Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt, Free for CAPC Members
In Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt wants to help every believer speak the gospel in the stuff of everyday life.
[su_note note_color=”#d5d5d5″ text_color=”#91201f”]The following is a reprint from Volume 4, Issue 18 of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine: “Cultivating Shalom.” You can subscribe to Christ and Pop Culture Magazine by becoming a member and you’ll receive a host of other benefits as well.[/su_note]
We are longing for peace, and this is a good thing. This longing is a shared experience that is common among humans, which often reminds us that things are amiss in this world, and it is a good thing. This longing comes as a result of our being made in the image of the God who loves justice and desires to be at peace with His creation, and it is a good thing. This longing expresses itself in many ways: globally, we want wars to end and slavery too; nationally, we want the reformation of corrupt systems and politicians who care; locally, we want gang violence to stop and education to improve; personally, we want families who love us and friends we can trust. These too, are good things.
Discussions about justice, peace, and reconciliation have recently become ever-present in the public square as our society continues to discover that the world is not the way it is supposed to be. This, of course, is a conversation that the church is welcoming with eagerness, as she recognizes it as yet another opportunity to offer to the world what is in Christ. As a Christian millennial, I am proud to be part of a generation that is willing to talk about the injustices in this world, readily naming the wrongs and refusing to comply with things that should be changed. In many cases, these have been positive discussions about the way forward, as people have offered their opinions on how best to remedy the things that need fixing. We have not only named the wrongs that are hurting people, but even created ways that these broken things could be healed. These kinds of conversations are good things, and we should continue to have them with humility and courage, knowing that God always desires for justice to roll down like waters.The life of the peacemaker is full of grace and work, urgency and patience, purpose and hope. May it be so for us.
We are having these conversations because we want peace. They are good and necessary things to participate in as we seek together to promote shalom in this world. But these conversations can never be ends in themselves, because peace is not made by verbal agreements alone but by actions that follow accordingly. Put simply, making peace requires action; our hope is not just to build bridges but also to cross them.
The church in the United States finds herself situated in a context where it is easy to merely talk about things without it prompting us to act accordingly. One does not have to look very hard to observe this, but perhaps a story to illustrate would be helpful.
This past summer, I was an Uber driver in Chicago. As a whole, I enjoyed the experience that came with an interesting blend of monotony and uniqueness. Each rider was different, and yet there were certainly patterns within the conversations I shared with my passengers. A common topic of discussion was the fact that I was a student, which of course led to the riders asking what I was studying. It was always fun to watch their reactions when they learned that I had studied theology in undergrad and was now pursuing a master’s degree of divinity. The responses varied. Some apologized for cussing earlier. Others told me that they had a cousin or friend or coworker who was super spiritual. One even asked with great concern whether or not I was allowed to get married. These conversations were great fun, and I was thankful to be able to clear up some common misconceptions about what Christians believe. There was one thing that was consistently said, and it helps illustrate the point I proposed earlier: Often, toward the end of the ride, the passenger would say something to the effect of, “That’s really cool you’re hoping to work in a church, man—we need more of that in this world.” This was encouraging to me, and I was thankful for their politeness. But it did always strike me as odd that so many people would praise church as something that is good for society, when they themselves did not want to participate in it.
Now the point here is not to criticize my Uber riders for this, nor to be ungrateful for their kind conversation. But it does show that we are immersed in a culture that can call things good and yet remain personally distant from them. As the church recognizes this attitude surrounding us, our response should not be to condemn it in the name of Jesus but rather to act in a different way that is refreshingly consistent and the furthest thing from hypocrisy. After all, we can never be surprised when lost people act lost; it makes sense that a culture which elevates tolerance as the highest of all virtues would produce the hands-off demeanor that can praise something it wants nothing to do with. Yet it must be admitted that this passive attitude is foreign to the Christian religion, having nothing in common with the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus.
The church is the birthplace of peace, the beachhead of God’s salvific purposes for the world. As she acts out who she truly is in Christ, she will inevitably find herself playing the role of peacemaker. Our peacemaking finds its beginning and end in the redemption that was made through Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. Surely, we are grateful that these are not just things that God merely talked about doing. It is not as though God simply thought about the best way to solve the injustice of sin, planned on how to overcome death, or had a panel discussion on the way to eliminate evil in the world. Our salvation has been secured not because God planned our redemption, but because in Christ God took on flesh and acted in this very world. It is with this understanding of God’s saving actions in Christ that we move forward as peacemakers who seek to join God in ushering in His kingdom on earth.
The ministry of reconciliation that has been given to us is only possible because in Christ we are reconciled to God, filled with the Spirit who produces peace in and among us. Our eschatological identity as the people of God does not allow our hearts to become content with anything less than shalom, with anything less than the peace and wholeness present in Eden and coming again and forever in the New Creation. We know more than anyone that things are not the way they are supposed to be, because our Scripture teaches us this and our experience of the world is often filled with disappointment. We are longing for peace, and this is a good thing. Augustine taught us that our hearts are restless until we find rest in God, and our present discontentment affirms the reality.
Of course, it is not only the church that should be against this hands-off approach. Our entire society is harmed by observers who refuse to get involved in the work it takes to build a culture of the good. While Christians should be leading society in this effort to rid ourselves of passivity, we should never think that others are unable to act according to their word. There are plenty of reasons that we should be concerned about our entire culture, and we should work to create it in such a way that it promotes what is good and true and beautiful.
My hope is that we are not deceiving our hearts into thinking that planning for peace is the same as making it, or believing that coming up with solutions to the injustices of the world is actually by itself justice. As I said previously, it is a good thing that we are having conversations about the injustices that surround us and how best to respond to them. But I know that there is a strong temptation to become content with just that, believing ourselves to be peacemakers when really we have been peacetalkers. I sense this temptation in my own life, and see it all around me. When we have a good conversation about something that needs to be changed and come up with a possible solution about how to do so, we understandably feel a sense of pride. But the minute that we become fully content with the idea of how to make peace, we prohibit ourselves from actually doing so. We might share our insight publically, but even this can never be enough. I mean, has a Facebook post really ever changed anyone? Does the fact that we are able to speak intelligibly about the failures of the public school system in our county justify our inaction?
There are more examples of the passivity that pervades and plagues our culture: We say that we love reading fiction and think it is important, but we can never seem to find the time for it. We tell our musical friend that we have always wanted to learn an instrument, admitting with our tone that we seem to think it is too late for that. We understand the many benefits of running and greatly admire those who do it, but it’s getting cold out. The list could go on, but you get the point.
When we talk about these good ambitions but do not act accordingly, we prohibit the flourishing of such things. Think about what just happened to the magazine Books & Culture, which published its last issue after more than twenty years in print. I will assume that many people who are reading this article recognized Books & Culture as a good thing in our society, but tragically it was still unable to make it as it lacked the funding needed to support it. We praised it as a good thing, but did not act accordingly; now the money in our pockets is stained and we must live in the regret of knowing that a good thing has died. Further, this passivity can also allow bad things to remain in our society for far too long. History can show us this, even that of our own country. We are learning that this history is not so far removed, still realizing the ways in which our inaction has allowed evil to triumph. Our hands-off approach affects us by prohibiting the flourishing of good things and protecting the existence of bad ones.
It seems pretty obvious that this passivity is something that we should be seeking to eliminate from our world. It is not helpful for anyone as it always prohibits the good and protects the bad. Even though our current culture might be marked by it, that does not mean that we actually desire it to be our reality. This is an encouraging thing for us to remember as we seek to build a culture that actually promotes shalom. We know that despite our all too common tendencies to not follow our words with our actions, we are still longing for real peace.
This longing can be heard in Benjamin Booker’s song titled “Slow Coming.” This song mentions that our phones predict the weather and that we have satellites roaming in space. Despite these realities, the future remains slow coming because we still can’t help those in need. So Booker asks,
Honestly, how can I be proud right now?
To tell you the truth, I ain’t been sleeping too well
Because we are longing for real peace, we will find that the effort it takes to make peace will always be worth it. It might not come naturally for us, as we will always be tempted to remain observers. We can point out injustices and talk about possible solutions, but when we can move past this and find the courage and strength to actively pursue shalom, we will find ourselves satisfied and fulfilled, knowing that such labor is never in vain. This peacemaking might even prove to be contagious, as we together realize how much better this way of living is. Such was the case in Tom McCarthy’s 2015 film, Spotlight, when the research team for the Boston Globe thoroughly devoted themselves, despite their initial hesitancy, to working tirelessly on their case against the priest suspected of molesting 80 boys.. Once they got a taste of peacemaking, they never looked back. The life of the peacemaker is full of grace and work, urgency and patience, purpose and hope. May it be so for us.
Peacemaking can take many forms. Insofar as there are many wrongs to be righted, there are legion of ways to promote peace on earth. There are top-down approaches that might involve something systemic like petitioning for a policy change in your local government. But there are also bottom-up approaches that could be something more simple and personal like inviting a neighbor over for dinner. Both of these are actions that make peace, and although we might find ourselves bent toward one of these approaches, we are capable to pursue each. It’s why we need each other in order to truly be the church, always encouraging one another with the good news that Christ sent His Spirit to make us fitting participants in His plan to bring peace to this world. I am grateful when I think of the numerous opportunities that are available to us as we look for ways to make peace. It is not a one-size-fits-all thing, as if the entirety of peacemaking could be presented through a single formula. Rather, it will manifest itself in many different ways as Christians in different times and different places seek to act out who they are in Christ. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described the goal of the Christian life as “becoming little Christs.” The wonderful part about this is that it does not result in millions of clones who all look and act the exact same. He remarks about Christ, “There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’ will still be too few to express Him fully.”
I am both convicted and encouraged when I think of my friends and the various ways that they are bringing peace to their communities. Like the ones who live in a broken part of our city and love their neighbors in remarkable ways. Or the one who is serving faithfully as the youth pastor in Texas, quietly joining God in loving those kids. Or the one who is teaching students in Tanzania as she helps them experience the love of God in their everyday lives. There are faithful Christians serving all around us as witnesses to the justice-loving God who invites His people to participate in His mission to make all things new. Each of them are becoming little Christs in different ways, sharing in common the reality that they are peacemakers.
We need people around us who remind us in word and deed that there are various ways to make peace, who point out the many things that God has placed around us so that we might become peacemakers through them. The ways are numerous, and the call remains the same. Sometimes we need to be mouthy, and other times we need to shut up and listen. Sometimes we need to get others involved, and other times it will be something that only we can do. But in each of these ways we are reminded that Christ is building His church and by His Spirit inviting us to participate with Him. While this election season has just recently passed, political realities still occupy our minds, so perhaps we could write our local representatives and express our concerns about our communities. And we should try to reconcile relationships that have been broken, making the call to that friend we hurt last week. These actions make peace, promoting the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. And surely these actions will create a community that demonstrates in compelling ways the peace that is offered to the world in Christ.
This article is at the very least ironic, and it runs the risk of being totally hypocritical. How does one write a call to action? I suppose that I should refer back to a previous point, that the conversations happening in the church and in the public square are good and necessary things. We should continue to have them as we always remember that making peace requires action. In in a similar manner, it is a good thing to continue to call ourselves to action as we eliminate any trace of hypocrisy by acting out what we are believing and saying in Christ. Only sincerity can heal irony, so for now I’ll conclude with a short poem and by grace try to live out what has been written here. The poem is by Jean Janzen and titled, “The Blessing”:
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God
sometimes crossing the street
when the light is red
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