We are being trained. It is happening to us whether we like it our not. We are either being conformed to this world or transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2) It all depends upon what we present ourselves to as an act of worship.
But what is the paideia that we experience in our culture? How does the world around us train or discipline us? What does that look like?
I think that one of the most powerful influences that we experience in the world is what C.S. Lewis referred to as the temptation of The Inner Ring. What is this? It is the desire to be accepted into what “everyone” accepts as the right way of thinking. This can obviously mean different things in different settings at different times of our lives. But at any given moment we can be susceptible to the desire to be approved by whomever is “in”. It rarely presents itself directly, but mostly in the subtle hints that mark the invisible boundaries of what is acceptable in any given setting. For one person it may be the temptation to go along to get along at work even though the common way of doing business within that setting is unethical. For another it may be the temptation to join in the gossip of one’s social network that is hurtful to others (or at least would be if they knew).
In reality it is the same thing that the Serpent offered Eve. The Serpent offered Eve the special knowledge that makes people into gods with the ability to determine who is accepted and who is excluded (which after all is just another way of deciding what is good and what is evil). To value this knowledge more than the knowledge of God and obedience to His voice is what caused Adam and Eve to fall. Its results can play out in very different ways in our lives. For some, it can result in a rigid, passive conformity to all that is “accepted”. For others it results in a more rebellious stance which defines itself over and against what it is not, which in the end is nothing more than its own brand of conformity.
So how do we avoid this insidious process? We are presenting ourselves to something as an act of worship every day. We are either going to consciously choose to be shaped by something or we will be unconsciously shaped by something else.
In the end I can’t tell you what the Inner Ring looks like for you. But what we present ourselves to will shape us. We will either crave the acceptance of some circle or we will choose to live in the acceptance that is already being offered to us in Christ.
When I went off to college, I was pretty free in expression of love toward God. I went to a Baptist undergraduate school which took great pains to present itself as a Christian atmosphere but I found very early on that my freedom of expression was a bit beyond the pale. The prevailing culture took a dim view of the “holy roller” style of Christianity and happily pointed out the follies of the wilder and woolier aspects of charismatic Christianity. Slowly and surely, I toned myself down, conforming myself to the prevailing culture. In seminary, the Baptist style was frowned upon, the prevailing culture was clearly farther left politically and much fuzzier theologically. In fact almost any and every theological wind was tolerated and embraced (except for historical orthodoxy, that is). I didn’t throw orthodox faith overboard, but I had conformed myself to the prevailing culture more than I ever intended. A few years later, I found that I had without even realizing it, I had surrendered a great deal of the core of my own identity. I had distanced myself from what I truly believed. I had become profoundly uncomfortable in my own skin. Was it mere peer pressure? Was it sloppy theological thinking? Not really. More than anything it was a lack of intentional presentation of myself to God as an act of worship. It was a lack of living in His acceptance and submission to His shaping influence.
We are being trained. Who is doing the training in our lives?