“Faithful Presence Is Not Enough”

Greg Strand – October 9, 2014 2 Comments

Os Guinness, in his new book, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times, writes of the Christian’s response to and engagement in culture. Though he agrees with many today who refer to the importance of being a faithful presence, he also concludes it is insufficient.

Faithful presence is not enough. It is merely the beginning.

Jesus was not merely present in the world, but far, far more. He was intensely active: he taught extensively, he healed countless people from all sorts of sickness and disease, he delivered from the domination of evil spirits, he drove out moneychangers from the temple, he raised people from the dead, he confronted hypocrisy, and he set his face toward Jerusalem and his active choice to die.

Like him, then, we must be not only present but active, and so dedicated to the world yet so dead to the world to which we are dedicated, that in some small way we too may strike a critical tension with the world that will be the source of the culture-shaping power that only the church can exhibit. The fact is that the principle is easy to say but hard to follow, for the pressures of the modern world are unrelenting.

So if we really wish to be agents of transforming engagement in our time, we have to be constantly asking Lenin’s questions: Who? Whom? Is the church shaping the culture, or is the culture shaping the church?

But those questions assume other questions that must come even before that. Do we know the world well enough to know how and where it is likely to be squeezing us into its mold? And do we know our faith well enough to know where the mold of our world will be beneficial and where it would be harmful?

In sum, we are to be as close as we can be to our Lord’s call to us to be in the world but not of it—a challenge that requires not only faithfulness and obedience, but discernment and the willingness to count the cost and say no to the world.

I appreciate in particular this statement: “Do we know the world well enough to know how and where it is likely to be squeezing us into its mold? And do we know our faith well enough to know where the mold of our world will be beneficial and where it would be harmful?”

This is a fitting statement in question form that is more carefully nuanced than the notion of a “mere faithful presence.” Too often in our push to be relevant, and to express it more positively for the purpose of making inroads and having an impact on the unsaved, we are like the frog in the kettle with the heat slowly being turned up.

There is a naivety about the sinfulness of humanity and the sinfulness of sin. Many conclude today that if Christians are just kind and gracious, even though we are communicating biblical truth, then we will receive a fair hearing and people of common sense and good-will will see our view as acceptable, even though they do not agree with it. Furthermore, they will accept us as a person and give us respect and a voice at the table. But, I state again, this is extremely naïve.

Per her own confession, this was the sentiment of Tish Harrison Warren in her ministry at Vanderbilt with Graduate Christian Fellowship, a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as noted in The Wrong Kind of Christian. As she noted, “I thought a winsome faith would win Christians a place at Vanderbilt’s table. I was wrong.” She received a rude awakening to a reawakening. Her article chronicles her experience.

How do you view this? What does this mean for us? For the church?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

2 responses to “Faithful Presence Is Not Enough”

  1. What a wonderful nuance to add to the work of James Davison Hunter, Miroslav Volf, and others. I agree that Christian exiles need to have a faithful presence that is active and engaging without being triumphalistic. You should also put the new documentary “For the Life of the World” on your radar as another commentary on this subject (see Andy Crouch’s review here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october/abraham-kuyper-goes-pop-for-life-of-world-review.html).

    • Thank you for your reply and input, Bryan. I have seen some of the sessions from “For the Life of the World” and they are very good. The notion of “faithful presence,” as espoused by James Davison Hunter in his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, is in reply to other forms of cultural engagement. So as Hunter provides a response, so does Guinness. It provides an important nuance but it is also important to remember that it is in response to something. One would like to say, “yes, but” or maybe “both/and.” It is an important discussion to have.

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