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My sister just caught her boyfriend soliciting a local prostitute online.
Now she gave me permission to write this, but this situation does raise the question: How far has common morality slipped? Is the Internet Age to blame? Has easy access to e-smut pushed us further and further toward the brink of depravity? Was the world always this bad, or is Original Sin merely as American as hot apple pie?
Do common ethics appear to be on the decline just as personal spirituality is exploding into everyday life? The 21st century looks to offer more potential for Christian evangelism than, perhaps, any period in the last 200 years. Today, even vocal anti-Christians acknowledge belief in God and respect Jesus, but such spiritual openness hasn’t translated to the kind of kingdom Jesus came to establish.
This is the central challenge posed to postmodern Christianity: How does one introduce a higher ethic, an absolute Truth, in the midst of exalted relativism?
We approach this question when we talk about “relevance” or “emergent Christianity,” but too often the relevant issues at hand are lost in theological rhetoric and pop-philosophy that has little to do with practical living. My views of hell and creation may be changing (and they certainly are thanks to postmodern literature), but if my love doesn’t grow, then my Christianity is just as stale and marginalized as it’s always been.
Conclusion: theology, per se, isn’t the whole solution.
So if intellectuals can’t save “selfish me” or my spurned sister or her philandering ex, where do we go from here? How does Christianity redeem a world where Christian virtues are trivial to the point of social incompatibility?
The Apostle Paul boiled it down to this: “And whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:9, TNIV). Jesus lived and breathed this kind of self- negating, rights-surrendering, community-altering agape. It got Him killed.
If we are to embrace a brand of Christianity that truly alters our lives and the world in which we inhabit, it will require more from us than throwing out our secular music and wearing kitschy T-shirts bearing memorable Jesus-ized slogans.
First, it’s important to rediscover the unsexy unselfishness inherent in biblical ideas of love. We have to remind the world (and ourselves) that love involves sacrifice. Somewhere along the way, the “otherness” that love demands gets lost. In a generation where self-gratification reaches new levels through erotic mass media and a dangerously casual dating culture, the idea of abstaining from indulgence sounds almost puritanical. Yet such an attitude is completely contrary to a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love that is defined, not by feelings or emotions or sensuality, but by matters of will, of choice and of sacrifice.
It doesn’t sound very erotic, but it may be the only prescription for healthy, transcendent relationships.
Next, the believer must expose and defy the all-too-American attitude that blindly tells us, “More is better—even relationally.” This lie convinced my frat brothers back in college that quantity is better than quality—that sleeping with four women in a week is perfectly acceptable, that there is plenty of time to settle down and be domestic later on. Years later, this lie convinced a man that his wife may have been adequate when his salary was $40K a year, but now that he’s reached junior vice president, it’s time to think about image.
“More” has been defined as a certain shape of body and a certain social inclination, a plastic replica of happy living. After all, how could something so pedestrian as love survive the rigors of corporate appearance?
Finally, love must be removed—with a scalpel, if necessary—from the romantic entanglements lauded by pop culture’s generic TV-archetypes. Ironically, this aspect of false love may be the most difficult to rid ourselves of. Because it is seemingly benign (almost adorably innocent), it escapes the critical lens of truth. Who could deny the life-changing love that grew and blossomed between Justin and Britney? Brad and Angelina? Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper? Who would want to?
The truth nobody likes to admit (but everyone knows deep down) is that love can be quite unimpressive, even boring; my parents have watched British comedies every Saturday night for 15 years! Before that, they square-danced. God save us from such fates …
Or perhaps: God redeem us through such simplicity.
I live next door to a woman with schizophrenia. Her husband left her last month, tired of dealing with the illness. For the last four nights, she has danced to blaring country music in her driveway, silhouetted by the empty glow of her parked pickup’s headlights. She’s out there as I write this paragraph, lost in some blurred reality that few will take the time to care about. I wonder what facets of love are lacking in her life. I wonder which parts of “ever after” fell by the wayside as her husband walked away for the last time.
Love is a lot of work—gut-wrenching at times—which means that Christianity is inevitably hard, no matter what the televangelists say.
In cautious reflection, I guess there must be a rush in making email contact with a real-life prostitute—the adrenaline of “what if” must excite the baser instincts in a man. Perhaps my sister’s ex isn’t so vile. I suppose I can almost see how something so empty and meaningless could provide a tempting escape from the responsibilities of a real, deep, give-and-take relationship …
But prostituted love isn’t real. Neither is empty, self-help Christianity, which promises far more than any religion could deliver: the simple life, the good life, the American pie. Maybe real love—real religion—is the one that Jesus was talking about before He gave His life for people, some of whom will never even realize why. Peter Walker is a Spiritual Formation student at George Fox Seminary, and works with youth and drama ministries at his local church. He is desperate for change.