The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture
By Kary Oberbrunner, Zondervan, January 2009
The question Kary attempts to answer is, “Why are so many from this generation voting on spiritual matters with their absence?” He writes that, “Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there is little difference between the attitudes and actions of believers and unbelievers. Rather than drawing people to Christ, many Christians are pushing people away because of the disconnection between what we say and how we live.” (20)
Why is this? To get at the answer, he suggests that Jesus followers have divided and reassembled themselves into two main camps, the Separatist and the Conformist.
“The first camp separates itself from people, society, and culture in order to stay “˜unstained.’ They turn God’s commands, plus hundreds of other rules and laws, into a heavy burden that supposedly grants personal holiness”¦. They judge others in light of their self-made religion. They’re laced with fear: fear of sinning, fear of compromising, fear of enjoying anything. These people make up the Separatist camp.” (22)
“The second camp conforms itself to the ideals and philosophies of the world. They value what the world values and worship what it worships. They’re a cookie-cutter cutout of pop culture. Attempting to be all things to all people and to enjoy what God has created,”¦ These people make up the Conformist camp.” (22)
These seem to be pretty “black and white” and therefore make for a dangerous over simplification. My experience is that most Jesus followers, although they may lean towards one or the other, are far more complex and can’t be pushed to one of these two extremes. But I suppose it is a helpful foil.
After spending several chapters exploring each of the two camps, Kary suggest an alternative: the Transformists.
“Transformists are the alternative, the exception, the remnant. Transformists are people in paradox, people living in the World but not of the world. Their lives are characterized by balance and relevance.
““¦Unlike Separatists who embrace only Christianity or Conformists who embrace only culture, Transformists embrace both.
“Transformists actually invite tension because they know that where there’s tension, there’s life and growth. But most importantly, where there’s growth, there’s Jesus. By inviting tension, we invite Jesus.” (111)
Transformists, explains Oberbrunner, struggle to balance Christianity with culture and loving God with loving people. This to him is the way we as Jesus followers become relevant to our context and culture.
In the remainder of the book Kary explores the world the Transformists lives in and how they move and interact with it.
For those who have been on the missional journey for some time, you aren’t going to find any new thoughts. But you will find a helpful framework for understanding the concept and a good reminder of what an incarnational life should resemble. It is a quick and enjoyable read.
If you are new to the missional journey, this would be a good and instructive book to read. You’ll learn how to live in the world but not be of it and why it is so powerful and transformative.