I spent part of last week beside the Chebar canal in ancient Babylon. I was part of a study group studying the text of Ezekiel, and considering how to preach it.
But I spent the rest of the week in Toronto in shutdown, reading news of violence in Israel, watching cars with Palestinian flags driving by on the highway, praying for someone in our congregation who has COVID, and wrestling through what it means to live faithfully in a particularly secular area of post-Christendom Canada.
In The Contemporary Christian, John Stott wrote about double listening: listening carefully (although with different degrees of respect) to the ancient Word and the modern world. “We have to begin with a double refusal. We refuse to become either so absorbed in the Word, that we escape into it and fail to let it confront the world, or so absorbed in the world, that we conform to it and fail to subject it to the judgment of the Word. Escapism and conformity are opposite mistakes, but neither is a Christian option.” I felt that tension last week.
How do we listen carefully to the Word and then relate to our modern world with the fidelity and sensitivity that Stott talks about?
As I wrestled with this question, I came across a recent interview with Tim Keller. Keller highlights that catechisms, like Westminster and Heidelberg, were designed to inoculate people against the dominant alternatives of the day. The catechisms were shaped by what Scripture teaches, but also by the dominant counter-narratives of the day.
But our people are wrestling with different counter-narratives today about identity, freedom, and science. We’re responsible to pursue our own happiness through whatever means necessary, as long as we don’t hurt anyone else, for instance. Your most true identity is not determined by any person, family, or social norms, but your own desires and passions. You will find the greatest fulfillment as a human by remaining true to your own personal goals and dreams, and refusing to compromise for others.
How do we form disciples of Jesus against these powerful counter-narratives? Add to that the issues of how to live as the church in a culture that has been shaped by Christianity but is now hostile to it. As C.S. Lewis said, history shows that a pagan is convertible to Christianity, but “the post-Christian man of our day differs from him as much as a divorcée differs from a virgin.”
The old catechisms are still helpful, but we need discipleship that helps form our people against the powerful counter-narratives of our day. It’s one of the most significant challenges we face.
Canadian Christians, along with Europeans and Australians, have a valuable role to play.
We must spend part of our time in the ancient world of Scripture, allowing it to shape and form us.
But then we must find ways to inoculate our people against the powerful counter-narratives that threaten to capture the hearts and minds of our people, seducing them away from biblical faith.
We’re well-positioned to do this because we’re a little further ahead on the post-Christendom road than our southern neighbours. We face a significant but rewarding challenge, one that excites and scares me, but that’s worth our best efforts.
It’s time to rise to the challenge. You in?