I've been ruminating on the word "worldly."
More specifically, I'm bothered by the lack of discussion of worldliness in any extended conversation I can remember in the past five years.
Perhaps worldliness has been on my mind because I have to contemplate the potential lifestyle of an inspirational novelist. Every day I read lots of posts from people on the subject of how to get published, how to "market yourself," how to network.
The most famous scriptural injunction about a believer's relationship to the world is that we should be "in the world, but not of the world."
Bringing spirituality into business blurs the line between "in" and "of" the world.
Some people seem to handle this tension by ignoring it. Others support the argument that nothing is too worldly because believers have an obligation to live "in" the world, and we can't do that properly without knowing our culture and using its methods.
But even if we ackowledge that we need to "speak the language" of today, we need to understand the difference between changing our language and changing our beliefs.
Certain common attitudes of our culture do not jive with Christianity. One major attitude that a believing Christian should not adopt is rampant consumerism. I think most believers agree it is not Christlike to make the accumulation of consumer items a top priority. (That doesn't mean we always live by this belief about consumerism, but I don't think many believers would argue with the basic assertion.)
Another aspect of our culture that is incompatible with Christianity is obsession with earthly celebrity and/or status. This one is trickier. What happens when our "celebrity" is a Christian speaker or recording artist? If the person in question is "doing good," is it still wrong to allow celebrity to enter our lives?
I don't know. I suspect that there is a difference between respecting someone's work and idolizing that person. I believe that in many cases, we cross the line between glorifying our Creator and glorifying his Worker. The celebrity status of some evangelists is a case in point.
I don't mean this as a judgment on believers who become celebrities. Many of them are sincere, humble people who happen to be prodigiously gifted. My concern is more with whether or not other believers elevate them beyond the status of other sincere Christians, thus supporting the idea that celebrity is as valid inside the walls of a church as outside them.
Some would say that these people aren't "celebrities," they're gifted role models. I can see some validity to that function of role models in our lives. But if those role models come with all the trappings of earthly celebrity: good looks, high fashion, money, adoring crowds... have we crossed the line and started to behave as if we are "of" the world? Do we still teach believers that a Christian should ignore earthly status? (That could lead into an argument about the diabolically-misinterpreted parable of the shrewd accountant, which some believers want to read in a way that contradicts every other passage in the New Testament, but I won't go there right now.)
I'm concerned that Christian churches, once part of the ultimate countercultural movement, are now so deeply-embedded in our culture that many believers never even question whether they are too materialistic, or too concerned with earthly status. Perhaps they have been told for so long that Christianity is hip and not boring or ascetic that they believe that Christianity is absolutely compatible with any typical cultural choices a contemporary American might make. Again, I'm not judging any individual here, just commenting on an unsettling trend.
Willow Creek Church has long been an advocate of constructing churches along a business model to answer people's "felt needs" (translation: it may not be a real need, but if the church's "customers" feel a need, we should give them what they want). In 2006, the church leaders caused a sensation in the Protestant community by acknowledging that their approach to Christian spirituality had been erroneous. Their internal studies showed that all their "felt-needs" programs did not produce mature, committed, countercultural believers, but, exactly as their detractors argued, created a church "a mile wide and an inch deep."
I don't intend to bash churches at all: some "seeker-friendly" churches have done the faith a service by reminding us that we can't just hole up in steepled fortresses and ignore a hurting world. But this discussion about worldliness is starting to bubble into the mainstream. It's something I need to consider.
What do you think?