Cosmo-Christians

Last year during the presidential campaign, an interesting trend was observed. The Christian segment of the population once believed to be a monolithic voting block turned out to have more diversity of thought and opinion than previously believed. The hold of the Religious Right, Christian Coalition, and other GOP-leaning groups over the evangelical brand started to loosen.What emerged was a new, generally younger, more urban, and less politically idealistic group of Christian voters. Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power, refers to them as “Cosmopolitan Evangelicals.” According to Lindsay they have the following characteristics:● They reject signifiers of “populist” Christianity such as the Left Behind books and Thomas Kinkaide paintings.● They are less involved in local churches, but highly involved with parachurch organizations.● They may not theologically agree with same-sex civil unions, but they don’t see them as an assault on the culture. ● They remain definitively pro-life. ● They are more engaged with matters of local and global justice. AIDS, poverty, and human rights have been added to “traditional family values” in their set of concerns. ● They recognize the legitimacy of environmental matters and view them through the theological lense of “creation stewardship.” The movement of a number of evangelical heavy-hitters like Rick Warren and Richard Cizik toward issues of poverty and environmentalism is an indication that cosmopolitan Christians are gaining influence. Similarly, the inability of Religious Right pillars like James Dobson and Pat Robertson to rally young people in high numbers may indicate their impact has “jumped the shark.” Lindsay’s definition, heavily slanted to political issues, is an interesting starting point, but I believe the characteristics of this new breed of evangelicals may be broader than he’s articulated. Consider the definition of the word cosmopolitan: To be free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world. In a real sense, the younger cosmopolitan Christians have grown up with a global awareness on a scale unprecedented in American history. (In future posts I’ll be writing about why this is the case.) They are more connected via technology to the realities of global injustice, mission, and economics. And unlike populist or provincial Christians who carry a “God and country” value into their cultural engagements, the cosmopolitan Christians are more likely to downplay the role of patriotism in their faith and see global concerns as paramount. But there may also be a common theological thread among many cosmopolitan Christians as well. There is a significant debate occurring within the church about the nature of the gospel and social engagement. Is justice central to the gospel, or is justice an implication of the gospel? In other words, did Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection seek merely to redeem humans who then express their redemption through good works on the earth? Or, was healing of social injustices part of Jesus’ redemptive mission? Increasing numbers of Christians are coming to the belief that healing the world’s injustice is part of God’s kingdom mission, and that the separation of seeking souls and seeking justice was primarily a product of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that fractured the church 100 years ago. A gospel with a wider scope than men’s souls, as articulated by N.T. Wright’s reflections and Robert Webber’s Christus Victor perspective, is providing a theological framework for cosmopolitan Christians to hang their values upon. And they are not without biblical basis. The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:19-20 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. The “all things” scope of Christ’s redemptive work is also articulated in 2 Corinthians 5 when Paul says, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” Of course the Greek word for world in the NT is kosmos, or cosmos in English. “God so loved the cosmos, that he sent is only begotten Son…”. The reconciliation and redemption of “all things” that are broken, fallen, and rebellious in the world give cosmopolitan Christians a strong rationale for engaging issues of justice, poverty, environmental stewardship, and culture, as well as evangelism. So the newly branded “Cosmo Christians,” as I like to call them, have at least two qualities that define both the nature and scope of their mission. First, they are cosmopolitan-Christians concerned with the world’s pressing issues and injustices, not merely the limited sexual mores of concern to the provincial evangelicals of the last 30 years. Second, they are cosmic-Christians who see the scope of God’s redemptive work in Christ as extending to “all things,” and not simply the rescuing of people’s souls from a world destined for destruction.

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