I've stumbled across several articles lately which strike a chord. People are beginning to realize how we in the church need to do more than just say what we're not - we need a positive vision about who we are, and who the church is, and how we are supposed to make a difference in the world.
I think part of the solution lies in rediscovering what it means to be created in the image of God.
In A New Kind of Hipster (HT: JT) Brett McCracken writes:
Something started happening as the '90s lunged forward to the 21st century—Christians started recognizing that being in a “semi-cool Christian subculture” was not really all that cool at all. It became increasingly obvious that anything “new” that pop-Christianity came up with was at least three years after its secular counterpart. ...Did you catch that 'identity' language in the last paragraph? Our knowledge of who we are as redeemed community of Christ is only skin deep - we haven't yet grasped the significance of what it means to be re-created in the image of God.
The new generation of “cool” Christians recognize that copycat subculture is a backward step for the Church, but unfortunately the alternative requires a creative trailblazing for which most are far too tepid. Thus, we’ve settled for a reactionary relevance—a state of “cool” that is less about forging ahead with the new than distancing ourselves from the old. We know we do not want to be the stodgy, bigoted, bad-taste Christians from the pages of Left Behind. We are certain we do not want to propagate Christianity through catch phrases and kitsch, and we are dead set against preaching a white, middle-class Gospel to the red-state choir. ... We know exactly what the relevant new Christianity must not be—boring, whitewashed, schmaltzy—but we feign to understand just what we should be instead.
The problem with the Christian hipster phenomenon is not as superficial as the clothes we wear, the music we download or the artistic movies we see, nor is it that we exist largely as a reaction against something else. No. The problem is that our identity as people of Christ is still skin-deep. That our image and thinking as progressives does not make up for the fact that we still do not think about things as deeply as we should. The Christian hipster pretends to be more thoughtful or intellectual than the Podunk fundamentalist, but are we really? We accept secular art and (gasp!) sometimes vote for a liberal candidate, but do we really think harder because we are “hip"?
Drew Goodmanson puts it like this (HT: SM):
To make a Kingdom-impact on your local community and the world-at-large, you must move from Deconstruction to Kingdom Building. ...There's that identity language again!
If you are an emerging church, what is your identity? As I attend ‘postmodern’ or churches that would say they are ‘emerging’ they usually can tell me what they are not. We don’t have central leadership, we don’t sing old-school hymns, we don’t have traditional worship, we don’t…[fill in the blank]. In the long run, I don’t think you can rally too many people to this cause and anti-identity.
As Christian's it's certainly important to know what we are not, what we are no longer. But we are more than simply negation - we really are new creation, we have an identity, and it's high time we start growing up into the people we are meant to be. It's not enough to react against what is wrong in the church - we need to be proactive in bringing about what is right.
But before we can understand how to act, we need to understand who we are supposed to be acting like. We need a vision of what it means to be a new creation Christian.
The way that happens is by thinking deeply on Christ (the epitome of God's image) and then acting boldly, sacrificially for the sake of our neighbors (rather than our own comfort or self-interest). We do this not to gain the world's approval, but out of the conviction that we already have the only approval that really matters.
We also need to think deeply about ourselves - taking a good hard look and seeing ourselves for what we are. An honest appraisal will acknowledge two things: how frequently we fall short, but how great is God's grace. As Jack Miller used to say, "Cheer up, you're worse than you could possibly imagine. But God's grace is better than you could hope or dream". In other words, we need to find ourselves in the gospel, and find the gospel in ourselves - changing, rearranging, inspiring, exhorting.
Only when we grasp the glory of Jesus and comprehend his love for his church, only when we see our own need for the gospel as a means for daily living, only when we ourselves begin to comprehend what it means to be sons of the great King, created in his image - when these things finally start to take root in our own personal lives, only then will they flow naturally through our churches and into our communities.