Category Archives: Culture
“Christians cannot long think about Christ and culture without reflecting on the fact that this is God’s world, but that this side of the fall this world is simultaneously resplendent with glory and awash in shame, and that every expression of human culture simultaneously discloses that we were made in God’s image and shows itself to be mis-shaped and corroded by human rebellion against God.”
D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited
Christianity is much more than a “religion’ in the standard, narrowly-defined sense. It’s a philosophy of life, a worldview. And since it’s a worldview, it can and should be compared with the worldview of contemporary culture. In Apologetics to the Glory of God, John M. Frame paints a portrait of the destructive natural of our culture that’s as true today as when he originally wrote in 1994:
One of the most unfortunate repercussions of America’s distorted view of ‘the separation of church and state’ is that public school children are able to hear advocacy of every system of thought except those that are arbitrarily labeled “religious.” Who is to say that the truth might not be found in, or even limited to, one of these religious positions? Is it even remotely fair, in terms of freedom of thought and speech, to restrict public education to allegedly secular viewpoints? Is this not brainwashing of the worst kind?
Further, the extreme separationists often seem to be opposed to the public expression of Christianity particular than religion in general. Too often, they have no objection to presentations favoring Eastern mysticism or modern witchcraft – only to Christianity. Inconsistent as it may appear, however, this specifically anti-Christian behavior makes some sense for… it is Christianity, not Eastern mysticism or wichcraft or Native American chanting, that really stands against the natural drift of the unregenerate mind. Christianity is excluded from the schools although (or perhaps because) it is the only genuine alternative to the conventional wisdom of the modern establishment.
But that “conventional wisdom” has given us enormous increases in divorce, abortion, single-parent families, latchkey children, drugs, gangs, drug rates, AIDS (and related health concerns such as the resurgence of tuberculosis), homelessness, hunger, government deficits, taxation, political corruption, degeneracy of the arts, mediocrity in education, non-competitive industry, interest groups demanding “rights” of all sorts (rights without corresponding responsibilities and at the expense of everyone else), and pollution of the environment. It is given us the messianic state, which claims all authority and seeks to solve all problems (secular “salvation”), but which generally makes things worse. It has brought about the appalling movement toward “political correctness” on university campuses, which once claimed plausibility to be bastions of intellectual freedom. It has allowed the language of polite society to degenerate into the language of blasphemy and mutual contempt. It is created an atmosphere in which popular music (“rap”) urges people to kill police.
Under the circumstances shouldn’t we consider some alternatives that are opposed to the conventional wisdom? Or is there indeed, perhaps only one such alternative? If so…surely we ought to take that alternative very seriously.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction, 32-34
As the internet is still abuzz with discussions of Biblical view of homosexuality I thought sharing a few comments might serve to help clarify things. These thoughts aren’t original by any means, but they are especially apropos in light of the present culture war.
A legitimate concern. Many Christians are concerned that the latest round in the debate over the legal status of homosexuality (especially as it applies to the issue of homosexual marriage) is merely a power tactic of the Republican party to rally support from evangelical and otherwise Christian voters. Now, I don’t doubt that some in the GOP are willing to use whatever cultural conduit is found useful to bolster their voting base. It’s also worthy of noting that some Christians assume that politics is the crucial key to transforming culture in a godly and righteous direction. This is simply mistaken. This faction of Christianity must beware of the leaven of playing the world’s power game.
Another perspective. So, I’ll admit that opposition to homosexual marriage can indeed be used as a Trojan horse for a covert GOP agenda. But that’s not the only explanation. Such opposition can also be the result of individuals who do not believe the State has the authority to define (or in this case, redefine) marriage. That’s why the issue of gay marriage isn’t about homosexuality at all: It’s about the definition of marriage. The State does have the authority to grant civil unions, tax breaks, etc. to whomever it chooses. That is perfectly within their preview. What it cannot do is redefine an institution it did not create. That largely comes from other spheres (the family, the church, and behind that, ultimately the creation ordinance of God).
Perhaps you’ve seen the poster pictured above in your journeys across the interwebs. It’s a quasi-comical statement about the “foolishness” of Biblical marriage. The point is clear, while many (or most) Christians strongly advocate a definition of marriage that sees it as a lifetime covenantal union between one man and one woman, there is a “clear” discrepancy between their “traditional” position and the Book from which they’re supposedly basing that view. My friend Ra McLaughlin, webmaster and Vice President of Curriculum and Web Delivery at Third Millennium Ministries, has given me permission to repost his response to this poster on Facebook. His thoughts are clear, detailed, and yet concise:
Biblical law doesn’t require women to marry their rapists (cf. Ex. 22:17). The bride price to be paid by rapists was a sort of reverse dowry, not payment for “property.” It was owed whether or not the woman married the man. In the only example of rape and subsequent attempted marriage that I can think of at the moment, the woman’s family chose to murder the rapist and his people rather than give her as a bride (Gen. 34).
The Bible also doesn’t require the stoning of women that couldn’t prove their virginity (unless otherwise stated, legal penalties are maximum not mandatory; cf. Joseph’s treatment of Mary in Matt. 1:19). Similarly, levirate marriage was not a requirement; it was assumed that the women would want an heir, but it wasn’t a necessary arrangement (cf. Deut. 25:7).
In his helpful work Christ and Culture Revisited, D. A. Carson, clarifies the holistic claims of Christ in a familiar passage often thought to teach a sacred/secular split. In Luke we read:
[Wanting to catch Jesus in a trap, the scribes and the chief priests asked him] Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. (Luke 20:22-26 ESV)
Does Jesus here teach a sacred/secular division? Dr. Carson’s comments are insightful:
Yet we must not think that Jesus’ utterance warrants an absolute dichotomy between God and Cesar, or between church and state, or between Christ and culture. That brings up the second detail in the text that must be observed. When Jesus asks the question, “whose image is this? And whose inscription?” Biblically informed people will remember that all human beings have been made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Moreover, his people have the “inscription” of God’s law written on them (cf. Exodus 13:9; Proverbs 7:3; Isaiah 44:5; Jeremiah 31:33). If we give back to God what has his image on it, we must all give ourselves to him. Far from privatizing God’s claim, that is, the claim of religion, Jesus’ famous utterance means that God always trumps Caesar. We may be obligated to pay taxes to Cesar, but we owe everything, our very being, to God. [Here Carson quoted from David T. Ball] “Whatever civil obligations Jesus followers might have, they must be understood within the context of their responsibilities to God, for their duty to God to claims their whole selves.”
For more, see:
In his influential work, The Unfolding Mystery, Edmund Clowney clearly presents the relationship between Adam’s task in the Garden of Eden and Christ’s redemptive work:
The command to Adam and Eve was to rule over the earth. Adam’s rule is now exercised by Christ. As so often in the work of salvation, the fulfillment far outstrips the expectations that are aroused by the promise. Christ exercises a dominion far greater than that given to Adam. He is the Lord, not only of this planet, but of the cosmos…Jesus also accomplishes the command to Adam that he fill the earth. Paul uses the term filling as well as dominion to describe the present Lordship of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:20-23; 4:10). Jesus does not simply come to rescue man from the depths of his loss. He comes to accomplish for us the calling of our humanity. His is the perfect and final dominion of man over the cosmos. Christ, the second Adam, can say, “Here I am, and the children God has given me” (Heb. 2:13; Is. 8:17f). A great multitude that no man can number are gathered from every tribe and people in the name of Jesus. He who fill all things with his power assembles the fullness of Israel and the fullness of the nations in the day of his glory (Rom. 11:12, 25, Rev. 7:9). His accomplishment of Adam’s calling does not make our service vain. To the contrary only because he has fulfilled man’s calling can all work be made in meaningful, for our fellowship is with him. His victory is our hope. In humility, not arrogance, we receive from the victorious Lord a renewed calling to do his will to this world.
For more see:
One day, my oldest son and I were having a conversation about writing. As a freshman in high school he is learning the joy of writing. His first assignment was to write a 500 word short story. He struggled with it; not because of any lack of creative ideas, but due to a problem that he comes by naturally – he wants the words to be perfect when they hit the paper. No rough drafts, that can be handled in his mind. The words of the story must be in perfect order and meaning before they leave his brain. I say he comes about this problem naturally because his father (that would be me) does the same thing. So, when Joe asked me to be a contributor I figured it would help me work through this issue by forcing me to write a post or two every month. Well, close to a year and 2 or 3 posts later, I’m still dealing with the block of perfectionism.
What does this have to do with viewing our life through the Kingdom, you ask. Let’s see where we go. For the last several weeks an idea has been rattling around in my head. Actually, this is a thought that I have had for several years, but up until recently I didn’t have the context to coherently determine why this thought bugged me when I hear it. The thought is this: Primitive man was less intelligent than we are. Of course, this sentence needs some clarification. Contemporary anthropological thought tells us that religion developed because humanity needed a way to explain things that they couldn’t explain. In their evolutionary infantile state they could not comprehend the ‘way things are’ so they developed religion to help them deal with the unexplainable. However, mankind has evolved to the point where we can now understand the unexplainable so we no longer need religion to help us out. We are no longer infantile in our evolutionary state so religion can be put away like a baby releasing its pacifier.
Every time I have heard humanity described in this way it has ruffled my feathers; are we really smarter than Aristotle or Plato or Shakespeare or Newton? I could tell that the tools we use are more advanced than those of ancient man, but are we really smarter or more advanced as collective humanity?
Enter Andrew Kern. Kern’s focus is on education, yet in speaking on education, Kern has focused his talks on the nature – not nature as in the environment but as in the ‘nature of a thing.’ In one of his talks, A Contemplation of Nature, Kern discusses the nature of humans and two opposing views of that nature. One view finds its foundation in Genesis 1, the creation story. Mankind is made in God’s image; this gives man dignity, purpose, and propriety. More importantly, being made in God’s image gives the nature of humanity CONSISTENCY or CONSTANCY; apart from the effects of the fall, human nature is the same today as it was when Adam was created. Humanity is still made in the image of God.
The second view removes the idea of human nature from the equation. In this view, mankind is basically nothing more than an advanced animal. This idea was made highly popular by Darwin and his book, The Origin of the Species, although it was nothing new; Aristotle proposed this very same idea several thousand years ago. Mankind has evolved from the rest of the animal kingdom, and we are no different than any other animal. So, as humanity spends more time on the earth, we are supposedly getting better.
So why does the idea of primitive man’s lack of intelligence bother me? It bothers me because I believe that man was created in God’s image, and that belief has become a presupposition for me. Anything that disagreed with that presupposition created dissonance in my heart even though I might not have been able to explain it. Being created in the image of God, humanity was just as intellectually capable thousands of years ago as we are today. Those who embrace a humanistic evolutionary view of humanity have to deny that we stand on the shoulders of giants; we simply stand on our own because those who came before us were less capable than us intellectually.
This realization, facilitated by Kern, was like a light bulb going off in my head. It was nice to have an answer to the dissonance. Mankind is made in God’s image, and that fact gives us a nature which is complete. Mankind 3,000 years ago is fundamentally the same as we are today; we have just advanced the tools which we use in this world.
I will admit that technology is far more advanced than it was for those generations that preceded us; they didn’t have computers or mp3 players or cars or steel. Technological advances do not prove increased intelligence or evolved humanity; these advances only prove that we have learned to apply that intelligence in an increasingly efficient or technological way.
So, my son and I suffer from the same affliction when it comes to writing: perfectionism. What hope does my son have to overcome this problem? He has the same hope that I do; he does not have to hope to rely on some chance evolutionary change in his intelligence or that of his children in order for this problem to leave our family. He has to learn that he is made in the image of God and that the thoughts that he has image God’s thoughts. But the thoughts and the expression of those thoughts have been marred by the Fall. His hope is in the Holy Spirit sanctifying him (and me) through discipline and growth in Christ.
In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Christopher Benson interviews James Davison Hunter, author of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In both the article and the book Hunter critiques the common understanding of cultural engagement. Here is one excerpt from the CT interview:
Benson: Why are the principal strategies for cultural change failing?
Hunter: Evangelism, political action, and social reform are worthy undertakings, but they aren’t decisively important if the goal is world changing. These strategies don’t attend to the institutional dynamics of cultural formation and cultural change; in fact, the move in exactly the opposite direction of the ways in which cultures do change.
How is it that American public life is so profoundly secular when 85 percent of the population professes to be Christian? If a culture were simply the sum total of beliefs, values, and ideas that ordinary individuals hold, then the United States would be a far more religious society. Looking at out entertainment, politics, media, and education, we are forced to conclude that the cultural influence of Christians is negligible . By contrast, Jews, who compose 3 percent of the population, exert significant cultural influence disproportionate to their numbers, notably in literature, art, science, medicine, and technology. Gays offer another example. Minorities would have no effect if culture were solely about ideas, but that’s clearly not the case.
Hunter’s answer to the previous question is insightful:
Benson: What’s wrong with viewing culture as ideas or as artifacts?
Hunter: Both perspectives fail to recognize that culture is also infrastructure. Culture is constituted by very powerful institutions that operate on their own dynamics independent of individual will. Ideas do move history, and objects do have their place, but only under certain social conditions. When ideas do move history, it’s not because those ideas are inherently truthful or obviously correct, but rather because of the way they’re embedded within institutions and structures of power. Both perspectives are looking at the tip of the iceberg, overlooking the mass of ice beneath the water.
For those interested:
A chapter by chapter abstract of Hunter’s book.
Andy Crouch’ helpful review and critique of To Change the World
Warning: This contains spoilers. If you do not want to know what happens and how the movie ends, do not continue any further
Two weeks ago my wife and I went to the movies. We saw The Book of Eli. This film has so much interesting material that I felt compelled to share some thoughts with you. That being said you should know that there’s quite a bit of spoiler information in this entry.
Setting. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and in this sense has a very Mad Max feel to it. Having suffered the ravages of a great war and a major environmental catastrophe, the majority of people over the age of 35 are dead. Those over 35 that survive are blind or nearly blind. The new generation of those under the age of 35 are largely illiterate; most books were destroyed and holy books have been wiped off the face of the planet (because they are thought to have been the cause of the war).
Here are a couple of disconnected thoughts:
1) One thing that The Book of Eli does very well is delineate good and evil. This isn’t to say that Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, is a sinless saint. But the movie does make a clear distinction between the moral character of the Eli and that of the villain, played by Gary Oldman, Carnegie. The story is about Eli and his journey to deliver a book. Soon the audience is made aware that the book that Eli is carrying is nothing less than the worlds last copy of the Bible, a King James version no less. Carnegie is intent on finding the Bible. Daily his thugs go out robbing and pillaging from those they come across looking for this book (they too are illiterate, and have to have Carnegie tell them whether or not the books they bring him are what he’s looking for). Carnegie’s intentions are as malevolent as they are pragmatic: He, with the help of his henchmen, seeks to expand both his territory and his power.
The movie gives no hint that Carnegie actually believes tis the divine origin of the Bible, but he knows that it shapes culture and the decisions of men. Likewise, he knows that the Bible’s words have been used to condone all manners of activity. This approach is essentially “we can get them to do whatever we want, if only the words that we use come from this book.” Eli, on the other hand, is a believer. So it should be noted that in this film the contrast is not between one person who denies the power of the Bible and another person who affirms it. Rather it is the contrast between two men who attribute different kinds of power and influence to the Bible. Eli sees the power as spiritual, and Carnegie sees it as a manipulative. This is no doubt a true insight. Hitler himself made use of biblical language in order to stir up the German people, while secretly he despised Christianity. Again, Hitler did this primarily for manipulative and pragmatic reasons.
2) Something is left out of the film; something crucial to the central premise of the movie. The film centers on the man with the last known Bible, not the Koran or any other holy book. The entire film gives you the impression that preserving this book is more than about merely preserving one of “the classics.” This book, and no other, will serve as the “salvation” of civilization. I really wish the writers would have mentioned why the Bible (and no other holy Book!) needed preservation (apart from narrowly defined “spiritual” reasons). It was in the Christianized West where modern science, democracy, and freedom where born (for more on this see the works of Rodney Stark).
Avatar is officially the highest grossing film of all time on the global scene, and should easily pass Titanic for the highest grossing film ever in America. Is it worth the hype? It depends on what you’re looking for.
Spoiler Alert: Film plot and vital information is given. If you want to remain ignorant about what’s in the film, do not continue reading.
The story. The film takes place on the extraterrestrial world of Pandora. A team of businessmen, scientists, and soldiers have come to Pandora from Earth with the intention of excavating its unobtainium supply (unobtainium being a natural resource of Pandora, selling on Earth for “twenty million a kilo”). The plan is complicated by the fact that a tribe of Na’vi, the indigenous humanoid species populating Pandora, lives in and around a giant tree which rests upon the largest deposit of unobtainium known to exist on the exotic planet. The businessmen (led by Giovanni Ribisi’s character) run the show, orchestrating and funding the entire operation. The scientists (led by Sigourney Weaver’s character) scope out the terrain to determine what needs to be done for the excavation to be successful. Part of this scoping out involves the formulation of the business’s Avatar program, which creates hybrids between humans and the Na’vi. The purpose of these hybrids is to be interwoven into Na’vi society in order to convince them to abandon their home so that the humans can proceed with their excavation simply and peacefully. Should this attempt at diplomacy fail, the soldiers (led by Stephen Lang’s character) are prepared to attack the Na’vi and remove them by force, thereby gaining access to the unobtainium deposit.
The human-Na’vi hybrids have the bodies of Na’vi but are controlled remotely by the brains of their human counterparts (hence, the term “avatar”). The central human figure in the film is a character named Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington). Jake is a former marine who lost the use of his legs in battle. He comes to Pandora with the hopes of earning an opportunity to have his legs repaired, a procedure that has apparently become technologically available by the year 2154, the year during which the film takes place. Jake keeps a video log of his time on Pandora, and through these logs he becomes the narrator for much of the film. His original intention is to spend six years on Pandora, playing the role of an avatar “driver,” fulfilling his mission to convince the Na’vi to move, and then returning home with a fresh set of legs. His plan changes when his avatar is taken captive by the Na’vi tribe he is sent to infiltrate on his first day in the Pandoran wild. Because his avatar is controlled by his consciousness, Jake’s personality is entirely present in his Na’vi body. He talks like Jake and acts like Jake, and as a Na’vi-shaped Jake he enters their camp. The elders of the tribe hold a council to determine what they ought to do with him. They have encountered these hybrids before and so they know a bit about them, but most of them retain at least a hint of skepticism toward them. After a brief discussion the elders decide that “Jakesully” (their one-word pronunciation of his name which becomes his Na’vi moniker) will remain among them and learn their ways. His training as a marine makes him especially apt for this and he becomes one of them in a very short time. But just as Jake is falling in love with Na’vi culture, he is pressured by his team to convince the natives to move sooner rather than later. When he explains to the Na’vi (including one particular woman for whom he has developed genuine feelings of love) why he came to them, they immediately reject him and suspect that he has deceived them all along. In spite of this, however, Jake fights on the side of the Na’vi when the humans attack the camp, causing war to break out. During his brief stay with them, he has found their ways honorable, worthy of defending, and superior to the humans whose race he belongs to.
Analysis. If you’ve seen any previews then you know the humans are armed with the most technologically advanced weaponry available while the Na’vi are armed primarily with bows and arrows. One can see a fairly common theme developing here, one which was notably employed in the film The Last Samurai. The same sort of scheme takes place there. One type of man is taken captive by an entirely different set of men only to, upon learning their ways, determine that this “different” set of men has more of what he finds desirable than his own people do. This theme is not original to Cameron but he, like those before him, use it to raise a good question about the nature of loyalty. What is it? To whom do we owe it? Is it to operate blindly? Jake Sully would answer this last question with a huge NO. He chooses to be loyal to goodness rather than to the human race. To paraphrase his choice, he chooses good aliens over bad humans. This question is relevant for today’s war-torn world too. When we see news of fighting between our own American soldiers and Middle Eastern insurgents, do our hearts automatically cry out for a swift and sure American victory, or do we want justice and goodness to prevail above everything else?
Back to our original question. Is Avatar worth all the hype? In terms of storyline, dialogue, and perhaps acting, no. The acting is respectable but the film received no Oscar nods in this category. The storyline is unoriginal and has no definitive “wow” moments. And the dialogue is fairly basic; there are no lines or monologues that will garner much attention or be considered especially praiseworthy. So in terms of what the film “sounds like,” no, it’s not worth all the hype. But in terms of what the film looks like, enough hype cannot possibly be attached to it. To put it simply, this film is visually unlike anything the world has ever seen before. It has been reported that Cameron imagined what he wanted years before the technology was available to make it happen. When you see it, you’ll understand why. He has created a dream world and has made it look like reality. His Na’vi, his alien creatures, and his extraterrestrial landscapes all look real despite the fact that they were all created via CGI. In this respect, Avatar is in a class of its own.
Thematically, Avatar centers around pantheism and her often close sibling environmentalism. Some viewers feel that Cameron took an in-your-face approach in presenting these views. Judge for yourself, but if all you see if religious propaganda, you’ve missed quite a spectacle. That being said, the film does have an overtly pantheistic bent. The world of Pandora is one with its primary deity Eywa, a sort of nature goddess who preserves the balance on Pandora. She is presented as good, but will not take sides between good and evil unless balance is threatened. She is composed of all the natural stuff of Pandora: the trees, the soil, the rocks, and the mountains; and while Cameron by no means develops a full theology of Eywa, it may be safe to speculate that she also has some sort of spiritual presence all her own, beyond the natural world. Whether the animals and the Na’vi are part of her being remains unclear, though it is clear that she can influence the animals and connect with the Na’vi in ways that a lot of humans wish we could connect with our deities. Because every bit of nature is a part of Eywa’s being, preserving and protecting that nature is of chief concern for the Na’vi. They make their home under a great, ancient tree because of its power to connect them with Eywa and thereby, with the rest of Pandora. If a tree falls, part of Eywa falls. This is, of course, in deep contrast with the human invaders who care nothing for the environment of Pandora and everything for the valuable mineral beneath its surface. Some see this contrast as anti-human (or anti-American). But this brings us back to the question of loyalty; do we owe it to goodness or to nationality? Yes, Cameron makes some Americans into bad guys. He needed bad guys for his story, and rather than making the millionth film about evil aliens invading Earth, he chose to make humans the evil invaders. As for them being Americans, would we have been happier if he had made Frenchmen his bad guys? Russians? The Chinese? By choosing to use humans as his antagonists, Cameron put himself into a lose-lose situation. I’m willing to bet he hasn’t lost the first wink of sleep over it.
Finally, for all of its pantheism, Avatar cannot avoid leaving behind an echo of the Christian Gospel, which I suspect is present in some degree in nearly every religious system the world has ever known. Here particularly, we see the Gospel in the way that Jake Sully becomes what he wants to save. Some obvious differences are present, but as Jesus became a human, learned our ways, and ultimately saved our species from forces too evil to comprehend, so Jake becomes a Na’vi and in so doing, with his warrior spirit and previous training as a U.S. Marine, provides the Na’vi with its only hope of outlasting the invaders and maintaining the balance of its beloved home. It’s an unoriginal story, but its extraterrestrial adaptation makes it fresh enough to appreciate. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s about time. If you’ve already seen it, it’s worth a second viewing.
Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 350 million users. Users can add friends, send them messages, and update their personal status, notifying friends about what they’re up to. Additionally, users can join networks organized by city, workplace, and school or college. The website’s name stems from books given at the start of the academic year by university administrations with the intention of helping students to get to know each other better.
I personally use Facebook to find friends from the past, check out what others are doing, advertise, or engage in discussions with friends. Often, I find that “friends” post status updates that say things like “I am at the store and the line is long” or “I just saw a movie and it was great.” Some even posts videos they record while on line at the store or doing something funny while at the movie theatre. Others post their feelings of hurt or post their deepest thoughts on a certain subject like God or politics. Some argue that Facebook is detrimental for the relational growth. While this is a worthy topic of discussion, it’s not the idea we will be dealing with here. I believe there is a bigger issue to address: relationships.
I have been in ministry for about 10 years and one thing I’ve learned is that we didn’t need the Facebook generation to come around to inform us that we all have an innate need to be known by others. We also want to know others. This is one of the major themes in youth ministry material for the past 30 years. And why shouldn’t it be? Relationships are the means through which God conforms us into the likeness of His Son. Relationships are grounded within the framework of the eternal relationship of the Trinity itself. In light of this, we can gain some ground in understanding why social networks are popular. The issue now is to quickly define relationships from both a non-Christian perspective and the biblical perspective.
Generally speaking, popular culture has used the term relationships in terms of dating or marriage. If you Google search “relationships,” a majority of the hits are on dating or marriage. Even the recommended narrow searches are phrases like relationship advice, relationship tips, and even Dr. Phil. This hints at why there is growing dysfunction in homes, schools, and churches. People do not understand that different types of relationships are essential to maturity.
From a biblical worldview, relationships are defined throughout the Old and New Testaments. Scripture teaches us how we are to interact with God, our spouse, our children, our friends, co-workers, enemies, government, etc. A relationship is defined by the way we interact and associate with those created in the image of God, and ultimately God himself. For example, you interact intimately with your spouse knowing that you have become one flesh in marriage. Scripture also seems to suggest that our relationships reflect our character and eligibility to lead. If men do not have good relations with their wives and children, they are not fit to lead the church. God created us for relationships within the parameters of His will.
We all have a deep need for relationships. But when relationships are defined in the manner that popular culture has it’s no wonder that those needs are not met. Facebook and other social networking tools are popular because users are attempting to interact with the world the best way they can. Users attempt to connect with old friends, make new friends, share their feelings in hope that someone will comment on their status. As beneficial as such sites may be, God’s design for us and our relationships cannot be fulfilled via internet. The telos (purpose, end) of relationships is ultimately in God as revealed through the Trinity. Apart from that relationships with one another are meaningless.
I just got back home from Petland, picking up some treats for my dog. As I went to the checkout line, a lady with some cat food and other things was ahead of me. Here’s a paraphrase of the ensuing conversation between “Cat Lady” and the checkout clerk. My comments are in brackets.
Clerk: [scanning cans of food, and singing a silly song] Cat food, cat food, I’m allergic to cats!
Cat lady: That’s interesting. Why do you work at a petstore?
Clerk: Well, you see people don’t realize that whatever is going to happen is going to happen regardless. [Determinism?]
Cat lady: What makes you say that?
Clerk: You see, I’m a Christian, and according to what I believe everything that’s going to happen is going to happen. You can’t change it. [I'd like to think the guy is a Calvinist, but this is sheer fatalism. No informed Calvinist would state things this way.]
Cat lady: Maybe, but I do believe that we have free will [True enough...depending on the definition you're employing of the term "free will." I think she was responding to his unhealthy fatalism.]
Clerk: Well yeah, we have free will about whether we’ll go “up” [heaven] or “down” [hell]. [Classic Arminianism. Interesting. So God determines everything that will ever take place....but leaves in our hands-Oh, Sovereign creature!-the greatest possible choice, i.e. the efficacy of Christ's atonement!]
Cat lady: I’m going to have to disagree with you there. But, if it works for you…! [Typical postmodern pragmatism. Let's not say the other person is wrong..no, no. To each his own. What matters is that a belief "works," not whether it fairly represents reality]
Thus the conversation ended there. I stood there, biting my tongue. I actually wanted to correct the clerk more for his poor presentation of God’s sovereignty than Cat lady for her relativism. But I knew it wasn’t my place to butt it and wax theological.