Thursday, August 23, 2012

How (Not) To Be Worldly: Tracing the Borders of the "Earthly City"

[Apologies for the radio silence over here at Fors Clavigera. To be honest, a lot of my energy has gone to Twitter, which I have found to be a delightful experiment so far.  In fact, the essay I link to below grew directly out of a Twitter exchange with Andy Crouch!  (You can follow me by clicking the link on the right; if you're not a Tweeter yourself, I'd encourage you to consider it.  And look for a future blog post with some reflections on my Twitter experience so far.)]

The phrase "earthly city" gets thrown around quite a bit, but with little precision, and not a little misapplication.   To try to clarify use of  the term--and its distinctly Augustinian heritage--I've just published a little essay, "How (Not) To Be Worldly: Tracing the Borders of the Earthly City" as part of Christianity Today's "This Is Our City" initiative.  (You might think of this as a general audience summary of a key theme in my engagement with "two kingdoms" thought.)

Here's the opening to the essay:

I often hope that my office is haunted. You see, I inhabit a humble corner of cinder-blocked space, with a tiny sliver of window, that was once home to one of my role models: Rich Mouw. Longtime president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Rich made his mark on evangelical social thought while teaching philosophy at Calvin College. It was during that time that he penned a series of small books that not only changed my mind; they redirected the shape of American evangelical cultural engagement. So you can see why I sort of hope that my office is—well, if not haunted, perhaps enchanted. I keep hoping that some of Rich's passion and wisdom could seep into me as I inhabit the same space, an heir to his thought and indebted to his example. 
In books like Political Evangelism (1973) and When the Kings Come Marching In (1983), Mouw challenged the apolitical, otherworldliness of evangelicals by persistently pointing to two themes in Scripture: (1) God's affirmation of the "very-goodness" of creation (Gen. 1:31), including the commissioning of human beings to undertake cultural labor in this world; and (2) the biblical vision of shalom as our true eschatological hope—a creation renewed and restored and flourishing in accord with God's desires. From beginning to end, Mouw emphasized, the Bible enjoins us to join God's mission of renewing all things (Col. 1:15-19). So, as he provocatively put it in his 1980 book, rather than looking for a divine escape hatch out of this world, we areCalled to Holy Worldliness
If that phrase gives you pause, you aren't alone. Isn't worldliness a bad thing? Aren't we supposed to resist the world (per James 4:4-5)? Isn't the "whole world" under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19)? Here we hit upon the multivalence of biblical language. Scripture can both loudly proclaim that "God so loved the world" and that we should "love not the world" (1 John 2:15). Context means everything here. As Mouw qualified it, what God delights in is a holy worldliness—a rightly ordered investment in God's creation with a view to fostering its flourishing. It's a "worldliness" in the sense that it is not "otherworldly"; it isholy insofar as it encourages mundane, domestic, cultural life lived under the lordship of Christ.

Read the rest of "How (Not) To Be Worldly: Tracing the Borders of the Earthly City"...