Navigating the Tensions of a Post-Christian World
We live in strange times. Over the last year or so, dramatic shifts have occurred in marriage and bathroom laws, religious liberty has faced new challenges, and we’ve witnessed the most bizarre election in my lifetime (and it’s not over yet).
Meanwhile, ordinary Christians have quietly gone about their business, showing up for work, school, and civic duty, wondering what the future holds. From one extreme, they are pressured to conform to the ethics of secularists and progressives. From the other, they face fear and panic about the future of Christianity in a secular age. What’s the way forward?
For starters, it’s helpful to remember that this is nothing new. The church has always been tempted to conform or withdraw from culture.
A LETTER TO EXILES
The prophet Jeremiah wrote about these tensions during Israel’s period of exile. Jews found themselves in Babylon, facing efforts by the state to assimilate them into their pagan culture. Some wanted to hunker down in ghettos, insulate themselves, and wait for God to bring them home. Others saw a chance for prosperity in exile, though it came at the cost of their integrity and Jewish identity.
Jeremiah proposed a third way. He encouraged them to make their homes and to participate in the life of the city:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
He then warned them not to listen to the alarmist “prophets” who predicted a quick end to the exile, saying, “it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.” (vs 9) The exile will end, he says, though it won’t be for a long time (vs 10). Even so, God promises a “future and a hope” (vs 11).
Tim Keller has spoken often of this passage. (You can listen to his recent sermon on it here.) As he describes it, God is saying: live in the city, maintain your identity as God’s people, and love the city.
In other words, don’t sit around waiting for God to come and restore things; he’s put you where you are for a reason. Don’t despair either. Instead, make yourself useful to the city, even while you sustain your identity as God’s people.
Today, the pressures remain the same; assimilate or withdraw, and these temptations have been with the church from the very beginning. The temptation to assimilate came in many forms: the gnostics, the judaizers, the Roman empire, and the temptation to withdraw followed suit. Assimilation comes with the promise of power and relevance; withdrawal comes with the promise of shelter. Both seek comfort from the tension of living “in but not of” the world.
But Jesus told his followers to be salt and light. Light goes into the darkness and shines, but isn’t overcome. Salt, in the first century, was a preservative and kept meat from spoiling. We, too, are to go into the world and preserve life. This is what “in the world but not of the world” means. We commit ourselves to being present, participating, and contributing, but we resist being overtaken by it. To return to Jeremiah’s language, we grow roots in our communities, making homes and raising families, even as we know that ultimately, this isn’t our home.
Making A Harbor
About a year ago, these challenges began to strike me with greater urgency. I wanted to help Christians navigate these tensions, avoiding the reactionary extremes at either end of the spectrum. That sense of urgency grew into a sense of calling, and brought me to where I am today: launching Harbor Media.
Harbor Media will seek to be a safe-haven from these tensions (Harbor being more than a clever name), a place where Christians can come to look for resources that will help them navigate our post-Christian culture. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing two podcasts. The first, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, is a storytelling podcast about faith and culture. Our pilot episode is available now (you can read more about it here or subscribe on iTunes), and it tells the story of the 930 Arts Center – its rise, its fall, and the ways it reflects the challenges of our time. It’s a story that involves me personally, and helps to explain why I’m starting Harbor.
The second podcast, coming on October 27th, is called Cultivated: Conversations about Faith and Work, and will feature interviews with writers, movement leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs. In each episode, guests will tell their stories and talk about how their faith shapes their work.
Here at the blog, we’ll lay out some of our vision and values, (you can get a foretaste of them on our About page.) In the meanwhile, sign up for our Newsletter for updates, sneak-peaks, and more., and if you like what you see here and want to help us build and grow, consider chipping in a few bucks here. My hope is that ordinary Christians can find, in Harbor, a go-to resource for questions about the intersection of faith and culture. I couldn’t be more excited about what we have planned, and I hope you’ll stay with us as we take our next steps.