Could we have our prepositions wrong? …

Merriam-Webster’s Online offers the folllowing for the preposition, "for."

Main Entry: 1for
Pronunciation: f&r, (')for, Southern also (')fâ??§r
Function: preposition
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English; akin to Latin per through, prae before, pro before, for, ahead, Greek pro, Old English faran to go  — more at FARE
1 a  — used as a function word to indicate purpose   <a grant for studying medicine> b  — used as a function word to indicate an intended goal   <left for home>   <acted for the best> c  — used as a function word to indicate the object or recipient of a perception, desire, or activity   <now for a good rest>   <run for your life>   <an eye for a bargain>

My friend Frank is back to blogging, which is a good thing. We have known each other since our days at Oklahoma Baptist University – longer than either of us would care to admit. Today Frank mused about the manner in which we egnage culture.


After an ETREK with Barry Taylor, I look at the way we engage culture through different eyes. Barry teaches courses on the intersection of culture and theology at Fuller Seminary (for example). My early influences suggested we cannot get to close to culture lest we be absorbed into its web. The admonitions followed a trajectory contained in the old adage, "birds of a feather flock together." The implication we were led to draw out pressed us to be careful who we "hung out with" because it is easier be "drag someone down" rather than "life them up." While we did have these descriptions, the image of a "Christian ghetto" certainly applied.

The conundrum was just how to be "in" the world but not "of" the world. Our attempts to be "unstained" by the world meant it very difficult to engage anyone in their place so we created opportunities to "get them on our turf." While we may knock on doors, we were in those instances catching them unawares. Yes, we entered their homes but as subversives set out to conquer and not be conquered. If we left without a convert, we at least could leave knowing we did not succumb to "their influences." Today I am certain we did not treat those who opened their homes to us as people but rather projects. I am certain many rebuffed us as they quickkly perceived we cared little about them but wanted to be sure we could say, "we led someone to Jesus."

There is little doubt the other extreme leaves us with little voice. What kind of recognizable differences in our ethic would be evidenced if we stalk about with the same kind of pragmatic ethic driving  most who are really only worried about decisions that, "work for me." (While this may well be a digression, I find it personally confusing form some to opt for the Christian ghetto but to carry with them the world’s pragmatic ethic. I recently responded to a friend with the following, have now come to the place where we may have been better served by a call to a
return to the ethic of Jesus which would have forced us to grapple with the
Scriptures. When the Scriptures themselves become the object rather than the
Jesus we find there these kinds of things will certainly come our way. Had
anyone stopped this thing early on and asked the questions of ethics we may well
not be seeing good men impugned because we have taken up the battle at the point
of what Mohler would describe as at least a second tier issue if not a third (of
three).

So I have wondered if we have spent so much time with prepositions that ignore purpose and only talk of position. The telelogical or eschatological emphasis would seem to charge us with looking at our relationship with the world through the lens of a different preposition. Rather than the "in" and "of" of our traditional formulas, why not rightly acknowledge Jesus calls us to a different role in relation to the world. By world I mean creation and people. The traditional formulas tend toward "spirit of the age." So, how do I live in a place where the "spirit of the age" is contrary to the ethic of Jesus and still acknowledge I live in that same atmosphere? What if we emphasized the mission of Jesus "for" the world? Certainly Jesus undermined the ethic of the "spirit of the age." He also illustrated how to be "for" those who were the least. His picture of the coming of the Son of Man in Matthew 25 illustrates just how he calls us to be "for" the "other."

Often overlooked are the statements in Scripture that Jesus did not come to condemn but to save. Unbelief inherently meant condemnation. Jesus came to offer liberation even from the shackles of unbelief. We spend too much time pontificating, castigaging and condemning. The world, people, cannot hear the call of redemption. How would it look if we decared in the love of Jesus, conformed to his ethic, the Good News? What would it look like if we really expressed the mission of Jesus "for" the world?

I am ready to think in terms of a new preposition. "For" suggests purpose. Could we enter into the eschatological reality of what it means to be "for" the world? Now that would be "Good News!"

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.