Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chameleon or Muskoxen

In a lecture on the need and appropriate place for apologetics within the Christian church, Dick Keyes cautions believers about two unproductive extremes. He illustrates such extremes by using the behavior of two different animals, the chameleon and the muskoxen. Before expounding upon such behavior and drawing the comparison to the church, I would like to offer an observation pertaining to unhealthy extremes. In the process of finding a healthy, balanced, productive response to engaging the world, as we are to be in the world but not of the world, individuals and corporate bodies (applicable to “movements” also) tend to experience, what I refer to as, the pendulum factor. This is a tendency to swing from one extreme to another extreme in reactionary response to the previous extreme (often involving generational factors). Arriving at that healthy, balanced, productive posture is too often allusive. I have been observing this effect in significant measure in our current emerging church, emerging culture, postmodern Machiavellian atmosphere.

Likely characteristic of mainline churches fearfully responding to the threats of modernity is the Muskoxen Factor. The muskoxen have a distinctive defensive behavior that when the herd is threatened, the bulls and cows will face outward with their horns forward to form a stationary ring or semicircle around the calves. Their intention is obviously to keep intruders out in order to prevent their young from being exposed to danger. This behavior has its place in their environment and a similar reaction might have a proper, limited application within the church. However, for the body of Christ to assume such a posture as the rule, as opposed to the exception, proves unacceptable and unproductive. One difference we might mention that is often characteristic of Christians who assume this defensive position is that they are facing inward, not outward. The swing of the pendulum miraculously turns the muskox into a chameleon! The characteristic of a chameleon that is applicable in this illustration is that it undergoes changes that are generated by its environment, adapting and conforming to the surroundings for assumed benefit. This is the tendency of the postmodern pendulum. This is a swing that is taking a segment of the church on a ride to another, careless and unhealthy extreme.

We are to engage the world. We are to reach the world. We are to transform the world. If we are so busy protecting ourselves from the world that we never engage them we have no hope of bringing needed transformation. If we become like them in order to engage them, we have no hope of transforming them. In fact, the only transformation that we can expect is the one that we experience in becoming like the world. The chameleon approach is often justified with a reference to the Apostle Paul’s statement, “I have become all things to all men.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) Of course, in isolation we can make a lot of passages mean a lot of things that are clearly contrary to or beyond the intention of the writer in question. Could Paul be encouraging the chameleon approach? We must remember that this is the same man who said, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB) We must recognized that the Apostle Paul is the one who “did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21, NASB) When distinctions are lost (as with the chameleon approach), understanding of and the need for repentance is also lost. When this is lost, all is lost.

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