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World Gone Crazy: The Character Cycle

November 5, 2015

Tom Elenbaas

If you haven’t been able to catch our series or listen to the podcasts in this series, “World Gone Crazy,” I want to introduce you to something that has been profoundly impacting how we think about our life and world together.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Francis Schaeffer was thinking about the crazy world that was emerging. In those times we witnessed the rising drug culture, changing sexual ethics, the potential of nuclear war, political nightmares like Watergate and the Red Scare, Woodstock, the rise of the gay rights movement, racial tensions, and protests against the Vietnam and Korean wars just to name a few. The world was dramatically shifting and many in America especially wondered how to find stability in the shifting sands of an emerging postmodern culture. Schaeffer had an approach that I love, and I think about it in two specific ways based on two things Schaeffer did. First, he created a retreat center in Switzerland called L’Abri that was a place away from the world to examine the culture and the scripture. He hosted and taught lectures on postmodernism, art, philosophy, ethics, and politics. He helped his Christian brothers and sisters to examine the world gone crazy around them and to see the shifting sands and understand them. He also taught the scriptures and helped his Christian brothers and sisters to think about the bible and its timeless way of interacting,impacting and influencing the world. He created a retreat to understand the bible and the times. Secondly, he wrote a book entitled, “How Should We Then Live? the rise and decline of Western thought and culture” In a sense, Schaeffer was asking, if this is how we understand the culture and this is how we understand God and his word, how should we then live in this world gone crazy?Those are great questions because the reality is that you can’t easily change the crazy world around you. (For an interesting examination of how the world changes, see To Change the World: the irony, tragedy, and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world.) What you can’t easily do is change “what’s out there.” What you can change, however, is “what’s in here,” or what’s in you. I remember a quote I heard awhile back that goes like this: “What’s wrong with the world is me.” We have to start with ourselves, with finding our center in the midst of a shifting world before we ever think about changing the world around us. 

That’s what the Character Cycle is about. I’ve been reading some of Dallas Willard’s works that have been published postmortem, and have been blessed to see for the first time what he was up to in his corpus of work. It’s an interesting progression. Willard – philosopher, teacher, and spiritual formation guru – wrote some of my favorite books like the The Spirit of the Disciplines, Renovation of the Heart, The Great Ommission, and the Divine Conspiracy. These and many other books and works of Willard’s were focused on the transformation of our hearts and minds in the way of Jesus. He was known for spiritual formation because he gave us such powerful lessons in becoming more like Jesus. The interesting thing to me, though, is where this was headed in Willard’s mind. Apparently, he spent the bulk of his time focusing on helping people develop a Christlike character in the hopes that he would influence a multitude of people to be like Jesus. He was particularly hoping for the transformation of people in positions of influence: business leaders, educational leaders, political leaders, artists, moms, dads, and church leaders. He believed that if a group of influential people were actually to follow the way of Jesus and become like Jesus, they could then influence a culture to shift towards Jesus.

I find this so refreshing. What I love about both Schaeffer and Willard is that they get the right thing first. They both understood that before confronting a culture with the way of Jesus, before demanding Christian virtues in a post-Christian culture, before fighting for Christian morals, values, and ethics in a democratic culture, the people who claim to follow Jesus must walk and life like Jesus did. (cf. 1 John 2:6) It is our character that matters. It is a matter of the heart – a renovation of the heart. That is what the Character Cycle is all about. With that as an introduction, I’ll be back in the next post to step us into the process.

Tom Elenbaas