Counter Cultural

David Platt has recently come out with a new book called Counter Culture. From the book description:

Welcome to the front lines. Everywhere we turn, battle lines are being drawn―traditional marriage vs. gay marriage, pro-life vs. pro-choice, personal freedom vs. governmental protection. Seemingly overnight, culture has shifted to the point where right and wrong are no longer measured by universal truth but by popular opinion. And as difficult conversations about homosexuality, abortion, and religious liberty continue to inject themselves into our workplaces, our churches, our schools, and our homes, Christians everywhere are asking the same question: How are we supposed to respond to all this?

Good question.

Before the book came out, you could see threads of Platt’s teaching in sermons he was delivering. One that stands out to me is a sermon he delivered at the SEBTS chapel in August of 2013. It’s really quite incredible, and not just because he’s a great preacher.

It’s incredible for its exposition and its application. The sermon is drawing from Genesis 1-3, and from there Platt lays out 4 biblical foundations from the text, and follows it with 4 parallel, powerful implications for Christians today.  (This is particularly potent today, in light of the horrific Planned Parenthood video that’s making its way around the internet.)

Here’s the video, it’s well worth your time to watch (the sermon outline is below):

Sermon Scripture: Genesis 1-3

4 Biblical Foundations:

  1. God creates us as a demonstration of His glory. (Gen. 1)
  2. God designs us for the display of His gospel. (Gen. 2:18-25)
  3. God judges us by His righteous Law. (Gen. 3)
  4. God pursues us with His redeeming love. (Gen. 3:15, the protoeuangelion, the first mention of the gospel)

4 Cultural Implications:

  1. We fight abortion as an assault on God’s creation and an affront to God’s glory.
  2. We flee sexual immorality in our lives and we defend sexual complementarity in marriage.
  3. We work for justice in the world as we speak about the Judge of the world.
  4. We must give our lives and lead our churches to pursue people still unreached for Christ.

 

Constrained

One of the mysterious things in the Bible, specifically in the book of Acts, is how the Holy Spirit “constrains” people. Paul talks about going to Jerusalem, being constrained by the Spirit (Acts 20:22). Nothing indicates how Paul was constrained, only that he was.

Through recent events in my life, I think I’ve come to see how the Holy Spirit actually does this.

The first way we can be constrained by the Spirit is through the Word. There are days when you read the Bible, and days when the Bible reads you. We always hope for the latter of course, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

When the Bible reads you, you can sense God giving you clear direction through it. You can almost look up and follow his finger that’s pointing in the direction you’re to head. You might even be reminded by a spouse of a particular verse; the same one that hit you. Now, you can choose to ignore that direction, but it’s still there all the same. And that’s God constraining you through His Word.

The other way we’re constrained by the Spirit is through our circumstances. Some things are simply prevented from happening, while other things are permitted to happen. Those things are out of our control, or at least they seem to be.  A job doesn’t work out, a relationship that’s denied, or a house that won’t sell. Each of these prevents you from moving forward, constraining you to where you find yourself.

The scary part about being constrained is that it seems to always happen at moments that don’t make sense. They go against our grain, and prevent things that seem like they should happen from actually coming to fruition.

But the wonderful thing about being constrained by the Spirit is that you’re being constrained by the Spirit. That is to say, by God Himself. And we know that God works all things according to our good.  This is the solace in our constraint.

Why hasn’t Evangelicalism produced a C.S. Lewis?

From a review of Donald Williams Inklings of Reality: Essays Toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters

There is only one society on record in which it [poetry] is considered unmanly, in which its more artistic forms are practiced only by an isolated elite who write, only for each other, texts which would be utterly incomprehensible to the general public. And that is our own, though only in the last century.

Which leads to this:

The absence of one or both in the Evangelical community accounts not only for the general lack of Evangelical interest in the arts (none of the major systematic theology books, Williams perceptively notes, has a section on Christianity and the arts), but also for the fact that Evangelicalism has yet to create a great poet, artist, or composer. Evangelicals, bemoans Williams, “have had great zeal, large movements, grand organizations, royal battles; but no Bach, no Spenser, no Milton, not even a Tolkien or a C. S. Lewis.

That’s a point well taken. But I do wonder, is it that Evangelicalism has not produced one of these virtuosos, or that we can’t see them?

What are we simplifying for?

An army of people are urging us through their books and blogs to simplify our lives. The advice is the same, though it takes many forms: “Declutter your life.” “Throw away some clothes.” “Buy only what you need.” “Move into a smaller house.”

Minimalism is the heading under which most of this takes place. It’s been around forever of course, leading back to asceticism and the monastic movements (it should be noted that most minimalists would deny they’re after the same things as those movements).

But of late, minimalism found its home on the internet, starting with people like Merlin Mann, and more recently The Minimalists, a couple of guys that quit their jobs, got rid of lots of their stuff, and then moved to Montana. They’ve also brought joy to many of their readers’ lives, which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Now the movement has broken out into more mainstream culture, with things like the documentary Tiny, a film that follows people who’ve abandoned typical housing arrangements in favor of “tiny houses” that are only a few hundred square feet. Late last year came an interview with Christopher Nolan, the filmmaker behind the reboot of the Batman franchise, Inception, and Interstellar, in The New York Times citing his decision to wear the same thing every day to help simplify his life.

In just the last week, another story of a daily uniform came in the form of an interview with Matilda Kahl, an art director who’s been wearing the same outfit to work for three years now. Before Kahl and Nolan there was Steve Jobs, who famously wore the black turtle neck and jeans for his daily garb.

The interest in pairing back possessions and wearing a daily uniform is fascinating to me, and I’ve been reading about it for years now. Take a look at the page you’re reading on and you’ll see I have a taste for minimal things. I don’t like clutter. I don’t like unread text messages or too many numbers in those little red bubbles on my iPhone.

In the past I’ve found myself sending loads of stuff to Goodwill, deleting old files, and feeling better in the process. But as anyone who’s ever undertaken this stuff knows, that feeling doesn’t last for long. Eventually, we have to ask ourselves, “What are we simplifying for?”

What are we simplifying for?

According to what’s out there on minimalism (at least everything I’ve read), the answer is usually “So you can live a more meaningful life.”

That’s a great bite-size answer that makes us feel warm and cozy. But what defines a meaningful life?

When you push past the catch-phrase you find out that what’s being promoted is a more meaningful life defined by making yourself happy. A more meaningful life is defined by being freed up to do what you love, live where you want, and be who you want, without the definitions your stuff gives you.

To be fair, the best of minimalism talks about getting rid of material things to make room for more noble things, like friendships. But even with noble intentions, this is nothing more than shifting our source of identity and meaning from having lots of stuff to having little stuff.

Promoters of the minimal philosophy would almost certainly disagree, but at the same time they’re promoting it to such a degree that their identities are literally wrapped up in the concept of not having things (i.e. – The Minimalists).

My intention is not to denigrate some of the actions that are promoted by minimalists and those advocating a simpler lifestyle, because, like I said, I actually find much of that advice helpful in my own life. But the ideology behind those actions is not enough to help us live a meaningful life, no matter how many closets we clean.

The real problem

The problem with having too many (or too few) possessions is that we’re trying to find meaning where there is none. At one extreme, we’re trying to define ourselves by our iPhones, cars, and homes, and at the other we’re trying to define ourselves by our own happiness. But neither is sufficient to ground us in a world of earthquakes, cancer, and hunger.

I’ll put it this way (and this isn’t original to me, I heard it elsewhere, but the source escapes me): Imagine yourself in the midst of the Nazis in World War 2. If your meaning in life could be taken away by being put in a concentration camp, then it’s not enough.

That’s just one example, but it could be phrased any number of ways. If your meaning in life can be taken away by a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a loved one, then it’s not enough.

If your meaning in life depends on your circumstances, know that your circumstances will change. At some point, you will find yourself in a different set of circumstances that shakes the foundations of where you’ve staked your meaning.

You can find meaning in your possessions, but one day they’ll be taken from you.

You can find meaning in your beauty, but one day you’ll lose it.

You can find meaning in your happiness, but one day you’ll be sad.

So the problem is less that we need to decide between how much or how little stuff we have, and more about where we find our meaning in life. There are a myriad of suggested solutions to that problem, but let me suggest the Christian worldview as a way of solving it.

A solution to to the problem of meaning

The Christian worldview has much to say about possessions, and its solution to the problem of where to find meaning is sufficient to hold us up through life regardless of our circumstances.

At the root of the Christian worldview is the idea that God himself came to earth in the form of the man Jesus and that man died for the sins of humanity, but he was resurrected after three days, defeating death in the process.

Christians see that saving act of Jesus as being the foundation for meaning in life. This can be seen throughout the Bible, but most clearly in the beginning of the book of John, one of the four biographical accounts of the life of Jesus. The book opens with this:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

John, the author, wrote that in Greek, and when he chose the word that’s translated as “Word,” he used a term that was absolutely loaded in that day. That term was “logos.”

Logos” didn’t simply mean “word”. The term was coined by a guy named Heraclitus long before John was writing, and he defined as being the divine reason or plan which coordinates a changing universe. Logos meant the reason for something, in this case the reason for life.

In Greek culture, the logos was where meaning and reason was derived from, and the whole universe was tied together by that logos. This is what philosophers and thinkers had been discussing up until the time John was writing.

Some of them decided that there was no meaning, no reason, no logos, in life. Others decided that their own pleasure, their own happiness was the logos (which we see today in any of the self-fulfillment philosophies).

It was into this setting that John redefined the term.

He said a couple really important things. First, he said the reason for life, the logos, was there in the beginning. Now, the Greeks of the day would have had no problem with that part, since it fit with their general understanding of the term. It’s the next part where John drops his bombshell.

He says, “the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” He said the logos, the reason for life, was a person. And this logos was with God. But not only was he with God, but he was God, meaning he was the same as God.

When you go on to read the rest of this chapter in John’s book, you find out that when he uses the term logos he’s referring to the man Jesus Christ.

John’s saying that there is a reason for life. That there is a way to find meaning in life. But it’s not a philosophical principle – it’s the person of Jesus Christ.

And if you don’t know that Person, you can’t find the deepest meaning in life. If you don’t know that Person, you can’t find something that’s capable of standing up to what life throws at you.

Not only does the Christian worldview have the ability to provide us meaning in life that can’t be taken away, but it results in a healthier relationship with possessions than either the American Dream or the minimalists offer.

A better way to relate to possessions and people

The Gospel, the central good news of the Christian faith about Jesus taking judgement in our place, fundamentally changes how you relate to possessions, thereby changing your relationship with the meaning associated with them.

This entire argument is more than we have time for right now, but the essence of it is that the Gospel frees you from assigning meaning to possessions by showing you that you find meaning in Christ. You find meaning in the treasures of the world to come that will never fade away, instead of the treasures of this world that won’t last.

And that changes everything.

I love how David Platt, a former pastor and the current President of the International Missions Board, put this:

Think about it. Faith in Christ reconciles us to God, right? It’s the essence of the gospel. We no longer live for earthly treasure. We love our eternal treasure. God is our treasure. That frees us from the constant pursuit of stuff in this world, which means faith in Christ now reconciles us to one another because we’re not living any more for selfish gain. We’re free of that. Free to live with selfless generosity.

Finding meaning in Christ changes how you relate to possessions and, as you just read, how you relate to people.

The Christian is freed to live a simple and generous life. Both of which I think we’re all after, aren’t we? We want to live a life that isn’t defined by things we know won’t last, and we want to positively impact the world around us. But we won’t find those things by looking to either our stuff or our own happiness.

So what are we simplifying for? What are you simplifying for? And is it really worth it? Is it something that will bring real, lasting meaning to your life?

Choices

It’s getting late and I’m exhausted from job hunting all day online. Looking for your first job is lonely enough, why did we have to add the internet? I shake the disappointment from my mind and get under the covers. Then I see it.

A book. Just a little one. Maybe 150 small pages.

I’ve just finished four years of undergrad, so reading for pleasure wasn’t high on my list. But I’m mentally tired, not quite physically, so I pick it up.

A Mind for God it says. Hmm…

It was a free gift from the church my girlfriend had been taking me to. She liked it. I liked her. So I went. And they gave out copies of this book. I like free things, so I took one.

And here I am. Reading this thing.

And slowly, page by page, something happens.

Well, shifts more than happens. My mind shifts from thinking about what I have to do to what I want to do. From caring about nothing to seeing I might care about something. From always wanting more to seeing there actually is more.

So I make a choice. A choice to spend the rest of my life pursuing what had the power to make those shifts, and the ones that would follow in my heart and soul.

I made a choice to pursue a mind for God, which turned in to pursuing a life for God.


Here I am today, working at the church started by the man who wrote that book. Working for the man who wrote that book. And I wonder.

I wonder why I’m sitting here. I wonder what happened to all the other people that received that book – surely there were over a hundred. Why isn’t one of them sitting here instead?

But then  I see why. It’s because of choices.

Surely there is more to my story (and yours) than mere choice, but maybe not less.

We are where we are because of choice plus circumstance. I believe in a God that involves Himself in those circumstances, you may not. Regardless, only one of those things we can control, and that is our choices.

Choice has always fascinated me. I began to see several years ago that life is nothing less than a series of choices, though it is also much, much more. But it remains that our lives are defined by a series of choices, one after the other, each leading to a particular place, time and consequence.

I made the choice to read that book. It altered the path of my life.

I made the choice to believe a man named Jesus rose from the dead. I believe that changed my eternity (though my choice was not possible without his pursuit).

I made the choice to volunteer at a church. It altered my career.

I made the choice to have children. It changed my life for the better in every category (but sleep!).

Every one of those choices was the first step, simply setting the ball in motion. After that came the hard work. Figuring out what to do with my life, getting a job, quitting that job, figuring out how to be a husband and a father.

Some of the choices we make in life are good, some are bad. But it is making good choices, wise choices, that I’m interested in.  Because it’s the wise choices that have the power to shift our hearts and minds. It’s the wise choices that have the power to give you the marriage you want, the career you want, the life you want. (Again, we’re talking about what we can control here.)

When I think through the pattern of choices in my life, and if you think through yours, I start to see a pattern emerge. A formula even. A way to make a few better choices. And, like the best things in life, it’s quite simple.

First we recognize that we have choices to make every day, then we consider what the wise thing to do is. Lastly, we do what it takes to make that choice.

Recognizing that we have a choice to make sounds so obvious it might be insulting. But if you’re insulted, perhaps you’re exactly the kind of person that’s making poor choices. We have to see that each day we are presented with choices, some benign, others life-altering, but each day they’re there.

If we fail to recognize them, we will most often fail to make the wise choice. Instead, we must see that the choices when they arise.

We must see that a conversation with your spouse about what kind of parent you want to be is more than a way to pass the time – it’s a choice between looking back at children you are either proud or ashamed to have raised. An opportunity to do something that stretches you isn’t just an annoyance in your day – it’s a choice between growing as a person or staying the same.

Once we begin to recognize these moments, these choices, for what they are, we then have to decide what the wise choice actually is. This is not always easy. Our mix of presuppositions, morals, values, religion, and families make our choices less clear than we’d often like.

But. Each of us has the ability to look at a choice we’ve been presented with and discern what the wise to do is. Some of us might be more keen at making wiser decisions, some of us the opposite, but we can smell the difference between wise and foolish.

And when we know what the wise thing is, it’s time to do what it takes to make it happen. And this is more difficult than even knowing what’s wise. Because now you must do hard things, have the difficult conversations, make the big changes.

Maybe you’re staring at one of these choices right now. Maybe reading this is keeping you from it. Odds are you probably know the wise thing to do, but you’re scared to do it. Don’t run from it. It only makes the next choice harder.

Instead, recognize the choice. See the wise decision. And do the work to make it happen.