Friday, December 14, 2007
During the 1990s one of my favorite contemporary Christian artists was Rich Mullins. Mullins was radical in many ways. He did not simply produce Christian "pop" music. There was serious grist in most of his material, a dangerous undertow. Through his music Mullins challenged conservative Christians to grasp the reality that Christian faith was more than wearing a wrist band (WWJD) or even listening to popular Christian artists. Christianity had to impact the fallen world in the name of Jesus Christ and carve out beach heads for the kingdom. We do this through becoming emissaries of shalom.
Once Mullins confessed his deep concern for American Christianity ... which could just as well describe "restoration" churches too:
"I really struggle with American Christianity. I'm not really sure that people with our cultural disabilities, people who grow up in a culture that worships pleasure, leisure, and affluence, are capable of having souls, or being redeemed." (Rich Mullins in An Arrow Pointing to Heaven)
What Mullins is lamenting is that Christians live in such a way that barely distinguishes them from those who make no profession of faith at all. We are comfortable, affluent and have bowed to the idol of pleasure. Guilty as charged!
On top of this our culture is undergoing a profound change. The question is do we have to become Amish to be "distinct" in the biblical notion of the term (some dangerously misunderstand this notion in its NT context). Can we be "savvy" culturally speaking and still point to the radical call of the kingdom? These are questions that Dick Staub raises in his excellent book The Culturally Savvy Christian (Jossy-Bass 2007).
Staub writes not as a theologian but as one immersed in "pop" culture. Yet he has read, reflected and digested his subject critically and creatively. It is a mistake, Staub argues, to abandon the world and retreat to our monostaries. We need to see ourselves within God's Story (chapter 3 is very good) so that we can mediate God's transforming Presence (chapter 5 is even better). "Theology has to stop explaining the world and start transforming it" he says (p. 91). He holds C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien up as models of how we can engage our culture not only as "aliens" but also as ambassadors and artists.
This engagement is for the sake of the Christian gospel and witness. This witness is at the same time "savvy" but counter-cultural in that it points to values that are alien to those canonized in Amerian mythology.
It goes without saying that Staub believes some things that I may demure from. But that hardly detracts from my liking of this book. To many Christians still think as if we live in the 1950s. That world is gone (if it ever existed at all). I appreciate Staub being a conversation partner to help this preacher to be (hopefully) wise as a serpent but innocent as a dove.
Makes a great Christmas present along with a book or two by your lowly blogger, ;-)