What does it mean to be countercultural when you are irrevocably a product of a particular cultural, still being shaped by a particular culture, and still contributing to a particular culture?
Is the directive to be countercultural not very much a part of our cultural ethos?
From what standpoint can we criticize the practices of those around us if we are in a position whereby we benefit from and even carry out those practices? Does this explain our glossing over of greed, hoarding, possessiveness, usury, covetousness, racism, sexism, elitism, militarism, and our choice instead to focus on the practices that we see ourselves are distant from: homosexuality, ignorance of God’s Word, lack of family values, promiscuity, adultery?
How does the church create distance from culture and evaluate what it is necessary to be distant from? Distance from culture is necessary for the church to be the church in opposition to the world, but how the church should be distant causes opposition within the church. In practice there is not distance but distances – some churches are more distant than others; some church members are more distant than others, or at least distant in the way that they deem right.
It seems almost foolish to talk about the church being the community of people who are empowered to embrace violent oppressors when these same communities cannot even embrace one another. The one who calls the other “liberal” cannot have fellowship with the one who calls the other “conservative”; the one who calls the other “compromised” cannot have fellowship with the one who calls the other “idealist”; the one who calls the other “fundamentalist” cannot have fellowship with the one who calls the other “progressive”; the one who calls the other “intolerant” cannot have fellowship with the one who calls the other “tolerant”; the one who calls the other “judgmental” cannot have fellowship with the one who calls the other “judgemental”.
More than churches distancing themselves from culture to make space for the other and to judge the evil in every culture, churches distance themselves from other churches based on what kind of “others” a church accepts into itself uncritically (homosexuals, rich people, racists, pluralists etc) and what kind of evil the church does and does not judge. And these are often churches who largely agree on doctrinal issues.
It does not seem logical that following the way of the cross will lead to inclusion or embrace, though we often speak as if it is. The cross may be the outpouring of sacrificial love, but it is also the place where the one who loved in this way was abandoned by most of his friends, scorned by his enemies, and forsaken by God himself. The cross as a particular moment in history spoke only of the world’s rejection of Jesus. His being lifted up on the cross did not draw men to himself. It scattered them; sent them away smug, or disillusioned, or afraid. The crucified Jesus was alone at the height of his love. If we love in this same way, why should we expect our situation to be any different?
And yet Paul desired to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. This was integral to his gospel. He founded communities on this message. Paul and these people looked at the cross and saw something that nobody saw on the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. The saw that Jesus was not alone. They saw themselves as crucified with him. They saw God in him, reconciling the world to himself in this particular body – a body which created enough distance from the world to incorporate the world itself. This was a body offered to God as a sacrifice; a body that was so engaged in countercultural practice that nobody in the culture could interpret what was happening; nobody could recognise this moment as love.
We often think of countercultural as meaning simply that we are against certain things within a culture, but this pure againstness is to strip countercultural of its radicality. This is to be countercultural in the way that our world allows us to be countercultural. To be truly countercultural means to be for something that the world does not know; that the world cannot interpret within its given framework; that the world cannot name when it sees it. The name of this something is “kingdom of God”.
Out of the dozens of references to the kingdom of God in the Gospels, only three are uttered by people other than Jesus, and the Gospels show us that none of these people knew what they were talking about. Jesus had to show them.