Christian Century Article: Can Christians Really Transform Culture?

Jason Micheli —  August 14, 2018 — Leave a comment

Here’s an article I wrote for the Christian Century Magazine, reviewing James KA Smith’s new book Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. Here’s a snatch of it:

It’s not that Christian engagement with culture fails to result in transformation. It’s that Christians often are the ones who are transformed as the culture, controlled by the enemy, baptizes them through its own liturgies of false worship and disordered love…

 

Formed by the loves of the earthly city, we infiltrate the heavenly city’s outpost, where we, as culture crusaders, transform the church. This explains theologically what I’ve intuited as a workaday pastor: Christians’ primary loves and convictions are not formed by the church. Instead, secular liturgies, which are both omnipresent and effective, form the primary loves and convictions that Christians then bring with them to church…

 

People select churches based on the convictions in which the culture has already formed them. Those formed primarily by the liturgy of the flag will choose a Southern Baptist church where they know their values will be mirrored, while those formed primarily by the liturgy of individualism will opt for a mainline church where they know inclusiveness will be a shared value. We choose churches the same way we choose political parties. This is why so many Christians know so few Christians who disagree with them. It’s why our ecclesial culture so neatly replicates the polarization in our wider culture. And it’s why so few mainline pastors thought it odd that, when the Festival of Homi­letics was held in D.C. this year, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker spoke but no Republican politicians did…

 

Full disclosure: I’m a card-carrying member of the Hauerwas mafia. I’m moved by his vision of the church forming Christians into a contrast community. But I’m also sufficiently appreciative of Smith’s work to concede a point that he doesn’t make explicitly but that necessarily follows from his work: we the church are not anywhere near sufficiently forming Christians to achieve either Kuyper’s or Hauerwas’s proposal for public theology. We’re playing chaplain and cheerleader to people whose faith is being formed elsewhere, shaped by another who just might be the enemy.

Click over to read the rest. Here’s the link: https://www.christiancentury.org/review/books/can-christians-transform-culture

Jason Micheli

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