Leslie Newbigin wrote in several of his books in the 1980’s about how the western world (Europe and North America) has formed boundaries to faith in society which he has dubbed the terms public sphere and private sphere. Now, this distinction is by no means unique to Newbigin, but what he is referring to is that religion/faith, relationships, and sometimes family life can be relegated to the private sphere while everything else is then suitable to be spoken of in the public sphere (workplace/media). This is seen today in a less academic format simply in terms of what people deem to be called “personal beliefs.” These beliefs can be about morality and religion and family, but they are more often than not deemed judgmental or offensive if they find their way outside of the personal/private realm and thus, stay there. This very polarization of life has been brought into churches and is normative today in the western world.
Evangelism and missions, for example, is less a way of living or identity with being a Christian than it is with a program that the church does, is expected to do, and is an accessory to the local church and worse, voluntary activity for the Christian. Another example could be in when you speak with other Christians when you are ‘hanging out.’ Are you engaging in dialogue about one another’s Christian ‘walks’ and the points of faith for the building up of the Body of Christ, or does ‘small talk’ tend to dominate the conversations? Are topics like sports, politics, shopping, and daily activities what comprises your conversations, or do you intentionally ask other Christians more than simply ‘how are you?’ or unbelievers more than simply, ‘did you catch that game last weekend?’ or ‘look at this new jewelry I got this weekend’ (so the conversation isn’t gender specific, lol). I know for some, relationship might be the complete focus of the conversation. I have 3 teenage sisters and am quite familiar with the content of girl talk, at least among the teen age. Relationships, cosmetics, facial cleansers, hair products, clothing, emotions/feelings (though divorced from biblical truth, this is spoken of in strictly a ‘venting’ sense), shoes, shoes, shoes, shoes, celebrity relationships, pop music icons, etc. Perhaps the subject of gossip can be saved for another time, lol. However, whatever the content of your conversations, we are called as Christians to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). The issue with living this verse out is that many people relativize what it means to glorify God or bring glory to God to the point that it could mean nothing at all or anything. As an evangelical Christian, it is my desire that I live my life by faith in Jesus Christ and that my gaze would be fixed upon him in all that I do. This means that in order to know how to live my life I am constantly not looking at people around me, but looking to God’s word wherein the testimony of Jesus Christ as revealed in God’s word is found and seek to imitate Jesus Christ, though fully aware of my shortcomings as a sinful, imperfect being.
Simply because I say that ‘it is my desire to…’ doesn’t mean that how I live corresponds perfectly with how I desire to live as a Christian. In other words, I fail to live a life marked by an emboldened sense of the Spirit’s leading much of the time as others do – I am not special nor am I claiming to be. I wonder if any of you reading this have experienced firsthand this public/private sphere conflict in your own lives and if so, are you intentionally trying to overcome western cultural norms in order to live for a Kingdom greater than the one we are living in and is marked by the reign of Jesus Christ as the king as opposed to wealth, money, sports, entertainment, physical appearance, politicians, pop icons, sex, etc.?
We are not called as Christians to force our faith upon others, but we are called to be like Christ wherever we are whether that be at work, school, out and about, or in the home.
Are you subscribing to a faith that is public, private, or both? How can you overcome the desire to privatize your faith in a culture where such demands are normative?
grace and peace,