True North and a New Map
In Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges, I proposed some introductory ways for those within the church to regain our sense of true north in the four arenas that once brought us together, but now threaten to drive us apart and leave us bereft of a sense of direction:
- The nature of truth and orthodoxy
- Cultural engagement and evangelistic enterprise
- Christian community civility
- The identity and character of the church
Because it is precisely in these four arenas that the contest will be won or lost in regard to not simply having an evangelical presence in our world, but a unified Christian witness.
Together, they will determine whether we are renewing ourselves for a new generation or falling from great to good, or even worse.
Why these four?
Consider truth: Since Pilate’s retort to Jesus’ claim, the question of truth has been central to the Christian faith. Not simply in terms of whether Christianity itself is true, but in what sense is it true.
And the church: Jesus said that He came to establish His church, and that it would constitute and reflect His ongoing presence – His very body – on earth.
And culture? The Great Commission and the cultural commission inherent within it form our principle marching orders.
And of course the great high priestly prayer of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John made it clear that the truth - which has been revealed, embodied by the church and carried to the world - would be received only if there were an observable love between those who bear Christ’s name.
So pinpointing the nature of truth and orthodoxy, grasping the nature of the church, developing the deepest and most biblical sense of cultural engagement and mission, and fostering love within the Christian community are far more than unique to evangelical faith.
They are the faith.
The four dimensions of our conversation – truth, culture, unity and church – are like the four points of a compass.
Together if properly calibrated and coordinated, they give us a clear sense of direction.
Medieval cartographers sketched hic sunt dragones (translated “there be dragons”) on the edges of their maps. Yet maps of that era often held another image – Christ.
The Psalter map (c. 1250), so called because it accompanied a copy of the book of Psalms, featured dragons on the bottom, as well as Jesus and the angels at the top.
Such a map reminds us of the availability of “true north” as followers of Christ.
Yes, there be dragons.
But there is also Jesus and the angels.
And we can follow Him – and find our way.
James Emery White
Excerpt from James Emery White, Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges (InterVarsity Press). Available on Amazon.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.