Ten Questions for Focused Formation

This article is an adapation of a Tuesday morning chapel talk offered by Steven Brubaker in 2014.

Do not, by doing nothing, allow the spirit of the age to shape you to its will; instead, become a person that is bent to the will of God by actively pursuing a God-anchored way of thinking, valuing, and living. (paraphrase of Romans 12:2)

The spirit of the age hits us with a tsunami of moral pressure. A half-hearted pushback is worthless against these kinds of forces. Paul calls us to resist that pressure by intentionally pursuing an internal reality that can withstand the totalizing pressure of the dominant culture.  In Tennyson’s words, “We have our wills to make them thine.” Here are ten areas where we can will a formation of character that aligns with the intent of Christ; ten areas to cooperate with God in the cultivation of a renewed mind. These are not the only ten. Nor are they necessarily the most important ten. Some of the ten are universal – for all times and places. Some of the ten are selected because of the times we live in. For example, several reference the current seismic shifts in sexual ethics. As Christ’s followers, we need to discover and live faithfulness in all these areas.

1. What authorities will we trust?
What authorities will I submit to? There are so many voices confidently asserting their authority–buy this, believe this, think this, value this. Which voices do we listen to and obey? Is my default authority myself? Do we functionally submit to the authority of the Bible? Is the church authoritative in our lives?
2. How will we control technology?
How will we avoid being controlled by technology? This seems to be a battle we are losing. [Are we losing this battle?] Will we do anything about it? Can we go beyond merely wringing our hands and lamenting the problems by creatively, proactively, and positively charting a course that brings technology under the Lordship of Christ?
3. How will we resist the pressure to become dependent on the government?
Medicare, food stamps, energy subsidies, farm subsidies, college loans, and the Affordable Care Act are a few of the ways we are encouraged to trust in the government’s provision. What is a Christ-follower to do? We have come a long ways from the time we refused any kind of insurance because it militates against trust in God and His people. Is it a good “long ways”?
4. How can we as a people compensate for the losses involved in ceasing to be an agrarian community?
The farming lifestyle included practices that transparently reinforced kingdom values. The practices include working together (vital addition to worshipping together), shared interests and experience, authentic celebrations connected to shared moments of accomplishment, natural opportunities for conversation, connection to the slow rhythms of planting/nurturing/harvesting, proximity to the earth and the maker of earth, opportunities to be physically productive while mulling over life. What practices will we put in their place? How can these or similar practices be incorporated into our current lives? How can we structure church, family, and work rhythms to cooperatively build the framework for sustainable community?
5. Are sexual relations outside of marriage forbidden by God?
The churches’ historic positions on sexuality are under attack on several levels. Are we still convinced that fornication is sin? Do our beliefs about this question make a functional difference in the way we actually live? Ron Sider asks the question, “Why don't Christians live what they preach?” He asks this since "evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general" and because “sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers” and “since 1993, about 2.4 million young evangelicals have signed a pledge to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse; just 12 percent keep their promise” and because “fully 26 percent of traditional evangelicals do not think premarital sex is wrong.” Are we any different?
6. Are same-sex sexual relationships forbidden by God?
Is same sex attraction sinful? Is same sex attraction genetically determined? Does obedience to God change a person’s sexual attraction? In light of the massive shift in public opinion on this issue in the last twenty years, how will we maintain a strong belief in what God says? How will we cultivate a compassionate stance toward homosexuals?
7. Does your body, your heart, or something else determine your sex and sexual orientation? If a man feels like a woman, is a sex change to align the body appropriate? How do I know I am a male? What if I don’t feel like a male?  Is the body more important than my feelings in deciding my sex?
8. How can we humbly, gratefully, graciously, respectfully, and redemptively engage with the tradition that formed us?
Many conservative Anabaptists have been given an upbringing rich in practices and ritual. The greater the level of ritual in a tradition, the greater the implications for who I am and how I get on in life. Will we build on the tradition we have been given?  How can we offer our parents, teachers, ministers, and friends the kind of grace we need from others? Why is it easier to respect (admire, appreciate) the culture of a tribal people in China than the culture that formed me? Is such claimed respect for the foreign culture genuine when I despise my own cultural expressions? How can we be instruments of grace and redemption within our own cultures?
9. What are today’s major injustices?
What is our responsibility regarding those injustices: abortion, human trafficking, racism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, poverty, massive accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few.
One test of the renewed mind is the ability to identify and live a justice position that is out of sync with the dominant culture (including the Christian culture). An example would be opposing racism and slavery in the American South around 1825. What are those positions for our generation? Another test of the renewed mind is the humility to acknowledge places where the dominant culture aligns with God’s purposes and then resisting the tendency to disagree merely because it is a contemporary emphasis.  At the same time, the renewed mind includes resisting the tendency to embrace the position uncritically or without connecting the position to Christ (e.g., environmental concerns).
10. What will I commit to for life? What will we commit to? What will we live for? What will we die for? These are not questions to answer quickly. There are answers. But quick answers don’t change us. They need time to settle into our desires, our intentions, our commitments, and our loves. We need more than the ability to recite a correct answer; we need answers rooted deeply and growing to fruitful maturity. The planting, tilling, weeding, harvesting cycle requires patient engagement.