Coram Deo believes that the church must engage culture. Living out this value is designed to keep us from “falling off the horse” in two ways. One way to fall off the horse is to bless the culture’s idolatry, soft-stepping around tough issues and changing the essence of the gospel to make it “palatable” to postmodern ears. The other way is to hold to orthodoxy in a way that ignores or drowns out the questions that the culture is asking. Unfortunately, Christianity at large is guilty of both errors.

Christians usually see the first as a more egregious error – a syncretistic slide toward relativism. But the second may be even worse for the progress of the gospel and the honor of God’s kingdom.

James B. Jordan is as conservative a theologian as they come. For those of you who know your categories, he is a Reformed Presbyterian of the theonomist/reconstructionist bent. So for him to make the statement I’m about to quote is massive in light of his own convictions and the people he generally runs with. I quote Mr. Jordan to point out that engaging the culture is not some radical notion that only church planters talk about. In fact, if Mr. Jordan is correct, it’s our lack of cultural engagement which threatens to doom the church to irrelevance.

Here is what James B. Jordan wrote in a recent article:

“…the Protestant age is coming to an end… The paradigm is exhausted, and the world in which it was worked out no longer exists. We must take all the great gains of the Calvinistic heritage and apply them with an open Bible to the new world in which we are now living. We must be aware that there is far more in the Bible than the Reformation dealt with, and that many of our problems today are addressed by those hitherto unnoticed or undeveloped aspects of the Bible. Those who want to bang the drum for a 450-year old tradition are dooming themselves to irrelevance. Our only concern is to avoid being beat up by them as they thrash about in their death-throes.”

I am a Reformation Christian. If pushed, I’d even be willing to call myself a Calvinist, though I eschew much of the unbiblical and uninformed baggage that comes with that term (usually from those who haven’t studied the primary sources). But Mr. Jordan has hit the nail on the head. Living the heritage of the Reformation doesn’t mean “beating the drum for a 450-year old tradition.” It means taking the great gains of our history and “applying them with an open Bible to the new world in which we are now living.” That’s a great perspective on what it means to engage the culture.

Ah, freedom… that oft-invoked yet little-understood word. Clear enough to elicit our affirmation, yet cliche enough to make us skeptical. What does it mean for the human will to be free?

Some fairly simplistic thinkers suggest that freedom means being able to choose any action at any moment. That definition will suffice for many who simply want to justify their choices. But for those who are more philosophically rigorous in their thinking, there is more to freedom than meets the eye.

For what is it that actually moves us to act – to exercise our wills in a certain direction? It is our desires. And so, in a very real sense, we are free to do only what we want to do. If we have no desire to do something, we are in some sense not “free” to do it.

St. Augustine (354-430) put it this way: “I am free with respect to any action… to the extent that my wanting and choosing to perform that action are sufficient for my performing it.” In other words, desire is really the essence of freedom. Desire moves the will. In order to choose something, we must first want to choose it.

This has obvious implications for the movement of our souls toward God. God must first create in us the desire to believe in Him before we can choose to do so. In Augustine’s words, “there is no ability whatever in free will to believe, unless there be persuasion or summons towards some one in whom to believe.” Free will is neutral. It does not move in a direction unless desire spurs it to.

An even more important implication confronts those of us who would seek to follow the way of Jesus: changing what we do isn’t nearly as important as changing what we want. The goal of apprenticeship to Jesus is the transformation of our very desires. And that is no small task.

A question for us to ponder: do you, and do I, intend to be spiritually transformed?

Read and reflect on Dallas Willard’s words about what the connection between belief and intention:

No one can actually believe the truth about [Jesus] without trusting him by intending to obey him. It is a mental impossibility… The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving “Christian culture.” In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you could trust your doctor and your auto mechanic and not intend to follow their advice. If you don’t intend to follow their advice, you simply don’t trust them. Period.

Now, an intention is brought to completion only by a decision to fulfill or carry through with the intention… If I intend to obey Jesus Christ, I must intend and decide to become the kind of person who would obey. That is, I must find the means of changing my inner being until it is substantially like his, pervasively characterized by his thoughts, feelings, habits, and relationship to the Father… People who do not intend to be inwardly transformed so that obedience to Christ “comes naturally” will not be – no matter what means they think of themselves as employing. God is not going to pick us up by the seat of our pants, as it were, and throw us into transformed kingdom living.

So the problem of spiritual transformation (the normal lack thereof) among those who identify themselves as Christians today… is that it is not intended.

-from Willard’s excellent book The Renovation of the Heart

In casting vision for Coram Deo, we’ve talked a lot about mission and community, and how much of evangelicalism has lost sight of them. Many churches are guided by comfort, not mission. And programs have replaced authentic community. Blah, blah, blah. This should be old hat by now.

But what about Sabbath? The idea of resting – worshipful resting – has also been lost by American Christianity. After all, we’re busy. Not just busy with life, but busy with church. Busy with ministry. Busy with trying to be missional! So busy that we’ve conveniently relegated the 4th Commandment to the Old Testament, as though God no longer cares that we rest and remember him. Ask any evangelical Christian about the Sabbath, and you’ll get hemming and hawing and stalling that resembles FEMA talking about Hurricane Katrina last week.

I’m finding that a community of believers modeled around spiritual formation and mission actually enhances Sabbath as well. (Could it be that God intended it to be so?) This past weekend was one of the most restful in recent memory. And I mean restful in a spiritual sense, not in a mind-numbing, entertain-yourself-to-death sense. On Sunday, we had a bunch of Coram Deo people over for a leisurely breakfast. We spent the morning talking and praying about what God was doing around us. Then we all went our separate ways, took naps, and headed downtown for the evening gathering. Afterward, I went down to Septemberfest with some more Coram Deo folks to watch Common Jones play some quality music.

On Labor Day, I took a walk with my family. Some people down the street got TP’d the night before, so we all pitched in to help them clean up. I played baseball with my son in the front yard. We grilled out with some more friends from Coram Deo, and they brought along a guy from their apartment complex that they’ve been reaching out to. He is a young follower of Christ, still trying to get his life together, and he spoke honestly about some of the challenges of overcoming his past. It was a great time. Then more naps and relaxation and hanging out as a family.

Then, after the kids went to bed, we spent 2 hours with some awesome friends who just got back from a year in India. We didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all that God did in their hearts over that year, but it was great just to be with them. We closed the night in prayer about 11 PM, sharing with them the burden of transitioning back into a society where materialism and consumption are the norm, and where true community is abnormal. They have much to teach us about the other side of the world, about God, and about living simply.

Unplugging from the paranoid pace of evangelicalism and making space for community and mission makes true Sabbath possible. This way of doing church is good for the soul.

Coram Deo’s Launch Team participated in the Lord’s Supper together for the first time on Sunday, August 28, 2005. Though we’re not a fully functioning, publicly meeting church yet, we are a bona fide local expression of the body of Christ… and this sacrament unites us to the rest of the body – past, present, and future.

Much yet to be done… but so much already done for us by Christ!!!