Imagine with me two actors stepping onto stage to do a scene. One of these actors is dressed in a traditional Elizabethan costume – fine, clean, almost regal. The other actor, is in a Cat costume. They begin delivering their lines, and they are very clearly reading from a different script, with a different setting, different use of language, etc.
That was me. And, it is indicative of many churches and the fundamentalist church culture. We were cats on stage in a Shakespearean play. We were out of place, looked odd, talked funny. I wore shirts that said “His Pain, Your Gain.” I listened to different music (Petra, Degarmo and Key, Stryper if I was in a spandex mood), read different books, spent my time in different ways (though we had a weakness for movies, so on that point there was commonality between me and my non church friends).
Looking back, there was benefit to this kind of church culture. It was clear we were to be different; we were living a different story. But it is possible that these kinds of superficial differences between the church and the wider surrounding culture can, I’m afraid, mask points of alikeness – even sinful alikeness. We may listen to different music and wear weird tshirts, but do we still love money, worship power, etc.?
Imagine a different, but similar scenario. Two actors walk onto stage, both wearing the same Elizabethan type costume. Both deliver their lines with the same accent, cadence. It takes a little while because of the similarities, but eventually you realize that they too are reading from different scripts. One is reading from Othello, the other Hamlet. Different stories, but similar in more ways than Shakepeare and Cats.
That, I feel is an appropriate illustration for much of modern evangelicalism. We’re similar to the wider culture in many ways – and that is not always inappropriate. One can listen to U2, or even Megadeth on occasion and enjoy the talent of these musicians, even be edified by truths the speak of in their lyrics. I can buy some shirts from Old Navy and not all from Christian bookstores. I can read non Christian novels. I watch many of the same shows and movies (though not all) that my non-church going friends do. Many similarities. But many very important differences.
The challenge is that these differences are not always easy to notice. They differences are less superficial and more nuanced, not at the level of fashion or musical preferences, but of loves and priorities. For this reason, it is easy for watchers to think we’re reading from the same script, at least for a while.
I think this is true for our kids too; after all, our kids are our biggest watchers. Growing up in a fundamentalist background, we knew we were ‘aliens and strangers’. It’s not as clear to my kids, I would suspect. The differences aren’t as blaring, not as noticeable to the naked eye.
So I, and all parents of kids in evangelical or mainline churches need to be more vigilant, pointing out where the scripts for the Christian and the nonChristian diverge. Our kids need to know that they’re living in a different story and a different plot line. It won’t be as obvious as when you see a Cat on stage with Romeo, but it’s incredibly important. So, we need to be vocal about our loves, motivations, priorities, etc. And, we need to make sure out kids have a firm grip on the central story of God and his people!
We need to do this work of reminding ourselves, and our kids we’re in God’s story.