The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The Californication of the ObamaNation

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While most people think they were casting their vote on Tuesday for political reasons, they were actually voting for cultural reasons. Although election seasons always spawn heavy words and light action, rarely have both campaigns offered so very little policy and so very much empty rhetoric. It goes to show that every rule has an exception:  Apparently you can beat something with nothing. This is not to say that nearly a billion dollars—the amount spent funding the Obama campaign—is nothing. That’s definitely something, only 699 billion short of an economic bailout in fact. But that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s not the money that gave us the ObamaNation (has a nice one-term ring to it, doesn’t it?), though it certainly helped. No, what really put Obama in the White House is what the Red Hot Chili Peppers have termed “Californication:”[1]  i.e. the Madison Avenue, hard-sell, skin-deep, image conscious, materialistic veneer that passes for substance in a flash, pop, bling, ready-in-seconds, soundbite world.

Californication is really nothing new; it is a natural consequence of the worldview of the city of man, which is of course, humanism. If this election has done anything, it has revealed the sad truth that more Americans than we would like to admit really believe that government is the answer. And not just in some “solving political crises” way, but in a total, “womb-to-tomb” way. The ObamaNation was effectively “sold” to the American people in the same way that Procter & Gamble would sell laundry soap or dish detergent, the only difference being that these products actually work. The American people who bought into the $1 billion marketing machine of the ObamaNation were voting for a commodity, not a political idea.[2]  They will soon realize that commodities, just like ideas, have consequences too.

But what, you may ask, does this have to do with the current series on Andy Crouch’s new book, Culture Making? It has everything to do with it, because this week we are looking at Crouch’s second part, which is called “Gospel.” This second part of the book, although lacking a critical connection between heaven and earth via Christ’s Incarnation (as we discussed last week), does an excellent job of giving a brief (almost too brief) biblical theology about the concept of culture. Since Crouch’s working definition of culture is “what we make of the world,” his short expositions of Genesis, Acts, and Revelation are very critical to making his case, since each of these books of the Bible are very “action-oriented.” Crouch makes it obvious that he understands the Gospel as being the key to cultural movement and growth. “A movement that began in Galilee,” he writes, “at the very edges of the empire, would reach by the end of Paul’s life to Caesar’s household. From the garden to the city, the mustard seed of the gospel was being spread fast and far indeed.”[3]

Crouch makes it clear that what the early evangelists and teachers of the Gospel lacked in marketing and advertising, they made up for in zeal, dedication, and substance. They had no need to fight their battle of culture renewal with Californication, they had the very truth of the Gospel on their side. They didn’t fight the cultural woes and epidemics of their day with rhetoric and empty charm; they fought with true love, compassion, and concern for their fellow man.

At least two major epidemics claimed up to a third of the population of the Roman Empire in the first centuries of the Christian era. In the face of terrible conditions, pagan elites and their priests simply fled the cities. The only functioning social network left behind was the church, which provided basic nursing care to Christians and non-Christians alike, along with a hope that transcended death. “Many, died in their stead,” the bishop Dionysius wrote. “The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form . . . seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.”[4]

Near the end of Part 2 of the book, in a section titled “Furnishing the New Jerusalem,” Crouch brings all of his previous points to bear in such a profound way that I had to read it twice, just to soak it all in. This section alone is worth the price of the book, but cannot easily be read in isolation from what precedes it. However, a question that is contained within this section haunted me each time I read it and I will reprint it here. Crouch asks his faithful readers if we are “creating and cultivating things that have a chance of furnishing the New Jerusalem? Will the cultural goods we devote our lives to—the food we cook and consume, the music we purchase and practice, the movies we watch and make, the enterprises we earn our paychecks from and invest our wealth in—be identified as the glory and honor of our cultural tradition? Or will they be remembered as mediocrities at best, dead ends at worst?”[5]

Unfortunately, I fear that most Christians would answer that they never really thought about it. We are often guilty of proclaiming that the only thing that is eternal is our soul, but this is flat out wrong. 1 Corinthians 3 assures that Kingdom-worthy work is as eternal as our souls:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)

It is this sort of culture making—gold, silver, and costly stones—that we should be striving to build with. The Californication of wood, hay, and straw will burn and be revealed as the façade that it was. Let’s quit worrying about who is President or who isn’t. Our hope doesn’t lie there anyway. Christ has provided a golden opportunity for the Church to quit whining and bellyaching about our paper-mache political messiahs and get to work building for the True One. That is how we furnish the New Jerusalem: by making Christ’s spiritual Kingdom a physical reality for those in need.

Footnotes:
[1] http://www.lyricsondemand.com/r/redhotchilipepperslyrics/californicationlyrics.html
[2] If you doubt this, please listen to this clip that ran a few days ago from the Howard Stern Show. Notice that even Stern is incredulous as the interviewees give their answers. And remember that Howard Stern has become a very rich man by selling ignorance and “Californication.”
[3] Crouch, Culture Making (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 154.
[4] Crouch, Culture Making, 156-57.
[5]Culture Making, 171. Crouch
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