Separatism & Syncretism, part 2

(see posts below for context)

In answer to Aaron’s request, I’m starting a new topic that flows out of the comment thread on the previous post. The question is: what are some of the practical complexities of receiving, rejecting, and redeeming when it comes to our engagement with culture?

Matt is wrestling with whether “disengagement” is ever a gospel-centered purpose for watching movies. Aaron asks: “At what point is it ok to have some passive disengagement? Isn’t part of Sabbath un-plugging from your responsibilities… which might include taking in a college football game?” Then Aaron suggests that I start this current thread: “Let’s have a blog topic on how you engage something like a football game or Napoleon Dynamite in a gospel centered way. I know the gospel changes everything… but I would like to get real practical with that stuff. What is the frame of mind you go into the game/movie with? What should you be doing while you watch?

Those are the questions for conversation. Hash it out. Hooley and Paul E, bring what you got, cause you are throwin’ some good heat. And I assume at some point Walker will jump in here and answer someone’s question with a question as only he can do.

Notes for further clarification:
That Kelly Clarkson chick is OK
You CAN like country music and be a Christian (y’all stop taking my humor so seriously)
Patrick, sorry for assuming you liked Kelly cause she’s cute. Aaron, sorry for dissing on pop music. Even though you’re just defending pop ’cause you’re a keyboard player. In 40 years when you’re playing the piano in the mall food court for a side job, pop is the only thing people will find familiar enough, so I see why you have to defend it now to protect your future employment options. 🙂
I will save my attack your subjectivist views of art for a future post.


Leave a Comment

  1. Bob, no worries.

    I am still hung up on this idea of engaging culture vs. creating and being a part of making culture. A couple of people in our community do that. But again, i still can’t shake the feeling that we have more to offer the world. if we are out to share Christ with others, can’t we share our talents and gifts and our own creativity with them as well? am i the only one?

  2. One idea that has been running through my head came from reading 2 Corinthians 4:16-18…Paul is talking about an unnamed illness, saying that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

    I know that Paul is talking about an illness, and we are talking about culture…But hear me out on this. Paul talks about how we are to be “looking to the unseen” and not to the seen…Well, is he just spending all his time with his head in the clouds, somewhere “up there” separated from what’s going on down here on earth? Does looking to the unseen mean we ignore what is seen? I think the obvious answer is no…we can’t help but be aware of what is seen. We would have to completely disengage ourselves from this life to do that, and it’s clear that Paul is completely engaged with what’s going on around him. Instead, I think what he means is that we are to take those things that are seen (i.e. his sickness), and look at them through a Gospel-centered lense to see that which is unseen, or eternal.

    So Paul looks at his sickness (what is seen) through the lense of the Gospel, and he sees the “unseen”…the hope that “his inner nature is being renewed day by day,” and that, eventually, his broken down body will be no more, and he will have a new, glorified body in heaven.

    Likewise, when we engage in culture, we see the movie, or listen to the music, or read the book, or go to the game (that which is seen)…and we can look at those things through the lense of the Gospel to see truths about Jesus, redemption, sin, repentence, hope, faith, love, community…

    With sports, Paul himself apparently watched athletes competing, and I’m guessing he watched the games with a sense of enjoyment (who knows?). But he watched them through a Gospel-centered lense, which enabled him to use it in the scriptures as an analogy to better relate to his readers …

    In philosophy and literature, Paul read the Greek philosphers…and he did it through a Gospel-centered lense, which enabled him to relate to the Athenians at Mars Hill and better preach the Gospel to them.

  3. i think it should be noted that i have noticed coram deo getting a reputation as “separatist”
    i have heard more than a few times that some people are not “cool enough” to go to coram deo. at first when i heard this more than once i thought that maybe the two people were from the same circle of friends.
    however, when i kept hearing it from either people who stopped into the foundry, students at my college, and other people that i wasn’t connected to other than they knew that we were starting a church and new churches were brought up in conversation.

    i defended cd and don’t believe that, but you should know, and maybe you already do, but some people see it that way.

    a couple of people based that opinion because you started out with 50 or so and didn’t invite others in, i tried my best to explain but directed them to your website to learn more.

  4. Jeff, you are not cool enough to post on our blog. Please stop.

    Totally kidding, bro. Thanks for bringing that to our attention, and do continue to help us correct that perception. Starting out as a side-door church, intentionally targeting the unchurched in our city, caused us to be seriously misunderstood by some people.

  5. On a practical level, I think differentiating between means and ends is important. We enjoy temporal pleasures as a means to enjoying & glorifying God not an end in themselves. One of my pastors relates the helpful analogy of his joy at seeing the mailman while spending the summer away from his fiancée. There was nothing inherent in the mailman; it was simply that he served as a courier of a dearer love. Likewise, earthly pleasures are unsatisfying and sinful when pillaged for selfish gain (as Tim Keller says when we treat good things as ultimate things) but are worship when enjoyed as gifts from God.

    On a more theoretical/theological (that means tangential and I’m trying to justify it) level, I keep thinking about Lent. The season of fasting presupposes that the rest of the Church calendar is one of celebration. Even during Lent, you’re not supposed to fast on Sunday: it’s Resurrection day. The assumption is that it is a joy so pervasive that it orders the rest of our reality; long faces and fasting are not fitting on a day that memorializes the Resurrection. I agree with Paul E. that heavenly realities should shape the way we see our earthly existence (cf. Paul in Col 3).

    The primary analogy given in Scripture of the kingdom of God is not one of fasting but feasting, our fasting is only necessary (in times like lent) to curb our appetite to the proper things. In Screwtape letters, Screwtape bemoans the disadvantage of devils in temptation since they can create no pleasures, only twist them:
    He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are “pleasures for evermore”….He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world with pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least- sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any us to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.
    To talk with most Christians you would think the kingdom of heaven is like sour grapes, not a pearl of great price or a buried treasure (Mt 13). God is not honored by our long faces and dutiful (instead of delightful) obedience but invites all of us who are thirsty to buy wine * bread without money (Is 55) and partake of His so who is true bread and whose blood is true drink (John 6:55).

    One caveat/caution: our tendency/temptation can be to latch on to that part of the gospel that speaks to our felt need (in our 21st century Western culture pleasure is pretty important to us) and have a one-dimensional theology that doesn’t do justice to the rich, multifaceted nature of the gospel. Rather we need to let Scripture expand our horizons and develop in us tastes for all the facets of the kingdom of God; it is not only like a pearl but also a mustard seed and a net and a man owing seed. We need to let the Word of God transform our minds and season our palate.

  6. Jenny,

    Wow, that was really insightful. Thanks for thinking through that, and then expressing it so well.

    So, perhaps one “answer” here is what you guys are getting at, which is to engage things like “dynamite” or sports in an appropriate way,. . . not as an end or a satisfaction in themselves. . I resonate with that. Let’s keep getting more practical with that.


    ps. Bob,. . . bring your fundamentalist rants and your indie rock. . . I’ll bring my keyboard we’ll see who wins. 🙂

  7. Patrick, I like what you are saying about creativity. We don’t often need to make something in the culture we live in- we can just buy it. We occupy an ever-smaller niche in our specialized economy, producing a specific commodity and in return receiving compensation to purchase the other commodities we need/want. It’s all quite efficient. But I think that as beings created in the image of God, the supreme Creator, we are made to create also. I think there is something about creating that is spiritually enriching, and we experience a measure of fulfillment from it- however crude our creations may be.

    I think one way we can serve each other in love is by appreciating the creative output of others, and that is often going to mean sublimating our aesthetic judgment to encourage an effort we might otherwise disdain. My sister, when much younger, made dessert for the family one night- frosted miniwheats in chocolate pudding. It was disgusting, but we enjoyed it because we loved her.

    I’m not suggesting we throw good taste out the window. Far from it, I think we ought to seek ever fuller expressions of beauty and truth, and encourage each other to do the same. But this doesn’t preclude affirming what is good in every small effort. Like God must be with our small and clumsy efforts to please him, we ought to be happy with little, content with none.

    I’m not sure I am following where you’re going with the creation-as-evangelism angle, perhaps because I’m not sure I agree with the implied presupposition that we Christians are any more capable than anyone else at creating anything.

  8. Paul E, great comment. I know in my own experience, part of living in the presence of God is recognizing that there is a higher plane of reality than the one in which we physically exist- a superreality, if you will. I have to choose to acknowledge that reality, and submit my perspective to it, instead of merely existing in the physical. Doing so is more difficult than a stimulus-response kind of life, but it seems to me to be the only way to make sense of the odd aspects of the day-to-day for which there is no natural answer- good and evil, death and eternity, etc. These things are really just signposts, relics from that other realm placed in our reality to let us know that not all is at seems.

  9. Jenny, I find it interesting that you quote Screwtape, because I thought another of Lewis’ books relevant to this discussion- The Great Divorce. A quote from the book: “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.” The book is filled with parables, each with the same point- we can value nothing above God. All must be forsaken in relation to Him. Once surrendered, then everything is given back to us, to be enjoyed according to His original design- a gift from Him, but never equivalent to Him in beauty or value or goodness.

  10. It seems to me that the spirit of inquiry should be directed towards the way a given activity is glorifying to God. If the activity in question doesn’t really glorify Him, you shouldn’t be doing it. As all of heaven and earth point to the Glory of God, that’s necessarily broad, so to make it practical, let’s return to Napoleon Dynamite. It may be silly, but there are some pretty sweet themes in it- our needs for love, affirmation and community; the ridiculousness of judgmentalism; and that all of us are valuable and lovable.

    Watching the movie and seeing these themes isn’t so much a matter of what you do as who you are, I think. The Gospel defines our reality. It’s not laid over the top of who you are, it is foundational to who you are, and you can’t help but see all of life through this paradigm. Checking out to some other worldview is not an option. When you watch N.D., you will see the story, or at least an aspect of the story, of creation-fall-redemption retold.

    Obviously, this is true of our respective characters to a particular degree, and there is no use pretending otherwise if we aren’t like this. My affection is all too often for something other than God, focused instead on some created thing- my comfort, or happiness, say. But just because this is so doesn’t mean I make peace with it or accept it as the way things ought to be. I repent of my idolatry and worship God as the true source of comfort and happiness.

    If this sounds like too much work or effort or no fun, then you have too small a view of the Gospel.

  11. i think with the direction this thread seems to be going, it sounds slightly like syncretism is winning out over separatism. not saying Coram Deo or any individuals are completely syncretist, but the thread keeps reiterating watching secular art thru a Jesus lens. i point this out (while listening to Smashing Pumpkins on WinAmp) not to convict, but just because i think it is a danger to be aware of when we stop using a redemptive lens and start using syncretism as justification.

    an example from my life:
    at my previous church the leadership was directly opposed to the harry potter films, but used the lord of the rings movies IN CHURCH to base sermons upon. there were multiple blanket endorsements of the (much-distorted) LOTR movies during these sermons, because of the Gospel lessons to be learned. i feel it is more dangerous to watch LOTR with an entirely open spirit than it would be to watch harry potter. we need to avoid using the gospel as justification of secular art, or ascribing non-intentioned gospel messages to the creativity of the secular world.

    i hope that doesn’t sound too much like a separatist view. i am the guy who watches Jerry Maguire and pulls out lessons on redemption, manliness, and fatherhood. i just want to remind people while watching thru a gospel lens, don’t forget to be on guard as well against the themes of the world, false spirituality, and those dark spiritual powers we often ignore because we live in the modern world (we will not forget you, Screwtape).

    ivan, 23, male, future author of “How To Raise a Family Using Modern Cinema”

  12. Good word, Ivan.

    I’ve been over, around, and through “pulling out good themes from all types of movies”. Heck. . David Churchill was my boss for 2 years (if that doesn’t make sense, sorry. . .just know that the man finds the gospel in just about everything. . . .literally)

    Now, that is a good thing to do. . and helpful. But, there are definitely some things where it’s pretty difficult, if not impossible to draw those stories out. For instance,. . sports (unless you want to be like Dick Enberg and talk over violin music for some human interest fluff). Or, perhaps, . . . umm . . . YouTube 🙂

    No, seriously, at what point should we enjoy God’s good gifts for what they are and not have to put a spiritual “tag” on them. We should give thanks and receive it with prayer as I Timothy tells us. But, after that, assuming we’re not gorging or being lazy,. . can we not just enjoy what God has blessed us with?


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