people, government, and the war. I am not saying that there may not have been some truth to our perspectives, but rather that so frequently I recall being unable to see things in any other way, meaning that my attitude determined my whole perspective, and not the truth, and it prevented consideration of other valid possibilities. Yes, the heady ideologies of that time were the air we breathed, and the many philosophies we entertained seemed to hold out promise. But, I came to wonder whether it was my attitudes that determined those philosophies more than the facts. So many of our generation had the blindest of certitude about so many things, that we really were right about everything that really matters, and so we could not seriously consider the chance that we might not be.

This is an example of what I think can be considered a fruit of attitude. That attitude, admittedly, was powered by much disdain and disgust and dislike, yes even hatred for any opposing ideas, even if they might be true. There was an attitude that the whole system was bad and everyone connected with it was bad, even though we had no true moral compass to determine good from bad; it was only assumed and determined by an attitude about the system, the politics, the capitalists and the economy, the military and the technocrats, and the old orders of belief that reflected what we thought was outmoded largely because it was older. Similarly, I have heard that the Punk Rock culture, Heavy Metal, Goth and Grunge, all express an opposing attitude by design, as does the skateboarding culture which they tell me extolls reckless rebellion. Indeed, this is in part the problem of every new generation which must grapple with the messed-up world before them and face the failings of those who preceded them. All the same, in our generation, unlike any before, all across the globe there developed an attitude that was totally and violently disruptive because it was not measured by reality of the truth about things; it was more the product of an attitude of unreasoned rejection. It was as though a predisposition took hold of our perspectives, an emotive reaction that governed our reason and mind-set and therefore our responses to people and problems, and thus prejudices developed that were entirely unwarranted. I began to ask then how such irreason could take hold of so many people, including myself?

The heart is the factory of all our idols, it has been said, and so it is certainly the source of our attitudes. It is often said that we need an “attitude adjustment” and that Happy Hour is just the remedy. Some say we must just “check our attitude at the door,” as if it is a pistol or weapon of self-defense. But if this is a heart matter, neither a gin and tonic nor a pretension to laying them aside will remedy our attitude issues. Ironically, this is seen also wherever there are reversals of discrimination demonstrated against those from whom people have experienced, or perceived, bad treatment. For example, when we see the poor nursing angry attitudes of hatred towards the rich they perceive as responsible for their own hardships, or reversals of racial discrimination seen when an ethnic group returns the favor on those who (or their ancestors) have mistreated them. Or when two good friends or lovers part ways unhappily and speak ill of one another the next day. When we speak of something as a “heart” matter, we refer to issues of character, and biblically speaking what is in view are the heart-attitudes, the orientation of one’s loves, hates, and indifferences. The attitude is the characteristic of our virtues, as for example in pride or humility, righteousness or unrighteousness, honesty or dishonesty, kindness or unkindness, forgiveness or resentfulness, whether we are merciful or unmerciful.

Though there are not many particular biblical terms describing all that we mean in English by attitude, it can certainly be said that this concept can be found in many contexts, and is central to all texts related to the heart, its problems and corruptions, and its need to be made new.[2] Wherever we see motives and perspectives governing a person’s life we are in the realm of attitude. And this is where the gospel of Christ is most prominently applied in that we are to cultivate and pray for the attitudes that exemplify those who are in Christ and claim him as King, Savior, and Lord. That is, our attitude is one that enables us to live with grace and peace in a frequently graceless and un-peaceful world.  It is evident that good attitude is not just something easily taken in hand or drummed up in human strength, as every human heart is evidently misaligned. A broken heart cannot heal itself. A corrupted orientation of the heart cannot uncorrupt itself. All sinful attitudes need a sinless Savior to restore and renew them according to his joyous disposition and merciful temperament that forgives through forging the virtues of humility and compassion. Positive thinking does not suffice in creating virtuous attitudes that enable us to weather this life of trials, nor does it necessarily change one’s circumstances; but it is his grace that enables us to flourish regardless of external circumstances, and also to face hardships and failure with grace and peace. This develops an attitude of hopeful expectation that he who began his good work in us will complete it on the day Christ Jesus returns (Phil 1:6). This is not the negatively blinding kind of attitude I discussed above, but one that walks by faith and not by sight. It is a renewed eyesight that allows for the vision of God to determine our attitudes, thus guiding our steps according to his truth and not our version of it.

The idea of a properly biblical attitude is as follows: 

Phil 2:5-8 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

1 Pet 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.

Eph 4:17-23 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Rom 15:5-6 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] It might be added that both positive and negative attitudinal dispositions about something might have a blinding force, as for example in the Christian Science religion that tries to overcome the reality of sin, sickness, death, etc., all through adjusting one’s attitude and perspective towards them (as in “mind over matter”). Indifference can even be considered an attitudinal stance.

[2] Louw and Nida define 26.16 φρονέω “to think in a particular manner.” Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition, Vol. 1, p. 324). New York: United Bible Societies. See also διάνοια which refers to the mind, understanding, intelligence Mk 12:30; Eph 4:18; Hb 8:10; insight 1 J 5:20; disposition, thought Lk 1:51; 2 Pt 3:1; attitude Col 1:21; sense, impulse Eph 2:3. [dianoetic, of reasoning process], Gingrich, Greek NT Lexicon, p. 46.
See Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius, Hebrew English Lexicon,  ] יֵ֫צָר4095) [Hebrew) (p. 428. 4. of what is framed in the mind) cf. יָצַר 1 c, 2 b(, imagination, device, purpose: יצר מחשׁב(ו)ת לב(ב) Gn 6:5, 1 Ch 29:18; י׳ מחשׁבות 28:9; לב י׳ Gn 8:21; יֵצֶר alone Dt 31:21); יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ Is 26:3 a steadfast purpose  or frame of mind. In NH יֵצֶר is common in sense of impulse: יצר הטוב and יצר הרע of good and bad tendency in man.


All the Way Back Home to Shalom

To read the whole essay click here: All the way Back Home to Shalom by Stephen HagueMarch snow 2018

For Julian and Marcus upon their return home March 10[really the 7th], 2018 in hopes that home will always be with, behind, and before them.
And for Lucas who made traveling to Mexico and back home a joy I will never forget.
♥   ♥
In memory of the Contes’ family home (which burned down the day I finished this essay), and which did not destroy their home nor their memories of it.

“Homemaking, like world-building, is a world-ordering enterprise. To turn space into place is to establish normative boundaries that bring a certain kind of order to the life lived within those boundaries.[1]

What if I was to ask you what is the word that most warms your heart, touches on your deepest longings, evokes your riches memories? For me, that word would be HOME. Home to me is the essence of our earthly life, the center, the focus, the foundation of life in this world. And, this is coming from one who loves to travel, and often “get away” from home! “Home” may not be the word that comes to your mind, especially if you had a painful or tragic home-life as a child, or do at present. There is also the feeling, or reality, of homelessness and displacement prevalent in our times. Yet, if you have painful associations with the concept of home, let me suggest for the moment that you put aside those pains and fears and allow yourself to consider the beauty of this word “home.” That is, I suggest, the pain of those who have suffered through childhood is in fact particularly acute because we have an intrinsic understanding of, and longing for, what home should be, for as we are made in God’s image he has made us for home. Therefore, I believe all humans that have ever lived can understand and relate to the pictures I am going to present here on this theme.

To read the whole essay click here: All the way Back Home to Shalom by Stephen Hague

[1] Prediger and Walsh, Beyond Homelessness, p. 53.


The Quest for Spiritual Experience [through asceticism]

For pdf file click here: Quest for Spiritual Experience [through Asceticism]

The linguistic root of “asceticism” is the word askēsis which means practice, training, or exercise and came to be used in reference to spiritual disciplines and self-denials. There have been various forms of asceticism in the major world religions, including “pagan” forms that similarly involve escaping the corrupting world, but as a non-religious salvation or secular “self-improvement.” In ascetic systems, it is typically understood that the things of the world, and even enjoyment of them, are not in themselves simply rejected but are considered a hindrance and obstacle to some perceived higher religious and spiritual objective. The common idea is that self-denials and restraints will give greater freedom and detachment from those obstacles to one’s spiritual and moral health or growth.

  • Christian Asceticism & the Quest for Spiritual Experience

Since asceticism has played such a large role in Judeo-Christian history, we must ask if it has biblical grounds. It might be argued that there are two definitions of asceticism. To simplify these two, we could say that the one definition is life/world-affirming and sin denying, while the other is life/world-denying and sin-denying. The biblical gospel through both the Old and New Testaments is clearly life-affirming wherever it might be argued that it has some kind of ascetical aspects (e.g., Nazarites), and it is never life-denying. If there is a biblical ascetic, it never flows from the presupposition that the created world or human body is essentially bad or evil and thus demands escape. The biblical view is that self-denial of some earthly good is not because that earthly good is in fact bad, but rather that some higher good is needed (as in intensive fasting and praying for a season). That is, the motivation of such denials is not to escape some evil in order to achieve some higher good. Although, there are evils in this world that are necessary for all believers to avoid and escape for their own spiritual good, but it is not for self-justification or self-sanctification. The biblical view is always sin-denying and holiness and life affirming in its totality, or wholeness. Anything we might call a “spiritual discipline” that involves some form of concentrated self-denial or focus, is to be understood in the context of the whole life, and not separate from it, as an escape from it, nor a diversion from it, out of fear of some obstacle to the higher spiritual life. “Praying without ceasing” does not mean that we leave the world and sit forever in church or on a pole, as discussed next.

The other definition, wherever it is found, rests on assumptions of the evil of the world and the body and the consequent necessity of denying and escaping such earthly things for higher (spiritual) purposes (usually related to self-justification in terms of works-righteousness). There were ancient “pole-sitters” (stylitēs) who would sit on platforms on tops of high poles (see illustrations above), and those who spent their lives hiding in caves or monasteries, to escape the corruptions of the world. Underlying much of this form of asceticism is a dualistic view of the universe. Even if the ascetic impulse is not combined with this view of the intrinsic evil of the world and its pleasures, this world is typically perceived as a hindrance to spiritual pursuits and advancement. Thus, in either case, the means of such denials include abstinence and austere disciplines of denial and even self-inflicted deprivations, pains, and various flagellations. Such unbiblical views of human nature, the image of God, the creation of God, human life in this world, and justification and sanctification, make much of these ascetic traditions untenable and counter-productive for Christians.

Super-spirituality and self-righteousness are dangers we always will face in our prideful state, but it can be that such asceticism, ironically, can swiftly open those doors. This is not to say that humility and self-abasement can not come from self-denials (such as intensive prayer and fasting), but the goal is knowing and glorifying God in Christ in order to live in the world, not self-justification by seeking spiritual perfections (to become “spiritual athletes”) or experiences or escape out of the world from corrupting threats. The goal of the Christian life is Christ-likeness, living fully in this world in service to others.

In Christian asceticism, for example, the idea that God is unquestionably prior to one’s family, or other human responsibilities, in terms of one’s life, vocations, and service, leads to the view that it is more spiritual to do missions or evangelism or some other obviously Christian activity than to serve one’s family or “secular” vocation in some capacity. This is perhaps based on Jesus statement recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

Mtt 10 37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

Nevertheless, I believe this is a serious misunderstanding of the nature of Christian service and love, since serving one’s family, or fulfilling some rather “ordinary” vocation or task, may be the very “highest” calling we will ever have, and by loving and serving our families, doing our work well, and serving a vocation, we are indeed fulfilling God’s calling and vocation for us. (In this text in Matt 10, Jesus was addressing those who would forsake or reject him for others, or for something else.) That is, it is not less spiritual to peel the potatoes at home than to do a short-term missions trip. There is also the commonly used phrase, “full-time Christian ministry” that indicates we have not moved past the medieval notions of the separation of sacred and secular. That doing “full-time ministry” is somehow a higher calling than everything else, and that it can even justify abandoning other human, familial, and vocational responsibilities has (inadvertently) caused much heart-ache in people’s lives in the history of the church.

In light of these matters, is such a thing as Christian asceticism possible, and is the idea truly oxymoronic? Historically, Christian’s have attempted to develop and practice various forms of asceticism, and they often drew on both pagan and Jewish forms, but today they draw most readily from Greek and Gnostic traditions.

“The prevalence of asceticism cannot be traced to a single source or motivation. Selective use of the canonical Gospels and Paul, the Stoic ideal of apatheia (“passionlessness”), Platonic dualism, the influence of Essene and other Jewish communal practices and the widespread ascetic impulse in serious circles in the Greco-Roman world all contributed. From no later than the mid-second century, the Protevangelium of James propagated reverence for Mary’s perpetual virginity.”[1]

The important question is, can asceticism contribute to the sufficiency of Christ?

Our sufficiency is in Christ alone; there is nothing we can add to that sufficiency. Spiritual exercises and religious observations may be helpful in some practical ways (concentration and focus in prayer and worship), but ironically they become a serious hindrance to godliness whenever thought to be the path to a “higher spirituality” or spiritual qualifications before God. Very seriously, asceticism can also threaten a believer’s subjective assurance of the objective assurance they have in Christ’s sufficient grace. Works for righteousness always undermine our confidence in the all-sufficiency of Christ Jesus.

Indeed, there are so many movements and people and ideas that would take away from the full sufficiency of Christ, or that would add to the full sufficiency of Christ. These are probably the two most common temptations we sinners often fall for, being frequently restless and discontent and failing to grasp that Christ is absolutely sufficient in himself for us and our redemption, body and soul. There is nothing we can add to his all-sufficiency, but there are so many voices that call us to either diminish his sufficiency (unbelief, Liberalism, many world religions, etc.), or to add to his sufficiency by our own efforts (moralism, legalism, works, higher spirituality, super spirituality, etc.). This is what Paul was addressing at the church at Colossae:

Col 2:8-10 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority . .

In conclusion, all such unbiblical notions that diminish or add to the all-sufficiency of Christ in asceticism are completed contradicted and vanquished by the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus, since in both God affirms the goodness of his creation and his purposes to resurrect the body of those he claims as his own people. This is why Paul condemns all those who say “do not handle, do not touch, do not taste” (Col 2:20-23), in order to curb one’s sinful heart, or to sanctify oneself, since these deprivations in themselves have no advantage, power, or value against sinful indulgence. In response to the various deprivations and denials for the higher spiritual life, Jesus said that it is not what goes into our mouths that is a danger, but what comes out of our hearts . . . (Mtt 15:11).

Jesus lived the perfect life for us, though tested and tempted, in the created world, in the flesh, and thus fulfilled in his life the Edenic ideals that Adam failed to accomplish. His power and Spirit alone can sanctify us in heart. Christ’s incarnation and resurrection are the proof that the new creation will be a glorious renewal of all that he has made and all that he has redeemed. And then we will come to fully understand that to be human in itself is to be fully “spiritual,” and it is in being human that we glorify him.

[1]Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1997).

For pdf file click here: Quest for Spiritual Experience [through Asceticism]

peanuts and happiness

Is being a [ordinary] human-being itself [extraordinarily] spiritual?

Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs write that even peeling potatoes is as “spiritual” as worship and witnessing:
potatoThe “world” in the New Testament is the sphere of life in which God’s lordship is rejected, where the things of this life become ends in themselves or even are worshiped. The world in this sense is most certainly to be rejected, but this does not mean that we are to hate life, culture, nature, sex and other material things.

“Everything created by God is good,
and nothing is to be rejected if it is
received with thanksgiving.” 1 Timothy 4:4

Paul even asserts that the teaching that the material world is not to be enjoyed is a doctrine of demons (v. 1). We have been created to enjoy God’s world in all its richness. Human culture is also to be enjoyed.

Spirituality involves the whole of human life; nothing is nonspiritual. But wherever Platonism has affected Christian teaching there has been a separation of the sacred and secular. Thus, prayer, worship, evangelism and “the ministry” are thought to be sacred. All other activities are secular. The sacred is said to be more spiritual.

Even where a necessary involvement in everyday tasks is acknowledged to be a Christian duty, the work, it is said, has to be done only physically. The spirit within has to be involved in silent communion with God, practicing his presence. This is similar to the command of the BhagavadGita to act as if we were not acting, love as if we were not loving. The necessity of involvement in the world of people and things is accepted, but the action must be done with the spirit withdrawn into the secret place of union with God, where the “real” business of life is said to be carried on.

This mentality subtly affects Christian thinking in numerous ways. For example, someone might say, “If only I could be involved in something really spiritual like witnessing rather than peeling these potatoes.” The New Testament stands absolutely against this division of life into more and less spiritual sections. Consider Ephesians 5:18. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit continuously. How is this to be expressed? In singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; in giving thanks in all things; and also in thinking of others’ needs as we submit to one another in the ordinary everyday relationships of husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee. We are to obey God’s Word in all these areas, living before him in dependence on his Spirit. This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

Paul says elsewhere that we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17). All we do is to be done under the lordship of Christ–even washing floors. Everything we do as human beings is spiritually important. There is no sacred and secular. This does not mean merely that we see practical value in “secular” tasks like peeling potatoes and washing the floor. It means far more: God himself delights in them because he has created the realm of the physical. Therefore, we are to value every part of our lives just as he does. In fact, spirituality is to be expressed primarily in the ordinary everyday affairs and relationships of our lives. God will reward his servants both for their work in everyday tasks (even if in slavery-Col. 3:22-24), and for their work in proclaiming the gospel (1 Thess. 2:19). Anything done well on the foundation of Christ will be approved by God on the day of the believer’s judgment.

From Ranald Macaulay & Jerram Barrs, Being Human: the Nature of Spiritual Experience, pp. 54-55.  

Christian Responsibility Towards the World: Withdrawal or Involvement?

_DSC0430Oftentimes, I have been blindsided by attitudes in the Christian community that react to Christian efforts to seek justice, or to right wrongs in this world; it is an attitude opposed to those who work for righteousness and truth and love in the various avenues of social, political, educational, artistic, medical, and economic concerns of people in the world. On one hand, it may be from an understandable fear of diluting the gospel of Jesus to a “social gospel,” and on the other hand from a culturally separatist (otherworldly) attitude that believes we are only supposed to “preach the gospel” and get people on the bus to heaven. In both cases, I think there is a failure to understand the nature of the gospel-promise along with the gospel-responsibility: the promise of a new creation shows God’s love for his creation, that Christ is presently Lord of every atom, every grain of sand, and every galaxy in his creation, and that he is going to restore his entire creation at his return. Thus, all our activities and responsibilities in this world have spiritual significance; we are not just preparing people to get on and off the bus! We are to make disciples (of all the nations); that is, people who live in this world as the light and salt of this world, bearing good and lasting fruit, preparing us to live on the earth renewed forever. There is no such dichotomy between do we “preach” the gospel and/or rescue people from trafficking/slavery, brutality, or injustice in the courts . . . , etc. Rather, the gospel rescues us from both spiritual darkness and the darkness of human injustice and cruelty. Christ is deeply concerned with both the salvation of the soul and the body, he redeems the whole person within the entirety of his creation. “God so loved the cosmos . . .” (Jn 3.16). As Paul tells us, “The whole creation groans in travail . . .” and yet, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8.21-22).

In regards to this question of the relationship of Christ to the world, Christ and culture, John Stott summarizes most beautifully and profoundly the confusing tendencies in the Christian community to “withdraw from the world,” in what he calls various forms of modern Pharisaism.

CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST. Responsibility: Withdrawal or Involvement? John Stott, IVP, pp. 182-188. To read the whole selection go to Stott, John.CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST.
Christ’s fraternization with outcasts was interpreted by the Pharisees as an inexcusable compromise with sin; they did not see it for what it really was, an expression of the divine compassion towards sinners.

The attitude of Christian church
Leaving the first century and entering the middle of the twentieth, it is necessary to ask what the attitude of the contemporary church is towards outsiders, outcasts. Is it Pharisaic, or is it Christian? I fear that it is often Pharisaic. That is, the church tends (has always tended) to withdraw from the world and leave it to its own devices. Evangelical churchmen have by no means been free of this tendency, although indeed it is a denial of their true character. Many examples could be given, illustrating different causes of the same general attitude. Let me try to enlarge on what I think are the four commonest.

  1. “plain, unvarnished, Pharisaic self-righteousness”
  2. “the withdrawal of the church from the world is a genuine if mistaken fear of contamination”(a monastic type of self-absorbed isolationism)
  3. an unbalanced understanding of the relation between evangelism and social concern that can go in to both extremes: “The ‘evangelical’ thesis in its extremist form is that God’s chief concern is the salvation of individual souls; that the church’s sole responsibility is the proclamation of the gospel; and that therefore social action being the first cousin of the ‘social gospel’ must be firmly eschewed.”
  4. that “we stand aloof from the world is plain laziness and selfishness. We do not want to get involved in its hurt or dirt”

“Underlying these four causes of withdrawal there lurks a false view of God. The God revealed by Jesus Christ is a God who cares. He loves people who do not deserve to be loved. He makes His sun rise on the evil as well as the good, and sends rain on the unjust as well as the just. He made us body-souls and cares for us as body-souls. And He has taken action — sacrificial action — to supply a remedy for our sin. He has got Himself deeply involved in our predicament. So Jesus Christ Himself did not remain aloof, or refuse to get involved, or hide away in the safe immunity of heaven. He entered our world. He assumed our nature. He identified Himself our humanity. He exposed Himself to our temptations, sorrows and pains. He made friends with outcasts and was nicknamed ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’?13 He humbled Himself to serve people in their need. He washed His disciples’ feet. He never drew back from any demanding situation.”

To read the whole selection go to Stott, John.CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST

“Those who lead the country into the abyss . . .”

Those who take the meat from the table
Teach contentment.
Those for whom the taxes are destined
Demand sacrifice.
Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry
Of wonderful times to come.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.

(Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 249, quoting Bertolt Brecht. Willard says we idolize leaders in order to believe — a self-delusion — that they are the kind of people who can solve the problems of human society, but in truth they cannot, since they are truly powerless to do so unless “they work in the power of God and have character to bear it without corruption.”

“We have one realistic hope for dealing with the world’s problems. And that is the person and gospel of Jesus Christ, living here and now, in people who are his by total identification . . .”, p. 237)

Christ restores all . . .

“Christ restores all things and all relationships. In terms of our macro-typology, Christ is the antitype of every aspect of reality: nothing exists outside this relationship. Everything the Bible deals with comes within this relationship. To put it another way, the incarnate God-man is the representative embodiment of every aspect of reality in perfect relationships. What God has done in Jesus is made to involve us as we are related to Jesus by faith and, by involving us, has ultimate implications for the whole of creation (Romans 8:19-23).” Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, p. 224.