We watched together one night the wonderful movie Patch Adams and wondered about Patch’s remarkable passion and how he navigated an inhumane med school education and how he integrated a less mechanistic model of healing into his education and eventual medical practice. We wondered what it takes to be social innovators, starting up projects, ministries, making cultural contributions big and small. Oh, to grasp the good news of Christ’s Jubilee reign that calls us to be in, but not of, the world around us! Oh, the find mentors and guides (and books!) to guide us into this life-long discipleship.
Drawing just a bit on Neibuhr’s classic Christ and Culture we explored varying ways in which church folk have tended to engage the society and cultures of which they are a part. Liberal churches, by and large, have traditionally watered down Christian distinctives to accommodate to culture, while fundamentalists have typically employed an over-heated and often self-righteous holiness allowing them to keep their distance from the institutions which govern culture. If one sells out, the other cops out. In Jeremiah 29, we are called to “seek the shalom” of the city in which we find ourselves. To truly bring blessing, though, we need to be more than merely “relevant” but true. Maybe Patch Adams can help us think through a faithful way to be innovative and effective in our care for place, for neighbors and our callings, seeing how God can use us to accomplish His purposes in the world.
You might guess that I invited them to read more deeply in this aspect of discipleship. I recommended the meaty and provocative Transforming Vision: Developing a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton (IVP; $17.00) which will take them deeper into a radical cultural analysis rooted in a Christian worldview. I routinely talk about the wisdom and eloquence of Os Guinness’ masterpiece The Call (Nelson; $17.99) and naturally pushed Andy Crouch’s Culture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP; $20.00) which is really helpful as we think about these very things. OCBP students are already reading some excellent books for their summer project such as the concise and powerful old book by Tom Sine, Taking Discipleship Seriously which invites us to arrange our lives around “God’s intentions for the future.” Of course they are reading The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness by Don Opitz & Derek Melleby—a must for every college student; Henri Nouwen’s profound little book on spiritual leadership, In The Name of Jesus, and Michael Goheen & Craig Barthlemew’s overview of the Bible, The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama. Each day they are reflecting on a great story from The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk With People About Jesus (Lee Strobel & Mark Middleburg) which reminds us to be praying and seeking opportunities to share the gospel, to be willing to tell others about the need for saving faith in Christ Jesus. What a fun and inspiring collection—it is very highly recommended. Maybe you will pray that these 30 students will not only think deeply about “living Jubilee” and cultural transformation, leadership, calling and such, but that they will each do verbal evangelism when appropriate, taking inspiration from the Strobel/Middelburg stories, to play their part in sowing seeds of Christ’s message.
After this whirlwind week of passionate conversations with these campus leaders, we drove to Washington DC to set up a nice little book display about political theory and healthy citizenship for the truly remarkable Civitas week sponsored by the Center for Public Justice. (Read Lauren Winner’s interesting report about it from a few years back, here.) I assume readers know CPJ (we’ve linked to them before) and will perhaps spend some of this holiday weekend ruminating on just what our citizenship duties may be. Of course we dare not sin by engaging in idolatrous nationalism—don’t get me started on the civil religion in some of our patriotic hymns—but that surely doesn’t mean that we should be disengaged from civic responsibilities. We think CPJ gets it pretty much right.
CPJ is neither conservative nor liberal but takes their cue from (among other influences) Abraham Kuyper, the famous preacher, journalist, devotional writer and Prime Minister of early 20th century Holland. Kuyper, while a Parliament m
ember, gave the renowned “Stone Lectures” at Princeton Seminary (prior to visiting President McKinley at the White House) in 1898 and those lectures are still in print. It is considered one of the seminal texts for the contemporary popularity of the world “worldview.” In those lectures he invites us to stand in the grand tradition of the 16th century reformers, like Calvin, who strongly emphasized the cosmic sovereignty of Christ over all things. Jump-starting an emphasis on culture renewal sometimes now called “neo-Calvinism” Mr. Kuyper encouraged a graceful reflection on the claims of Christ the King over science, education, commerce, the arts, and, of course, politics. Interestingly, I started my lecture series at OCBP with a quote from Kuyper that helped form the early days of the Jubilee conference three decades ago. Kuyper famously insisted that the ascended Christ, upon looking down from heaven, does not see “one square inch” over which He does not point and declare “mine!” This “wide-as-life” view of redemption has inspired many to faithful cultural involvement and activism in our generation.
Importantly Kuyper’s beloved “every square inch” quote starts with this line, a reminder to think Christianly: No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest… As a bookseller committed to helping folks think about all of life from a Biblical perspective, this call thrills me. We must relate faith to the life of the mind and our ideas must direct us to faithful thinking and living in the world. Kuyper was quite a man, known for mystical spirituality and public theology, for journalism and education, for interest in church renewal, science, and politics. There is only one biography in print that I know of of Kuyper, one that we import from England, Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man by James E. McGoldrick (Evangelical Press; $18.99) Check out this gateway to all things Kuyperian at “Friends of Kuyper” website.
CPJ (for good and complex reasons rooted in thoughtful evangelical reflection) tends to think that the Christian right has failed in doing politics in a truly Christian fashion. Similiarly, CPJ advocates a perspective that is something other than the so-called Christian left. To seek a third way, rooted in Biblical assumptions about history, human nature, social architecture and the task of the state, and to be principled, passionate and civil about it all, is a project (it seems to us) many should support.
At Civitas, they will hear experts and public policy leaders reflecting on this “third way” thinking about uniquely Christian politics. Much of the CPJ vision includes encouraging thoughtful dialogue to create on-going deepening of our views, rooted in the love of God and the conviction that the Bible teaches us norms about how the world is to work, including ways that government and civic life might be. Along with our friends at Civitas this week, we invite you to consider some books about what truly “Christian politics” might be.
Church, State, and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny (IVP; $19.00) A month ago, Sojourners editor Jim Wallis wrote a piece asking if the view of government and the civic philosophy of the Tea Party movement was consistent with Biblical views. This set off a firestorm of critique, some of which (I believe) was understandable as Jim unwisely conflated the various views of Tea Party folk and libertarianism. Still, as I posted at the Sojo blog, this is a good, good, question, and it is one worth asking of any of us. Is our view of the task of the State, our political philosophy, how we construe our view of citizenship, in line with a Biblical life view? This book, I think, can help us with this question. I can’t say enough about it as it allows some of the primary, current perspectives to be in on conversation and allows us to consider each approach. Each chapter includes not only the primary author giving his view, but also the other four replying with a critique, allowing readers to see not only the perspective, but the critics best response. In just one volume you get the basic view of a Roman Catholic showing the consistency of Catholic social teaching, a neo-Calvinist Kuyperian teaching about principled pluralism, a “peace & justice” Anabaptist who holds up an “evangelical for social action” view, a Baptist author teaching as a “strict separationist” and a liberal mainline Protestant. I’ve reviewed this in greater detail previously, and think it is a fabulous resource. Kudos to the publisher and editor for advancing the conversation among Christian about a Biblical view of the State and the nature of a Christian perspective.
Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies David T. Koyzis (IVP; $22.00) Again, I’ve discussed this before and it may be the most important book of its kind. This seriously exposes the deepest assumptions and ideas of the basic contours of the West’s approach to politics. Certainly in the United States, “conservatives” and “liberals” are considered the two major political options and understanding how this is so, so important if we are going to be insightful citizens and make up our minds on where we stand on contemporary issues. Koyzis is a brilliant thinker and this book (which won a number of prestigious awards) is highly recommended. Read here a few endorsements by folks we respect.
If you have about 25 minutes, I encourage you to watch and
listen to one of our best friends, the new Director of CPJ, Dr. Gideon Strauss, as he does a chapel talk at Gordon College earlier this school year. This talk, “Justice Is Not Optional” can be seen on YouTube. Gideon is from South Africa, and tells about his truly remarkable journey to faith and while he isn’t talking about statecraft and political philosophy, he does give a great overview of the Biblical call to justice, somewhat inspired by his conversion story, his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there, and his discovery of Isaiah 58.