relating to culture part V (anabaptists and shalom)

Okay, after a short hiatus, back to further thoughts on Christians and culture. (ha. eventually we may get back to our catalyst thought - Christian reaction to the Golden Compass).

I think I'll dive forward into a couple more thinkers on this, then come back for more reflection later. Let's hit current Anabaptist thought. I'm a newcomer to this tradition (sometimes referred to as the "reformation left") which spawned current Mennonites, Brethren, etc. My group GCM has some theological relationship to this group (whether they know it or not) because of their emphasis on "New Testament Christianity"

The Anabaptist theology of culture can be in part represented by John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) and Duane Friesen. Yoder would make the initial point that culture cannot be seen monolithically, as Niebuhr does in his classic typologies of Christ and Culture. Instead, we must understand culture as something all people already are embedded in, or possess (e.g. the fish). The key is discernment in cultural practices.

Christians living in the world must interpret and transform culture. To interpret culture is to look at Jesus. Jesus appeared in a specific Jewish culture in time and space, and his actions in that culture are our example, our “root metaphor” for understanding how we relate to our culture (that is to say – the principles are transcultural). To live out that understanding in our culture, then, is to transform culture.

This, according to Duane Friesen, is achieved by focal practices in community. These practices are concrete ways of speaking about transforming culture (cf. Neibuhr’s type of Christ transforming culture, an idea he unhelpfully leaves in the abstract). Ritual is one category of focal practice. For instance, Christians practicing the ritual of baptism, or keeping the Sabbath day. But social practices are essential as well and examples include: sharing meals, practicing sacrificial service for each other, practicing hospitality to the stranger.

Three roles we take in relating to culture: as artists – seeking for beauty we see in culture, as citizens – seeking for the common good, as philosophers – seeking wisdom in culture. The Anabaptist principle that ties it together is from Jer. 29, “seek the shalom (peace/wholeness/health) of the city.” This is the model of cultural engagement that doesn’t allow for separation (as Anabaptists have been accused of believing), but instead focuses on dual citizenship, guided by the principles of God’s kingdom and living them out for the good of our world hear and now.

We'll have to get to dual citizenship next, I guess.