Over the last several decades, the Church has displayed an encouraging interest in culture and politics.
Older attitudes of extreme separation are disappearing. While there are risks in this, I am grateful for the renewed desire to seek the welfare of the cities of our exile on earth.
We needed renewed reflection on our calling to apply spiritual concerns to cultural and political realities. Lately, however, I’ve sensed a de-emphasis on the priority of the spiritual dimension. One example is how little we hear about spiritual revival.
Perhaps it’s easier to talk about political concerns than to call people to see their need for the gospel. Or, possibly our many social problems tempt us to be horizontal in our solutions. It’s part of true faith to be concerned about temporal and physical solutions and to promote human flourishing in the here and now (James 2:14-17).
Political and cultural changes cannot adequately address our deepest needs. There is clearly an important place for these concerns, but a wider focus is needed if we hope to get to the heart of our problems.
In more technical terms, we must emphasize ontological change (inner regeneration) based on a teleological focus (hope beyond this life) (see: Titus 3:3-7; II Corinthians 4:16-18).
- Ontological has to do with one’s being not just one’s behavior.
- Teleological has to with end or fulfillment. It looks beyond the temporal.
This expanded model for change includes: Being – Behavior – Consequence – Future.
The teleological dimension is God’s provision of hope and purpose — things that intuitively matter to rational people. This dimension must shape a Christian understanding of influences like culture and politics.
External sources like law, customs, traditions, culture and politics will not address the depth of the human problem. From a Christian view, these external means are necessary (even ordained), but not adequate.
So we insist that making external adjustments like putting the “right” party in political office or changing laws, policies and judicial appointments, while very important, will not address our deepest needs.
Christians must recognize and prioritize a need for ontological transformation (inner regeneration) and openly confess that we are powerless to produce such change in our own lives and in the lives of others.
We need the kind of intervention described in the NT book of Titus:
- “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”
Example in the role of parents
Parenting is a powerful means of influencing and shaping the life of another human being. Yet parents cannot give their children a new nature. The sinful nature the children possess is passed on from their parents.
Parents can (and should) address matters of the heart and ask our children to consider “heart issues.” But we cannot give them a new heart. This is the work of God who said, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).
We need a “recreation” or “new creation” from our Creator by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) with the aim of restoring the image of God in us (II Corinthians 3:18).
We need the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” “to make his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).
We need to be reconciled to God to become a “new creation” in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17-21). This is ontological change of our very or nature. And while it doesn’t erase or eradicate the sin nature of our being, it changes the focal point for transformation from something we do in our own strength to something God does in us (from law to grace and from flesh to Spirit).
Our efforts to be agents of change in the world must include this ontological dimension (“being,” not just “behavior”).
It takes a community:
The Church is not merely an organization but an organism made up of people who have experienced and are experiencing ongoing ontological transformation. In an ontologically organic way, each believer (upon faith in Christ) is immersed into a living community or body of believers to form God’s church.
Two questions for reflection
- What kinds of changes come as a result of ontological transformation that are deeper than changes from law, politics, and culture? (see: Galatians 5:19-23; James 3:13-16; I John 3:9)
- How should communities of believers (local Churches) be exemplars of human flourishing at its best? (see: Matthew 5:13-16; John 13:1-17; Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 2:1-11).