Social Reconciliation: Changing Generations Part 6
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
We’ve already looked at the way younger generations desire a “story” that aligns their experiences and gives them meaning. We then looked at the way the Biblical story meets humanity’s central needs, organized by the 3 great separations: spiritual, social and environmental. We then argued that God’s redemptive plan involved the reconciliation of these separations. In the previous post we looked at how spiritual reconciliation – between man and God – is an ideal means of communicating the gospel in an increasingly postmodern culture.
RECONCILIATION: SOCIAL DIMENSION
Spiritual reconciliation concerned man’s vertical relationship: between himself and his Creator. Social reconciliation is concerned with horizontal reconciliation: between man and man.
This is perhaps best expressed in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men)– remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:11-16)”
There was intense division between Jew (the “circumcision”) and Gentile (the “uncircumcised”). The “dividing wall” between the two was eradicated by the cross of Christ, allowing for man to be reunited with one another.
In his seminal work, The Crucified God, theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes:
“The knowledge of God in the suffering of the cross of Christ destroys man who abandons his humanity, for it destroys his gods and destroys his supposed divinity. It sets him free from the inhuman hubris, to restore his true human nature. It makes the homo incurvatus in se once again open to God and his neighbor, and gives Narcissus the power to love someone else.”
Many in the younger generation have perceived a deficit in social values in their parents’ generation. In Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation X, one if the characters asks, “You mean to tell me we can drive all the way here from L.A. and see maybe ten thousand square miles of shopping malls, and you don’t have maybe just the weensiest inkling that something, somewhere has gone very, very cuckoo?”
Meanwhile there has been a growing sense in the younger generation that the church is not adequately addressing this question of values. Author and activist Shane Claiborne remarks, “I came to realize that preachers were telling me to lay my life at the foot of the cross and weren’t giving me anything to pick up.”
The issue of values is a very practical one, and not altogether different from the Pharisee’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ social ethic is most fully realized in humanitarian action.
“But wait,” some will object. “This has all been done before in the social gospel.” Indeed it has. Many are critical of the social gospel because of its perceived overemphasis on social reform rather than addressing man’s spiritual needs. But the problem was not that the social gospel was ostensibly wrong, but incomplete. James, the half-brother of Jesus defines “pure religion” as offering assistance to “widows and orphans” (cf. James 1:27), categories of people who cannot repay this kindness, thus emphasizing the sacrificial nature of this system of values.
Finally, in Luke 1:16-17, John the Baptist’s ministry is described by the angel to Zechariah: “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.”
In the first century, Jews had many choices in terms of religious sects, which may have led to family division as sons and fathers found themselves in different sects. Thus, by turning “the people of Israel to the Lord” John would at the same time reunite families, as he call fathers and their children back to the unified worship of God.
Similarly, in today’s churches, a solid theological foundation will lead to a more unified community, and demands expression through social activity.
“Power” is another of man’s great needs, concerned with the question, “How can I protect myself?” or “How can I maintain my significance?”
Often younger people retain their power and control by distancing themselves from the world around them. This is done through sarcasm (think of the popularity of the hit show “House”), or through what some call “occupational slumming,” intentionally underachieving in their career choice to avoid the possibility of failure.
Others tend to raise their own status through the car they drive, the person they date or the clothes they wear.
But in contrast to this power-seeking lifestyle, Jesus calls his followers to a lifestyle of discipleship, to “take up the cross and follow [Him]” (Mt 16:24). We follow one who came to serve – not to be served (Mt 20:28). Similarly we are to follow his humble example in our lifestyles.
This is why discipleship is not to be neglected in the church, as it most directly addresses the daily lifestyles of its participants.
CENTERED IN CHRIST, DECENTRALIZED IN THE WORLD
In his book, From the Ground Up, author J. Scott Horrell speaks of the church as “centered in Christ, de-centralized in the world.” That is, the church is to be simultaneously focused on the message of Christ as well as willing to carry this message to the surrounding communities.
And this same model applies on both the individual as well as congregational level: the question of values is satisfied through emphasis on missional praxis, and the question of power is subsumed in the lifestyle of discipleship.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at the last of man’s needs, the need for hope, and how this interfaces with the Bible’s eschatological message.
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.