Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Problem of Being "Set Apart"

When I attended Conservative Christian College, I heard a lot of talk about how we were set apart. We were called to be holy in such a dark lost world. Theologically, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you're speaking of being set apart to serve others as an example of God's love, I have no problem with that. The real issue is in the way that being "set apart" has become synonymous with being separated from the rest of the world. The problem is that the idea of being set apart in much of American Evangelicalism has translated into the idea of living completely apart from everyone else. It has translated into a world of Christian consumerism that seeks to provide a "Christian" alternative for all that the secular community offers: music, movies, art, books, t-shirts, candy, etc. You name it, you can probably find a holier version of it through a Christian retailer.

There are many aspects of Christian consumer culture that are worth reconsidering and debating. But I don't want to get into a lengthy analysis of that. The main question that's been on my mind as I continue to see all of these Christian products and think of all the Christians I've met who have such little contact with anyone outside of their own belief system (even simply in other Christian denominations) is, "What are you hoping to accomplish through this?" If the core of Christian theology is the tangible representation of God's love to a lost and hurting world, is it really enough to live in your castle of theological superiority only emerging from time to time for street evangelism to remind the world just how lost they are?

I've been reading through the gospels again lately. And though he definitely took time away both with his core disciples and on his own to pray, I just don't see much evidence of a Jesus who tried to remain untainted by the world. I don't see a God that was fearful of getting his hands dirty. I don't see many examples of Jesus hitting the streets and shouting "Listen up! I'm going to tell you why you are all terrible sinners in need of God!" I see a Christ who shared stories and metaphors that invited people to dig deeper to try to discover the truths they contained and reconsider their view of the world. I see a Lord that was willing to not only talk to, but also listen to those that society had cast aside as essentially being worthless. I see a Jesus who did not view the people around him as projects awaiting his salvation, but humans made in the image of God that had great value.

If anyone from religious circles today that focus so heavily on being set apart were to sit down to dinner with a group of prostitutes, I can assure you that it would likely result in a call from the elders and a listing on the prayer chain with concerns about their backsliding into immorality through association with bad influences. But if you're so concerned with the world being a bad influence on you, how are you hoping to ever be a good influence on them? Which is the greater concern? In our society, has being set apart really been about trying to maintain our holiness? Or is it about avoiding the dirt and filth (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) that comes with building relationships with many of those society has chosen to ignore? Which is the true example of Christ?

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