A Call to Particulars
Words by Lexy Sauvé
“‘Just to give you a general idea,’ he would explain to them. For of course some sort of general idea they must have, if they were to do their work intelligently—though as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible. For particulars, as everyone knows, makes for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils.”
I recently started Aldous Huxley’s eerie novel Brave New World, and quickly stumbled upon this passage. Immediately, Paul’s advice to Christians came to mind as a juxtaposition: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).
Paul seems to be implying that Christians are actually called to lead of life of particulars. Why might this be the case? And is this still needful advice today? In response I ask you another question: Is Christ still Lord of every square inch of existence? In short, yes!
There are a few things Paul means here, but an important application to bring before you is that Paul expected Christians to be living thoughtfully, learning responsibly, and doing so in a way that leads to culture-building habits which have a distinct flavor from the masses around them. Over and against this would be a neutral, flavorless, undiscerning form of “cultural engagement.” In his book Life Under Compulsion, Anthony Esolen demonstrates this nicely: “In a pit of mud, everyone looks like everyone else. It is the clean who are distinct."
Unfortunately, a lot of Christians today seem ashamed of looking at all different from the godless culture where vagueness is promoted in the name of being inclusive and accepting. I am reminded of one example from my husband. As a lead pastor, he does a lot of counseling. When he sits down with an engaged couple to talk about the distinctiveness of living out biblical gender roles, at first glance they are certain that they affirm biblical roles, but when asked who will stay home with the children, they shrug their shoulders and talk about maybe seeing whose paycheck is bigger at the time. The resolve quickly fades if they realize offense may be the result.
My plea to you today is this: Christian, do not be ashamed of having a distinct flavor. Let Aslan’s words be your help: “Take courage, dear heart!” And from the divinely inspired: “Be strong and courageous! Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). These words were written as God’s people were heading into a land and culture saturated in wicked practices. The Holy Spirit knew a message of courage was needed to continue walking in the particular good works, habits, and cultural practices God clearly assigned to his children.
As a thought experiment, realize that lack of clarity, strength of vision, and attention to details is often unproductive, unhelpful, inefficient, and ineffective. Don’t believe me? Heed the king’s words: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 28:19). The weeks when I’m too weary to sit and plan meals and a grocery list never result in full bellies. Particulars lead to lively productivity. After all, there must be a reason Jesus told us to be salt and light (Matt. 5). Again, we are not ashamed that our car runs better when filled with its particularly prescribed liquid we call gasoline. Neither should we be ashamed to diligently pursue encapsulating each iota of our lives with the seasoning of the gospel.
So, believer, do not be fearful and ashamed that the gospel you claim lays hold to every particular of dust, every square inch of your thought life, and every person and subject with whom you find yourself interacting. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:5). Repent of being the New Pharisee and a “sin mystic,” which Esolen portrays as one who refuses the particular calling of church-going, and instead stands outside praying, “I am glad I’m free and easy with the so-called moral rules … God, I thank thee, that I am a sinner and a publican, and not like this self-righteous church goer here!”
Be wary of calling good evil and evil good (Is. 5:20). Be a life-long learner. Humble yourself in this way. Believe you don’t know everything about everything, but be willing to obey and come to a conviction every now and then. What’s more, believe it’s not a sin to have a conviction. Respect those with convictions. Don’t jump to labeling them as proud. Believe the gospel actually changes real things, especially when applied to the particulars of Sunday dinners, the children in your pews, the eggs on your breakfast plate, the books on your shelves, the medicine in your cabinet, just to name a few. Know that you are called to a life of particulars.