What is our point of difference?

A little over a week ago, Jobe Watson handed back the most prestigious individual award in the AFL, his Brownlow Medal.

The sports media and general public appear to be unanimous in their sympathy for Jobe. Even though it is clear that he cannot keep the medal because of Essendon’s “supplements” regime of 2012, the public feel for him.

This got me thinking about James Hird. During this whole episode, he has never received anything close to unanimous support or sympathy. Just recently, he claimed that Watson being stripped of his medal was ‘an injustice’. Hird’s claim was that Watson never took anything illegal and that the man in charge of the supplements program, Stephen Dank, has not been found guilty either.

As another Res year draws to a close, Anouchka raised the question, what is our point of difference?

In recent days, I wondered what the point of difference might be between James Hird and Jobe Watson in this saga. When Watson handed back his medal, he said that this was the fairest and best thing to do in order to honour the history and the meaning of the Brownlow Medal. There was the sense that he was making a personal sacrifice for the greater good. Hird, on the other hand, even while ostensibly defending his player group, and even though he eventually resigned as coach of Essendon citing that it was for the sake of the team, has always come across as overly self-centred and self-assured. The point of difference, perhaps, is that where Watson has been humble, Hird has been arrogant.

So, what is our point of difference? We can think about this question as a student accommodation provider, as a Christian ministry, as a community of 62 people living together. We may also think about the question, of course, more broadly as the people of God. As the church, what is our point of difference?

It’s a question that assumes comparison. How is the church different to the rest of society, the dominant culture? One of the most interesting books I’ve read on this is by sociologist, James Davison Hunter. In his book, To Change the World: the irony, tragedy, and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world (okay, take a breath!), Hunter is concerned with how it is that Christians – the church – should live in the world.

Hunter suggests that Christians have tended to try and “change the world” according to three primary modes of engagement: evangelism, politics, and social action. So far, so good. But his provocative response is that none of evangelistic, political or social engagement represents what the primary concern of the church should be.

The church’s engagement with culture, claims Hunter, should be one of faithful presence. The world is not something to be controlled, managed, or engineered. Christians are not primarily called to change the world (or individuals); they are called to be a faithful presence in this world.

A key characteristic of his theology of faithful presence is sacrificial love. Just as God, in Jesus, has been faithful to humanity through sacrifice, the response of Christians is to be faithful to God through being a sacrificial presence in the world.

Such an engagement with the world does not set out to change it, but change may well be an effect of faithful presence. Hunter writes, “If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”

So, what is our point of difference? Whether it is the gathered people at KBC or the ministry of the Res, our point of difference is the same. We are different by striving to live in such a way that God’s faithful presence in the life of the church, evidenced by the incarnation and experienced in the ongoing indwelling of the Spirit, is reflected in the church’s life in the world.

With God’s grace, our calling is to be present in the world and to love sacrificially. Humility rather than arrogance. Meeting others where they are instead of expecting them to come to us. A concern for the greater good rather than our own.

This is a challenge for all of us. It is especially a challenge for those of us followers of Christ remaining at the Res next year. How might we be a faithful presence?

Steve Chatelier


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