I’ve just finished reading Dick Staub’s excellent book, The Culturally Savvy Christian. The tagline for the book declares it to be “a manifesto for deepening faith and enriching popular culture in an age of Christianity-Lite”, and indeed it is. Staub’s thesis centers around Evangelicalism’s capitulation to the ways and forms of popular culture, which has resulted in a weak, insipid form of the faith he calls “Christianity-Lite”. The way out, he postulates, is to deepen our faith and become deeply well, enriched people who are then able to enrich culture.

This is such an excellent book that, rather than giving it a one-time review, I’d like to spend more time with the material. I’ll begin with this quote from the Introduction:

We’ve arrived at a crossroads in faith and culture. The Christian community has degenerated into an intellectually and artistically anemic subculture, and the general population is consuming an unsatisfying blend of mindless, soulless, spiritually delusional entertainment. We are caught between a popular culture attempting to build art without God and a religious culture that believes in a God disinterested in art.

The American Music Awards were on TV this past Sunday, and I watched some of it with my wife. The terms mindless, soulless, and spiritually delusional apply nicely to the dreck I saw celebrated that night. Neither a note of the music nor a syllable of the lyrics was true. It was all false–an ecstatic, hedonistic, autotuned Bacchae exalting the worst and most deceptive elements of our culture. And this is the culture to which Evangelicals seek to be relevant–to imitate and sanctify, if such a thing were possible.

We Christians are, in large part, intellectually and artistically vacuous because we have followed popular culture down the spiraling whirlpool of eros-replacing-agape, emotional sentamentalism, self-defining reality, and the victory of style of substance. We have elevated product over process and justified the means by the ends, which we have devastatingly misinterpreted. Though we set out to transform popular culture, we have been transformed by it. We have turned our pastors into celebrities, elevating them to god-like status while they produce to our liking, but then discarding them with the Paris Hiltons and Brittany Spearses of the popular culture machine when we are done with them. We have exchanged discipleship for consumerism, true community for celebrity-association, and transformation for trendsetting. We have turned the deep and vibrant faith of Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and Lewis into “mindless, soulless, spiritually delusional entertainment.”

As a result, we are an insecure and fearful people embracing a decontextualized faith-substitute. We are biblically illiterate. We are theologically anemic. We are intellectually vacuous. We are artistically derivative. We are, in a word, unwell. This is not the way the people of the creating, redeeming, resurrecting God ought to be.

An excerpt from “Not the Way Its Supposed To Be”, by Cornelius Plantinga:

What are some features of this [spiritual] flourishing? As Christians see her, a spiritually whole person longs in certain classic ways. She longs for God and the beauty of God, for Christ and Christlikeness, for the dynamite of the Holy Spirit and spiritual maturity. She longs for spiritual hygiene itself–and not just as a consolation prize when she cannot be rich and envied instead. She longs for other human beings: she wants to love them and to be loved by them. She hungers for social justice. She longs for nature, for its beauties and graces, for the sheer particularity of the way of a squirrel with a nut. As we might expect, her longings dim from season to season. When they do, she longs to long again.

What do you long for?

The point of our lives is not to get smart or to get rich or even to get happy. The point is to discover God’s purposes for us and to make them our own. The point is to learn ways of loving God above all and our neighbor as ourselves and then to use these loves the way a golfer uses certain checkpoints to set up for a drive. The point is to be lined up right, to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), to try above all to increase the net amount of shalom in the world.

What is the point of your life?

To glorify God is to do these things, and, by doing them, to make God’s intentions in the world more luminous and God’s reputation more lustrous. To enjoy God forever is to cultivate a taste for this project, to become more and more the sort of person for whom eternal life with God would be sheer heaven.

Do you long for eternal life with God? Would that be heaven for you?

While putting Eisley and Cyrus to bed tonight, I asked them if they were glad that I was back from Charlotte. “Yeah!” they shouted.

“Did you miss me?”

“Yeah, we missed you.” Then Cyrus asked, “Daddy, why were you in Charlotte?”

“I had to go to Charlotte because my Uncle David died,” I replied.

“Why did he die?” Cyrus asked.

“Well,” I stalled, searching for an explanation that would satisfy a 4-year-old. “He got old and sick, and then he died.”

“Did he get sick because he ate lots of junk food?” he asked. Mommy is clearly brainwashing him.

“No,” I said, “sometimes we just get old and sick, and our bodies can’t live anymore.”

“Why did he get old and sick?” Eisley asked.

Not wanting to scare her about death or say something stupid like, “Oh Eisley, we all get old and sick and then we die, even Mommy and Daddy”–that would not have gone over well–I searched for an answer but couldn’t think of one. So, instead, I said, “Oh, honey, sometimes people just get old and sick.”

Then Cyrus asked the clincher. “Did he have Jesus in his heart when he got sick?” What do you say to that?

“Yes he did,” I said. But to be honest, I’m not very confident of that.

“Will Jesus heal his body?” Cyrus asked.

“Someday he will,” I told him.

“I want to go to heaven with Jesus and God and everyone!” Cyrus said, excitedly.

“I want to go to heaven because Jesus loves everybody!” Eisley shouted.

So then we all prayed; Eisley first, then Cyrus, then Daddy. We thanked God for our friend Sophia, for almond butter sandwiches, and for bringing Daddy safely home from Charlotte. And they asked me to sing “Jesus Loves Me”, which of course I did; and for the first time I can ever remember, they both joined in. And we sat there in the dark, singing about how much Jesus loves us. I choked back tears as I thought about Heaven, and how this moment was a little, priceless taste of eternal life.

Here’s the last bit of the sermon that I cut out.

•••••

Now, at this point, the question always arises, “What’s the difference between laying down your life and being a doormat? What about people who take your life away from you through some kind of verbal, physical, or emotional abuse?” Those are great questions that we need to reconcile with this core call of laying down our lives and not demanding our rights.

In those moments, my mind always goes to the scene from the Passion of the Christ where Jesus is talking with Pilate. He’s bloody and beaten, and Pilate asks him, “Don’t you know that I have the power to either crucify you or set you free?” And Jesus responds, “You have no power except that which is given you from above.” In other words, Jesus and the Father have agreed to this. You can’t take his life. He’s laying it down willingly. I think about that and I remember that Jesus was neither a martyr nor a victim. Nobody took his life from him; he wouldn’t have allowed that. He willingly laid it down.

Don’t be deceived. Agape is strong. Of all the loves, agape has the most backbone. It takes tremendous strength of will and courage to lay down your life. Agape is neither spineless nor gutless. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Agape talks back. Agape puts up the hand and says, “No. No farther. I will lay down my life for you, but you will not take it from me.” Remember, agape is a love that walks, not a love that lays down passively.

Agape forgives sins. Anyone who has forgiven the sins of another is no longer a victim, and agape frees us from the downward spiral of being a victim, always seeking revenge, always demanding more and more retribution. Agape offers the way out through forgiveness.

Here is another bit of my sermon this weekend that didn’t make the cut.

•••••

Is the gospel true in your life group? Don’t you want it to be? Don’t you want to be a part of a community where agape is active? Don’t you long for the gospel to be true in your church? The gospel happens when you walk in the light of a love that lays down its life. Do you want to impact the world for Jesus? Lay down your lives for one another, because that doesn’t happen in this world.

Several weeks ago, Andy Sieberhagen led the staff in a devotional where he took us deep into the mind of a long-term, overseas missionary. It was a terrifying experience! He told us that people go overseas because they believe that the Christian community they’re experiencing at home is worth giving to others and worth dying for. Friends, your life group and your church are only worth dying for if you are already laying down your lives for each other.

Dear friends, let us lay down our lives for one another, because this whole concept of laying down your life comes directly from God! And anyone who lays down his life for his brother and sister has been born of God and knows God.

Do you want to see God work in your life? Walk in the light of a love that lays down its life. Do you want to know God more? Lay down your life for your brothers and sisters. You can’t love God if you refuse to lay down your life for others.

What’s truly amazing is that when you walk in the light of a love that lays down its life, this whole thing that Jesus called us to actually works. It really works. Forgiveness happens, and you are set free from the cycle of victimization. Grace happens and relationships are restored and strengthened. Laying down your life for each other really does make you able to lay down your life for God.

I know that each of you wants to love God with all of your heart, but you can’t love God if you don’t love your brothers and sisters. You can lay down your life for your brothers and sisters because God has laid down his life for you.

What are you holding onto? What sin, what offence, have you not let go of? Who are you refusing to forgive? What right are you laying claim to that hurts others? What demands are you making of others—your friends, your family? Where are you refusing to die? What word is God speaking to you right now? Money. Shame. Hobbies. The Boat. Power. Free Time. Sleep. Where is God calling you to walk in the light of a love that lays down its life?

Jesus didn’t just walk in the light of a love that laid down its life, he is the light of love that laid down his life. Consider all that has been forgiven of you. Consider how patient he has been with you. Does that make you grateful? Does that make you want to sacrifice everything for him? Whoever sacrifices everything for God must also sacrifice everything for his brother. So how will you walk?