As a 38-year-old pastor, I'm deeply troubled by the way in which many conservative evangelicals are so deeply enmeshed with the political narrative of our day that many can no longer differentiate between Christianity and partisan politics.
This is my attempt to answer *why* so many evangelicals are supporting politics-as-salvation, and what is needed after the facade of that ideology falls apart.
Some of my critique can be equally applied to my Progressive sisters and brothers, but for my purposes here, I've focused on the narrative I'm seeing many evangelicals buy into because they are my family, the people from which I've come.
My argument can be summed up here:
We've been more deeply formed by cultural narratives, to the detriment of the biblical narrative.
Today, part 1 of 4: A Resilient Faith | Chosen Strangers
To make sense of what #AResilientFaith looks like, we have to go back to The Good Old Days.
Here's how I define The Good Old Days:
1. An expectation that everything, and everyone, was Christian.
2. Christians were IN HERE; non-Christians were OUT THERE.
3. An expectation that our values/beliefs would be catered to by the culture.
Setting aside issues surrounding class, race, and privilege for a moment, as I pastor in the rural Midwest, this is the period of our history in the US that I see many older Americans sentimentally desiring to go back to.
The desire is real.
The timeframe is real, although privileged.
And many have very good reasons to want to go back. In many ways, it was easier to be an American Christian in the Good Old Days.
Somewhat ironically though, what many evangelicals lack is an imagination shaped MORE by the biblical narrative than the cultural narrative.
So many of us are more deeply shaped by the narratives of our culture - nationalism, capitalism, consumerism, racism - than we are by the biblical story.
What we need to recover is the biblical story that tells us who we are.
And who are we?
We are Strangers in a Strange Land.
In 1 Peter, the author refers to his audience as "Chosen Strangers."
Picked out, chosen, chosen by God
It's the same word used here in John referring to Jesus at his baptism:
I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the *Chosen* One of God.”
We are chosen in the same way Jesus was chosen by God, to carry out God's Mission in the world.
And then we have...
1. One who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there by the side of the natives
2. A stranger
3. Sojourning in a strange place, a foreigner
Taken literally, and I believe in the context of his broader letter, what Peter is communicating to his audience in the introduction to 1 Peter is simply this: You are Chosen Strangers - chosen by God to be aliens in a
foreign land. And if you're hearing this in the 1st century, you're thinking, "but I've lived in this town my ENTIRE LIFE?!?!?"
What Peter is doing here is giving them a new name - a new identity. This happens over and over in the biblical story, and Peter knows a thing or two about God giving one a new name.
Chosen Stranger is an identity.
An identity given by God to God's people.
Because names shape us. Names shape our reality and shape what we come to expect in the world.
We are not chosen (blessed) to lord it over the unchosen (unblessed). We are blessed to be a blessing. In the same way that Jesus gave his life for all, we are called to something similar.
Many in the West - still a bit hungover on centuries of cultural, economic, and military power - can hardly begin to imagine an identity of being a weak but Chose Stranger of God.
Our imagination has been so deeply shaped by power, might, and *winning*, we have a difficult time being in our present moment. One where our voice to influence our cultural story does not have the same power it did only a few generations ago.
Perhaps that power though has blinded us to our true place in society? Perhaps our power has been misused, and abused too often? Perhaps we have much to learn about being culturally weak?
Yet, perhaps this cultural weakness can bring about so much good for the Jesus Follower, for the Church, and for society?
Faithfulness to the Way of Jesus, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, requires us to be present to this moment and to name our place in it. To be honest about our lack of power, and to take our place as Strangers living in a Strange Land. To seek the prosperity of the land that we find ourselves in (Jeremiah 29 - we'll get to that later too).
So, if we ARE chosen strangers living in a strange land, what are we to do?
Here are four options:
4. Live in the world, but not of it.
Do you see political ideology at play here?
Where are Conservatives?
Where are Progressives?
Where are you?
Here are the deeper questions at play that we must begin to address if we want to break free from our embedded ideology:
1. How does one stay faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ while residing in a foreign land?
2. How do we live in the world but not of the world?
3. What practices and habits do we need to develop in order to create a sustainable faith that lasts for generations in exile?
4. How does the Church cultivate a Third Way People as a witness to God’s Kingdom here and now?
Ultimately, in exploring these questions, we're trying to develop a resilient faith.
And what is a resilient faith?
*It's the ability to maintain complete trust in God while withstanding difficult conditions.*
Many of my evangelical brothers and sisters are FLAILING as a result of a perceived loss of cultural influence and power.
The posturing - particularly, the salvation-through-political-ends - betrays a lack of trust in God as our culture changes.
We don't trust that God will walk with us, that God can bring about goodness and wholeness and peace, as long as we are side-lined by our culture.
And yet, maybe to restore our proper place in society as bearers of blessing, we need a few generations (or more) of sitting at the margins?
The way forward in our faith communities, and in our culture for people of faith, is not to go back to some sentimental version of the Good Old Days. Those days aren't coming back. In fact, for many in our society on the margins, those days were NOT good.
The way forward is to develop A Resilient Faith.
So, how do we do this?
-We need to explore Exile.
-We need to explore Practices.
-We need to explore being a Third Way People.
This is part 1 of 4. In subsequent posts, I'll explore Exile, Practices, and being a Third Way People.
This is taken part one of a four-part teaching series I preached at my church in September. You can listen online here: https://markeychurch.org/sermons_items/a-resilient-faith-chosen-strangers/
Apologies for the poor sound quality.
Our AVL system is nearly 30 years old, and we've been raising money to replace it for a while now. You can read about that here: https://markeychurch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Immeasurably-More-Campaign-Brochure-final1.pdf