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catapult magazine


A call to subversion


Jul 03 2006
06:24 am

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When taken in by the vision of the Bible, and this epistle particularly, we find that we don’t have to live the way we do, we don’t have to go along with the values of the dominant culture, we can live out a spiritually-rich, countercultural way of life.

I wonder if we could discuss two notions in Byron’s review – of what is a great book by Walsh and Keesmaat – that of the counter-cultural life and also of exile?

It seems that in both the USA and the UK, Christians are besotted by the notion of the Kingdom of God as counter-cultural living. Calvin Seerveld has of course made the point that the Kingdom is not counter-cultural, but [i:fb28756c5f]normative[/i:fb28756c5f]. We are here to show the world, what is normative for family, politics, education, the arts and business (to name a few things in Creation). To Seerveld counter-cultural living is issues-based living; be it immigration, the environment, sexuality or policing the world! This is quite different from revealing, being apocalyptic if you will, what is the norm for God’s Creation. We are not driven by the issues, out of our desperation to be [i:fb28756c5f]relevant[/i:fb28756c5f], but our whole modus is a continual cultivation of these things, [i:fb28756c5f]a la [/i:fb28756c5f]Genesis. I don’t think we are called to relevance, but faithfulness to God’s vision for life, the world and everything in it.

My concern is the Christian [i:fb28756c5f]mentalit?[/i:fb28756c5f], as revealing a cultural de-fault – knowing our place in the world as defined by those wonderful Modern and Post-Modern thinkers – moulders and shapers of society – rather than what scripture reveals. This is not to say that I’m proposing a neo-Christian irrelevance to the issues of everyday, but that our rationale, our spirit, our worldview is understood by the normative calls of Scripture and not the clamour of our troubled times. We are so good at organising events in our churches, that maybe we have forgotten the premise in Romans 12, of the renewing our ‘mind’ and then transforming the outward forms, images, the stuff of life. Counter-cultural huffing and puffing over issues, is perhaps the opposite of this. Paul is telling us that real transformation – [i:fb28756c5f]metamorphoo[/i:fb28756c5f] – starts not on the outside, but on the inside, unless of course we are not serious about a Christian transformation of our society and its cultural form; a process and not a protest. It may be what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was talking about when he said, ’don’t try and change the world, before you change yourself ?(my paraphrase).

As for exile, I must admit that this is an even bigger worry about the Christian mentality. Whilst I understand that the Older Testament abounds with the themes of exile, the Newer Testament does not. The NT is replete with the alluding to of occupation, quite a different view in my opinion.

Firstly, exile personifies the view that we are somewhere other than we should be? This is not the case, and is not attested to by scripture. We are stewards and cultivators of God’s good Creation, we are made for this time and place. However, to add spice to our activities an enemy has infiltrated, occupied this territory whilst our Watchmen were distracted by ?issues? such as how much water to use for baptisms, whether a woman should speak in church, head-covering; worldliness as being epitomised by drinking, frequenting cinemas; private faith and public religion. Before you know it, we are a culturally alienated, marginalised to an outpost for the superstitious and fearful of judgement types!

In Rainbows for the Fallen World, Seerveld asks us if we know the cultural time. He asks for two reasons:
1. We need to know the cultural time so that we can speak pertinently to the culture of our day
2. Knowing the language and devices contemporary culture uses to communicate with, so we can speak the [i:fb28756c5f]Rhema[/i:fb28756c5f] of God into it.

If we wrongly discern the cultural time, our language, our actions will be incorrect, rendered impotent.

The rules for life in exile are quite different to those in an occupied territory. The prophets told the exiles to marry, buy property and prosper in the land. Paul’s edict to the Colossian Christians was one of subversion, to undermine the hostile authorities, by, dare I say it, showing what was normative, the obedient cultivation of land, people, institutions etc. Christ after all, is Lord and not that pretender Caesar!

In conclusion, we are not in exile, this is God?s Creation and not an alien world, or the Kingdom of a Pagan despot. We haven?t been paying attention to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, and so it is with the Older and Newer Testament people of God, that the grieved Holy Spirit cries out, ?Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.? If you hear His voice, cultivate the planet with the normative outpouring and revelation of the Kingdom of God. Start treating your church members like people and not attendees or consumers of the next best church programme. Get out from under the bushel and shine! Get out of the saltcellar and add savour to the dying, rotting corpse of Modern/Post-Modern society! Creation, incarnation and resurrection is how the theologian Herman Bavinck put it, in his Philosophy of Revelation?


Jul 14 2006
12:58 am

What an inspired post!

I haven’t read Colossians Re-mixed, and so I’m not sure of its direction on these matters. I am concerned that thinking of Christianity as subversive sometimes seems to lead toward anti-culturalism or technophobia. Maybe it doesn’t have to go there, but I see far too many "intentional" Christians rebuking television or "big business" or other symbols of our culture rather than taking the more radical reformational approach I love in people like Seerveld and Kuyper etc.



Jul 14 2006
04:08 am

Hi Grant,

Haven’t been in touch for quite a while. Hope things are ok with you?

I am concerned that thinking of Christianity as subversive sometimes seems to lead toward anti-culturalism or technophobia.

The exilic stuff in the book doesn’t play a major part, in what I’ve read so far, but it is an excellent book. My concerns are that as Christians we always gravitate to the Exile as an analogy of what we are experiencing now, but I can’t say that I agree with that. Subversion can only come by our engaging with contemporary culture, not through [i:a31653913a]anti-culturalism or technophobia.[/i:a31653913a] (But I understand your concerns.) For me it is an interesting anomaly and surely comes from an under-deveoped worldview, you could say un-scriptural worldview, but would be consistent with some of the mis-readings of scripture as being a call to remove yourself from the world.

The book however, doesn’t go this way, nor the counter-cultural way. Their view of the Colossian church is that it is situated IN the Empire of Roman excess and not somehow removed from it. The subversion takes place through interacting with the edifices of this Empire, through commerce, politics, religion, family and community – to name a few aspects -and not through ceasing to function in any of those areas. This doesn’t make it counter-cultural, but [b:a31653913a]normative[/b:a31653913a] in Cal Seerveld’s view and I’d agree with that.

Walsh and Keesmaat do point out that in the Gospel of Luke, Luke locates Jesus at the centre of Empire Life, naming political rulers etc, as a way of contextualising the Kingdom of God. It’s the same for us, otherwise the KIngdom of God is contextless, meaningless. After all what is the appeal of living in the wilderness? John didn’t call people to the wilderness to live, after they were baptised they went back home! I think this kind of isolationist theology stems from our cultural impotence and isn’t a sign that we have become impotent by being too worldly! Maybe we appear impotent because the Kingdom has no meaning for people in their everyday lives. After all, who wants to be saved, just to go to church???

My big worry, is that we continue to mis-read the time we are in; what Seerveld has called ‘reading the cultural time’. Such reading is not only a point of location, but also an understanding of how we are to act in the given moment. If we mis-read the cultural time, we will act inappropriately, we will dis-locate. I think the accent on exile reveals something of our sense of dis-location, but it isn’t because we have been carted away to a foreign land. This land is God’s Land, all of it under the Lordship of Christ and I wonder if Exilic Christians have lost that view of the Lordship of Christ as being total, not limited to the Sabbatical, or the Christian Ghetto. Our compulsion to hide, is deeply distressing!