Thursday, June 05, 2008

Between Heaven and Earth

Niebuhr's fourth option, "Christ and Culture in Paradox," is assigned to "dualists" such as the "true Lutheran [who] finds life both tragic and joyful." The dualist motif is also found in Paul, Marcion, and Augustine.

Although D.A. Carson finds all five of Niebuhr's categories for determining the relationship of Christ and culture to be problematic (an assessment with which I heartily concur), it is difficult not to sympathize with this paradoxical option, however falsely arrived at.

"Living between time and eternity, between wrath and mercy, between culture and Christ, the true Lutheran finds life both tragic and joyful. There is no solution to this dilemma this side of death."
It is precisely this tension between the already and the not yet (not to mention between iustus and peccator) that accounts for the love/hate relationship the believer has with the world around him. He hates the world while loving it, and both legitimately. He fears turning earth into a false god, but resists turning it into a false devil either. He insists that secular culture is not demonic, but also admits that it's not divine.

In a word, the Christian experiences all the messiness (forgive the emergent rhetoric) of dual citizenship, while rarely, if ever, feeling truly "at home" anywhere. As Conor Oberst put it, "My mind races with all my longings, but can't keep up with what I've got."

For my own part, while I know that all my unfulfilled longings are really longings for heaven in disguise, such knowledge doesn't change the fact that earth can look pretty good, too.