A Christian's Habits: Chapter Five
The Habit of Duty (Part Three)
“…the people I look for, the people I read, the people I want to learn from are those who are counter-cultural because they have a wisdom that our own culture has either never learned or has forgotten.”
Robert Speer was a rebel…a rebel with a cause. He shocked me when he wrote that duty is nobler than love. Everybody else I’ve read assumes that love is the greatest thing of all. But Speers doesn’t stop there. He tells us that duty takes us deeper into love than compassion ever will and then he says that duty is more effective than winning. This man may have worn a suit and tie to work, but he was a counter-cultural radical.
Some people are radical just to be radical. But the people I look for, the people I read, the people I want to learn from are those who are counter-cultural because they have a wisdom that our own culture has either never learned or has forgotten. Duty, Speer claims, has the power to take us through life unfrightened and unseduced as we do what we believe to be right and true day after day in our everyday lives.
He also embodies another thing I look for in a mentor. Speer doesn’t just “talk the talk” but he “walks the walk.” He lived his life according to the habit of duty and, as a result, madegoodhappen in ways that, not only impacted his day but continue to have a direct impact on our world today. Here are just a few examples:
Since the 1960s the church has declined in the West. At the same time, the church has grown dramatically in the non-West. Speer played a critical role in the growth of the church in the non-West.
For example, he believed in the priority of sharing Jesus with other cultures in a way that made a clear distinction between the Christian faith and the spread of Western culture. As the head of the Presbyterian Mission board his focus was on the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. The spread of Western culture, and its values, he left to others.
One of the ways we see the above is in his insistence on the development of an indigenous local church led by indigenous pastors when this was an unusual point of view. The goal of mission for Speer was to introduce the story of Jesus into a given culture and then allow it to impact that culture through its own people in a way that would develop a church for that particular country.
This very similar to the approach we are taking in this Substack channel, which is to introduce the gospel once again into the emerging rhythm of life in Western culture. While Speer’s focus was taking the gospel across space, our focus is taking the gospel across time. That is, we are not trying to take Christianity from one country to another but from one time to another. We’re not seeking to rejuvenate or revitalize the 1950s church in the West. We’re seeking a fresh translation of the gospel, developed through our own indigenous experimentation, with faith in our everyday lives. Believing that through a grassroots movement of people experimenting and innovating with faith and live we are planting the seeds of the future church in the West. More on that later.
Getting back to Speer, he also, in his day supported women in ministry and urged churches to confront and solve the problem of racism. This is a far from exhaustive list of the good he made happen through the habit of duty. But it’s enough to give us confidence that this is a man we can learn from to make more good happen in our own lives, our own relationships and our own communities today. So let’s continue to sharpen our own habit of duty in the chapter than follows; the Habit of Duty, Part III.