Turning Out

(Author's Note: I'm going to let a group of college students conclude this section on turning out into the world because they have said it better than I can. Their paper was a synopsis of a course I presented to a class of primarily youth ministry majors at a Christian college. I also include part of the syllabus for the course to give the paper context. My thanks to all five of these students for their excellent insights.)


Instructor: John Fischer

Course Description and Objectives:

"What are you watching?"

"I don't know."

"What's it all about?"

"I don't know."

"Well, what's happening?"

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"I think the guy in the black hat just did something terrible."

"What did he do?"

"You're so analytical! Sometimes you just have to sit back and let art wash over you."

—Conversation from the movie The Big Chill

   It might be more accurate to say that the average American young person in this media-dominated age is more likely drowning in contemporary culture than that they are occasionally caught in its wave. Today's youth grow up plugged into the latest images. Their minds are on a direct-line hookup to the TV screen and the stereo headphones. What's going across that line, how it's understood by the teenager, and what the proper Christian response to it is are the themes of this course.

   Jesus instructed Christians to be in the world but not of it. This position demands a discriminating awareness and yet, to date, the church's response to contemporary culture has been for the most part either reactionary (resulting in retreat) or non-existent (resulting in unconscious involvement).

   The purpose of this course is to develop a discriminating awareness of contemporary culture. To do this, we will explore three major areas of study:

1. Developing a theology of cultural awareness.

2. Interpreting popular art forms.

3. Developing a model of conscious Christian involvement.


Presented by: Glenn Fischer, Mary Moore, Dawn Johnson, Cindy Loux, John McKenna

The world is sleeping in the dark

That the church just can't fight

'Cause it's asleep in the light

How can you be so dead

When you've been so well fed

Jesus rose from the grave

And you, you can't even get out of bed.

Keith Green*

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   We wait patiently for someone to take the initiative. Will it be God or us? We know perfectly well, as humans, our first tendencies are to stand silent and erect, glaring coarsely from behind the battle line. We are afraid of the wounded in the world, but more afraid of being wounded ourselves. We are afraid of reality and convinced by pride that darkness and light just don't mix. But at the same time, we easily imagine ourselves out in the world someday — exposing the darkness through God's light within us, even though it may be only a dim ray of our own insecurity.

   As Christians, we are not so much aware of the world as we are aware of ourselves. We are obsessed at times with our spiritual standing more than with those who don't even have legs to stand on, never mind kneel in prayer. We serve ourselves with Bible studies and with morning, noon, and night church services while street people starve because no one is willing to serve them. Our religious convictions convict us, but we refuse to relate with the convicted behind bars.

   Somewhere along the line our priorities have been distorted. We face the danger of seducing ourselves within the church and erasing any feelings of obligation to reach out to the world. We choose not to conform to society or its culture out of fears and insecurities in ourselves. But in choosing non-conformity, we create our own conformity: comfortable Christianity. It's our crutch in a time of need, while we're afraid of the blood, violence, and greed of the wilderness jungle — the real world. We use Christianity and abuse it too many times as a shelter from the pain and remorse.

   So how do we cut through into the real world? What is that first step in becoming aware of the needs of our world (God's world) instead of just our own needs? First, as Oswald Chambers points out in his book My Utmost for His Highest, we must realize that

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"...we cannot do what God does, and God will not do what we can" do. We have to work out the salvation God has worked in.

   Conscious involvement is a twofold enterprise. We not only have to be aware that God is at work in our lives, but we must work out that awareness in a world that is unaware of God's love, unaware of justice and reason, love and mercy, identity and heart.

   We are called to awaken to the world around us, to seek Christ's direction and look at the world through His eyes instead of our own. We are to be obedient, to take the direction He gives us. We are to spread the same love to others that Christ has so freely given to us.

   How we appear to our Christian brothers and sisters should not hinder our obedience to the call God has laid before us. We must not be afraid of what other Christians think of us when we are in the world. After all, Jesus had to deal with persecution. What we should be concerned with is what non-Christians see in us, for they will see right through us.

Bleeding hearts and images,

aware of influence and rejection;

We choose reality, you see infection.

Split decisions, split directions.

Stripped of our identity, no longer immune to passion or pain;

We give you our hearts, you poison the strain.

Down comes our religion, drowning in the pouring rain.



*"Asleep in the Light," by Keith Green, copyright 1978, Ears to Hear Music/Birdwing Music/Cherry Lane Music Publishing Co., Inc. All rights reserved. Used by special permission from the Sparrow Corporation, P.O. Box 2120, Chatsworth, CA 91311.

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