“Principled, ethical, incarnational life will reside somewhere between a riot and a cup of tea—that is, between separation and compromise.”
A Divine Disruption
Much has been written about missional living that emphasizes neighborliness, hospitality, justice-seeking and the like. There has been a reasonable concern about not wanting to cause offense to our communities, to gain the trust of our neighbors, to counteract the stereotypes of obnoxious Christianity and its condemnation of everything secular. Before we know it, we run the risk of compromising our deepest identity in Christ that compels us to live for a dream that includes but goes beyond community gardens and neighborhood improvement. The message of Jesus brings offense. It doesn’t leave us or our surrounding environments unaltered. And those filled with the gospel and impelled to offer it as a gift in new places become a presence that disturbs their neighbors. Our call and our hope is to allow the gospel to disturb people for good, Christ-filled reasons as agents of transformational change at a soul level, affecting the very fabric of society.
If we are to be change agents, then what is the change we want to see?
Surely it results in a change of heart among our neighbors. And yet, if we adopt a compromising stance we will find that it is possible to engage in neighborliness and community development without ever making such an impact at a heart level. Could it be that our social clubs, meet-up groups, community gardens and even our justice-seeking forums run the risk of being, at their core, heartless?
To be seen merely as being a good neighbor isn’t enough.
We’re reminded of the Anglican bishop who once said, “Everywhere Paul went he caused a riot. Everywhere I go they make me a cup of tea.” But we would like to suggest that principled, ethical, incarnational life will reside somewhere between a riot and a cup of tea—that is, between separation and compromise.
God is birthing new realities, and they necessarily bring changes.
By this we don’t mean that the Christian message can be reduced to something like, “I love you. Now change.” That kind of approach has led to great resentment by many people, who hear Christians setting themselves up as somehow superior to everyone else. Change begins with simple, authentic and everyday acts of great love. We see our mutual need to enter an ongoing process of being altered by God to conform to God’s pattern for humankind. Like Paul David Tripp’s description of us, we are “people in need of change helping people in need of change.” We must explore the importance of principled, relational mission, while also addressing the need for ethical and intentional models of incarnational presence that bring about God-honoring change to individuals and whole societies. And all the while we must never forget that our churches are not the solution to the world’s problems but a sign that another way—God’s way—is possible.
James Davison Hunter refers to our incarnational calling as “faithful presence.” In his book To Change the World, he explores the idea that when Christians practice faithful presence, by making disciples and serving the common good, they will alter the world around them, not because they set out to do so, but because disciple-making and service shift the delicate cultural balance. He says, “If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world … it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”
Honoring the creator, loving our neighbors, serving the common good and standing up for what is good and just—these very actions cannot help but bring a new element into an existing system.
They upset the stasis, and it is not always appreciated; it is usually resisted stridently. The powerful resist change because their position depends on the status quo. The disempowered often resist change too, not because they enjoy the status quo, but because they have acquiesced to it. But simply because it might cause a riot isn’t reason enough for us to withdraw. Again, as Hunter says, “To be Christian is to be obliged to engage the world, pursuing God’s restorative purposes over all of life.” We need to be aware of the challenges we face when we seek to engage the world to which we’ve been sent.
Taken from To Alter Your World by Michael Frost and Christiana Rice. ©2017 by Michael Frost and Christiana Rice. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426. IVPress.com