I’ve been thinking about what it means to follow Jesus in twenty-first century American culture. The more I think about it, the more I’m forced to the conclusion that there’s a lot about our American way of life that wars against the Christian way of life.
Perhaps it’s peculiar that I used the phrase “Christian way of life.” Being a Christian means being converted–a conversion that begins inside us and works its way out into the texture of our life–our way of life.
Somehow we’ve reached the conclusion that the Gospel can reach into our hearts and change how we relate to God and to a lesser extent we agree that the Gospel can change what and how we think. We’ve got a long way to go in terms of allowing the Gospel to really saturate and alter the ways in which we choose to live. Our way of life is more influenced by the American story than by the Gospel story:
“If you live in North America, you are a prime candidate for a slow death by overstimulation. Your environment is busy depleting you with noise, distractions, and the compulsion to always be in a hurry. If I had set out to destroy my identity as a beloved child of God, I couldn’t have done better than by living in America at the start of the twenty-first century. The greatest threats I’ve encountered are not the arguments of skeptics or the lure of drink, drugs, or sex. The greatest threats are the constant busyness and frantic hurry that demand my allegiance. Author Robert Benson says, ‘We take our place in the race and watch our lives disappear in the daily grind.’ We are rarely grounded in the present moment (where God is to be encountered) because we’re always rushing out beyond it or replaying in our minds our disappointing past. Shame and sadness over our dark past drives us to strive for a brighter future, which generally winds up being busier rather than better.”
Fil Anderson, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers
In order to be effective outposts of the Kingdom, churches need to spend energy helping to guide followers of Christ into a more kingdom-centered, missional ways of life. We don’t need more bedraggled followers of Jesus who limp through life exhausted and overspent. We need joyful disciples who are committed to keeping important things central to their life and who eliminate distractions ruthlessly.
Exploring the what and the how of such a way of life is at the heart of my sabbatical and I hope to write more as my leave progresses.
6 Replies to “How our American way wars against the Christian way”
Been reflecting on this historically through Steven Keillor’s This Rebellious House (IVP, 1996 – http://www.amazon.com/This-Rebellious-House-American-Christianity/dp/0830818774). Thanks for helping bring that story up to date.
Thanks for commenting John. I’ll have to check out that book.
My pastor has been starting this kind of anti-American speech lately. He even mentioned a few college men who wanted to see how Christianity “looked” today in the world, and found they had to go outside of America to find it. Really? There’s no God believing, Christ-following, missional, loving believers in the U.S.? He said that the American way is essentially the “way of greed.” He further explained that God is not a Republican, an American, or a capitalist. (He did come back the next week and explain that, “Oh, He’s not a Democrat either. Nor is He a socialist or Communist…”) He then went on to rant against people’s “stuff,” and malign Americans for the vast number of storage facilities within our borders. I just watched the Obama 2016 movie, and honestly the anti-American rhetoric reminded me a lot of his recent “sermons.” I love my country. It’s given me many opportunities. I love Jesus with my life. Are the two sentiments mutually exclusive?\ Thanks, a sad citizen.
Hi Cheri — there most certainly are good Christian people here in the United States. My point is that at the heart of the American way is the notion of exchange and at the heart of Christianity is the notion of gift. Those two concepts can occasionally seem alike, but they are quite different. For Christian people here, we have to understand and figure out how to live faithfully in a context that is or can be inimical to the Christian message.
Thanks for your reply Jeff. This is something I’m going to have to pray and think about. I was in a missions class last year where we were encouraged to appreciate the God-given beauty and diversity of other nations and cultures. However, at the same time we were often reminded of the negative aspects of our own nation (mainly our arrogance.) Of course, I understand we have problems here. But again, it just doesn’t seem fair to focus on the other nations’ good points, and only our negative points. I am proud of our American ideals, freedoms, and opportunities. It seems lately that I’m being “encouraged” to drop any nationalistic feelings because they truly are not “Christian.” My greatest desire is to honor my God and Savior. I am so grateful that I can rest in the assurance that, through the cross, my eternal citizenship is safe with Him. Blessings 🙂