– by Walt Mueller
2001, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
Had you been alive while Jesus Christ was walking this earth, and had you been monitoring his journeys though the world as it existed, you probably would have been shocked by some of the places he visited and certainly by some of the people he visited with. What did it mean for a Jew to visit Samaria? What did it mean to touch a leper or dine with prostitutes and tax collectors? More importantly, what message was Christ sending to us?
In Dick Staub’s book Too Christian – Too Pagan (Zondervan, 2000 ISBN 0-310-23315-1), Christians are confronted with meeting the uncomfortable, and why it is important we see this was Christ’s intention all along. We are meant to leave our comfort zones, meet the world with all its sickness and depravity, and bring the healing message of the Good News to those who so desperately need it. Staub reminds us of Christ’s response to the Pharisees who questioned the company he kept: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Mat. 9:12-13).
Staub points out that the biggest problem Christians have with pursuing sinners, is that they know this pursuit often requires going where sin actually resides?the world. Staub recognizes this and offers a biblical approach for understanding, what he terms a “schizophrenia” about God’s relationship to the world and our own calling in it. He invites readers to understand that not all references to the “world” in the Bible denote a transitory and fallen race at enmity with God. The “world” is also referred to in scripture as something wonderful, created by God and in his image. The “world” also describes the people he desires to save.
Staub encourages us that if we understand that God does indeed, love this world, then he also loves human craftsmanship and creativity as well as the complexities of human relationships. God also loves the world he came to save and he commands us to do the same. Ultimately, we should be looking to notice the smallest beam of God’s image shining through every aspect of our culture. Sometimes that beam may be something that absolutely glorifies God. More often, it will be evidence of the truth that all creation groans for salvation. Staub writes, “And so our love and devotion to God fully engages us in a love for the world. We love the world as a miraculous place God created, as a display case of human work and creativity, and as the scene of God’s love story toward rebellious humans.”
This perspective will help many Christians, like myself, who were raised to stay entirely separate from anything remotely resembling the world outside their church. By doing so, Staub would argue that we are missing valuable opportunities to understand the world apart from God, and how we might reach them. Like Christ, we need to see and feel the world around us in order to sense the profound potential for redeeming that world. He writes, “But there is to be found, even in the most off-putting cultural expressions, a kernel of God’s image trying to shine through, no matter how bent and distorted its presentation. I believe this is why Jesus was able to get by the demoniac’s repulsiveness and restore him to his right mind. It is why Jesus saw a person in the woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery. It is why he touched the leper. It was why he was so effective with diverse people from a whole range of cultures. It is why he is able to love you and me.”
Christ’s example in his earthly journeys is one of a cross-cultural missionary. Surrounded by alien races, religions and occupations, he took his message to a culturally diverse world and reminded people of their common roots in the Creator. The thought of undertaking this type of ministry today can be intimidating. To some, it may sound like a license to join the world and have a good time. Staub warns that this is a mission imperative: start with a theology, go with a purpose. He reminds us of Paul’s message to the church at Corinth; a church whose purpose was lost because many believers did nothing to distinguish themselves from the pagan activity of that city. Staub is keen to the fact that cross-cultural missions is dangerous. “I tremble when encouraging Christians to go into the world as a presence for Jesus, because I know that we are weak and prone to wander, and we face an adversary who is clever, strategic and intends to do harm to our mortal souls. But I also know Jesus calls us into the rough and tumble of the world and promises he is more powerful than the Evil One seeking to destroy us.”
To successfully minister to alien cultures in our own sphere of influence, Staub entreats us to “go to the party,” “listen to the music” and “see the movie.” But he does a good job of providing the clear spiritual strategy we are to undertake, lest we suffer the same fate as the church at Corinth. If we expect to effectively do cross-cultural ministry, we need to be aware of those aspects of our Christian walk that will aid us in maintaining Godly perspectives and holiness lest we stumble and fall. Staub warns that this is no easy task, “Virtually everyone who intentionally goes into the world intending to be a presence for the gospel places himself or herself in harm’s way.” But there are guards we can rely on to protect us. Prayer, the Holy Spirit, God’s Word, past experience and accountability are described as important tools we are to use when venturing into worldly territory.
Staub does a wonderful job of presenting a sound, biblical plan of action for taking the Good News and your own Christian example into, what will be for many, uncharted territory. But when armed with the essential tools and the proper plan, the Christian man and woman will experience God more fully. We will see what God is doing in his world around us, and we will better exercise the faith he has called us to share wherever we might be.
Staub is not leaving us on our own to start this journey. His Center for Faith and Culture offers two excellent tools to help us strategize for cross-cultural ministry. Their Web site (www.culturewatch.net) is highly recommended for current analysis of books, films and music. The Culture Watch newsletter offers the same. Staub refines the approach in Too Christian – Too Pagan for analysis in these offerings from the Center. When discussing various media, he first, “observes culture.” In academic fashion, we can collect observation related to themes, plot and character. After doing so, we can put on our spiritual stethoscope, and “hear the seeker.” What is the film, song, show or book saying about the cry for salvation and spiritual healing? Finally, we can “respond.” What does God’s Word say about the questions posed, and how can we best supply the answers in the worldly context from which they were posed?
Use Dick Staub’s book and the Center’s offerings as resources to help you see, hear and feel the condition of our world. In doing so, you will venture further from comfortable, safe areas, where some may say you are “too pagan.” Because you are bringing a Christian witness and the never-changing Word of God into a sinful world, you will also be called “too Christian” by others. It wouldn’t be the first time – the same thing happened to Jesus.
Staub on film
The Center for Faith and Culture’s CultureWatch.net newsletter helps Christians understand and communicate faith in the context of popular culture. Here’s what Dick Staub and the Center for Faith and Culture have to say about last year’s Oscar-winning blockbuster film, American Beauty.
In Sam Mendes’ haunting tale of a man living and dying in suburbia, life seems meaningless in its myriad details, but at its core life pivots on deep and unchanging truths. Lester (Kevin Spacey) hates his job. He loves the girls his wife once was, but loathes the success-driven ice queen she has become. He’s unable to communicate with his daughter, but nurses an obsessive interest in her best friend Angela. Threatened with downsizing at work, he blackmails his way to a tidy severance package and wallows in a midlife crisis, complete with drugs and a hot Firebird. When he begins to wake up it’s too late. Like King David, Lester seems to have it all. Yet he wants more, and he gives no thought to anyone but himself.
In a pivotal moment, Lester is about to make love to Angela. She is willing and ready, but she embarrassingly confesses, “I’ve never done this before.” Shocked that this flirtatious vixen is not the wild party animal she has led him to believe, Lester finally sees her as she is – a vulnerable young girl with insecurities and needs. Unlike King David who never understood the evil he had done to Bathsheba and Uriah until later, Lester stops short of deflowering Angela. He reaches out to her in her humiliation and begins, for the first time, to act like an adult.
Hear the seeker
One encouraging point we take from this film is that people are seeking. Lester represents the mindset of many people today who look for “the finer things of life” to give them meaning and satisfaction, and then fall apart after the temporary euphoria fades. Beauty shows these things do not bring people happiness.
To seekers, we can communicate our faith by looking at how nothing ultimately gives Lester fulfillment. Everything people strive for in this world has the potential to be taken away. Job, cars, relationships and money all can vanish. Why do we look for happiness and acceptance in things that can disappear? We all have stories when the money hasn’t been there, when we’ve lost our job, when our friend wasn’t there for us when we needed. Why would we base our lives on these things that make no guarantees of always being there for us, when we have a God who does make that promise?
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