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Published by Jody+

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Published by: Jody+ on Dec 02, 2011
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There is a constant struggle going on at the heart of the Church, and the heart of each Christian, to know how to respond to events in society and in our personallives. We consider and delve into ways of approaching current events. We readthe newspaper and ethical dilemmas present themselves, we drive to work and see
 people in need, we reect upon the policies of our government—local, state and na
tional—and we try to inuence them the best we can to reect the justice we believe
our faith demands.
A friend may come to us with a problem, or we may nd ourselves in a situationwhere we nd it’s nearly impossible not only to do the right thing but to discernwhat it is. We need overarching principles to guide our reections and help us ad
-dress complexity and confusion.In considering the different ways Christians are called to exercise our faith in our 
 personal lives and in our public/civic involvement, I’ve found a diagram to be par 
-ticularly helpful. You should know that I have a particular fondness for triangular diagrams. There are two that I think simplify any discussion of theology or engage-ment with culture (i.e. missiology). Theologically, I love this diagram of the Trinity.The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the spirit is neither etc... it saysa lot in a concise form:
St. Joseph of Arimathea 
103 Country Club Dr. Hendersonville, TN 37075 | stjosephofarimathea.org | T: 615-824-2910 | Fax: 615-824-3135 |info@stjosephofarimathea.org 
Our Mission: 
“To encourage and equip one another as the baptized peopleof God, to witness to the transforming and reconciling power of  Jesus Christ.” 
Continued on p. 2 
Continued from p. 1
But the diagram I think is helpful in this situation isof more recent origin. I found it in an article entitled“Preaching to Postmodern People.” The diagram
( below) explains the way in which the Gospel interacts
with the culture and with the Church, and their relation-ship to one another.
In the diagram, the Gospel is at the top corner of the
triangle, and interacts with the culture through the
“conversion encounter axis.” This describes the way
the gospel can come to challenge some of the funda-mental assumptions of a society, and invite conversion(think Paul on the road to Damascus as an example).
This demonstrates that, in terms of the broader society,
encountering the gospel is something that directly chal-
lenges the makeup of society—or at the very least itsabuses. On the other hand, the Church encounters theGospel along the “reciprocal relationship axis.” That is,ideally, the church is already aware of the gospel—weshould not be surprised by it—and acts out of relation
ship with and love of God.One aspect of this is that it is not primarily the respon
sibility of the Church to convert the culture—the HolySpirit through the encounter with the Gospel messagedoes that—but the Church must be there to declare the
message, and perhaps more importantly, to interpret themessage for the culture when the culture experiences
the Gospel critique out of context.
The nal side of the triangle depicts the Church’s rela
-tionship to the culture. This is called the “Missionary
dialogue axis.” In our lessons from John’s Gospel (John
14:15–21) and the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 17:22–31),
I believe we see the latter two of these sides in action.
As mentioned, the struggles we experience are both personal and public, because our lives are personal and public. We have to deal with issues in our own lives, andwith issues in the broader society. It seems natural to say
that one of these is of prior importance than the other.
We cannot appropriately deal with problems in our soci
ety until we have determined how to begin dealing withand healing problems in our personal lives.
In the selection from the Gospel of John, part of Je
sus’ farewell discourse, Jesus tells his disciples that if they—if we—love him, we will keep his command
ments. This would be an overwhelming burden for us if 
it were not for the fact that he highlights in the remain-
der of the passage. We are mere human beings. We areawed and sinful. How can we hope to keep Jesus’
commandments. More than that, how can we hope to
move beyond legalism, beyond keeping the letter of the
law, to love and keeping the spirit of it. If it were upto us, of course, we could not hope. But Jesus prom-
ises that we will not be left as orphans; he will send usthe Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, to remain with us
when he has ascended to the Father. But there is more.In ascending to the Father, Jesus takes his humanitywith him, and humanity ascends to the right hand of the Father, and so Jesus states things in this wonder-
fully confusing way. “On that day,” Jesus says, “you
will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, andI in you” (John 14:20). This is nothing less than Jesus
revealing to his disciples that they—that we—have been taken into the very life of the Trinity. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, with Christ alive in us, we can hope
to love one another.
Continued on p. 3 
And we can hope to do this because we have beenmade aware of the fact that we are not orphaned, butchildren of the living God, having been made in his im
age and being restored to relationship with him—rec
onciled—through Jesus Christ. In being made aware of God’s embrace, we become empowered to declare it to
others. By the gift of the cross, resurrection and ascen-
sion, we become empowered and inspired to share thetruth with others, something we would never be able to
do effectively on our own.
By extension, if we are able to abide in Christ’s love,and to keep his commandments because we have beenmade aware of the depth of God’s love and care for us,then this must have ramications for the way we sharethe Good News of Christ with others. The lesson from
Acts demonstrates this. In Acts 17:22–31 we see Paul
engaged in the missionary enterprise, taking the Gospel
to the people of Athens.
Paul goes to the public intellectual heart of the city, theAreopagus, which the Romans referred to as Mars Hill.
The Areopagus had served many functions in Athens
over the years, being rst the location where the govern
ing body of the city met, later giving the name to the body itself. By the time of Paul, the Areopagus was a body of intellectuals and philosophers who spent their time debating. Once there, Paul addresses the gather 
-ing in a manner we would do well to pay attentionto. Rather than condemn the Athenians as idolatrous pagans foolishly worshiping gods of wood, stone and
metal, Paul compliments the obvious religiosity and
intellectual curiosity of Athenian society.
“Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are inevery way,” he says, going on to connect the gospel
to their experience by referencing their altar to theunknown God. It was common in Greek society, with
Continued from p. 2 
their plethora of deities, to have a temple to cover the
rest of your bases. This temple and altar of the un
known God is such an example. However, in Athenianhistory, there had been a plague, the end of which wascredited to the intervention of the unknown God. Paul
takes this opening and says to the Athenians, “Whattherefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim toyou” (Acts 17:23).In this example, we see Paul doing a very importantthing in connecting to something that is good in the so-ciety and complimenting it, connecting it with the truthof the gospel. In addition, as with the keeping of com-mandments in our gospel reading from John, Paul does
not expect his message to connect without there being
some personal engagement. Just as we can only hope
to fulll the commands of Christ because we have beenreconciled to God, knowing now that we are made inthe image and restored by Christ, so too will hearers of the gospel only become receptive once they’ve been
shown the respect and honor due a creature created in
the image of God, no matter how marred the imagemay have become.These two things then, become the principles upon
which all Christian action follows: recognition that all
of us are image-bearers of God, and that all of us are beloved of God. Once we understand this, and act fromthese principles, we may nd that we, as Christians,can come to differing conclusions as to the best course
of action in our personal relationships or in our society,
 but we will at least be able to respect one another and
trust that we are operating from the core commitment
of respecting the dignity of every human being (as the
Baptismal Covenant puts it).
Augustine once argued (I’m summarizing) that Chris
-tians can engage the culture (things like sporting
events, plays etc...) because they are good, and all a
Christian is doing in participating (within reason) is
returning the things of God to God. N.T. Wright ex
 presses a similar sentiment—though expanded—in
his writing on the new creation. In a personal sense,
sharing the gospel with others can also be seen in thislight. As human beings made in the image of God, each person is fundamentally good in so far as they reectthe goodness of God. In bringing others into relation
ship with Christ, we bring them to the point wherethat goodness, marred by sin, can be restored and its promise fullled. In doing so, we are doingnothing less than returning the things of Godto God.

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