Near the close of John Ortberg’s delightful book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, he tells the story of Robert and Muriel McQuilken. An accomplished college President, Robert left his job to care for his wife Muriel as she slowly slipped away under the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. McQuilken has written fairly eloquently about “how much his wife taught him, even with the disease. (John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, p. 226). As he cares for her, he reads an article in the newspaper one day about a person who ended their relationship with a spouse “because it wasn’t meeting my needs.” Ortberg reports Robert reflecting on the “eerie irrelevance” of such criteria. Ortberg quotes Robert writing in response to the article: “Eventually he decided that he could not remain president of his college and care for Muriel. When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation… ‘Had I not promised forty –two years before, “in sickness and in health … till death do us part?”’” Dr. McQuilken writes of being surprised by people’ reaction to the announcement of his resignation. “It was a mystery to me, until a distinguished oncologist, who lives constantly with dying people, told me, ‘Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their woman.’ Thoughtfully Robert goes on to comment, “It is more than keeping promises and being faith; through. As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life’” (John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, p. 226). The contrast between “it wasn’t meeting my needs” and “in sickness and in health” highlights the clash of values and commitments between our current culture’s excessive love of personal fulfillment and the deeper commitments of a Christian marriage. The clash of following Christ or following the dominant culture collides at the deep seated level of values. Furthermore the value clash is more than just individual. It exists on a communal level as well. For example, Christians may well debate with each other about how to best provide healthcare coverage for the hungry, homeless and hurting. What is not up for debate as a Christian is the basic commitment to care for the hungry, homeless and hurting. Christian values as transmitted by Christ commend that we take care of the sick (“I was sick and you took care of me.” Matthew 25:36.) Our Lord teaches us “when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (Matthew 25:40). Christian faith, belief and values to some degree exist in a constant contrast and clash with cultural values. Cultural values, however good, lack the compassion and depth of care that the Christian faith practices and teaches. Our current age (the second decade of the 21st century) is awash in a philosophical naturalism that promulgates human pleasure and self-aggrandizement above the greater spiritual good of obedience to the Lord and faithfulness in service to others. Well over half a century ago (1949 to be exact) the great Christian theological and ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr wrote a justly famous book entitled Christ and Culture. In the book he categorized five major ways Christians relate to the culture of their time and age. A brief summary is as follows (with a special thanks to Pattie Wood helping with background research):
- Christ against Culture
- The Christ of Culture
- Christ Above Culture (“Synthesists”)
- Christ & Culture in Paradox (“Dualists”)
- Christ the Transformer of Culture (“Conversionists”)
More in the next blog.