Wednesday, August 11, 2004

All Things to All People?

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the Law I became as one under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law) so that I might win those under the Law. To those outside the Law I became as one outside the Law (though I am not free from God's Law but am under Christ's Law) so that I might win those outside the Law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, so that I might share in its blessings

1 Corinthians 9.19-23

This passage seems to me to speak to the church in the midst of a consumer culture. It's basic principle is that of incarnation - entering the world of others, not preaching from a distance. Echoes of Jesus' meals with sinners run through this. Is it right to suggest that Paul today would have to say something like 'to the consumers I became as a consumer (though I am not a consumer) so that I might win the consumers'? Does this make sense?

Well, I am a consumer. Both in the sense that I eat things, and in the sense that I an consumerist. This latter may be where I still need to be converted, but it is still true as of now. I tend to see 'consumer' as something that is tantamount to 'sinner', so I find it hard to see how one can be 'as a consumer ... to win consumers'. Is this the right theological approach? At present I'm not sure. Finding a theological language to address these issues is important.

Some pointers from this passage:
* Jesus and Paul eat with sinners, before even thinking about asking for repentance
* Paul is talking about renouncing his freedoms in this passage. What freedoms do I need to renounce to win those around me?
* What are the real marks of identity in our culture? Here is the real work of developing that theological language. I think 'consumer' is probably not one of these identifiers, theologically speaking (but 'gay' might be!). How do we tell? 'Becoming as' is about learning these marks and being there (and not elsewhere!).
* Paul is not calling people to leave these identities behind (which is to create a new identity alongside), but to find them transformed (brought into their true identity?) in Christ. Christians are not a 'third race' alongside Jews and Gentiles, but a place where Jews and Gentiles can find their true identity and unity in Christ.

This is sketchy, I'm afraid. But I'm working this out, and will continue to do so. As ever, Maggi has some excellent material related to this. She writes that

it's all too easy to make the leap from that to trying to change the culture of the Church to make the 'unchurched' feel more comfortable. I'm not at all convinced that there is much merit in trying to make the Church more culturally relevant, nor in trying to persuade people who believe they control their own destinies that Church could be relevant for them. At least, not if it means turning the Church into a consumer durable for people who believe they already have everything.

This sums up some of my fears about Paul's method, crudely applied. 'Becoming as' turns into 'becoming' very quickly for me. That's why I think we need to discover what the theologically significant marks of identity are in our culture.

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