What Now? Faithful Living in Challenging Times - page 5

 

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WHAT NOW? Faithful Living in Challenging Times
by Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center

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We are to do what have always been commanded to do: build houses, raise families, plant gardens, and produce good art, good music, and good culture. We are to seek justice, love mercy, care for the least of these, and love our neighbors.

One important form of neighbor love is to treat everyone, friend and foe alike, no matter their status or their station in life, with respect and dignity as we go about our daily lives and vocations. The late Richard John Neuhaus said it well: it is our duty to strive to build a world in which the strong are just, and power is tempered by mercy, in which the weak are nurtured and the marginal embraced, and to see to it that those at the entrance gates and those at the exit gates of life are protected both by law and by love.

As the text in Jeremiah suggests, we live in a time of exile. As Christians we are, according to Augustine, a people out of place. In this brief life short of the promised kingdom of God, we are resident alien citizens. As resident aliens, we are commanded by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:2 (ESV) to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Parenthetically, this is why the work of the C.S. Lewis Institute is so important: it promotes the renewing of our minds so that we rightly discern the will of God and know what is good and true and beautiful in the sight of God. For many of us who lead busy work lives, the opportunity to keep growing spiritually and theologically through the Institute’s lay theological education programs is vital. We need to stay constantly on the growing edge as Christian believers. Living in exile demands that we have a clear identity concerning who we are as Christians. To retain our identities, we need to be part of a vibrant community of “lifelong learners” who know what we believe and why we believe it. And the Institute fulfills Flannery O’Connor’s famous dictum that we need institutions that push back as hard against the world as the world pushes against us.

The Institute prepares us to be strong and faithful when we are confronted by the hostile worldviews and false gospels of the world. As we live and move and have our being in the contemporary world, we need to have confidence in our identities and in our destinies as Christians. As my friend Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention has recently put it: “Our views will more and more come to be seen as ‘strange’ and ‘freakish’ in the current cultural climate.” Hence our need to be clear, crystal clear, about what we believe and why we believe it.

Again, this is another reason why the work of the Institute is so important: instead of complaining about the culture, we need to continually work to get our own lives and our own communities in order—hence the need for your good endeavors to show forth the beauty of the good news of the gospel in an age that so desperately needs to hear Good News.

I am convinced that having an “Augustinian sensibility” will give us spiritual and emotional balance as we remind ourselves that we now live at the intersection of the ages, between the City of Man and the City of God that is to come. Living our lives at the intersection between the City of Man and the City of God means that we develop what one great sociologist, John Murray Cuddihy, called “an esthetic for the interim.” This is a way of looking at life with an awareness that we are living “between the times.” Therefore we are encouraged to exercise patience and put a ban on all ostentation and triumphalism. As Christians in this sometimes awkward duality of our earthly citizenship, we are called to be faithful in these times not of our own choosing. But this is our time, this is our place, and this is our time of testing and challenge.

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