of DUCKS, GOSPEL, and AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY
“ . . . most reasonable people will admit that their own experiences have a fair bit to do with their respective theological emphases, not least those touching on the relationships between Christians and unbelievers.” –D. A. Carson, Christ in Culture Revisited
In 1951, Christian theologian H. Richard Niebuhr published the book Christ and Culture, a discussion of the ethical issues raised when Christians engage the cultural world around them. In 2008, the discussion was advanced by Christian theologian D.A. Carson in his published work, Christ and Culture: Revisited. One significant conclusion that can be drawn from both works is that when it comes to the Christian engagement of culture, one size simply does not fit all. The nature of the New Testament gospel itself, demands critical-thinking from those who claim allegiance to it. When it comes to following Jesus, a lack of critical thinking and reductionistic approaches simply will not do.
One cannot adequately read the New Testament without coming to the conclusion that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at its core counter cultural, and an allegiance to Jesus demands counter-cultural commitments. Perhaps, what is most interesting about American evangelical christianity is how “counter-cultural” is most often understood and practiced. Take for example, A&E’s recent censorship by way of suspension of professed Christian Phil Robertson. The reaction made by American evangelical christianity has been widespread and fervent. A simple google search or facebook scan reveals the common American evangelical christian expression of Phil’s plight with one of two motifs: persecution and violation of free speech . . . both of which betray a flaw in the all too common American evangelical understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The cry of “freedom of speech” as the major violation in the censorship betrays a too closely wedded Gospel of Jesus Christ to the American narrative, which has resulted in an expression of Christianity in terms of constitutionally protected rights. In short, contemporary American evangelical christianity is too often more “American” than “Christian.” Freedom of self-expression is not the call of the New Testament Gospel of Jesus Christ, rather freedom to serve is. On the other hand, the cry of “persecution” betrays a too closely wedded Gospel of Jesus Christ with the American cultural identity of consumerism, which has resulted in an expression of Christianity in overly soft, safe, and comfort driven expectations. The suspension of a self-professed millionaire Christian, who doesn’t really relish being on t.v. or being a reality star, from the widely popular Duck Dynasty t.v. show by a secular company is hardly the plight of persecution the likes of which Jesus spoke about. According to Jesus, it’s simply par for the course, and a mild version of it at that.
As Carson wrote in Christ and Culture: Revisited, “We need to be reminded that the only human organization that continues into eternity is the church; we need to remember that even cultural gains are often followed by losses, that sin rears its head sometimes in violent persecution and sometimes in subtle deception (Revelation 13!), that biblical narrative itself shows us how often a good king is followed by a bad king and vice versa. It is unwise to speak of “redeeming culture”: if we lose the unique significance bound up with the redemption secured by Christ in his death and resurrection, we lose the ongoing tension between Christ and culture that must subsist until the end.”
American evangelical christianity far too often views and practices a counter-cultural expression rooted in personal freedoms, which is verbalized in demands for status, recognition, and comfortable treatment. Biblical counter-culture is expressed in terms of love, sacrifice, and service. This view of the operation of the Kingdom of God in the world is perhaps best expressed in Jesus’ statement, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).
The recent intersection of Ducks and American Christianity resulting in the evangelical expression of plight betrays the presence of a Gospel that is alien to the New Testament. The simultaneous reality of the lack of critical thinking and the presence of reductionistic thinking has resulted in a very narrow, and at times outright unbiblical, view and practice of “counter-cultural.” Paul Washer once said, "If [following Jesus Christ] doesn't cost you anything, it's because you've bought into 'American Christianity.'" To which, I would add, if one finds the concept of a cost associated with following Jesus Christ as shocking, unsettling, and outside the norm, it’s because one has bought into American Christianity. O’ Lord, guard me from constructing a gospel that effectively bulwarks my right to “self” and is powerless in bringing your life to the world.