Home > Biblical Studies, Brian's Blogs > Strangers and Aliens in 1 Peter (more thoughts)

Strangers and Aliens in 1 Peter (more thoughts)

In his first epistle, Peter is writing to a number of Christians he identifies as “strangers” (1:1) and “aliens” (2:11). There are several theories of what being a “stranger and alien” entails but, as I stated in a previous post, I hold on to the traditional rendering that being a stranger and alien means that Christians are different in a culture that is hostile to God. But, exactly how are we different?

One application of being a stranger and an alien is found in many fundamentalist and some dispensational churches.  That is, being a stranger and an alien involves avoiding all things non-Christian.  For example, some choose to refrain from all non-Christian music, books, movies, television shows, and even vacation resorts such as Walt Disney World.  This is why Christian bookstores are full of “Christian imitation products” that are based upon non-Christian products, but always contain a Christian twist.  This theology is based upon a high view of the sinfulness of humanity and culture.

Another application of being a stranger and an alien is found in many Reformed churches.  That is, being a stranger and an alien involves engaging God’s world with a Christian agenda.  For example, some are involved in the environmental movement, politics, and all other forms of vocations with a desire to influence the world for Christ through engagement.  This theology is based upon a high view of God’s created goodness.

I have to admit that I feel a tremendous tension between these two applications.  On the one hand, God did create everything good.  Therefore, it does glorify God for Christians to be involved in every aspect of culture (God’s cultural mandate).  But, on the other hand, everything in this world today is stained with sin.  Sin is a parasite that attaches itself to all things good and distorts them, even to the extent that the original goodness is nearly unrecognizable  Therefore, there is a lot that Christians should avoid.  So which do we choose?

Here is a possible simplistic solution: God has given humanity a cultural mandate, we do have a responsibility for culture and creation.  Therefore, Christians must engage the world, even a sinful world.  But, Christians are also given a redemptive mandate, we have a responsibility to redeem the world through Jesus Christ.   Therefore, Christians must engage the world with a mission and an attitude that is completely different from any other mission or attitude around.  Specifically, we engage the world with the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord!” and allow the character of Jesus Christ to shine through all of our words, thoughts, and actions.  Our goal, then, is not to avoid, but to redeem.  To put it simply: Engagement to the Glory of God! (or my runner-up: Engagement with a Mission, but I think the first encompasses the second).

What does this look like practically? 

  • Engage vocation (GM, education, Waste Management, whatever!) ,and perform your vocation to the glory of God through the character of Christ.
  • Engage sexuality, but only in the context of a God-ordained marriage.
  • Engage the environment, but out of reverence for the Creator, not the creation.
  • Engage every single person you meet with the love of Jesus Christ (in word and deed!).
  • Engage politics, but recognize that leaders are ordained by God and should be obeyed and prayed for.

In this solution it is primarily our mission, our attitude, and our character that makes us different from the rest of the world.  I think this is a more theologically balanced approach than the two listed above.  I also think it can avoid the common pitfalls of complete withdrawal or complete accommodation.

I realize that there are a lot of complexities that I have not raised.  I may take the advice of one comment and work through the famous book Christ and Culture and use it as a launching pad for a more detailed discussion.  But for now, I pray that these simple thoughts are helpful.

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