Do you remember Aslan, the lion in CS Lewis' Narnia chronicles? Gentle, but wild, and potentially dangerous. Certainly not someone to mess with! Our sinfulness means that we are always in danger of trying to domesticate God and have him under our control, rather than us being part of his kingdom. In The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness argues that in the modern world Christians often see God as part of their private life but as having nothing to do with their public or working lives. Guinness describes this privatisation of Christian faith as the private zoo factor! It is a bit like trying to have Aslan as prime exhibit in our private zoo. There he is, powerful and dangerous and wild, but never free to roam and reign over the countryside in which he belongs.
The Gravedigger File is written as a series of memorandums among intelligence operatives in the service of the Devil. The memoranda are about strategies for undermining Christianity and its capacity to transform the world. The Private Zoo memorandum explains how in the modern world Christianity has increasingly become confined to the private lives of Christians. According to Guinness, a chasm has opened up between the public and private spheres of life, with the private sphere being seen as the sphere of individual fulfilment and freedom. It is in the private sphere that the church has positioned itself.
We are familiar with the result. Privatisation of faith is a major victory for 'the other side!' Our societies are full of local churches that are personally engaging but often socially irrelevant. As Guinness says:
[P]rivatisation means that the grand, global umbrella of faith has shrunk to the size of a plastic rain hat. ...Look for a place where the Christian's faith makes a difference at work beyond the realm of purely personal things (such as witnessing to colleagues and praying for them, or not swearing and not fiddling income tax returns). Look for a place where Christianity is thinking "Christianly" and critically about the substance of work (about, say, the use of profits and not just personnel; about the ethics of a multi-national corporation and not just those of a small, family business; about a just economic order and not just the doctrine of justification). You will look for a very long time. He or she may be "into religion", but then so are colleagues "into golfing" or "into theatre" or a score of other hobbies'
(The Gravedigger File, 81,82).
This privatisation is deeply entrenched in church life - a whole industry has grown up around 'the empire building of the local church'. We may talk a lot about Aslan, but a privatised Christianity ensures that even if the lion roars, it is safely contained behind bars. As we reflect upon work in this edition of The Big Picture, it is vital that we rediscover God as the hunter, the warrior, the King, who approaches at infinite speed, and cannot, and will not (what idolatry!) be confined to our private lives. It is only as ordinary Christians like you and me repent of such unbiblical privatisation of our faith, and take seriously our (however ordinary) work as royal service, that we will make progress towards recovering faith as a global umbrella rather than as a private zoo. I hope that this edition of TBP will push us in this direction!
Editorial by Craig Bartholomew
The Big Picture Volume2 Issue2