Christ Culture and the Things of the World

NT Wright, writing on the divide between science and religion (inspired by a curiously controversial statement that Stephen Hawking has already made previously), ponders at the end:

Of course, the old set-up of the ‘science and religion’ debate… needs realigning. In fact, the ancient Christians would have been shocked to see their worldview labelled as a ‘religion.’ It was a philosophy, a politics, a culture, a vocation… (h/t Jesus Needs New PR)

I wonder the implications of seeing Christianity as a culture, a way of life rather than simply a religion (or a religion gussied up as a “relationship” or in some weird sub-culture). In fact, maybe we should disseminate between the culture of Christianity of the first couple centuries AD and the culture of Christianity (in the US, at least) in the 20th & 21st centuries AD.

And here is where I question if it’s largely a failure to imagine, as Skye Jethani says. Or is it something deeper? I think our failure to imagine is really a failure to imagine a wonderful possibility here and now. We’ve divorced the God of this world from the reality and essence of this world. So our imaginings are stuck in “heaven” – a place far and away. The world around us and its culture is “worldly.” Hence they are only to be used to get others onto our escape hatch – our other-worldly “heaven.”
And away from the world.

Rapture-1photo © 2011 Andres Trujillo | more info (via: Wylio)

But when Jesus and the epistles mentioned “worldly” in its negative connotations, they were referring to the loves of the world – self, greed, envy, strife, division, lust, wealth… When they said we should refrain from the world, they meant we should refrain from those practices. Not the world itself (the very creation that God called “good”), or the people in the world (“For God so loved the world…”), but the fleeting, destructive objectives that run counter to God’s Kingdom. If you’re not so sure what those might be, check out the Beatitudes and then reflect on the antonyms of them.
Cursed are the rich oppressors…
Cursed are they who are leisurely in others’ distress…
Cursed are the haughty and proud…
Cursed are those who obscure and defile justice…
Cursed are the merciless…
Cursed are the wicked in heart…
Cursed are the war-mongers…
Cursed are those who persecute others for doing what is right…
(paraphrase of Matthew 5)
Those are the “things of the world” that we should watch out for, that Christians are to run counter to. The fact that we often celebrate or justify or even practice these actions in the American church (witness our covering for the Iraq War and torture. Notice how we mercilessly hound homosexual couples) while hoping to flee this world (which led to the celebrated lunacy this week with rapture nuts), shows how counter to God’s intentions we have become. This theory (which I’ve deconstructed here) of leaving the earth that God created and is working to redeem is not just bad form, it’s horribly destructive and counter to what God had demanded of his people.
It is, to put it bluntly, worldly
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