We had the thrill of hosting the Doing the Right Thing promotional tour on the Berkeley campus this past Sunday (http://www.colsoncenter.org/ethics). Chuck Colson, our featured speaker for the night, noted that we had more than 700 people out for the event, despite the fact that the Superbowl was going on. PTL!
During the course of the evening, the panelists often returned to the theme that an ethical society is grounded on virtuous character, and that the family is the central place of character formation. What then is the place of families in God’s vision for his redeemed? Yesterday and today’s DT texts got me thinking about this question. As central as the family is to God’s design for human life, it seems that there’s a larger context in which these families are to exist. In the OT, this was the tribe: kinsmen living out their shared values on a specific plot of land, in close proximity with one another. The OT tribe becomes the NT church, and families are to exist in the context of the larger community of faith, localized in close, face-to-face, daily life together. In fact, within the church, the once airtight boundary around the physical family starts to become more porous, as Jesus draws a new line around the idea of family to include the entire church community. Only such a community can concretely embody the richness of biblical values in a distinctly Christian culture.
The nuclear family in America is typically a dysfunctional and contentious place. The passing down of values from one generation to the next is often disrupted by the intrusion of distantly produced cultural influences, and most parents end up frustrated or resigned. Character formation, the pressing challenge of the day, cannot simply be assigned to the family without a general critique of how the typical American family is situated. The character of the family itself must be formed in the context of a clan-like Christian community of the sort the bible repeatedly describes and assumes.
I don’t want this entry to turn into a full-blown biblical-sociological essay, so I want to encourage you to consider the DT text this week with these issues in mind. Consider the disconnected nature of both the typical family and church situation in America—families driving in for church once a week, to gather for several hours, and then to scatter again, no one knowing what anyone else is doing for the rest of the week. Compare this picture with the one presented in the bible, with the question of culture and character formation in mind.