The Last Christian on Earth (4): The Private-Zoo Factor**


“Privately engaging, socially irrelevant.”  This phrase succinctly summarizes what the Assistant Director calls “the private-zoo factor.”  It is a form of dualism that restricts religion to the personal lives of believers and prevents the Christian faith from invading “public life with integrity.”


In terms of Christian theory, privatization means that the grand global umbrella of faith has shrunk to the size of a plastic rain hat.  Total life norms have become part-time values.  In terms of Christian practice, watch your average Christian businessperson or politician.  Are there family prayers before leaving for work?  That’s the private sphere.  Are there Bible studies with colleagues at the office?  Still the private sphere.  Are there big, impressive prayer breakfasts that attract the high and mighty in the land?  Still only the private sphere.


Look for a place where the Christian’s faith makes a difference at work beyond the realm of purely personal things (such as witnessing to colleagues and praying for them, or not swearing, not fiddling with income tax returns, or not sleeping with the secretary).  Look for a place where the Christian is thinking “Christianly” and critically about the substance of work (about the boardroom and not just the bedroom; about the use of profits and not just personnel; about the ethics of a multinational corporation and not just those of a small family business; about a just economic order and not just the doctrine of justification).  You will look for a very long time.  This or that business leader may be “into religion,” but so are colleagues “into golfing” or “into theater” or a score of other hobbies.


A Christian’s priorities outside the office may be God, family, and business, but once inside the office that order is reversed.  Such Christians are of little use to the Adversary and pose no threat to us.  The fascinating thing is that their fatal deficiency is so subtle they do not see it.  The problem with modern Christians is not that they are not where they should be, but that they are not what they should be where they are.


Unfortunately, many Christians—perhaps most—have come to accept this sort of dualism as normal.  Things of faith are “specialized” to their personal spiritual lives.  Faith must be left at the door, along with hats and coats, in the everyday world of work—all nicely summarized by the Assistant Director.


Let these four words privately engaging, socially irrelevant be engraved on your mind.  That is what privatization does to renewal in the modern world.  “Jesus is Lord,” they declare (and sing and strum on their guitars to their hearts’ content).  But what do they demonstrate?  Little better than a spare-time faith and a pocket-discipleship.  The once wild animal may roar, but safely behind bars.



**A note on this series of posts:  The literary device of The Last Christian on Earth is similar to C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Here though, a master spy, the Deputy Director, writes a series of memos to an operative outlining strategies and giving instructions on how to subvert the modern Church.  Os Guinness, an Oxford-trained sociologist, uses this device to help translate concepts from the social sciences into ideas that relate to faith and discipleship.


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