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Good Trees and Bad Trees

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Beliefs and actions are always related. This is not to say that believing something will always lead to acting on its behalf. In fact, we all believe some things that we never really do anything about. Most of us believe that exercise is a good thing for the human body and may even have benefits in terms of living longer and stronger. But I would venture to guess that although most of us claim to believe this, few of us are actually doing it. Other times, we do certain things in order to disguise or hide a belief that we have because we understand that our true beliefs are not always welcome in certain social settings. But even in this situation, our beliefs are affecting our behavior, albeit negatively.

The New Testament book of James has much to say about this belief/action relationship. In fact, the entire Bible is full of admonitions and warnings about it. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is a textbook example of actions flowing from beliefs. In Matthew 7:17-20, Jesus says:

Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

"By their fruit you will recognize them." When I read this section of Scripture these words always seem to hang in the air for a moment before Jesus continues his monologue. "By their fruit you will recognize them." People are known and remembered more for what they do, than by what they say. We can also turn this sentence around and use it as a test for our own lives and testimony in this way: "By our fruit they will recognize us." This 180-degree change of focus dramatically increases the ominous tone of Jesus' words. It's not us knowing them anymore; it's them knowing us.

In the final part of Andy Crouch's must-read book, Culture Making, he deals with the practical application of Parts 1 and 2. The third Part 1s titled "Calling" and begins with a chapter called "Why We Can't Change the World," quite a pessimistic chapter title for a book whose subtitle is: "Recovering our Creative Calling." Rather than falling into the theoretical trap of most books on culture, Crouch plows forward into the orchard of fruit trees. Not content to leave his readers with nearly two hundred pages of pontificating about cultural change, Crouch rolls up his sleeves in this last part and gets to work. He begins by bringing this sobering admission to his readers' attention:

Culture—making something of the world, moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility—is what human beings do and are meant to do. Transformed culture is at the heart of God's mission in the world, and it is the call of God's redeemed people. But changing the world is the one thing that we cannot do. As it turns out, fully embracing this paradoxical reality is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian culture maker.[1]

Readers could not be blamed if they slammed the book closed at this point and demanded their money back. Was everything that preceded this paragraph an eloquent sham, an exercise in culture making futility? Was it just like every other book on cultural change, long in brains and short in teeth? No, it was meant to be a wake-up call to God's church to understand their role in God's world. Making his point clearer, Crouch draws a distinction between two leading women of the twentieth century: Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. Crouch convincingly argues that while most Christians can easily see the differences in the two women, the lesson has been lost. He makes the point that while both were indeed "culture makers" in their own right, one example is possible and the other is not.

Although he doesn't use the term, Crouch shows that he understands the Kuyperian concept of sphere sovereignty. He explains that the church is caught up with the Princess Diana view of cultural change; in other words, top-down. But he shows that attempting to attain the influence and power of a Princess Di is pointless and self-defeating. Instead, Christians should be exercising a Mother Teresa approach—bottom-up—in their quest for cultural change. This is not to say that the church should abandon all hope of a Princess Di figure that can serve as a lightning rod for the cultural change movement, but looking for this to the exclusion of working right now, where you are, with the resources that you have been given is wrong-headed and counter-productive. Crouch understands that cultural change begins with changed individuals, at all levels of influence. All Christians are able to, at this moment, begin changing culture at the Mother Teresa level. They will recognize us by our fruit. If Christians are not willing or not able to work at the foundational level, why should we ever be trusted to work at the top levels?

Footnote:

[1] Crouch, Culture Making, 189.

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