I like certain forms of science fiction. OK, I admit it, I am a Trekkie. One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek explored the possibility of parallel universes. Quite to my pleasure, the new TV series Fringe does the same. They imagine that there could be various quantum realities and we breached the wall between them.
Well, I have news for them. I think there are parallel universes. At least, it seems that way to my eyes.
What I mean is that Christians in the USA seem to have created a universe parallel to the secular one.
There are more obvious versions of this -- the Christian Yellow Pages being foremost in my mind -- but there are subtle versions too. Think of all the ways we have devised to "Christianize" every conceivable form of human relationship in education, commerce, diet, and exercise. There are Christian food co-ops! Christian exercise videos. The list is long.
While I certainly do not deny the right to free association, I do have one question: is this what Jesus called us to? I believe he prayed explicitly in John 17 that we would NOT be taken out of the world. I believe Paul wrote these words:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10 ESV)
Well, I think Paul would be quite shocked that we have managed to do exactly that -- we have "gone out of this world" -- at least in practice, if not in body. We have created a parallel Christian universe.
But the problem is more subtle than that. As I listen to friends speak of their work or their neighborhoods or their schools or their kids sports -- it is almost always in the context where they note who the Christians are in those places ("My son is in little league, and his coach is a Christian"). They do so with a sense of relief or with greater confidence in the safety of their kids or with some sense of the magic of influence the coach will have over others. It is even better if the coach is a former professional athlete who is a Christian.
I would also observe that for some it seems desirable for Christians to work and play alongside of people who are not in Christ and somehow manage to avoid too much intersecting of their lives with them. In other words, some would avoid any breaches between these parallel worlds. It would never occur to them to engage their colleagues world and life.
Granted I am stereotyping, and there are many many exceptions. There are traditions in the evangelical world that are not so world-detached. But this stereotype is based on years of data collection. Generally, I think mainstream evangelical USA Christians are uncomfortable with associations with unbelievers that are too close, too personal. Generally, we are afraid that simply being with them will have some corrupting influence. So we create a parallel universe. We have effectively done what Paul thought impossible -- we have gone out of the world.
I sometimes think that we live in fear and call it wisdom. But we live in fear -- fear of the negative influences of the world. We live as though we have far more to fear from the "world" than they have to fear from us. We carry with us the Good News of Jesus the crucified and risen. The explanation of that news changes people; it removes them from the kindgom of darkness and brings them into Jesus kingdom. It is far more a threat to their way of life than they are to us.
We live in unbelief and call it moral separation. We live in unbelief, and actually deceive ourselves into thinking that we can create a parallel universe and thereby escape the corruptions that are in the world. We are not confident in this message and its power in us and its power toward others.
Now, of course I am aware of our vulnerability, and of course I am aware of the care of my children, and of course I am aware of all the arguments that can be marshalled for caution and safety and the rest -- but I am pressing for the other side. I am doing so because the Gospel calls us.
We follow the One who was a friend of sinners, who took on flesh and blood as he entered a world in which there was nothing but defilement. He came down into this world, in association with people ruined by sin and living in sin in all its various forms, he lived in the same universe, not a parallel one. He was a friend of sinners and lived in purity at the same time. And he has sent us into this present age with the same mission -- to be the people of God in the midst of this world, not to isolate ourselves from the people of this world.
God wants believers to have confidence in the Gospel and to pass this on to our children to as well. I am simply asking -- are we confident? are we imparting confidence to our children or teach them to live quarantined lives? Are we living in invisible hazmat suits? in a parallel universe?
The Quarantined Christian Life
From a few days ago, a great post, entitled "The Christian Parallel Universe," at the Gospel Driven Blog. He nails a phenomenon that (it is not too strong to say) has disgusted me for some time. And it is one that, I believe, we pastors and church leaders have encouraged: