Note to critics and self

Blessed as I am with a group of loyal critics, I always try to listen and learn from their critique to see if the Holy Spirit is in any way trying to guide me through their perspectives. All of us, after all, have blind spots, and all of us – me more than most, no doubt – have a lot to learn.
A few critics again and again make the allegation that I am – along with many of my friends – “pandering to postmodernity,” in a misguided desire to be relevant to contemporary culture. Relevance, in their minds, is a terrible temptation that seduces us away from the “ancient paths.”
I have thought and prayed about this pretty carefully, and I actually think my goal has never been to accommodate to postmodern culture – or in any way to trim the gospel to fit into postmodern tastes. Instead, my goal has been to be honest about the ways in which the Christian religion in its many forms has already over-accommodated itself to modern Western culture, and before that to medieval Western culture, and before that to ancient Greco-Roman culture. These are accommodations about which I wish some of my critics would become more concerned.
Having learned from the past, I would hope we could strive to live faithfully in the world of today – an increasingly postmodern, postcolonial, post-Industrial, post-Christendom, and otherwise post-al world. Our goal should be to live fully “in” the world – incarnationally in it, missionally sent into it … but not to be “of” it, as Jesus said.
The relation of the gospel to culture is fascinating and complex. It is interwoven with another important issue: the relation of the gospel to the future, the present, and the past. I’ve written books about the incoming future (like Church on the Other Side and A New Kind of Christian). I’ve written books about the life and mission of followers of Christ today (like A Generous Orthodoxy and Everything Must Change). And my new book is about the recovery of ancient spiritual practices (Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices).
With these thoughts in mind, this morning I came across this quote from Jacques Ellul. Anyone familiar with Ellul’s work knows he was not overly enthusiastic about many dominant trends in contemporary culture.
Ellul’s comment strikes me as a wise word of balance to all of us – my critics, myself, my friends, everyone. Ellul said,

The yearning for holiness is not at odds with the desire for relevance. For while holiness sets us apart unto God, it is God who calls us into the world.

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