Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More from Dual Citizens

Reservations aside I'm really enjoying this book. Author Jason Stellman pulls no punches in making his case for a "pilgrim theology" that keeps the realms of worship (cult) and life (culture) distinct, avoids Christian triumphalism, and maintains the tension of living in the overlap of this present evil age and the age to come, between the "already" and the "not yet." Though I'd like to see a little more of the "already" in Stellman's applications, this book offers a bracing alternative to many of the dominant paradigms in contemporary Western Christianity.

One of those paradigms is the view that America is a "city on a hill" which has often resulted in confusing our nation with the kingdom of God. Instead, Stellman argues, America (or any nation) is still nothing more than a "suburb of Babylon. . . a local expression of the kingdom of man" and that "there is nothing redemptive about our national identity." Our difficulty in accepting this leads us to criticize other cultures while being blind to the faults of our own.

For example, we often look at the fact that Muslim females wear burkas and then decry the way Islam treats its women, while at the same time rarely seeing the demand in the United States for Botox, Collagen, and surgical augmentation as glaring testimonies against how we Westerners view our own. We can wonder with great sanctimony how antebellum Southerners could claim to be disciples of Jesus while being owners of slaves, but when a Fortune 500 company moves its manufacturing operations to sweatshops in Malaysia so it can pay the workers $.09 an hour without having to worry about labor laws to protest them from oppression, we don't call that "slave-owning," we call it "smart business." . . . . Though the world and its lusts may take a different form in our country than in those "heathen lands afar." they are still alive, well, and largely characteristic even of a free and democratic society such as our own. (p. 71)

Stellman follows the chapter on "Suburbylon" with one on Reformational piety, which emphasizes corporate expressions of worship and spirituality over individual ones. This is my favorite part of the book so far. He draws out the differences between "Saddleback" and "Geneva" as to how each tradition has typically viewed the beginning of the Christian life and it's practice thereafter. Stellman traces the former's emphasis on spectacular conversion experiences and rejection of "churchly Christianity" back to that favorite Calvinist whipping boy, the Presbyterian revivalist Charles Finney. In contrast to the Saddleback/Finney tradition is the one advocated by the author -- and your reviewer -- in which spectacular conversions are the exception rather than the rule, and evidences of living faith are seen in the context of the "ordinary ministry of the local church, with her worship, liturgy, preaching, and sacraments."

The Christian faith, normally speaking, is passed on from parent(s) to child(ren) by means of infant baptism. After the child is thus initiated into the covenant community, he or she is nurtured in the faith by parents and pastors, who, believing God's promise to be a God to us "and to our children," treat the child as a believer unless given a reason to do otherwise (Acts 2:39). (p. 80)

Like their evangelical brethren, confessional Reformed believers desire to see the Christian faith demonstrated in the lives of those who profess it. But rather than the litmus test being one's devotional life, voting record, or collection of Left Behind novels, it should be the fact that those who confess Christ gather together each Lord's Day around Word and sacrament, confessing their sins, singing His praises, and hearing, eating, and drinking the gospel of Jesus Christ. (p. 81)

The great advantage of this approach is that it directs our gaze to Christ and his promises rather than within. The objective nature of the gospel is what makes Christianity different from everything else.

Quotes from Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2009)

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