A friend of mine recently picked up my cell phone and said, “Stop and think about it: Your phone is only as valuable as the network to which it’s connected.” That’s true – we have a phone to call other people or to make it easier for others to connect with us. Result: The wider the connectivity and the better the connection, the greater the phone’s value.
Or think about it this way: The cost of the phone (parts, games, calendar, alarm, calculator and other functions) is a one-time cost – and it’s pretty cheap. On the other hand, we pay a lot of money each month for connectivity. Put another way, a high-performance phone makes no sense without a high-performance network. The value of the phone is determined by the value of the network.
At The Clapham Institute, we think it’s useful to consider faith as something like a phone: it’s only as good as the network to which it’s connected. The value of faith is, first and foremost, the fidelity of your connection to God. But its value is also determined by whether it gives you greater connectivity to the world. If it only helps you connect with God and with other believers, it’s a truncated network…and a truncated faith. After all, the faith of our Father asks us not only to love God but to love each other (Matt.22:36-40) and to bring God’s truths to the rest of the world (Matt. 28:19-20) So how would you assess the value of the Judeo-Christian faith today? Most cultural observers say it has declined precipitously in recent decades – especially in Europe, but also in the US. Could it be that its connectivity – “the network to which it’s connected” – has limited range? And, if this is so, why? Might it be that too many people of faith only purchase a Family Plan?
A year ago, my wife and I purchased a Family Plan – four mobile phones that let me share my minutes with the whole family, “and never pay long distance or roaming charges!” Family Plans are great; if your priority is talking mostly to family members. But these plans can have two drawbacks – they can reduce the time you talk with others outside the family, and make us unintelligible to the wider world.
One example will suffice. My mother – God bless her – has always answered the phone with a melodious “Meeyello.” The first time people hear it, they think Whaa? It’s an expression indecipherable outside the family. But that’s her way of saying, “It’s me… hello… and how are you doing?” If you’re in the family, you don’t think twice about it. But if you’re not, it’s incoherent.
Most people are not “in the family” when it comes to faith. So how do we communicate the important issues in the wider world? Take, for example, Maryland (where I live). In the next legislative session, the issue of same-sex marriage might be revisited here in Annapolis. It will burn up the phone lines. But what will people of faith sound like?
My suspicion is that we’ll start with Bible verses and demand that lawmakers retain “traditional” values. Now don’t get me wrong – I think Scripture is pretty clear on this matter, and people of faith should know what the Bible teaches on marriage. The problem is that we only learn how to talk with those on the Family Plan (what some describe as “preaching to the choir”). But if the value of a faith is the network to which it’s connected – that it gives me greater connectivity to the world – then who has the language to communicate with friends in our neighborhoods, school board meetings, or corporate board rooms? I doubt that quoting Genesis, Leviticus, and Romans will carry the day – just as my mother’s “Meehello” makes no sense outside our family. Nancy Pearcey says we have it backwards – that Christians can no longer launch the conversation with Scripture if they want to talk to and influence the world. We have to purchase a wider network than the Family Plan, and we need to learn how to be bilingual, translating the perspective of the gospel into language and expressions understood by our culture. That’s what the Apostle Paul did when he addressed the skeptics on Athens’ Mars Hill (a sort of free speech alley for the city’s elites). He didn’t start with his prophets. He quoted their poets (Acts 17:16-31). This is a big challenge, no doubt about it. But, if we want a faith perspective to be heard and taken seriously, we must develop new messages that will communicate old truths in today’s culture. For we have been raised and educated in a culture that teaches us, as Lesslie Newbigin put it, “a language which claims to make sense of the world without the hypothesis of God.” But on the weekends, “for an hour or two a week,” believers are taught to use “the other language, the language of the Bible.” The Family Plan is great for the family – but what about everyone else? Christians who want to be taken seriously must learn to roam, like the Sprint® phone technician, asking, “Can you hear me now?” If you need a phone plan for your friends and colleagues, stay tuned to The Clapham Institute. We are developing a way to connect Sunday to Monday, using language that will expand your network, giving you greater connectivity to the world.