Transforming Our Culture From the Bottom Up (Part Two)

In my last post I critiqued what I call ‘Top-Down’ approaches to cultural transformation.  Such approaches can be summed up in one phrase: political activism.  Any attempt to transform the culture through legislation and political cajoling–such as court battles, petitions, electing certain individuals into office, etc–will ultimately be unsuccessful because at the heart of every culture is . . . the human heart.  Thus, true cultural transformation, I argued, could only come from the bottom up.  Because, when individuals are transformed, the culture will be too.

In light of this reasoning, I challenged Evangelical Christians to stop funneling the majority of their time, energy, and money into futile ‘Top-Down‘ methods and to start focusing on making true disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say we should be totally silent in the public square or that Christians should not be involved in politics at all.  It is especially not to say Christians should stop utilizing political approaches when it comes to issues regarding the sanctity of human life or social justice.  Certainly, we must do everything within our power to stop the daily slaughter of innocent children through abortion or to put an end to human sex trafficking.  These issues, almost by necessity, will include political and legal interaction.

It is to say, however, that a ‘total’  or ‘big picture’ approach to cultural transformation should primarily focus on discipleship and not political activism.

The idea here is simple: the more Churches invest time and energy cultivating virtue among their parishioners, engendering and strengthening the faith of their children, helping people grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, engaging in acts of service, and inviting the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts of the lonely and the lost through both the preaching and daily living of the word of God, the more our culture will be renewed.  As individual lives are transformed, individual people will bring their faith to bear on important decisions at the office, or in the laboratory, or at the film studio, or on election day, or walking in the park . . .

After all, true disciples are called to live out their faith, to bear good fruit, in whatever circumstance they find themselves in: whether they are a doctor, a lawyer, an educator, an artist, a filmmaker, a shoemaker, a scientist, a soldier, a plumber, a scrap metal worker, or even homeless.  Whether slave or free or Jew or Gentile, we are all called to view our world through the truth of God’s Word.  We are all called to good works–as St. James states, “faith without works is dead.”  The more we behave like disciples, and the more disciples we make, the greater long term impact we will have on our culture and, indeed, the world.

A Comment on Modern Evangelical Missions

The problem with modern Christian missions, in particular missions in the evangelical community, is that we’re developing missionaries who are far more concerned about saving the soul of a man than about saving the man himself, who stress the Hell to come while ignoring the Hell that is, who preach about a heavenly afterlife, but neglect to bring a heavenly now. Not that the afterlife should be ignored or diminished, just that salvation involves both the soul and body; it makes no sense to preach that Christ came to save man as he is, that Christ took on the flesh of our flesh, if we’re going to simply act as though salvation is purely a spiritual act.

I hear talk all the time from people who want to go overseas and “save these lost people.” They want to bring the Gospel to unreached people groups, or help win a population to Christ. All of these desires are quite noble and well intentioned. The cynics who act as though these sentiments are simply neo-colonialism wrapped in the cloak of Christianity are simply being too judgmental. I would contend that many of these future missionaries have their hearts in the right place, for the most part. However, their fervency is misplaced because it’s been directed in the wrong direction. Ironically, in their love for these people and desire to see them go to Heaven, they act in a way that is quite unloving.

For those that wish to dedicate their lives to living in another land and spreading the Gospel, we are doing them a great disservice by raising them to believe that salvation is merely a spiritual act. In American Christianity, or what we can call evangelicalism, salvation is acquired through a prayer. The idea that works should accompany salvation is almost viewed as blasphemous, a belief that is anathema. Though there is no magistrate within evangelicalism, nor is there any Sacred Tradition, one will be met with great disdain, questioning, and cat-calls of heresy if one even makes the suggestion that works should accompany our salvation.

Yet, when I say that works accompany our salvation, I do not mean that works can accomplish our salvation. Salvation comes through God’s mercy alone, through His grace. The fact that salvation comes from God’s mercy, however, doesn’t mean that salvation is purely for the soul, something simply done with a prayer. To put it another way, salvation is not a pit stop, but a journey.

If this is the case, then when we go to these foreign lands, while we should concern ourselves with the souls of the people, we should equally concern ourselves with their well being. It is one thing to preach that God has given people salvation, but it’s entirely another to demonstrate that God has come to save the entirety of their being. We must preach that Christ has liberated them from sin, but we must also preach that He has liberated them from the earthly oppressors of hunger, nakedness, and the elements.

What made the original Christians so successful in spreading their message, even in the face of rampant persecution, is that they lived the Gospel. It wasn’t enough for them to put on a “Jesus Play” (an equivalent to a Jesus film I guess), to give out papyrus tracts, or to have their version of an “evangicube;” rather, their lives served as a Jesus film in that they lived like Christ, their lives were their own tracts put on display for all to see. Their lives were the proof of their evangelism. They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, gave money to the poor, took care of the widows, cared for the orphans. They became Christ to those who did not know Him. It wasn’t enough for them to preach about the Kingdom to come, instead they attempted to demonstrate what the Kingdom would be like, though all attempts were (and are) feeble and inadequate.

With that in mind, evangelicals need to change their approach to missions. They need to cease with the mass-evangelism, share the Gospel without living the Gospel attitude. They need to concern themselves with the lives of these people and, dare I say it, bring social justice to these foreign lands. They need to step outside of their Americanism and concern themselves with issues like free trade, foreign aid, and other issues that directly impact the lives of those overseas. Most importantly, however, is that American Christians need to actively help the physical lives of these people we’re reaching out to, otherwise we make the Gospel a vanity of words.

How far west did Paul go?

I’m currently reading Clement of Rome’s first epistle to the church at Corinth. In it, he states:

“He [Paul] taught righteousness to all the world; and after reaching the furthest limits of the West, and bearing his testimony befor ekings and rulers, he passed out of this world and was received into the holy places.” (First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, III)

It would appear that after Paul was placed under house arrest at the end of Acts, he was released at some point. We know that Paul intended to go to Spain (Romans 15:24) after having been at Rome.

What I find so fascinating by this is that Christianity – a movement begun in a far eastern province of the Roman Empire had spread, within just a few years, to the furthest reaches of the Empire in the West.

To me, this shows not only the power of the Gospel, but the sense of urgency that the early Church had. Despite multiple persecutions, during the time of the Apostles, just a few decades, it had already covered the Empire.

Compare that to today’s Christians who seem far more concerned with ‘health and wealth,’ or having programs that reach out to the current membership. The Christians during the time of Paul (and Clement) sought to impact their local communities and spread outward into all areas of the world. Why don’t we mimick these early Christians?

Applied Theology – The Incarnation


Introduction | The Incarnation | The Image of God | The omniscience/omnipotence of God 

What is it?

One of the central aspects of Christian theology is the belief in the Incarnation – that Christ came down and became human, taking on a human nature, but keeping His divine nature. It is also generally accepted that the incarnation is a mystery, that is, there really is no comprehensive or even adequate understanding of how the incarnation works. The best work dealing with this subject is Athanasius’ On The Incarnation, but even this work only shows how the incarnation works logically – it doesn’t explain how it actually works.

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#2 – Calvinism and Evangelism/Missions

One misconception about Calvinism that seems to be prevalent is the idea that Calvinism somehow ruins missions and evangelism. My answer to this, however, isn’t necessarily a negation, but it’s also not an affirmation. In a way, Calvinism does ruin the modern understanding of evangelism and missions. At the same time, it upholds the call to go into the entire world and proclaim the Gospel. Continue reading