Truth Project 12: Community & Involvement (God Cares, Do I?)

Now we have reached the final “tour” of the Truth Project, on Community.

Del begins by quoting Matthew 22:33-40, wherein a Pharisee asks Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law is. Jesus responds (referring to Deut. 6:4-9), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Del also quotes a similar passage from Luke 10:25-29, in which the Pharisee, wanting to “justify himself,” asks, “And who is my neighbor?”

Then Del takes us back through the “spheres” that he has introduced in the last several tours: God, the family, the church, the state, the general economic model and the labor sphere, saying that God has stamped his divine image on each one. Then he says that the sphere of community looks a little different because it doesn’t have any “authority” roles, but only “responsibility” roles. He says maybe this is why we neglect this sphere, because there’s no power in it.

Returning to the passage in Luke, Del says that the Pharisee, in asking who his neighbor was, was looking for a checklist. Instead, Jesus told him what we think of as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Del calls it the “Story of the Good Neighbor.” In telling the story, Jesus didn’t answer the Pharisee’s question; he responded with what the man needed to hear. “He said what a neighbor was, and told him to go be a neighbor.” Del draws the “sphere” of community on the board, with Christ at the top, the neighbor below and to the right, and the needy below.

Del quotes a series of passages from the Old Testament (1 Sam. 2:8, Job 5:11, Ps. 12:5, Ps. 72:4, 138:6, 12:5) and sums them all up by saying that “God has a deep heart for the needy.” Then he asks, “Who are the needy?” It’s the poor, orphans, widows, the sick and prisoners, but it’s also outcasts, the unpopular, the neglected, the left out, the homely, the last and others. Del tells two stories to illustrate how the needy are everywhere: the first is of a girl who everyone made fun of when Del was in school, and the second is of his first school dance, where Del’s dad called his attention to the fact that there were girls whom no one was asking to dance.

Del then quotes another series of Bible passages, and ends by asking, “What other gods have a heart for the lowly?” This causes him to focus on the nature of God. He quotes Matt. 11:28-9, and says that for him, it was easy to think of God as powerful but the idea that God was humble was foreign. This is hard to miss in Jesus, though. At the Last Supper, he washed his disciples’ feet, and in John 14:4-9, he says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

But Del hastens to point out that humility is not timidity. He read a book about Jesus once called Man of Steel and Velvet. This is what Jesus is like.

Then Del plays two videos. The first is of Fr. Robert Sirico, who says that Christian charity is different from philanthropy because of its view of the person as sacred. He quotes C.S. Lewis as saying, “You’ve never met a mere mortal.”

The second video is of Flash, a tattoo artist who has made several appearances in previous video segments. In previous segments, he has come across as rough-edged and hostile to Christianity, but in this one he tells his story of abandonment and abuse, of pain and rejection by the church. He says, “I’ve only met a few Christians who act like what they say they are.”

Del then asks why we are not involved. Sometimes it’s because we don’t care. But if you want to follow Jesus, you must get involved. If we don’t engage the culture, he says, how are we going to understand where people are coming from, their needs? “We have a serious credibility gap.”

Then Del turns to the book of Jonah, in which God calls the prophet to go to Nineveh and prophesy but he runs away. Del says the focus of the story is on Nineveh. God cared about it and wanted to save it. “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Del asks, “Do you think God’s not concerned with our culture?”

Del says that we are called to transform culture. He says that Christianity changed the world through involvement. He points to the British anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce as an example. He points to five characteristics that Wilberforce had that we can learn from:

1. HIs whole life was animated by a deeply held, personal faith in Jesus Christ.
2. He had a deep sense of calling that grew into conviction that he was to exercise his spiritual purpose in the realms of his secular responsibility.
3. He was committed to the strategic importance of a band of like-minded friends devoted to working together in chosen ventures.
4. He believed deeply in the power of ideas and moral beliefs to change culture through sustained public persuasion.
5. He was willing to pay a steep cost for his courageous public stands and was persistent in pursuing his life task.

There have been many Christians like him, Del says, and we are in good company. So what do we do? What is the next step? Del says that he has no clue. He isn’t going to advise people on what to do. But he does know the one who does: God.

I thought that this was a great “tour” to end on. It would be easy for people to go through this whole curriculum and say, “Well, now I have a Christian worldview. Good for me,” instead of actually having it change the way they live. I liked the way that the title frames the question: “God Cares, do I?” God is not content to sit comfortably in church and scoff at the world; should I be?

I also thought that the video of Flash was very powerful. As noted above, he comes across as being pretty rough around the edges, and in earlier tours he said some harsh and disturbing things. It was important to see the story behind who he is, and show that he is a human, made in God’s image, who God calls us to love and respect.

And finally, I think on the one hand that Wilberforce is a great example of Christian cultural involvement, and on the other it was wise for Del to refrain from saying what people should do next. They should look for God to call them to what he wants them to do.

There are just a few nitpicky things about this tour to point out. The first is that Del again bases a “sphere” on God’s internal relationships, saying that “He stamped that divine image on each [sphere].” I’ve already mentioned a couple of times, especially in Tour 7: Sociology, that I think this is a mistake and unbiblical. We can say that God wants our relationships to be a certain way, but I don’t think there’s enough biblical warrant to say that he wants our relationships in these “spheres” to look like the Trinity.

Second, I liked that Del came across in this tour as concerned about where people are coming from. But I wonder whether this is enough to counteract the scoffing and dismissive tone he adopts elsewhere in the Truth Project. For example, in tour 10, he scoffs at people at Harvard, saying, “I’m not even sure they know what [truth] means.” In an earlier tour, he scoffs at his college philosophy professor, dismissing him by saying, “How foolish!” Del appears conflicted. On the one hand, he seems to have a real heart for people, and knows that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). On the other, he seems at times to get carried away into an “Us vs. Them” mentality. I wonder which Del watchers of the Truth Project will listen to more?

Finally, Del says that “we’re called to transform culture.” I don’t think this is the best way to frame things. Culture is a big thing (within our society, you could even speak of several different cultures), and transforming it is really out of our control (I get this idea from Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making, which I read recently). Even making laws can’t transform culture; laws are downstream from culture. Instead of talking about “transforming culture,” I would be more partial to the language of “being faithful” – listening to God’s call, and following him as faithfully as we can. We can make culture, but we can leave the culture transforming up to him.

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4 thoughts on “Truth Project 12: Community & Involvement (God Cares, Do I?)

  1. Nate Swift July 7, 2009 / 7:28 pm

    The faithful have transformed culture, but far more important than “manning the barricades” for each of us is the observation I don’t know who first made: we have to BE the change we want to see.
    Thank you for a good series.

  2. elliot July 7, 2009 / 9:11 pm

    Nate,

    It’s true; the faithful have transformed culture. What I meant to say is that it is extraordinarily difficult to transform culture on a large scale. “We can’t change the world,” as Crouch says.

    I fully agree with your point that we need to BE the change we want to see (I know that Gandhi said this; I’m not sure whether anyone said it before him). The point is that we should try to make culture instead of trying to seize control of what already exists for the purpose of transforming. The former brings us the joy of creating, and the latter is like herding cats: as soon as we get ahold of a little bit of culture that we want to transform, the rest of it gets out of control.

  3. nate Swift July 10, 2009 / 4:51 pm

    “The point is that we should try to make culture instead of trying to seize control of what already exists for the purpose of transforming.”
    Ah. WELL said.

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