In the world, but not of it, but for it

During the rampage of theological gushing I went on this week, I passed through Slacktivist's "NRA: Not of this world," a kvetch about the author's interpretation of "worldliness."

It wasn't the best post in the series. I've followed Fred Clark's vivisection of L&J since its Typepad days, in fact since the first book. Where it shines brightest, to me, is where it's not just a takedown but a witness: where Fred, pointing to the darkness of the World's Worst Books, makes a statement about what it is to be Christian well. (There have been several, in the past. The last one I remember clearly was an aside in which he observed that Rapture theology leaves the church with no purpose, nothing to do.) And there wasn't really any observation like that today.

So when I found that I was gonna be a first-page commenter, I decided to add one in:
I'm not gonna knock the language of  "worldliness." Call me a Johannine fanboy, but I love that rhetoric of "the world," enough that I want to live it. I grok that we aren't to be of the world, even as we're in it over our heads. And I get why, too. It's right there in the unread followup to John 3:16. God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 
That's the beauty of the Johannine NT. We're called from the world so we can live in-and-out the story of its salvation. In the world, but not of it, but for it, in Christ's name and for Christ's sake.
And that's the horror of the World's Worst Books. That every Friday we witness anew L&J forsaking that. Believing, and assuming, and proclaiming that to be Christian is to be in the world, but not of it - but against it. Not to save, but to condemn.
That first-page comment I blockquoted up there? Got 20 likes and a response from a total stranger. I was stunned. The only post I've ever written that got that much response was a one-liner about Lex Luthor stealing 40 cakes in the same thread. That got 24 likes.

In the world, but not of it, but for it. I don't know where the words for that came from, but they were mine; and I was awestruck by them from the moment I saw them on screen.

A page later, Fearless Son posted something about the hostility to worldliness being the equivalent of Buddhist nonattachment, and I responded to him (disagreeing, politely.) My closing passage, when I wrote it, was on asceticism: "Christian asceticism at its best is about discipline: cultivating virtues and creating spaces to learn a certain freedom from concern, the better to keep your eyes on the goal and run the race with Paul."

This is why the monastic tradition exists. This is why the Benedictines and the Cistercians and the Carthusians take their vows: they're not severing their ties to pray for their own souls, their own selves. They cut themselves off from the world to be truly neutral, to give themselves wholly in prayer for the world with the certainty that comes of no ulterior motives. 

Unbidden the words came back to my lips again. In the world, but not of it, but for it.

This is something worth pursuing.

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