Today we begin a lengthy dialog with, Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, by John Stackhouse.
Stackhouse reminds us of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s question, “Who is Jesus Christ, for us, today?” He reminds us that in all we do, we start with Christ. His identity and mission will constitute the heart of our identity and mission.
But Stackhouse says there is a corollary question that we must ask: “Who are we, for Jesus Christ Today?” Christian ethics is too often perceived in terms of morality, of right and wrong. Stackhouse writes:
Stackhouse quotes Glen Tinder:
Stackhouse writes that this book is about answering this corollary to Bonhoeffer’s question.
Stackhouse says that he believes two models of Christian engagement with the world exist in North American, Europe, Australia and New Zealand:
Stackhouse finds neither of these responses adequate. Reflecting on H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture five part typology of cultural engagement, Stackhouse is going to draw on the “Christ in paradox with culture” type, though with some modification. Stackhouse notes that this was Niebuhr’s least well formulated type, but one that Stackhouse thinks is critical.
Stackhouse’s two types of engagement describe two halves of my life. The first half of my life I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene. Though the denomination has become less sectarian in recent years, it was considerably so when I was growing up. The denominational devotional guide when I was growing up was called (and maybe still is) “Come Ye Apart,” as in, come out of the world and live an exemplary life of holiness as a witness to the world. The denomination is a conservative off-shoot of Methodism
The second half of my life has been spent in the Presbyterian Church, USA, ground zero in the mainline cultural transformation movement. The politics (at least in the hierarchy) is decidedly left of center. Frankly, I find it hard to tell which is transforming which when it comes to the denomination and the culture. :-) Though many conservative reformed folks would not agree, the Presbyterian Church stands very much within Protestant reformed tradition which has transformational mindset.
In all frankness, I’ve never been (from my earliest memories) entirely at home with either of these options, though there are elements of both that have a strong ring of truth. What Stackhouse’s book does for me is give voice to the tension I’ve lived in all my life.
How about you? Do you have a “home” in these two approaches or are there others that speak to you? Do you agree with Stackhouse's notion Christian ethics?
Next we turn to Chapter 1, where we will lay out some important definitions and then quickly review Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture typology. That will complete Part 1 in the book. Part 2 of the book will look at the Christian realism of C. S. Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr (Richard’s brother), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Part 3, the last half of the book, will be Stackhouse’s analysis and reflection.