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The Cultural Divide

Remember that I want this blog to be practical… but sometimes big ideas lead to extremely practical conclusions. Read ahead knowing that this post is going to get practical…eventually, I promise.

This morning as I was preparing for tonight’s service, my father-in-law forwarded me a book review from the Wall Street Journal written by Bradford Wilcox, a gentlemen I’ve never met but for some time had been following at the University of Virginia. When I was a campus minister at Princeton, we often talked among the same associates–he, from his chair at the Advanced Institute of Culture at UVA, and I from my lunches with friends, professors and postdocs at Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion. I like Wilcox’s writing, but something in his review made me simultaneously intrigued and impassioned–the mark of good writing I suppose. His review was on Charle’s Murray’s new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Crown Forum, 2011), which came out last week. Here’s the gist,

“Coming Apart” by Charles Mussay and is about the deteriation of the white middle class in America over the past 50 years. His hypothesis for the reason is the loss of values of industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion……While the lower class is losing/has lost….the upper 20% of the economic strata has embraced these values…. The book argues that a large swath of America—poor and working-class whites—is turning away from traditional values and losing ground.

You can read the entire review here. And a summary from Murray here.

When Lauren and I moved to Princeton in 2006 for me to serve as a campus minister I didn’t think much about a cultural divide. I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in my hometown in North Texas, and lived a very comfortable life, won leadership awards, went to a large state school (A&M) and made lots of good friends. Then I went to Dallas Seminary for another four years of study to emerge with a Masters of Theology–a degree that simply awarded me for the conscious awareness of my ignorance and the ability to ask more questions (my ordination process in the PCA prepared me theologically). At DTS I studied history: the history of how theological ideas shaped behavior. The overlap with sociology is significant and I dabbled in that discipline, especially those writers that helped me understand the early church. I tell you this because I brought all of this with me into the pastorate. And at Princeton, I saw for the first time in my life that I was on the “underside” of the cultural divide, a divide I had read about through the centuries, but didn’t believe it existed in modern American. But I felt it. Here’s how Murray describes it:

The ideal of an ‘American way of life’ is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated….

People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.

I don’t have time to go into the details of how the cultural inequality demonstrated itself–let’s go to coffee– but it was “thick” within the walls of Fitz Randolph Gate (the gate that opens onto Princeton’s campus). And truthfully, after seeing the utter desperation with which the world’s best and brightest students claw their way into the new “elite” of America, I don’t know if I want on the other “upperside” of the divide. The costs are high. The process ate them alive and left some of them jobless in the end. Many moved home. Many are still asking me to pray for job openings at firms. But to their credit, they are out there knocking on doors, even right now. And it is precisely this attitude that Murray writes about in “Coming Apart”, for many blue-collar whites have stopped looking for jobs. Stopped looking, while the “elites” keep trying. And according to history, the latter will succeed by the providence of God based upon their endurance. Meanwhile, many Americans have been rejected so much that we sit watching “Modern Family” or “Glee” hoping that something will fell into their lap beside increasing credit card debt. And this strikes close to home for me, for many in Owasso–especially with American Airlines facing imminent cuts–live this reality.

One of the challenges that Trinity Presbyterian Church faces is how to bring a biblical view of the world and a Protestant work ethic–as the Puritans made famous–to the members of a new church, and our communities. How are we as a people grow in our understanding of what the Bible calls “work”–an activity larger than just our employment? The Biblical idea of work is more akin to what Charles Murray identifies as one of the top three qualities of the new “elite,” namely, industriousness. In the Garden God called for Adam and Eve to be industrious:

[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” … [15] The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 1:28; 2:15 ESV)

To “have dominion over” sounds like work, doesn’t it? In fact, it is. Good old fashioned work. Isn’t it interesting that “work” is creational, “work” is good, “work” is what God intended man to do in order to extend the border of the garden to the ends of the earth? And in the garden, just like we see today, man abdicates his responsibility. He disobeys God’s creational command to work and takes a fruit break by the one tree he was commanded not to flirt with. Yea, yea, Eve was there and all that…but it was Adam’s responsibility, wasn’t it? He failed to lead his family. Something Murray talking about in his book. The “elite” are leading their family’s in the areas of “marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity,” and the cultural divide is growing. Those are four creational ideas that we see in the very beginning of the Bible. Look at the passage again:

Marriage:

[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28a ESV)

Industriousness:

and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”… [15] The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 1:28b; 2:15 ESV)

Honesty and religiosity:

[15] The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, [17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)

So, the question remains, will Trinity be a church that is only concerned with personal piety or with a greater vision for discipleship? Could it be that making disciples means that we must see the importance of renewal in the heart (conversion, piety), AND the community (marriage, vulnerability, repentance, forgiveness one to another, accountability), AND the world (identifying problems in Owasso and working with like-minded organizations to return things to the way they were–and will be in the New Jerusalem)? I think so. But this has rarely been done in the evangelical church. There is too much energy being spent on controlling behavior, and not preaching the whole counsel of God so that we see how big the Gospel really is.

Tonight, I am preparing to teach our new members class on how to unveil the beauty of Christ for the world. And I’m going to mention thee things that I’d like to invite you to join us in.

First, become a person of prayer. Invite your family to pray with you over lunch or dinner today. Make prayer a more central part of your family activity. This is advantageous according Murray–a secular sociologist–so why not, right? Go head and try it. And when you pray, tell God three things about Himself that you are grateful for before you start praying for personal needs. Listen. Don’t talk so much. Read more about prayer on Trinity’s Resource page and then come join us at a Community Group or a small group at your local church to experience prayer with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Second, become a person of stewardship. Use your gifts (time, talent, treasure) to extend the “garden into the wilderness,” to extend God’s Kingdom in Owasso or your neighborhood. We have a Second Adam whom has equipped us to do this through His death and resurrection; now by the power of the Holy Spirit you can turn the world’s values on their head because you’re accepted and loved by God more than you can imagine. Be industrious for the sake of something bigger than yourself. And give until it hurts. Otherwise, what’s sacrificial about it? Industriousness isn’t easy or there wouldn’t be articles written about it in the Wall Street Journal.

Lastly, be a person of vision. Allow the Gospel to affect everything that you do. You’re roles at work, as a parent, a student, a player, what have you. See that the Gospel changes everything and the Triune God intends to extend His Kingdom into every sphere of society through His people and by His common grace. This is part of being intellectually honest about the Gospel, and not merely using it to keep our kids aged and staged through church programs that make them nicer adults (and often extremely bitter at the church). Come to Trinity to learn more about these concepts and how they will help you see that the Gospel is bigger than you think.

You can’t get to first base in these things without the sovereign oversight and care of the Holy Spirit, nor will you grow without God’s means of grace: fellowship, prayer, the preached Word, and the sacraments. These are the normal means of God’s interaction in the world. But as the cultural divide continues, you have a choice to make. Stand by and let it happen. Or equip others with the Gospel to be prepared to handle it when it comes, and perhaps even change the trend by working together to strengthen our families, work hard, and worship the One True God. Trinity aims to help do this. And we will keep trying together however unsuccessful we may at first be.

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