Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fear or Love - Two Perspectives on Engaging Culture

Photo Credit: dryhead (Creative Commons)
I was hiding. The coffee shop in Fort Langley was supposed to be a sanctuary of sorts, a place where I could quietly study, my headphones and americano protecting me from distraction and sleepiness. I was finishing the final chapter of Richard Mouw's When the Kings Come Marching In, a brief theological study of the vision of the heavenly city in Isaiah 60. Mouw identifies this city with the same heavenly vision from Revelation 21 and 22, examining the city's description and the implications for our present cultural engagement. Mouw contends that the kingdom city will be filled with redeemed culture--art, commerce, technology, politics, race relations, all redeemed by the salvific power of Jesus.

This is when I noticed her talking to me. The woman at the adjacent table was looking at me, her mouth silently moving in the rhythm of speech, drowned out by my in-ear headphones and the latest album from The War on Drugs (a fantastic record, and one worth purchasing). I removed my headphones and apologized. "Sorry, I couldn't hear you."

Apology quickly accepted, she began her speech again, sharing about the article she was reading about the pending economic crisis. Interest rates would spike, houses would be foreclosed, food would be in scarce supply, and no one sees it coming. She introduced herself as Mary, and asked me what I was reading. I shared that it was a theology book, and she wondered aloud if I was a Christian. I said I was a pastor, and she shared her own brief testimony of faith, how she had been connected with a local church, but currently was searching.

At first, I quietly considered her words with a calm understanding and propriety, though I honestly was looking for an opportunity to place my headphones back in and continue my studies. Then the conversation took a strange turn as she moved from the economic crisis and her faith to the need to hoard food and supplies, buy stock in gold, sell our homes, and move to the north of British Columbia to escape the impending tragedy. She spoke of concentration camps being built in California intended to round up the majority of the population; how electric hydro meters were instruments installed by "them" in higher government agencies to cause cancer; how she met a former Pentagon agent in South America who confirmed all her suspicions, that the conspiracy goes "right to the top." She had "connected the dots" and passionately implored me to tell the church so we could take care of our own. Would I tell my church? Would I help save the Christians from the impending disaster?

My articulate response: "Uh....."

While she shared her paranoia and fear with increasing fervor, I silently prayed, "Jesus, what do I say to her? How can I respond with grace and truth?" Her mindset was such a contrast from the book I had before me. While Mouw was speaking about the beauty of the heavenly city, with its rich heritage of art, language, and commerce, Mary was frightened by the very powers of the city and technology (ironic, as she was reading her articles on a MacBook in a coffee shop). She stared at me with frantic eyes, searching mine for a sense of fraternity, hoping for a kindred spirit in her fear.

Then the answer came to mind, a passage from 1 John:
This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
I looked into Mary's eyes and said, "I hear a lot of fear from where you're coming from. And I don't think Jesus calls us to be afraid. Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. So, I'm convinced nothing can separate us from this love. And I hope you'll experience the love and peace God gives us in Jesus. I think if we're seeking the kingdom of Jesus and entrusting Him with our lives, deep down we have nothing to fear."

She silently nodded, then sighed with a sense of defeat--I clearly hadn't been convinced. I packed my things and turned to go. She thanked me for listening, then turned back to her articles of fear.


I want to be more like Mouw and less like Mary

I believe we're called as Christians to engage and redeem our culture, not condemn or flee from it. I want to be a part of what N.T. Wright calls "building for the kingdom." This requires recognizing that we'll never full bring the kingdom of God to Earth, but that doesn't mean we're to be passive or paranoid about culture. Instead, with grace and humility, we work hard to create and promote justice, beauty, and truth in our world as signposts for the kingdom of heaven. This means moving past the fear, recognizing it's still present, and choosing to allow the love of Christ to be our primary motivation behind all we do. 

We don't avoid the fear; we redeem it as we step out in love. Let's live by love, not fear.

What is your primary motivation--love or fear?

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