Wednesday, December 03, 2008

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Desert Like a Rose

A special concern for Orthodox Christians in America is the intersection of Christ, culture and missions. On this point, Peter Leithart, a professor of theology and literature at New Saint Andrews College and pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, has some interesting observations. He writes in First Things' blog "On the Square," That,

Time was when Christian missions occurred "over there." Every now and then, the missionary would show up at church dressed like a time traveler, to show slides of exotic places and to enchant the stay-at-homes with tales about the strange diet and customs of the natives. Foreign missions still happen, but that model seems like ancient history. With the new immigration and the increased ease of travel and communication, the mission field has moved into the neighborhood, and every church that has its eyes open is asking every day how to do "foreign missions."
After some very well thought out biblical reflections on the missionary character of both Adam and Israel he concludes his essay by observing that:
In its first centuries, the Church was mainly preoccupied with evangelizing Greco-Roman culture, a process that Robert Jenson has identified as the “evangelization of metaphysics.” Despite liberal accusations that the Church fell prey to “acute Hellanization,” the reality was almost the opposite. Cultural and intellectual life was transformed from within as Christians fit a gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer into Greco-Roman clothes. The clothes were never the same again.

Greek conceptions of “being” and “substance” remained, and even found their way into Christian creeds, but they were now used of a Tri-Personal God. Greeks believed in an absolute, but Christians confessed that the absolute entered the temporal world as a man. After Constantine’s conversion, the impressively efficient Roman institutions and legal instruments remained but were, sometimes imperceptibly and over centuries, turned toward compassion.

Similarly, even the Christians most hostile to modernity don’t want to abandon the gains of the modern age. Mission to the modern world would humble, but preserve, science. It would retain the modern emphasis on the dignity of the person, and give it a surer foundation than secularism could. To the mission field next door, it comes not as a destroying flood but as an irrigating river, preserving a difference as robust as anything in multiculturalism, without letting difference collapse into the sameness of indifference.

For the modern world as for the ancient, mission is like water. What grows when the gospel comes is native to the landscape, but what grows would never grow but for the river. When the water flows from the stricken Rock, the land comes to life; and the fish, floating lifeless on the surface the Sea, live again.
In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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