Formations 11.02.2014: The Next Culture War?

Jude 1-13

Bernard Trebacz, "Argument of the Scholars," c. 1920

Bernard Trebacz, “Argument of the Scholars,” c. 1920

For several decades, the term “culture war” has percolated through the consciousness of most informed Americans. According to Alyssa Rosenberg, it began with questions about whether entertainment media should be decent. Early battles swirled around TV’s Murphy Brown’s unwed pregnancy and Bart Simpson’s irreverent attitude and snarky comments. More recently, Rosenberg says, the issue seems to have morphed into the question of whether—and to what extent—entertainment media should be political.

But even now, some are wondering what we will fight over in the next culture war. In a recent Slate opinion piece, Reihan Salam predicts, “The next culture war could pit devout secularists against a shrinking religious minority determined to live in accordance with their beliefs.”

Christians have never fit in perfectly with their culture. If those with no tolerance for any sort of religious expression indeed gain the upper hand, what will that mean for those determined to live guided by biblical principles (whether “conservative” or “progressive”) and not by the opinion of the majority (whether “progressive” or “conservative”)?

If Salam is right, then perhaps more than ever, people of faith need to think carefully about how the life of the spirit intersects with a world that is sometimes hostile to faith. This will require us to rise above wearisome clichés and false dichotomies by acknowledging how Scripture challenges stereotyped positions on any side.

Jude insists that Christians have a stake in preserving sound teaching against those who take it upon themselves to deny “the faith delivered once and for all to God’s holy people” (v. 3). Although we may wince at the ferocity of his rhetoric, his point is well taken. If following Christ means nothing more than jumping on the latest cultural bandwagon, then we have nothing of value to offer to the world.

What does it mean to contend for the faith in a pluralistic and often polarized society?

Alyssa Rosenberg, “The Culture Wars are Back, and This Time, Everyone Can Win,” The Washington Post, 8 October 2014 http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2014/10/08/the-culture-wars-are-back-and-this-time-everyone-can-win/.

Reihan Salam, “The Next Culture War,” The Oregonian, 13 October 2014 http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/10/the_next_culture_war_slate_opi.html

Discussion

• Do you think TV, movies, and music are too political? Not political enough?
• Does your opinion of politics in media change based on whether you agree with the positions they take? Should it?
• When have you seen faithfulness to Christ create hostility in others?
• What charges does Jude level against his opponents? How might these charges be relevant for believers today in their struggle to remain true to Christ?

Reference Shelf

Apostasy

From the Gk. noun (he apostasia) meaning abandonment or rebellion. The term is probably from a verb (aphistemi) to put away, to separate. First used in a political sense to refer to a “rebel” (1 Esdr 2:23) the term was later used in a religious sense to refer to one who had rebelled or departed from obedience to the Law of God, worship in the Temple, or the abandonment of God in general. This usage may be seen in the LXX (2 Macc 5:8) and in the OT (Josh 22:23; 2 Chr 29:19; 33:19; Jer 2:19).

This second “religious” use of the term may be seen in two NT passages: (1) Acts 21:21. Here the term is used to describe Paul’s alleged rejection of Moses, i.e., rejection of the Torah (because Paul neither demanded circumcision nor the observance of custom); (2) 1 Thess 2:3. This passage reflects the Jewish apocalyptic tradition that before the eschaton there will occur a rebellion (apostasy). The notion of a postponed eschaton is common in 2 Thessalonians and 1 Peter. Though the Greek term is not used, the English term apostasy occurs in Heb 6:6 where it is used to translate parapesontas (falling back) and probably refers to a denial of the Christian faith during the persecution.

Watson E. Mills, “Apostasy,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 47.

Introduction to Jude

Among the catholic epistles, this twenty-five-verse letter (there are no chapter divisions) ranks among the shortest in the New Testament collection (even shorter are 2 and 3 John). Few allusions to Jude are found in within the literature of Christian history. Similarly, the book is rarely quoted within the modern Christian community and is seldom the text for a sermon. While many Christians might readily recognize the expression “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3), they might not know that it comes from Jude. There are compelling reasons for this general lack of interest in Jude. First, it is filled with a strange language that contains many obscure references. Second, the letter appears to be largely condemnatory and polemical in nature. Further, the author demonizes those who disagree with his teachings and makes no effort to engage them or their teachings.1 Finally, many contemporary readers are confused by Jude’s several references to two noncanonical books that belong to a collection of Jewish writings known collectively as the Pseudepigrapha: The Assumption of Moses and The Book of Enoch. It appears to modern readers that the writer of Jude does not realize that these books are not a part of the Christian canon. Of course, he could not have known the final shape of the canon during his lifetime.

On the other hand, there are solid reasons to give Jude a fair hearing. Jude is a crucial document from a period of Christian history when rigid lines were being drawn between orthodoxy and heresy. The book suggests a definite relationship between belief and practice. Jude constitutes a stern warning against self- delusion, reminding its readers that their chosen status is a privilege that also entails a specific responsibility. The book calls its readers to a life of self-scrutiny because of the thin line between faithfulness and infidelity. Jude demonstrates that a life of fidelity requires both a dogged pursuit of truth and obedience.

Watson E. Mills, “Jude,” 1 & 2 Peter, Jude, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2010), 369, 371.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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