Today I get the great pleasure of sharing a guest post from one of my all-time favorite theologians. Alexander has his Bachelor’s in Philosophy and Religious Studies and his Masters in Theological Studies from Southwestern College. On top of that, he is a talented athlete, with an Associates in Sports Medicine, and certifications in CrossFit Instruction and U.S.A. Gymnastics. When it comes to having a holistic approach to life and faith, his is a voice worth heeding.
And best of all, he happens to be my younger brother. So you know he’s coming from good stock. ;)
A simple Google search of “top 10’s” in 2016 reveal some concerning results. In highest selling video games, 6/10 either significantly contained violent themes or had story lines that hinge on violence. Of the most watched television shows, 8/10 contained violence as normal to the story and in many the storyline could not progress without violence being depicted. Finally, when looking at the most popular sports worldwide, 6/10 are either based around violence against the opponent or would be significantly different events if violence were prohibited.
These findings beg the question, “why is it that in some of our most absorbed forms of entertainment, violence holds such a prominent role?” Pastor-theologian, Brian Zahnd answers well in his book A Farewell to Mars when he says that in many ways America is the neo-Rome. Our videogames, our television shows, and especially our sports are our coliseum.
What you will not find in this article is a critique of our culture and the prominent role that violence holds. Hopefully by the end of this piece you’ll understand why I feel that a critique of this aim would be superfluous. What I do want to chase out here is what should be the natural question that follows the observation that we’re either becoming desensitized to violence or else we as a global society are simply obsessed. So we ask…
How can Christians behave as arbiters of Christ-like peace in a violent culture?
Before I can approach this question, however, a distinction needs made between evaluating the violence we see as Christians specifically versus making evaluations on moral grounds or as citizens of the world. What I mean is that there are clear standards and distinctions that Christians are to follow and it is those principles that we should be focused on. As Paul says, we Christians are only to be concerned with the conduct of those inside the church; non-believers are simply outside the scope of what we are to critique as that is God’s territory (1 Cor 5:12-13).
One other preliminary point to make is that as good and active followers of Christ, we should always be seeking to become more Christ-like. This seems like a point that one might just assume when talking about Christians encountering culture, but it’s worth pointing out that our main goal is to become holy like Christ is holy (1 Pet 1:15-16), however imperfect that may look. This provides the impetus for our inquiry.
So now we approach the question and define it. What we’re really looking at here is how ought a Christian behave? We define the question this way because a Christian’s behavior ought not to change because of culture, but remains unwavering in the face of societal change. Behavior in and of itself is a surface level thing to look at and yet, even though actions can be inconsistent with belief (Rom 7:15-20), what we say and do is most certainly sourced in our hearts (Mt 15:10-11, 18-20). So in evaluating what a Christian should do, we must go to our beliefs for direction – specifically our belief that God’s ideal version of reality is one void of violence (Isa 11:6-9. cf. 65:25; Hos 2:18). Why is it important for us to consider how Christians might demonstrate peace? Simply because the peace that comes from God’s Spirit – the peace demonstrated in the life of Christ – flows from the sacrificial love of God as borne out on the cross at Calvary and that is our prototype. This kind of love is to be the hallmark and calling card of Christians. We are to be known by this love and so peace is a part of that calling (Jn 13:34-35).
Thus, I submit that in order to demonstrate a life of peace, we must first practice peace internally. As referenced above, what is in our hearts makes its way out in our words and actions, and so if we’re to demonstrate Christ-like peace in our lives we must first cultivate that same peace in our hearts. We do this first and foremost by joining Jesus in understanding this struggle as an intrinsically spiritual one. Seeing the world as in the throes of spiritual warfare was consistently the way that Jesus approached ministry and relationships (e.g. Mk 2:5; 9:5, Lk 7:48). Thus, we begin by taking our thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5) in order to nourish our thought-life because our thoughts are the raw materials which become our heart’s contents.
An analogy comes to mind of our mental growth being a sort of garden in which we carefully cultivate the crops. If there are weeds, we get rid of them at the root. If there are rocks and obstructions, we remove them. We designate space for thoughts that are pure, uplifting, and godly (Phil 4:8). To take a thought captive is to detain destructive thoughts so that they can no longer do the enemy’s bidding – namely, remove us from the presence of God. We capture these thoughts and give them no room in the garden to grow. James demonstrates it clearly that thoughts that tempt give way to wrongful desires in our hearts. These desires flesh themselves out into sin and, of course, the natural result of sin is always a death (Jas 1:14-15). For this reason, we should always be careful to discipline ourselves in only giving energy to thoughts that agree with God as revealed in Christ — thoughts of love, peace, sacrifice, relationship, and the like.
In order to make this article of true worth, I want to leave you with some practical ways that we can begin to develop a lifestyle and worldview of peace when violence is the cacophony that forms the background of our lives.
The simplest way to begin to weed out violence as a staple in our lives is to limit the intake. What we put in our minds and dwell on eventually becomes instilled in our subconscious as “normal.” Thus we should be careful to put the right kind of fertilizer on the plants in our mind-garden. This can be extremely challenging as not every situation in our day-to-day is fully within our control. Furthermore, cutting out violent entertainment entirely would severely limit our exposure to the human experience. So, while this may be the most direct way of beginning the work of being a child of peace, it also comes with its own challenges.
Slightly Less Obvious
One slightly less obvious way to cultivate a mind of peace and thus a lifestyle of Christ-likeness is simply to reflect on the violence we observe and in our hearts call it what it is: evil. It may come to us as only meant to entertain (such as boxing or superhero movies), but in the end it is a misguided demonstration of how our flesh solves conflict, not how God who lives in us solves conflict; it’s important that we remind ourselves of this. By engaging in this rather simple practice, we teach the mind that the violence we see is ultimately out of sync with the heart of God, and in a small way (re)program ourselves to avoid it on the grounds that it is inconsistent with Christ’s way of life.
Even Less Obvious
Finally, I would posit that one effective way to cultivate a life of peace is to drown out the violence with Christ-like peace. By actively searching out redemption stories in our entertainment, we fight the corrupt assumption that retaliation, war, and hurtfulness are tools that are to be used by Christians to solve problems. To keep the analogy running, this is the equivalent of planting so many vegetables in the garden that weeds have no room to take root. By seeking out stories that reflect Christ’s sacrifice, by practicing the art of finding meaning in our (at times) mindless entertainment, and by intentionally putting godliness before our minds as often as possible, we can learn to see with Christ-like eyes, and from that solid foundation in our hearts peace will flow in the form of our words and actions.
While this article has been far from a how-to, it hopefully helped to broadly paint the pathway that needs taken in order for Christians to be demonstrators of peace. It begins in the mind which feeds the heart and is then fleshed out in our actions and words. My hope and prayer for you, the reader, is that you learn to not give in to the desensitized ways of our culture because resistance to this easily-found-pitfall is vital to living a life that is becoming Christ-like.