In “Defense” of ‘Being Worldly’ from Christ as Common Image

A sometimes commenter here, Steve, just left this comment on my last post (which was a post reflecting once again on the TV mini-series The Walking Dead); Steve commented:

I’d like to open a “can-o’-worms”. This is the second post in which you have praised worldly entertainments and mentioned your involvement with them – most Christians seem to share your enthusiasm (see Christianity Today issue after issue as an example). I respect your heart, intelligence, and biblical understanding, so please consider devoting a blog to giving a reasoned/biblical defense (if that’s the right word – you’re not on trial!) for such involvement. What is/has been the affect of TV, movies, etc. on the Christian life and the strength of the Church? I would like to hear your perspective if you have time.

I responded to Steve in the comment thread to that post, you can read my response by clicking here. You will notice that I somewhat responded with a bit of ‘passion’ if you will, especially in regard to what I perceived as the kind of sentiment that was informing Steve’s comment; if in fact that impulse is there (i.e. a kind of legalistic Fundamentalism). My guess would be that Steve would avoid the whole Fundamentalist label and appeal more directly to the holiness sections of Scripture (fair enough!).

I want to attempt to respond further to Steve’s question, but by way of an indirect route; a route where I will be building toward something of a more direct answer to Steve’s question. I won’t get to a direct answer in this post. Let’s begin.

Steve’s question is a matter of ethics, but we can’t have a proper ethical discussion without a proper theological discussion, and without recognizing the role that certain theological foundations might have, by way of implication, towards having a theologically robust discussion in regard to ethics and Christian holiness. In attempting to get into this, we are going to make a rather abrupt turn, right about … now.

Jesus’ Humanity is the Universal Ground of All Things

Common Grace is often appealed to by Dutch Reformed theologians as the underlying reality that holds all of God’s good creation together; whether ‘secular’ or ‘sacred’. In a sense, according to this view, all things are indeed sacred; all things belong to God, one way or the other (the good and the evil alike see Matt. 5.45). But I am not Dutch Reformed, I am an evangelical Calvinist. As such, since I am evangelical Calvinist, I have another theological grid to appeal to, yet pretty similar to the concept of common grace, just personalized. In other words, I see a universal bond underlying all of reality, and it isn’t a qualitative understanding of grace (like in the Dutch Reformed trad), it has to do with my doctrine of election. The underlying bond, beyond, holding all of reality together, charging reality with its ultimate purpose, is in God’s choice to be for us pro nobis, to not be God without us, but God with us Immanuel. The ultimate bond is found in God’s free un-coerced choice in Christ to ‘elect’ our reprobation, our humanity for himself, and in turn, in a wonderful exchange give all of humanity his elect status as the dearly beloved Son of man for us.

What this view does is erase an us-versus-them mentality. It brings all of humanity together in Christ. In contrast to the classical view of election and reprobation, it does not segregate some of humanity into an elect special status over against a reprobate damned status of humans. It allows us then to see people as people, people whom Christ loves, died for, prays for, and lives for. It implicates the way we engage with the ‘world’, and in fact it calls Christians to be ‘worldly’ Christians (I am reminded of Bonhoeffer here). We live from God’s life in Christ that is worldly in its proper orientation and purposeful direction, towards a beatific vision of God that is full of life and grace; not just for some of creation, but for all! Does this mean that there is an endorsement of people living under Christ’s election for them, to continue to live in ‘sin’ and active rebellion towards God. No! My point is that as an implication of God’s life for all of humanity, all of humanity is redeemable (and redeemed), which includes culture, entertainment, etc. There is still something ‘good’ about creation (eschatologically), not determined by creation, but by its Creator, and in Christ’s recreation/resurrection. If so, there is light and darkness together (as we live in the now and not-yet), and we as Christians are called to discern the light even in the midst of the darkness (not a black or white task, always).

How does any of this kind of rambling on my part get at Steve’s question? I think at a basic level, and for early starters, it means that we shouldn’t think in an us-versus-them when it comes to creation, and creaturely expressions (like art, story-telling, etc.). Instead, I think it calls us to critically engage with the world, not run from it, and even recognize that within the fallen structures and expressions of humanity, behind it yet, is Jesus Christ. Not usually endorsing it, but judging it, reversing it, and ultimately making all things new (we are responsible to live in this complex as the light, and notice light where light is present and darkness where it is present … a complicated task indeed).

The Walking Dead represents an aspect of the creaturely expression that Christ can commandeer and use as witness to himself. Certainly not every aspect of human ingenuity is good (because we still live in the old order of things, even as we live from the in-breaking new), in fact much of it is found ‘wanting’ and condemned by the good of God’s life in Christ. But by God’s grace, there are still elements within all creaturely expression (well much of) that God can use to bear witness to him. And I see some of that, even as I am being entertained (critically as it may be) in the story of The Walking Dead.

This post turned out to be more of a ramble than I wanted. I have some quotes I wanted to share, but I am going to wait and put all of that together at a later time.

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7 comments

  1. “The underlying bond, beyond, holding all of reality together, charging reality with its ultimate purpose, is in God’s choice to be for us pro nobis, to not be God without us, but God with us Immanuel. The ultimate bond is found in God’s free un-coerced choice in Christ to ‘elect’ our reprobation, our humanity for himself, and in turn, in a wonderful exchange give all of humanity his elect status as the dearly beloved Son of man for us.”

    Did you mean for your “ramble” to hint that this EC grid implies an aesthetic of experience?

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  2. The ‘grid’ suggests a life-world in which the experience of everyday things is both a sheath suggesting and a veil concealing the Christ in whom it is all held together, the Father by whom they are ‘ordinary,’ and the Holy Spirit who situates them in the descent of heaven to earth.

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  3. Bobby, thanks for giving us some of your thoughts. A few thoughts below to show why I brought it up. But first a little housekeeping:
    1. “…The Walking Dead, and its critically acclaimed merits, its outstanding casting, or its intriguing plot-line” – “a new favorite mini-series of mine” – – I would call these words of praise. If this is a mischaracterization, I apologize.
    2. I never said that viewing such shows is wrong or sinful (though, of course, they can be). I think they can be dangerous (explained below). I also didn’t say you were “being worldly”. Using the world is different than “being worldly” which I would define as being more mastered by the world.
    3. You are right, I am not a legalist. I’ll have no truck with legalism.
    4. Holiness in the whole of our lives is part of it, but a secondary part because the desire to be holy comes from something more important – union with Christ. Anything that hinders the present outworking of our union/fellowship with Him concerns me.

    Before we are Christians, the world is the center of our lives. Our humanity is distorted and we are enslaved by darkness. But when we become Christians, we enter into an everlasting connection with Christ that restores our humanity and sheds light on all things. We then begin to change, some slowly some quickly – but all surely. We become His beloved people where, as you said, “he is calling them to a life of repentance; of coming back to him and renewing their vows with him over and again, afresh and anew every day.” Worldly entertainments can attack this process of change and affect our fellowship with God. They are powerfully compelling works that appeal to the flesh and distort, either blatantly of subtly, the truth. They are not neutral expressions of life created by God. They are purposely against God and His kingdom whether their creators know it or not.

    It is hard for me to believe that the images, sounds, philosophies, etc. of these things don’t enter into our lives in some way – they are too powerful and sadly human. Personal experience and the testimony of many (should I say all?) says that most things spiritual are interrupted by these things. How many times in prayer, reading, contemplation, or worship have we found ourselves wandering away and thinking about the “big game” or a show or revisiting images that are there in our mind? And yet we go back for more thinking that we have been unaffected. These things can, little by little, take over and the things of God fade away, especially because we have our pre-Christian history with them.

    But there is this – jewels in rubbish. No one seems to expound upon the tragic human condition like secular man. They are gifted and can use their gifts in profound ways. I’ve learned much about myself and others through their contributions. But, of course, they have no answers or their answers lead astray (this is where being “critical” is important). And to find these jewels of truth you have to sometimes participate in some pretty ugly stuff – let wisdom guide each person.

    You can engage with these things critically and you have found proit in them – so can I. But I have found that most people are not like that and so I’m hesitant to recommend anything. I find it interesting that you don’t listen to secular music. Peace.

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  4. Steve,

    Secular music was a major pitfall for me in my past (like 20 years ago now), and so I choose not to listen to it (at least certain types). There are associations with it in my memory that are not healthy, and so that’s why I abstain.

    And yes, I agree, what this world has to offer can be alluring in a subtle way. And before we know it we are somewhere where we don’t want to be if we are not prayerful and careful. Of course we can’t escape this world, and I don’t think we are supposed to. And I think still that the idea that there is the image of God present and underwriting humanity in general has a lot to say about how we can engage with the “world” and culture at large … in redemptive ways, and critical ways. When it comes to entertainment … yes, we must be extra careful and critical. But still have the ability to lighten up at points to, being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

    And so this is why I was a little confused about your initial comments, because both of my posts on the Walking Dead were actually pretty critical and couched either within evangelism, or theological framing of some sort.

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  5. I’ve appropriated Augustine’s allegory of ‘stealing gold from Egypt’ in how we, the Church, might interact with Pagan stories etc. But also there is antithesis, the Kingdom of God against the kingdoms of men (though this is not contrary to His sovereignty over even these). The problem is that this rulership and reign takes place in the heart, making its own outworkings.

    That’s why, for the music industry, the labels are misleading. I’ve read too many accounts of how the ‘Christian’ record industry is just as greedy, ambitious and devouring as any ‘secular’ one. The difference is they put a smile on it with ‘positive, uplifitng’ lyrics. I’d rather listen to Dave Mustaine (who is a believer!!).

    But it’s all what we make of it. I very much enjoy the Walking Dead. There’s something ecclesiastical about communities that form in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. Sadly, churches can be nothing less than a social gathering, and in the wake of a real danger, they’re revealed(!) to be shallow and exterior. I digress.

    Cal

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