Saturday, November 5, 2011

Christians as Subversives

Q: Do American Christians too easily assume their surrounding culture is Christian?

We do. It is useful to listen to people who come into our culture from other cultures, to pay attention to what they hear and what they see. In my experience, they don't see a Christian land. If you listen to a Solzhenitsyn or Bishop Tutu, or university students from Africa or South America, they don't see a Christian land. They see something almost the reverse of a Christian land.

They see a lot of greed and arrogance. And they see a Christian community that has almost none of the virtues of the biblical Christian community, which have to do with a sacrificial life and conspicuous love. Rather, they see indulgence in feelings and emotions, and an avaricious quest for gratification.

Importantly, they see past the facade of our language, the Christian language we throw up in front of all this stuff. The attractive thing about America to outsiders is the materialism, not the spirituality. It's interesting to listen to refugees who have just gotten into the country: what they want are cars and televisions. They're not coming after our gospel, unless they're translating the gospel into a promise of riches and comfort.

Q: Do you preach to your congregation about this?


Q: How do you do that? I'm sure that's not easy.

Well, I'm one of them. I live in the same kind of house they do. I drive the same kind of car they do. I shop in the same stores they do. So I'm like them. We're all in this together.

It's possible for a few people to break out of society and form some kind of colony in order to challenge society as a kind of shock troop. But that's not my calling, and I don't find it credible to use the language of separatism in a congregation where we've all got jobs, where we're trying to find our place as disciples in the society and do what we can there. If I do that, I lose credibility. I'm using one kind of language on Sunday and another on Monday.

So what I have tried to develop first of all, in myself, is the mentality of the subversive. The subversive is someone who takes on the coloration of the culture, as far as everyone else can see. If he loses the coloration he loses his effectiveness. The subversive works quietly and hiddenly, patiently. He has committed himself to Christ's victory over culture and is willing to do those small things. No subversive ever does anything big. He is always carrying secret messages, planting suspicion that there is something beyond what the culture says is final.

Q: What are some specific acts of Christian subversion?

They're common Christian acts. The acts of sacrificial love, justice, and hope. There's nothing novel in any of this. Our task is that we develop a self-identity as Christians and do these things not incidentally to our lives, but centrally. By encouraging one another, by praying together, by studying Scripture together, we develop a sense that these things are in fact the very center of our lives. And we recognize they are not the center of the world's life, however much cultural talk there is about Christianity.

If we can develop a sense that sacrificial love, justice, and hope are at the core of our identities – they go to our jobs with us each day, to our families each night – then we are in fact subversive. You have to understand that Christian subversion is nothing flashy. Subversives don't win battles. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a little bit toward belief and hope, so that when Christ appears, there are people waiting for him.

- from Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor, pp 10-12.