Monday, January 03, 2011

How Now Shall I Live?

In many of my recent, apparently varied posts (i.e. Harry Potter, opportunity costs, and even grilling) there has existed—in my mind, at least—a common theme. This common theme really is a serious question, with associated thoughts rattling around in my head that have become posts.

Carl Truman, when blogging on the early church fathers, wrote…
In many ways, the fundamental questions they asked were akin to those we face today. For example, “What does it look like here and now to be a committed disciple of Christ?” is one of those hardy perennials that Christians have asked throughout the years. In the ancient church, it looked rather ascetic and monastic. We might today deem such an answer as wrongheaded; but we cannot avoid the legitimate demands the question places on us; we too have to answer it in our day and age and perhaps, 1,500 years from now, our answers will look rather odd.
This is a similar question to the one Francis Schaeffer asked in the title of his famous book How Should We Then Live?

My asking this question—What does it look like here and now to be a committed disciple of Christ?—stems from several personal realities…

  1. Not becoming a pastor after moving to Minnesota and spending 6 years in theological training,
  2. Accepting the (happy) reality that I am a college administrator for the foreseeable future,
  3. Turning 40,
  4. Having some discretion over free-time now that I am no longer taking classes.

How now shall I live?

In addition to these realities, there is a significant amount of pressure—real or perceived—at my church and in my circles to “not waste your life,” and to do everything with “undistracting excellence.”

For a sinful person like me, this pressure can be very real. A logical result of this pressure for me, and probably many others, is that there is no such thing as leisure (without feeling guilty), because accomplishing something meaningful for Christ to bring him glory is all important, and one certainly cannot waste any time in life on a hobby (i.e. carving ducks or collecting seashells).

Intellectually, I understand that this is not what is being taught, and that I am being overblown and somewhat crass, but the pressure can be very real. I understand that leisure is important, and it is OK to not be “on” 24 hours a day. None of the reality behind Christian Hedonism or Don’t Waste Your Life is wrong. It is gloriously right.

However, the intellectual understanding and the culture of the circles I run in are two different things, which is why hearing and living this message can be so deceptively dangerous. I also understand that for the most part, people outside my bubble don’t struggle with this pressure; they need to be pushed to not waste their life and do everything with God-glorifying excellence. All of this is why, now that I have accepted the reality that I am neither a pastor nor a scholar, I must ask “How now shall I live?” (It is very encouraging to me that Trueman thinks this is a perennial question.)

Attempting to answer this question is why, fundamentally, I just read Luther’s Freedom of a Christian, and why I have asked questions about whether it is OK to read Harry Potter, and why I have just started another new book titled Living In God’s Two Kingdoms, by David VanDrunen. I have high hopes for this book. Here is a paragraph from the introduction…
In presenting this two-kingdoms vision, I hope to provide encouragement to ordinary Christians—to ordinary Christians who work, study, vote, raise families, help the poor, run businesses, make music, watch movies, ride bikes, and engage in all sorts of other cultural activities, and who wish to live thoughtful and God-pleasing lives in doing so. I hope that this book will be an encouragement for many readers to take up their many cultural activities with renewed vigor, being convinced that such activities are good and pleasing to God. For many readers I also hope that this book will be liberating, freeing you from well-meaning but non-biblical pressure from other Christians to “transform” your workplace or to find uniquely “Christian” ways of doing ordinary tasks. For all readers I hope that this book will serve to focus your hearts on things that are far more important than a promotion at work or the most recent Supreme Court decision: the sufficiency of the work of Christ, the missionary task of the church, and the hope of the new heaven and new earth.
Consequently, somewhere in all this is another explanation for why I love to barbecue.


Anonymous said...

I for one am excited about your pending answer(s) to this question! I asked this very question of my previous pastor and we had a good conversation which ended with "when you figure it out - let me know" - on both sides. I intensely dislike the guilt I feel after I've had too much "down time", but at the same time I can't deny the downward spirals that come in my life when I don't actively, devotedly pursue "thinking about the things that are above". So, I'd love to hear what you think of the book and how you wrestle with this - my Brother!

Matt C. said...

You well know that I think you are spot on in this. I'd add that the striving for “excellence” has been defined in a very modern, American way and it is that version of “success” that needs to be questioned. I’d love to hear what you find on that issue after reading and thinking on “fulfilling all one’s vocations.” Nice job on this.

BTW, I’m in a heavy “quoting” mood today.