By / Sep 10

In the midst of 2020, listening to someone extol the virtues of civility brings to mind images of Don Quixote tilting at windmills. In the best of times, we’re still residents of a fallen world under the curse of sin. But in addition to the usual consequences of sin that encumber our lives, this year we are navigating life in the midst of a global pandemic, a national reckoning over racial justice, and the final sprint leading up to November’s presidential election. Suffice it to say, this is a tense and contentious time. But even amid all of the chaos and tumult, this is the right time for Christians to raise the banner of civility.

Christianity as counterculture

For a long time we’ve been told that Christianity is a “countercultural” faith. Indeed, what is more countercultural than a political ruler who claims authority not by force but through a message of peace and whose rule is ushered in not through triumph but through death? Jesus taught us a new way to conceive not only of politics, but of victory, power, and strength. He redefined for us what it looks like to win, and what it looks like to rule. Because, in his kingdom, the last shall be first and the poor become rich. 

What does this have to do with civility? Everything. In a world obsessed with victory, fame, and power, Jesus taught us that the way of the kingdom is different. He taught us that strength often looks like weakness, that winning sometimes looks like losing, and that power isn’t a weapon. Most importantly, he taught us how to fight. Because we are not actually at war with that which is flesh and blood, we are commanded to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us (Eph. 6:12; Mt. 5:44). We are called to demonstrate compassion and forbearance, to serve those we are tempted to despise, and to forgive those who sin against us.

In sum, the way of the kingdom represents a completely different way to live. Jesus taught us to see other people the way that God sees them, as sacred and precious beings made in his image and likeness (Gen 1:27). He taught us to treat other people in ways that recognize their inestimable value and dignity. And he taught us to live each day in light of the reality that our true citizenship is not here on earth but in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are but sojourners and strangers in this world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our lives on earth are only a vapor, but our life in the kingdom will last forever. This is the way that Christians are to live.

Politics and civility

Most of the time when we think about civility, we think about politics. That makes sense because “politics” is one of the main things we do to participate in public life as citizens. But as everyone knows, even the mere mention of the word tends to foster strife and division. People are often passionate about their political beliefs because they recognize the stakes. More than candidates or abstract policies, the decisions we make at the ballot box affect real people’s lives in significant and meaningful ways. Still, all of us have witnessed the kinds of intense and uncivil clashes that are produced through “passionate” political discourse.

For the people of God, passion is no excuse for intemperance. Instead, following the example of Jesus, we should be the first to listen, eager to gain understanding. We should seek to persuade instead of coerce. And we should have the humility to recognize that our own beliefs are not infallible.

The political commentator Fred Smith once said “underneath our politics are values.” There is a lot of truth reflected in that statement. Beneath our political views are the things we care about deeply and regard as essential for human flourishing. Justice is a fundamental component of a healthy society. For some people, justice is the driving concern in their approach to politics. The same thing is true for other fundamental principles like freedom and equality. Obviously, each of these things are massively important. In fact, each one is critical. So it is no wonder why our tempers tend to flare when we feel that something we value and deem essential is being neglected or threatened.

In many cases, this is what drives incivility. Rather than taking a step back and trying to understand the concerns of those we disagree with, we simply judge them. We accuse our opponents of being unconcerned about justice or liberty or equality, or whatever it is we care about, when in reality they are likely trying to balance multiple concerns at the same time. Political discussions often generate more heat than light because we make unfair assumptions about our political opponents. We assume people who reject our views are rejecting us. We assume our opponents are uninformed or uncaring. We are slow to listen and quick to speak, ready to judge and reluctant to understand. 

But for the people of God, passion is no excuse for intemperance. Instead, following the example of Jesus, we should be the first to listen, eager to gain understanding. We should seek to persuade instead of coerce. And we should have the humility to recognize that our own beliefs are not infallible.

The kingdom and civility

Jesus’ reign will last forever. As the creeds testify, his kingdom “shall know no end.” Seeking to live as citizens of his kingdom should make it easier for us to exercise civility as citizens of the United States. After all, we know that our lives right now are nothing compared to our lives in the kingdom. If we are promised eternal life and a perfect future, we should be able to exercise the kind of patience and forbearance it takes to treat others with decency and respect. There is no election or principle that is worth the price of your public witness. 

No matter how turbulent our current times may be (or how quixotic it may look to the world), Christians are called to march forward, confidently carrying the banner of our king, who taught us what it means to fight hate with love and how to meet chaos with calm. Jesus is the prince of peace. By living lives marked by civility and kindness, we can show the world what he is like.

How should Christians think through issues of our day? The new Courage and Civility Church Toolkit gives pastors and church leaders a helpful path to walk with their congregations about the things that truly matter and shows them how to process this chaotic and polarized moment. 

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By / Jun 22

A book’s publication date is often set as an author signs the contract, and it usually feels far away and distant. But sometimes you read a book that reminds you that God is sovereignly orchestrating the entire universe, including book launches, because one is so perfectly timed that not even a publisher could have planned for the moment. That is true with Jay Kim’s new book, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age. Neither Kim or his publisher could have predicted the COVID-19 outbreak and the disruption to the normal analog patterns of our churches. In a season of upheaval, Kim’s book is a refreshing reminder of how the church was designed by God and how its rhythms speak to a grander story of hope and witness to a world decidedly digital in our daily life.

Kim serves as pastor of teaching and leadership at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, outside of Silicon Valley. He is able to see firsthand the influence that technology has on the church. Analog Church is written for ministry and lay leaders alike, calling readers to be purposeful about how we adopt and rely upon technology in our everyday practices and calls us to reexamine how dependent the people of God have become on digital tools that often function as a shallow substitute for real community. Kim helps dissect the motives behind our digital adoption and provides a compelling path forward in the digital age.

A needed corrective

The book begins with Kim’s overarching paradigm of how “digital informs but analog transforms,” along with the call for the church to retain its countercultural invitation to be analog in the midst of a digital society (12, 60). Kim breaks up the book into three sections: worship, community, and Scripture. Each focuses on various topics of interest to church and ministry leaders such as the nature of corporate and family worship, how to build deep real life relationships, and the weightiness of the grand narrative of Scripture. He also addresses the richness of communion within the body of Christ, even though many push for digital versions of this ordinance, especially in this pandemic.

He carefully addresses many of the digital fads and innovations of the day that often push the church to be more in line with consumeristic models rather than the scriptural model of the local church as a haven for the weary from a digital first world (94–96). This perceptive course correction is needed in today’s local church context that often seeks to commodify the church gathering instead of leaning on the distinctives and strengths of the body of Christ.

In a season of upheaval, Jay Kim’s book is a refreshing reminder of how the church was designed by God and how its rhythms speak to a grander story of hope and witness to a world decidedly digital in our daily life.

Kim aptly states, “the church was never meant to be a derivative of the cultural moment but, rather, a disruption of it. Amid today’s onslaught of digital distractions, the analog church is exactly the sort of disruption we need to be most effective in our cultural moment” (25, emphasis original). Kim ends this analog treatise with a reflection and reminder of the unique call upon the church to be a light of the world and a city upon a hill that cannot be hidden, even as we experience massive cultural shifts in terms of digital connectivity and community (Matt 5:14).

Defining the role of technology

One of the greatest strengths of Kim’s work is pushing back against many of the narratives that the church must become increasingly digital in order to be effective in today’s culture. Most readers will see that Kim is specifically writing so that readers will be more thoughtful in how they approach these tools, especially in the body of Christ. He rightly points out that “when tools go unchecked and are used for things they were never intended for, they can cause great damage” (50). This common thread of using technology with wisdom is a main thread in the book. Kim intentionally seeks to avoid the rejection of the good gifts of technology used in their proper role rather than possibly becoming a Luddite—one that rejects all technological innovations on principle.

This is one area that I wish Kim had more space to expand upon and focus on in this work. Because of the nature of the book and space constraints, he is unable to flesh out the proper role and benefits of technology in society. He often writes about how technology is “tremendously beneficial when harnessed and leveraged wisely and responsibly” but focuses primarily on the shortcomings and dangers of technology (182). At times, it feels that Kim leans more toward a negative or overly cautious view of technology, which is understandable given the cultural push for the digitization of everything. His caution is wise, though it may leave readers wanting to have this balance drawn out more clearly. It is helpful to be reminded that Kim is specifically writing to people who are more prone to adopt and use technologies without adequate ethical reflection on how these tools are changing us.

There is much to chew on in this book. It is a needed corrective to many of the excesses of and overreliances on technology as a stand-in for real flesh-and-blood community. Kim rightly shows that in our digital age “people are hungry for analog experiences” and that “one of the most counter cultural things we can do is invite people to slow down, settle in, and engage the whole unified story” of the Bible” (163). It would serve church and ministry leaders well to grab a copy of this helpful work and to use it as a magnifying glass to expose where each of us are overly connected, exhausted, and in need of real life community with other broken and sin-torn people—especially in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has disrupted our normal rhythms of life.