Note: This article describes one of the ON’s Economic Wisdom Project Talks, designed to be used as class assignments.
At the inaugural Karam Forum, Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College spoke on how Christians can live as faithful disciples in a pluralistic and divided world. This teaching tool is ideal for students to view and discuss in classes such as ethics, systematic theology, spiritual formation and other settings where issues of discipleship, missions and even apologetics are covered.
In “Sending Disciples to a Pluralistic World,” Bacote begins by discussing the benediction and its meaning for the life of discipleship. This particular act of worship at the end of a service provides good words that send the people of God into a diverse world to do good work. But as disciples, we often ask: what are we sent for and how are we sent? This uncertainty and confusion frequently complicate and malform how Christians engage with the world.
Bacote contends that “God is intensely concerned about the world we enter after the benediction, in all its pluralism and its division.” Christians live, work and play in a world with people who hold different ideas about the good, true and beautiful. The benediction leads us out to engage the world with imagination, hospitality and hope. (One might call Bacote’s approach “the benediction option.”)
Through powerful stories of Christians working in the world, Bacote shows how imaginatively living God’s truth, hospitably welcoming one’s neighbor and holding on to hope in the midst of the world’s “chorus of conflict” helps Christians embody faithful discipleship in the world.
Bacote acknowledges that the world can be extremely hostile to expressions of faith, a hostility which tempts us to flee from – or fight – the culture around us. But he contends that the life and work of Jesus bids us to go into a broken world to do good work:
People who believe that Christ has come and died and risen and will come again, they hear words of benediction each week. Good words sending the people of God into a divided society desperate for the hopeful antidote to fear, silence and despair.
We have provided a few sample excerpts from his talk below. We hope you will find this a useful tool to provide your students with an understanding of a fuller picture of Christian discipleship, one that understands how our worship forms us for a life marked by imagination, hospitality and hope.
The Benediction Sends Us
“The Benediction sends people who believe that Christ has come, died, risen and will come again into engagement with a complex, diverse society. And that engagement is their true and full discipleship. But how should they engage?”
Imagination and Truth
“Many Christians live in an imagination desert, unable to connect faith to vocation….How do we awaken their imagination? Above all we need to help them see that imagination is the friend of truth. To imagine is to work with truth to envision various ways God’s truth can appear in our workplaces.”
Culture Makers and Imagination
“Culture makers work with truth, figuring out, imagining how to make something of a pluralistic world. Kent Johnson is a culture maker and he works as an attorney for Texas Instruments. He told me that their workforce is like the United Nations – every ethnicity, religion, political persuasion and lifestyle. Kent is an evangelical Christian who started a diversity program by introducing voluntary prayer groups, not just for Christians, but for every background…Now prayer groups might seem like a typical evangelical Christian emphasis, but this was less about evangelism than workforce cohesion. The result was that a pluralistic environment began to feel like a family. By creating space for religious expression, Kent imagined a way for the Texas Instrument ethos to feel like home for a diverse, international workforce.”
Engaging with Hospitality
“In Romans 13, Paul echoes Jesus reminding us that every commandment of interpersonal relationship is summed up as, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Don’t let selective righteousness give you permission to take the path of the priest and the Levite [from the parable of the Good Samaritan]. Who are the people out there on your pathways waiting to be engaged with hospitality? Are you walking on by? Or do you have a holy zeal for hospitality in our pluralistic world? People who believe that Christ has come and died and risen and will come again they hear words of benediction each week – good words sending the people of God into a world with pluralistic pathways full of good Samaritan opportunities.”
The Difficulty of Hope
“It can be scary in our divided society to think about how to be a faithful Christian in a world where social media has turned up the virtual volume. Today Christians work with people with different ideas about things like the size of government, marriage, immigration, the role of religion outside houses of worship and on it goes. Twitter feeds and Facebook posts present a grand chorus of conflict; we easily encounter what others think. This explosion under pluralism can make it seems scary to bring a public faith to the workplace, and despair can set in. But Christians ought not to despair….But our faith calls us to hope, prompting us to carry hopefulness with us everywhere.”
Holding on to Hope
“Hope steers us through challenging waters. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to be ready to give and answer for the hope within us, especially in difficulty and hostility. Our hope is in Christ’s salvation that reclaims God’s world, vanquishes sin and death and gives meaning to our lives each day. Hope admits that circumstances aren’t always going to be in our favor, but it resists pressing the mute button.”