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The Problem With Compromising Our Christian Identity

I’m a big advocate of taking the gospel to the culture, but with the realization that we should be in the world not of the world. In other words, at the same time, we also need to be distinct from the culture. It might be informative to note that in the book, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three Storied Universe, theologian Walter Brueggemann comments on the Old Testament nation of Israel’s accommodation:

In the disciplines of fasting and sackcloth, the Israelites “separated themselves from all foreigners” and confessed their sin (Nehemiah 9:1-2).  This act in the drama needs to be understood carefully.  Wrongly understood, according to Christian stereotypes of Jews, this separation sounds like arrogant legalism.

Such a view misses the point completely.  Rather, this community in its amnesia had assimilated itself, domesticated its memory, and compromised its identity, so that it had nothing left of itself.  Judaism had become such a detrimental embarrassment, that Jews had worked to overcome their Jewishness.

And now, in these dangerous liturgical acts, Jews are facing up to their oddity, to their strong commitment, to their distinctive obedience.  The recovery of distinctiveness entails the acceptance of an odd identity.  I report this point to you because I believe the church in the United States faces a crisis of accommodation and compromise that is near to final evaporation.  Note well, the distinctiveness is not in doctrine or in morality, but in memory.  For the text adds that all through this time of separation, “They stood up in their place and read from the book of the law.

Today, while everyone worries about doctrinal compromise, Brueggemann reminds us that the issue isn’t about what we believe as much as it’s about our identity. In this case, who we are Christians in a digital age.  Remember the Unique Selling Proposition – what makes a product different from every other product in the marketplace.  What makes the Church different and unique today?

Hopefully, it’s more than the snappy design of your church newsletter.

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  1. I'm such a fan of Brueggemann, it's a pleasure to see him quoted at such length. His word "amnesia" is so descriptive for both an OT Israel and a 2YK US. If God's rich covenant and provision were forefront in our thought and memory, I suspect we would spend much less time worrying about changing the behavior of others and be more worried about our own authenticity.

  2. John 13:35:Jesus said, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. This is what sets us apart. Yes, there are times when we need to take that stand for the truth, but it is to be done "speaking the truth in love."  What really makes the world sit up and take notice is when we empty ourselves and allow God to love others through us. Having done some short term mission work in other countries, I can tell you that this question has been asked more than once: "Why would you go to all the trouble to come to us? Why do you care about us sinners (their words, not mine)? (this usually comes after a simple time of just getting to know the people a bit and sharing Bibles and simple gifts for the children).

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