How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?
This question, posed in Books and Culture, is the starting point of the Christian Vision Project, "a three-year exploration of next steps in the church's relationship to culture, its role in global mission, and its proclamation of the gospel." Alan Jacobs, a professor at Wheaton College and author of a new book on C. S. Lewis presents his blueprint for this counterculture. The entire article is excellent, but here is a brief excerpt:
[W]e Christians cannot set as our goal the becoming of a counterculture for the common good. Nor can we directly seek the elimination of the vices and illusions that constrain our attempts to love our neighbors as we should. We will strip away our self-deceit and become a true light unto the nations only by seeking and becoming faithful to the call of the Gospel. If we eventually become a true counterculture for the common good, that counterculture (and that good) will simply be the product of our faithfulness.
If we evangelicals habitually think locally and in the short term, that is because our very existence is local and short-term: we have to will a connection with historic orthodoxy. Still more must we pray for and earnestly seek the confidence that the Father is pleased to give us the Kingdom. And it is my belief that—both for our own well-being and for the common good—we need to find ways to perform the assurance that we are supposed to have, the confidence that the One who has called us is faithful beyond our ability even to imagine. Only when we act upon that assurance can we enact a sign: that is, only in that way does our confidence become readable. And what might such a sign be?
I think it would be wonderful if some large and wealthy American church would have to cut staff and programs (or better yet, actually have to close its doors) because it had given far too much money to foreign missions or the needs of local people. Not every such church, just one—or three or four, maybe—on the same principle that made my son's doctor, when Wes was five or six, check for the reassuring presence of cuts, scrapes, and bruises on his arms and legs: if he didn't have those, he was too timid. Unmarked limbs would have shown that Wes was keeping himself safe, but at the cost of failing to learn, failing to develop— failing, indeed, to find out what he could do as well as what he couldn't. How delightful it would be to drive past an empty megachurch and tell an unbelieving friend that the congregation couldn't pay their bills after they gave too much to rebuilding churches in New Orleans.
Christians of all stripes are quite talented at perceiving where other people fall short of God's commandments. The question of becoming a counterculture for the common good requires a fair amount of self-reflection and the ability to see where we have potential for improvement and growth. I look forward to seeing what other visions of this counterculture might look like.